December 22, 2014

Christine Wicker’s Unmentionables

Have you ever been part of, let’s say, a committee assigned with a specific task? You go to committee meetings, week after week, maybe month after month; you work with the committee to complete the task, but something else happens.

You learn. Specifically, you learn the obvious things that people on the committee never say. The questions they never ask; the obvious problems they never point out; the solutions that can’t be brought up without controversy.

Perhaps you learn to live with this situation. You accept the unmentionables and you play along. You don’t want to be the source of an explosion. You prefer to see the job get done, even if the same problems are overlooked and the same obvious solutions are avoided. We’re in the people business here, you tell yourself. Relationships are important.

Now imagine you are an evangelical Christian, like myself. You’ve been on “the committee” for a long time. You’ve been around the block, heard all the speeches and seen all the angles. The evangelical church experience has all the surprise of a professional wrestling match.

And along the way, you’ve learned. You’ve learned what not to say. You’ve painfully learned, and now you’re smart enough to keep your mouth shut and your observations to yourself. (A seminary trained Wal-Mart greeter isn’t how you want to end your career.)

But one of the things you’ve learned in this pragmatic vow of silence is how the code of silence works. You’ve learned what happens to people who ask the wrong questions or make the wrong observations.

If you say the evangelical emperor has no clothes, you’ll be “exhorted” until you figure out that your integrity is actually at stake in turning off your brain and zipping shut your mouth.

Then you happen to read a book by someone who’s already left the circus. Someone who’s left and is talking.

You know the drill. You know all the things you’re supposed to say. You know what you’d tell someone who came to you “troubled” or “disturbed” by what they’d read. You know how to get the train back on the tracks; how to get that wandering mind back thinking good thoughts.

But this book has intersected you on one of the days in your life when it doesn’t really seem worth it to slam the door shut and start repeating the mantras.

So, Internet Monk readers, I give you a small list of the insights, claims and observations of Christine Wicker in The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. I’ve done the summarizing, but it’s her unmentionables.

You can start chanting. You can put your fingers in your ears. You can refute with facts. You can say “that’s what I’ve always thought.” You can consider it and get back to us.

But I think we need to think about these things:

1) Evangelicals aren’t 55 million strong. They are, perhaps, 15 million. Like almost everything else about them, the numbers are inflated.

2) Evangelical clout is almost entirely the result of media spin. A mainstream media focus on the conservative evangelicals for the past 25 years has given everyone the impression that they are a vast force in America. They’re not. They are a minority compared to other kinds of Christians.

3) Evangelical megachurches are not going to be able to replace their founding pastors. If the Reveal study is correct,they are not going to be able to hold their own core members. Thousands of people leave megachurches every week, never to return. The growth of megachurches is almost entirely from the previously converted. Many megachurch attenders will never join and will leave at the first opportunity.

4) Evangelicals have almost stopped meaningful personal evangelism. Most evangelicals share as low a regard for classic evangelistic techniques as their unbelieving friends. Only 18 percent of Southern Baptists- perhaps the most evangelistic church in American- ever witness to anyone.

5) Part of the loss of evangelistic fervor is a loss in the belief that Christ is the only salvation from a literal hell. Many evangelicals do not believe in either in any form resembling classic, historic orthodoxy. They pay lip service to these ideas, but do not hold to them with any tenaciousness.

6) In fact, evangelicals in general are far more doctrinally “soft” than we are ever led to believe by the public face of evangelical worship, preaching and political involvement. Millions of evangelicals have left the movement because of crises of faith, often involving the inerrancy of the Bible, exclusive salvation, God’s involvement in their own experiences and the “success principles” of family/marriage.

7) Evangelicals are declining in baptisms across the board, in every age group except very young children. Many baptisms are rebaptisms or baptisms of the already converted. Among Southern Baptists, the only age group experiencing a growth in baptisms are children 5 and under.

8. Evangelicals that are refusing to embrace fundamentalism are usually making serious accommodations to the contemporary world in areas- especially in regards to science, gender roles and raising children- that previously drew great distinctions between Christians and unbelievers. Many evangelicals have tossed out any loyalty to beliefs and practices that previously defined them as serious Christians.

9) An examination of the morals and decisions of typical evangelicals and other people will reveal that evangelicals pretty much live like everyone else. This includes areas such as abortion, premarital sex, entertainment and lifestyle issues. Only about 20% of evangelicals are serious enough about their faith to make real sacrifices in these areas.

10) Evangelical parents are doing a good job with their children, but the difference in parenting styles among evangelicals in the last 50 years almost insures that the majority of these children will likely not continue in evangelicalism. The critical thinking skills and more liberal allowance of behavior and social activities will insure that these young people will be exposed to a more convincing answer to their important questions. Evangelicals will be fortunate if 5% of their young people continue in the faith after college. Those who do will likely not be in a church.

So there you are. The Unmentionables, courtesy of Christine Wicker. I’ve got more to say on this subject, but I’ll save that for another time.

So here’s the challenge. If you want to take down the whole list and say things are great at your church so I’m nuts to think this woman is on target….this isn’t the discussion for you.

But if you want to interact, critically or positively, with Whitmer’s claims as I’ve summarized them, let’s hear what you have to say. Please don’t devotionalize or preach. Keep the responses to the point and of a manageable size.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Comments

  1. Just a thought on the earliest posts concerning young adults leaving the church. For what it is worth, my personal experience in a church, observing the youth pastor and the young adults entering that age is that there was a real gap between the prodigal son types and the elder brother types that seems very wide. Leaving the church is to become the younger brother and pursue that lifestyle, stay in the church is to become an elder brother and try to have a permanent halo on your head. Given this choice, the younger brother is set up for failure to stay in church when he is becoming an adult and can make that choice. Being permanently “good” or being given a “great life” through christianity are seen as things that make a person either a fake or eventually very disappointed and/or disillusioned.

  2. “On parenting, Wicker says that its the teaching of critical thinking and acceptance of others that move our children toward abandoning evangelicalism.”

    Seriously? I wonder if what Wicker meant is that the way evangelicals model the faith to kids is so devoid of reason (a la “Jesus Camp”) that once they are exposed to an environment where they are taught to think (not necessarily from a Theistic World View) or are forced to think for the first time, they feel like their religious upbringing was a giant con job.

    That is not to say that faith can be proven, or that Paul was wrong concerning God choosing the foolish things to shame the wise. It goes back to the ironies of ironies of evangelicalism, particularly the pro-life side, which claims to have such a high value for human life, but then demonstrates such a screwed up view of anthropology. They seem to believe that God gave us heads on our shoulders so that preachers had something to beat on with their bibles. God made us with a spirit, a mind, a soul, a body. When evangelicals ignore this and always go for the gut (emotional/fear-driven response), yeah, I would believe most people would step to the other side of the curb to avoid walking by a church. People need to think. They need beauty. They need compassion. They need a sense of mystery, of transcendence. They don’t need yet another worship-fomercial sales pitch. They don’t want the universe boiled down into ten easy principles; how condescending!

    I found this last night. It sort of elaborates my point. Compared to what Steve Bell describes in this clip, evangelicalism tastes so stale.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on6n6btCAms

  3. Ky boy but not now says:

    Rachel asked:
    “I’m a bit lost on #10. I found that people who were not taught critical thinking skills growing up were more likely to leave the faith or have a very shallow faith b/c they simply didn’t know (or care) to sift through all the different messages they received.”

    In my current but not for long church we got into it with the pastors in charge of the youth with many topics, YEC, extras you had to believe to be a Christian, etc… But in many ways it boiled down to they were teaching teens, 16 years old or older, to listen and learn the “truth”. Hard questions aren’t allowed. And those that persist will be asked to leave the class. As I bluntly said to another parent who thought this was good because he felt asking hard questions was disrespectful, at what age do they get to start thinking, asking, and getting answers? Somewhere between the 1st grade and the 12th this mode of teaching becomes really bad for them staying in the church. 18 year olds in a class like this might be in Iraq, on a factory line, or who knows in a few months. How is their unquestioning faith going to serve them there when they run into one or more things that just don’t add up?

    And the sad part is there are people who want to be told the answer to everything from someone who they think has some authority. Those folks re-inforce the sit and listen but never ask learning style. They more and more become who is sitting in the pews.

  4. I think we are living in a Benedict moment.

  5. Bob Sacamento says:

    Your children won’t believe what you do, you disagree with a lot of what you hear in evangelicalism, you’ve made peace with things like R-rated movies, living together before marriage, gay marriage, etc.

    Please tell me there’s a difference between going on a date with my girlfriend (now wife) to see The Patriot and then moving in with her without marriage!

  6. Mr. Grumpy Guy says:

    imonk: “Wicker has abandoned Christianity as far as I could tell, ”

    Why did she write the book? Is this a call for action or just lamenting about her previous efforts? If she truly has abandoned Christianity, then what is her motivation for pointing out these issues? (trying not to discredit anyone).

  7. Ben Wheaton says:

    Michael,

    You mentioned evangelicalism as the ‘disease,’ rather than the patient. Who is the patient, then, and what do you think the way forward for it is? Is the patient conservative protestantism? Orthodox faith (a la Tim Keller)?

    Do you think the two streams of response to this problem at present, that is, the neo-reformed and the emerging church, will create a completely different grouping of conservative protestantism, or merely stay within its husk and rejuvenate it?

    Wicker’s statements are refreshingly direct, although I’m not sure she’s completely right–although she is obviously going in the right direction.

  8. P.S.: an abbreviated view of Jesus will lead to an abbreviated view of humanity. Who wants that?

  9. Ky boy but not now says:

    “I can’t believe the media — apart from Fox News — would do anything to spin up the influence of evangelicals. If you mean they have spent so much time trying to portray us as boogeymen that they have actually given us more influence than we other wise would have had, hmmm, maybe. But I think that’s a stretch.”

    Doesn’t mater if the “press” on evangelicals is good or bad. Lots of press will inflate the perception of the strength of any group.

  10. Ky boy but not now says:

    IMonk said:
    “Your children won’t believe what you do, you disagree with a lot of what you hear in evangelicalism, you’ve made peace with things like R-rated movies, living together before marriage, gay marriage, etc.”

    Bob Sacamento then asked:
    “Please tell me there’s a difference between going on a date with my girlfriend (now wife) to see The Patriot and then moving in with her without marriage!”

    One thing our pastors did which I totally agreed with was to ignore calls to boycott all movies with a rating over (pick your choice). I think “The Patriot”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Gladiator”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, and “Basic Instinct” all had R ratings. I’d say for adults that only 1 should be avoided. But for kids under 8 maybe all. And for those in between it would depend on the person and the reason for going. I think that’s the point of the R rated movies comment.

  11. I think some of Wicker’s observations show some good things and some show some very bad things.

    For example, the lack of baptisms is evidence that there aren’t as many people getting saved. That’s definitely a bad thing and dovetailes with the loss of evangelism in Evangelicalism.

    On the other hand, the lack of success in the megachurch movement, the decline of fundamentalist ideas and worldview, and the aknowledgement that the media has inflated Evangelicalism may not be so bad. I don’t think megachurches are healthy for Christianity. They’re the McDonald’s of the faith. While some aspects of fundamentalism are good, the inability to think critically and see any other point of view are toxic.

    As far as the media bias is concerned, I’ll have to agree with something I heard Glenn Beck say: the MSM just doesn’t get religion or people of faith. They simply don’t understand it. If Evangelicalism can get away from the inflation, bias, etc. of the MSM, it’ll be stronger for it.

  12. Sorry, one more thought.

    Acceptance of others in a relativistic sense should not be confused with critical thinking; it is neither critical, nor is it thinking; it is mere slouching.

    Here’s a hopefully appropriate quote from Chesterton’s introduction to the book of Job:

    “The modern habit of saying ‘This is my opinion, but I may be wrong’ is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong, I say that is not my opinion. The modern habit of saying ‘Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me’ – the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.”

    This is no defense of evangelicalism; in fact it points out its main weakness: the tendency to fit Christianity into a rational box, when it was meant to fill the universe.

  13. Really off topic – But what if the career ended being a seminary trained WalMart greeter? I know many men and women who have taken that course in life rather than live with the craziness of keeping your mouth shut and your brain turned off. At least at WalMart you might actually know people who don’t know Jesus yet.

    Again, Michael I know this is not what you are saying but I hope at least someone might rethink this as being the most terrible thing that could happen.

    Blessings

  14. This post is scary as H%11 to me because I identify with a lot of what Wicker is saying.

    not sure if this goes against the rules:

    I think the other side of the evangelical coin is atheism. The two systems draw from the same demographic and argue in the same style. Care about the same issues passionately, even if it is from diametrically opposed points.

    So…when wicker says that critical thinking skills leas children, or people in general, away from evangelical christianity I would have to agree. There is such a lack of critical thinking employed in evangelicalism, that when one applies it, things start to fall apart. This doesn’t mean that Christianity is untrue, or that it’s impossible to have faith. It means that when evangelicals attempt to argue their beliefs from a purely rational, logical perspective, they are bound to fail.

    I used to think that Evangelicals were logical….now I wonder what I was thinking. Much of evangelicalism is not logical, but motivated by emotion and the desire to persuade others.

    In and of itself that’s not a problem. But when we portray an image of what we think we are and it is the opposite of what we really are, that creates cognitive dissonance that must be dealt with.

    Part of the loss of evangelistic fervor is a loss in the belief that Christ is the only salvation from a literal hell.

    How ironic that these past two weeks I’ve been reading up on Annihillationism, and questioning whether there really is a literal hell where billions will be consciously tortured for all eternity.

    Wicker has been reading my mail.

  15. Jake Fierberg says:

    It seems the gift of truth-telling (prophecy) is not valued in the church any more. Conflict is not encouraged because in our tradition, the pastor is just under Jesus and don’t go messing with God’s annointed and his (the pastor’s) vision. Some days I want to stand up in the middle of the service and shout, “seriously?! This is the good news? This is what you spent the entire week on?”. I am too chicken to do it and I would be ushered out so quickly. Maybe a collapse is necessary, that way I won’t have to confront anyone(jn).

  16. “Fundamentalist pastoral infallibility”
    When did evangelicals ever believe that? Seriously. I’ve always been taught – even in that seriously messed up church of my youth – that if a pastor tries to set himself as infallible that is the mark of a cult, and you should run and run fast. Isn’t the fact that we don’t believe the pope is infallible one of the reasons we broke from the Catholic church?

  17. Jake Fierberg says:

    Not infalliable but unapproachable. Emperor has no clothes on. Not open to critique. Criticism has no place in our church. Maybe I am messed up but am I the only one that sees the errors? everyone else just nods their heads in mindless agreement. Not heretical just not gospel. Like chewing on those syrup filled wax candy bottles. Tastes sweet but has nothing besides.

  18. Being an evangelical or not being an evangelical should be decided on whether or not there is a good case to be made one way or the other. A well-written book by an atheist might sway me away from my course. A survey? Never.

    For several years I did not identify as evangelical, but recently have gone back to so identifying, having read what the official pollsters meant by the term. (I participate in the Zogby polls.)

    I’d hate to make decisions about what is best on the basis of statistics. They do say something troubling about masses of people. But I know they shouldn’t change our minds about what we do or don’t do in our congregations. Either what we do is worth doing or it isn’t. If it is worth doing, then it is worth doing even if it fails.

    I think the marketing tools probably got many churches into the mess they’re in, so I don’t expect them to be any help in getting them out. I see the failing churches as dot com companies. Of course they’re going to fail. There’s nothing there. But massive failure among dot coms didn’t mean that real businesses didn’t have a chance. (Though the dot com hype made many businesses question the wisdom of sober business models.) Likewise here. I think that churches that do what they’re about well will hold members.

    #10 is interesting. “The critical thinking skills and more liberal allowance of behavior and social activities will insure that these young people will be exposed to a more convincing answer to their important questions.” Pragmatic answers usually are more convincing. But whose questions are being answered? If the question being asked is “What will make me feel better?” then I’m not surprised if the non-Christian answer is more convincing. That isn’t the Biblical question, however. We may be several generations out from the Biblical question, even if we’re only now seeing the answer rejected.

  19. Michael you really had me on your dialog that introduced this piece, somewhat like a porch light to a moth. It reminded me of your post a couple of months ago about “What you can’t say in church” that drew well over 100 responses. However, when you got to Ms Wicker’s list, my interest faded. The reason is, while the state of health of Evangelicalism is important to many . . . including Ms Wicker . . . it is hardly on the radar screen in my reality. Again, as some have said, maybe it is a good thing.

    However, if I were to list the things I want to scream at an elder’s meeting . . . but cannot without causing a huge church melt-down . . . it would not be about the demise of Evangelicalism, at least directly.

    My screaming would be about the dysfunctional way that we all (including your’s truely) bring our baggage to church (call it emotional, personality or sin baggage) but we have to burry it under a façade of pretending to be the ideal Christian. So we never deal with the real issues of the elder or pastor who is emotionally abusing his family . . . in the name of God. We never deal with the honest doubts of people, or some of us who become clincally depressed at times and I could go on and on. We never talk about the secret alcoholism within the walls of our good chruch (not comdemming them but giving them help)

    But I’m a little surprised that not only the state of health of Evangelicalism as a whole is important to Ms Wicker but to many others, so I must be the odd man out.

  20. I have just started a four part series on The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism.

    1. Biblical Worldview
    2. Christian experience
    3. Community
    4. Commitment

  21. For anything to have staying power, there usually must be two things supporting it: 1) a movement, and 2) an institution.

    Think of fire in a fireplace. The “movement” is the heart and soul of a specific set of ideas. The institution (the fire place) takes the ideas and energy of the movement (the fire) and puts it t use (i.e. safely heats the home).

    The institution does not have absolute authority over the movement, but instead derives its power from the respect the movement has for it. This respect allows the institution to clarify the doctrines of the movement, preserve those doctrines over time, and be an internal policing mechanism to prevent bad ideas from spreading. ( Think Council of Nicaea).

    Evangelicalism is (or was?) a movement, but it lacks an institution to police it. Although its doctrines have been preserved, people attending Joel Olsteen’s mega church aren’t interested in reading books, confessions, etc . The only authority (not “A”uthority) they recognize is Mr. Olsteen, and he’s not changing his tune anytime soon.

    Christian leaders can call out the heresy of the prosperity gospel. Mega churches can fail. Baptisms and conversions can fall. Christian Morality can cease. However, there will be no “Vatican II-Style” reform of evangelicalism because there is simply no institution respected enough to reign evangelicalism in.

    In other words, the fire has escaped the fireplace.

  22. On number 10, the church I attend had heard all the surveys that 80% or more of kids who went through high school in church were no longer actively attending church one year after graduation. They did some studies and found out that the percentage more-or-less held for our church. And they weren’t willing to let things keep going that way.

    They totally restructured the student ministry. In addition to the paid staff student pastor, each graduating class, from those who are seniors this year to those coming into middle school (6th grade) have a pair of “class pastors” assigned to them (often a married couple, sometimes an unrelated man and woman, but always a male/female team so the boys and girls both have someone they can talk to in confidence about the issues affecting their own gender). These class pastors move up with their class and stay with them until one year after graduation as they move into the young adult ministry. This allows for building intimate, long-term mentoring relationships that would be impossible for the staff youth pastor to do alone (over 300 kids in junior/senior high).

    Each year, all ninth graders go through a doctrine and beliefs class that would be similar to a catechism. The senior pastor of the church speaks to the youth in their Wednesday night service on a regular basis, as well as being their main speaker at their retreat each summer. And every year they cover 12 realities of the Christian life, one each month. So a kid that comes into the student ministry at the start of middle school in 6th grade will hear the same core beliefs repeated 7 times before graduation — with different messages each year, of course, but tackling the same major areas of the Christian life and spiritual disciplines (have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, spend time daily with God in prayer and Bible reading, hwo to make wise decisions, staying sexually pure, building healthy relationships, sharing your faith, focusing on others, finding your ministry, becoming a leader who influences others for God).

    It’s still too new to know long-term results, because the class graduating in 2009 is only like the 3rd year to have class pastors, but the initial outcomes when following up with kids after their freshman year in college shows promise for reducing drop-outs.

  23. Regarding “Fundamentalist pastoral infallibility” – I admit, this one made me go “huh?”

    Jake wrote: “Not infalliable but unapproachable. Emperor has no clothes on. Not open to critique. Criticism has no place in our church.”

    What church is that? My experience is in the SBC. The church I go to is relatively healthy, I believe, but we’ve all heard the jokes “What is the meal every family eats for Sunday lunch? Roast pastor”

    Seriously, Pastors are criticized beyond belief in the evangelical world. Sometimes correctly (although hardly ever with the correct, respectful, private-first method).

    I would agree that many pastors in very large churches are unapproachable. But uncriticized? Call me a skeptic but I’ve never seen a pastor of an evangelical church of any size at all that didn’t have to spend a significant amount of his time dealing with criticisms. I know ours do. Again, some is needful (although churches need to teach their members better how to biblically have conflict) but most is just people complaining.

    Complaining about the pastor is a grand tradition in the evangelical church. So I think that either I’m misunderstanding that point, or Ms. Wicker doesn’t know what she’s talking about :-)

    Brian. Thank you! Your church is doing the right thing by its students. That’s so encouraging!

  24. Bill:

    This is a good question.

    I believe the default position of conservative evangelicals is that the pastor is authoritative and infallible. Indy Baptists and Indy Charismatics very much go for this. The SBC loves this in all its big, growing, super churches. But in the ordinary churches, if a pastor is normal, human, flawed, he will be eaten for dinner and put out the door in 4 or less.

    Authoritative pastors are what most SBC churches want to insure growth and to make the machine go. But as congregationalists, they can still toss a pastor that doesn’t produce results.

  25. Bob Sacamento says:

    Aliasmoi,

    “Fundamentalist pastoral infallibility”
    When did evangelicals ever believe that? Seriously.

    I don’t know if I would say it is as prevalent as Michael would say it is. But it happens. I ran across a web site of a fundamentalist church a while back. The pastor had a sermon (Why I read it, I don’t know.) where he said — no joke, no exaggeration, nothing out of context — that he was the spiritual authority in the congregation and therefore, they should listen to him, anyone else he specifically said they could read or listen to, and no one else. Seriously. In his mind, they weren’t even allowed to go home to the TV and turn on TBN.

    In a more implicit way, this is a really bad problem at the mega churches. Unless their senior pastor really, completely, publicly screws up, his word is law.

  26. Bob:

    This is totally the position of the fundamentalists in charge of the SBC, and it’s the style of pastoring in all the SBC’s superchurches.

  27. Brian,

    Totally cool!

    The only thing I would add is if your Church is losing them in High School as many are, you need to start earlier. Like grade six or seven.

    This was the experience of a friend of mine, who was hired as a youth Pastor of a medium sized church that had never had a youth pastor before. The High School group was non-existant and the kids weren’t interested. So my friend started working with the Junior high. The junior high went because they had to, and by the time they hit high school they wanted to go.

    The other thing to consider is a “College and Career” group. Something that they can naturally graduate too from the high school group. My experience has been that leaders of a C & C group soon are seen as future leaders of the church.

  28. Jake Fierberg says:

    In my experience in our church, criticism is useless because no matter what kind of rational argument you bring, nothing changes. I think our congregation has a small core of orthodox believers and a huge crowd of marginally believing people. I think those of us in the smaller crowd pull our hair out at the appeal to the masses. The church is aimed squarely at appealing to the largest group. We’ve been told that the Sunday service is a gift to the unbeliever or guest. We’ve been told to feed ourselves. We’ve been told not to expect expository sermons and to attend a class instead. Is this the norm across the evangelical spectrum? I love my church and the people there and that is why I stay. I am just appalled that they can shove us aside.

  29. This is why both books say the megachurch is doomed as church. They may become concert venues (and that is happening all over) and rec centers, etc. but the designation church is getting hard to apply.

    Is Willow Creek a church? Seriously? Really? Looks like a business with huge profits and an educational/service organization.

  30. Michael Bell,

    The student ministry does start at grade 6, when the kids enter middle school.

    We also have a young adults ministry, that apart from having their Sunday School group, also has their own Saturday night modern worship service — but don’t think they’re separated, most of them are also in the corporate gathering on Sunday’s, and many of them serve in the church (nursery, children’s SS classes, etc.) The Saturday service just lets them have a service in their own style too, with a coffee house fellowship feel.

  31. Bob said: Unless their senior pastor really, completely, publicly screws up, his word is law.

    iMonk said: This is totally the position of the fundamentalists in charge of the SBC, and it’s the style of pastoring in all the SBC’s superchurches.

    I’m a bit confused about your statement, iMonk. Bob was talking about pastors dictating what members can read or listen to. I go to what could be classified as an SBC megachurch (about 5,000 people, multiple video campuses) and we just hosted the Kansas-Nebraska SBC convention. But for all the complaints I have, and I have many, our church goes out of its way to NOT tell the congregation what to do or think, especially in terms of politics and personal liberty. In fact, I’ve been extremely surprised that I and others have been allowed to write devotionals on the church’s website with no pastoral oversight.

    Now, in terms of direction of the church from the business perspective, I would agree that the lead pastor has a lot of power, but I question your assertion that all of the SBC’s superchurches are run by mind control.

  32. Michael,

    There was a recent study at Baylor University reported here that seems to contradict what you are saying here.

    Among the findings:

    1. “Congregants find megachurches offer more personal worship and sense of community than smaller churches”

    2. “members were twice as likely to have friends in the congregation than members of small churches.”

    3. “They also displayed a higher level of personal commitment to the church — attending services and tithing more often than small-church members.”

    4. “megachurches tend to be more evangelical than small churches.”…”megachurch members said they shared their faith with strangers in the past month and more than 80 percent witness to friends — far more than those who attend small churches.”

    5. Theologically more conservative. “Ninety-two percent of megachurch members believe that hell “absolutely exists,” compared with just over three-quarters of small-church members”, the survey found. And eight in 10 megachurch worshipers believe that the Rapture — when followers of Jesus Christ believe they will be taken to heaven — will “absolutely” take place, compared with less than half of those who attend small churches.”

    6. More small group discipleship. “To achieve a less impersonal environment, researchers said, megachurches consciously break down the congregation into smaller groups that meet regularly.”

    Like any size church, there are going to be good churches and bad churches. The mega churches that I have personal experience with have no problem preaching the gospel plainly and clearly.

    Are Christians gathering together? Is the good news of Jesus Christ being shared?

    As the saying goes “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then chances are we have a species of the family Anatidae on our hands.” :)

  33. Bob Sacamento says:

    kcillini77,

    I can meet you halfway with the mega churches. I guess I could agree that the pastors don’t load the people down with a whole lot of stuff that they have to believe (which, in a twisted way, might be a problem in and of itself, but anyway …) But, in my time in a mega church, what the pastor and senior staff did was never criticized or questioned publicly — no matter how mildly or charitably — by anyone at all.

  34. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The pastor had a sermon (Why I read it, I don’t know.) where he said — no joke, no exaggeration, nothing out of context — that he was the spiritual authority in the congregation and therefore, they should listen to him, anyone else he specifically said they could read or listen to, and no one else. — Bob Sacramento

    Question, Bob: How does that differ from a cult leader with delusions of godhood? Or at least a sense of Absolute Rule by Divine Right?

  35. Michael Bell:

    Most megachurches don’t have members, so I don’t know who they are talking to.

    Also, I think we have to take one thing as a strong possibility: I think evangelicals routinely answer surveys in ways that portray their ideal selves, not their real experience.

    I’d like to see a survey of 5,000 people who attended a mega in the last 5 years.

    Also, I think the Baylor study needs to meet Willow Creek’s self study, which says that a third of Willow Creek’s members are ready to walk.

    peace

    ms

  36. Wicker likely is close to target about the changing evangelical influence in America. But the change is possibly a ‘purging’ of a seemingly weakened Christian group. The ‘loudness’ over the past decade….has generally come from evangelicals with agendas needing met through political means e.g. vouchers for private Christian schools and universities. But all of America’s denominational groups are less effective. Are we seeing the final ‘great falling away’ which will usher in prophetic events of the last days. The good news is that in other countries e.g. China, the underground church has grown to 300,000, is adding thousands daily, is healing the sick, casting out devils, and RAISING THE DEAD. If America doesn’t want to play, God will send others into the game.

  37. I totally skipped a major item:

    11. Pastors are inaccessible to most of their members, especially women. Many won’t make appointments or have any personal conversations with their members.

    People don’t like this, but it is very common. And a lot of younger pastors like this model a lot. Study, don’t visit.

  38. On #11…our pastor was talking about that just a couple weeks ago. He does indeed seem to prefer not to do any visiting. In all fairness they may have provisions for pastoral care and all that (we’re brand new to town). But I had no idea it was an overall trend among pastors.

  39. Skerrib,

    I can testify to that as well. At my last Baptist church, I was concerned about the lack of visition to visitors and new members. I called the pastor and offered to go visit them, but I needed a partner and a list of names. (I was even willing to say that I would say or do nothing to discourage them from the church, because he might have known that I was on my way out.)

    The response that I got was a suggestion that I do visits to the sick.

  40. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    This is totally the position of the fundamentalists in charge of the SBC, and it’s the style of pastoring in all the SBC’s superchurches. — IMonk

    Like fighting the Battle of the Booze and making Young Earth Creationism ex cathedra dogma while everything melts down around them?

    That’s like what happened at my first job back around 1980. The company was melting down into bankruptcy and the pointy-haired top management started ruthlessly enforcing DRESS CODES! We had vice-presidents doing surprise inspections (even with rulers to measure Approved hair length) while the company was fast-tracking its way to Chapter 13!

    Talk about displacement behavior…

  41. iMonk,

    You are my dream reader. What a great job you did on your ten points. I might quibble a little but not much. I posted a link to you on my site (www.christinewicker.com) There’s so much here I’d like to comment on.

    But I’ll answer just one question. Why am I interested in this?

    I’m a journalist. I’ve covered religion for a long time. I set out to write about the great power of megachurches, but evangelicals kept telling me that I was missing the bigger story. “The Fall of the Evangelical Nation” started as storytelling with some investigative elements and then turned into a much more investigative book.

    The subject matters for many reasons.

    One is that as the word evangelical has come to mean more and more different things to practitioners, it has been defined more and more narrowly in the public and especially the political square. As it has been tied with politics, it has seemed angrier, meaner, narrower and less reasoning. At the same time, many, many evangelicals who are not part of the Religious Right have been going in the other direction.

    I think the public square definition of evangelical faith as identical to Religious Right political positions has damaged American Christianity enormously.

    Why do I care? Just for starters, Christians contribute enormously to the health and welfare of American life. Losing them would not be a good thing, in my opinion.