We’ve been talking for a while about how Christians are leaving their groups and churches in a tidal wave. Typically the response of Christian leaders to the fact that their congregations are abandoning them in droves is to blame the congregants themselves for leaving. They act like there simply never is a time when anyone’s allowed to leave, no matter how unserved they feel, how disconnected they feel from their spiritual goals, or how much they disagree with their pastors’ leadership. There was a time not long ago when someone might have cared about these pastors’ outrage, but that time is fading quickly–and there’s nothing those pastors can do about it (that they’re willing to do, anyway).
The people are revolting, in short. And all their onetime kings are saying is that, well, ya know, they always did smell bad.
The Articles of the
But these pastors’ outrage is no longer a good reason to let them continue to ride roughshod over their congregations’ lives and wallets. Groups can no longer afford to be lackadaisical with the money they have left. As it is, fundagelical Christians tend to be the poorest, worst-educated, and unhealthiest of all Americans (and for that matter, are probably like that everywhere else; the religion does its best and most booming business in the most oppressive and technologically-backward places in our world)–a trifecta of misery those Christians owe directly to the teachings of their leaders. Their older, relatively-wealthier members are already dying at an alarming pace while almost entirely neglecting their churches in their wills–while the younger members are drifting away before they ever get into the habit of supporting churches monetarily. Between their dysfunctional teachings and the aging of their members, Christian leaders face a disaster of demographics that has only just begun to unfurl to its full extent.
And there’s really only one way to stop it from happening: to embrace a business model instead of half-assing by pretending they’re anything but a business while kinda-sorta operating by Business Lite principles (and handing management roles to people patently unsuited for such functions!), and from there coming up with something tangible to offer customers that they simply can’t get elsewhere for less effort and resource outlay.
Unfortunately for Christians, their leaders don’t want to do that.
In fact, they’re pissed at the idea that they even should.
When King John signed Magna Carta, the act marked the beginning of a sea change in how people saw themselves and their rulers. It took a little while for that change to really get rolling and for regular folks (commoners and whatnot) to enjoy the benefits of that change, but the spark ignited on June 15, 1215 never flickered out.
In similar way, Christians are starting to expect certain things of their leaders that their leaders do not want to give them. They’re starting to expect churches to act like businesses in a lot of ways. They want the same transparency and efficiency from churches that they fully expect from the businesses they patronize and the charities they support. And their leaders resent every single demand, every single push, every expectation. Read some of their replies to congregants who write in to pastors and preachers plaintively asking why they can’t have accountable and responsible leaders, why their leaders keep demanding money and don’t give a good value for what they’re already receiving.
As just one poignant example, check out this answer from Dr. Roger Barrier to a reader’s question. Not only does he not actually answer the question “D” asks about fiscal accountability, but he goes on to accuse “D” of “the sin of materialism” and then lectures “D” about how to budget to make sure that full 10% tithe is paid without fail. For good measure, he ends with a rant about how meeeeeeeeean the government is for taxing people when churches neeeeeeeeeeeeeed that money to help the pooooooooooooooor.
It’s quite a baldfaced bit of emotional manipulation, whining, and authority-hurling. Of course, most churches give hardly anything to charity or to the poor and needy even within their own ranks. If the person answering “D” has the credentials he claims to have, then he’s lying through his teeth and hoping nobody notices or challenges him on that assertion.
What struck me when I read it, however, is how out of step that guy is with the reality of his situation.
This is not a reply from someone who is trying to soothe a customer who is obviously halfway out the door.
It’s the entitled behavior of a slighted king whose rule has been subtly challenged by one of the peasants he owns.
Usually this is exactly what happens when someone challenges churches’ money-handling practices: those rulers and their sycophants drill down on the utter necessity of giving money to the church.
Their followers hear those rants and then do what they’ve begun to do nowadays: they hear this kind of outburst….
And they leave.
The Money Crunch.
This money crunch in particular is the biggest sign of Christianity’s impending collapse. Simply put, keeping the lights on in churches costs money. Setting up huge, ostentatious monuments costs money. Buying politicians and running political ads in direct defiance of American law costs money. Opening and maintaining pseudoscience-peddling “museums” and “crisis pregnancy centers” costs money. Sending missionaries to already-Christianized countries costs money. Sending college kids to beaches to evangelize during Spring Break costs money. Giving out free literature costs money. It all comes down to money.
Even with all the tax perks churches get, money is really the end-run need that churches experience. Though sometimes as Christians leave their various groups the remainder might come up with the difference, that doesn’t happen consistently. So demographics alone ensures that Christianity will collapse–if nothing else, that its leaders will vastly reduce their footprints across social media, the real world, and politics as their incomes dwindle.
Little wonder that we’re starting to see Christian leaders and wannabe-leaders addressing the issue of money, like this young man in the super-subtle cross necklace is:
There’s just so much about this video we could examine, but the sheer desperation in his plea is what I wanted to point to. He has to tell his peers that they must tithe and threaten them with the standard-issue threats that pastors threaten people with for not opening their purses, and accuse them of being untrue to the faith if they don’t comply. He concedes that yes, people have objections to giving money to a lot of churches and organizations, but ultimately none of that matters to him–probably because his income depends greatly upon tithes. (He’s actually apparently in charge of “Games Night Ministry” at his church, so his position is likely even more dependent on generous tithes than those of most ministers.)
Most importantly, out of everything else he could possibly have made a video about to encourage the flock to stay in the fold, this is what he chose to talk about. And you might notice that the few comments he got on that video were absolutely anything but encouraging.
The obvious question–why doesn’t the Christian god provide the money that his followers need so much?–is one that their leaders figured out how to hand-wave away years and years ago.
The second question, though, is one that might not be so obvious: If these ministers can sign up more people to be members of their church, then even the relatively low level of giving would work out across greater numbers of people. So why aren’t they increasing membership rather than browbeating their existing members into ponying up more and more money than they’re actually comfortable giving?Yeah, we won’t see a lot of attention paid to that question, I don’t reckon, though a big increase in membership would definitely solve the money problem. Christian pastors would love to get more members, most of them, but the truth is that they simply can’t. So literally all they can do is push harder on their existing members to make up their shortfalls as people leave.
And eventually they’ll hit a limit. Money is the ultimate zero-sum equation. There’s only so much of it, after all.
Edging Toward Runnymede.
Christian leaders are still very much stuck in their longing for the Good Ole Days when they think they wielded unquestioned, uncontestable, unilateral power over their serfs, who did what they were told and donated lots of money that their rulers could use however they wished without explanations or accountability. Those days are very much over for most churches, and fast approaching the end for the rest.
That’s how we end up with the laughable spectacle of Thom Rainer, who as usual left his self-awareness in his other pants, whining about church committees. And well he ought to whine–these committees spell the very end of pastors’ total rule.
The problem for rulership-minded pastors is that a lot of churches have advisory-type committees these days–some even have bunches of different committees that handle everything from decorating the church to locating and hiring a new pastor. Many church committees have the authority to fire a pastor as well. Sometimes they’re called “elders” or an “advisory council” or the like. Sometimes the
people men on that board are paid–some very well–and sometimes membership is simply a perk extended to the most-respected or longest-term (or wealthiest) members.
But they share one extremely important trait most of the time: they often function as the only group in the church that can push back against a pastor’s decisions and behavior. Their power is very frequently formal in nature, set up as part of the church’s bylaws and constitution, so the pastor can’t sidestep them easily. He defies them at his own risk.
That defiance is how that one pastor lady got led out of her own church in handcuffs–her church’s committee did not agree with her about her taking over the church after the death of her husband, who had been the previous pastor.
And that’s how Mark Driscoll lost control of the church he started. Mars Hill’s committee demanded he submit to their oversight, but he immediately quit his pastor position entirely rather than share his power with anybody else–and the entire broken system he’d built dissolved after their cult leader left.
So it is no surprise at all that a mouthpiece of the Southern Baptist Convention might not like these committees!
The People are Revolting.
Slowly, slowly, Christian congregations are finding out just how much power they wield over their onetime lords and masters. And they like the taste of that power. Remember, their system teaches them from infancy to want power for themselves and to climb as high as they can along the ladder of power in their local groups. The only way to be safe from abuse and predation is to reach the same level as the abusers and predators themselves (or to become one).
So it’s not surprising that one big pushback that Christian leaders have against these committees forming in all these different churches is that, as Thom Rainer points out, “some committees attract control freaks.”
To which one might reply: Ya don’t say. Where do you suppose they learned that trait, Mr. Rainer, and how do you think such awful no-good people got past your Jesus Whiskers?
These committees are made up of their groups’ most powerful and politically-connected members, and those members learned at the knee of their pastors how to wield the reins of power. They jockeyed for their positions as much as any 13th-century medieval warlord might have. If pastors don’t like what their governing committees look like, they should be looking at themselves and the social system they’ve helped set up to figure out why those committees act the way they do and why they keep drawing people viewed as control-freaky. These pastors need to ask how their social systems managed to let abusive, power-hungry people climb so far up the ladder, and then they need to ask why their system seems to attract such terrible people to its leadership.
It sure ain’t just because they just want to just serve “Jesus.” I’ll tell you that for free.
Their congregations are already figuring that truth out, whether their leaders realize they are or not.
Once these committees get into power, there’s a big chance that they will only transfer the problems to a wider group. Unless the broken system is fully examined and rejected, it shifts easily to accommodate bigger numbers of leaders all acting the way the previous deposed leader acted. If the system allowed its leader to trample others, then the committee will do exactly the same thing unless consent, full representation, and respect for others is built into the fabric of the committee’s governing rules.
As this shifting around of power continues apace, the really decent people in Christianity are going to do what they’ve been doing for a few years now:
They’re going to leave their crownless king and his starving courtiers to fight it out among themselves. And they’ll take their money with them.