Church Culture Audit- Building a Christ-centered Metric for Accountability
As two mega churches have come under the scrutiny of multiple investigations a culture of deception and abuse of power has emerged. A critical analysis of how this could happen in the church reveals that when a person of entitlement is at the helm of the organization, a subtle but pervasive process develops that isolates power at the top. Mega-churches are often founded by high charisma, narcissistic leaders, who, as success increases, organize the governance around their absolute need for power and control. People around them are mesmerized by their accomplishments, and become blinded by the inconsistencies of the leader’s behavior relative to the character of Christ. Their “success”, measured often in numbers, buildings, books, and programs, become the focal point and allow these leaders to operate with impunity. Individual church members compare their own lack of success to the overwhelming indicators of success by the leader and conclude that they cannot critically judge or evaluate the leader. The fallacy that success equals importance or higher authority becomes the foundation that allows for the failure of healthy accountability for leaders.
Awakening From The Trance
The unveiling of the raw underbelly of the current mega church’s problems is resulting in many people waking up as if in a mesmerized trance state of mind.
Mesmerizing is an interesting word. It is another word for hypnotic or generating a trance. People that are mesmerizing get others to focus on some quality that allows for a slight of hand manipulation of a person’s perception. “I found myself mesmerized by the grandiosity of this building”. Every magician has mastered the illusion of getting people to focus on one element of reality so that they can deceptively manipulate people to see what the magician wants them to see. This focus on outward elements of success by mega-pastors is often what allows them to deceptively manipulate the perception of their congregants.
The outward measures of success, like a grand building, a huge congregation, a number of books written, or the amount of money taken in, can all be areas that these magician pastors get us to focus on so we do not look at what they do that is not consistent with who they are supposed to be as a leader. Because they keep you focused on and mesmerized by their successes, you do not see that they are bullies who demand obedience to their self-promoting agenda. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, they call out. This trance that they place their congregants in allows them to mask or rationalize behavior that, measured against the life of Christ, would be hypocritical. These magician pastors have a deep shadow motivation that is more about their self-promoting agenda than the mission of the church. Are they conscious of this and do they do this with willful intent? Who knows. They just know that it works.
A magician’s stock and trade is the art of deception. Get people to look in one direction while they manipulate by slight of hand something in another direction. Their goal is to alter perception so that you believe what is not really true. This all results in a sense of awe and wonder, that elevates the status of the magician. The audience does not want to know that to get the result the magician wants he or she must deceive the perception of the observer. And so it is with magician pastors who want us to so focus on one element of life, their observable successes, that we are willing to suspend our critical abilities to identify what is real.
Deny The Inconsistencies
This is why we can tolerate for years the behavior of a pastor/leader who clearly has deep and destructive character problems. We can allow abusive behavior to continue unchecked. Women who are sexually propositioned can second guess themselves because a leader with this kind of success could not possibly mean by his suggestive behavior what I think it means. The magician pastor can convince a woman that there is a good reason to get her to sit and watch pornography with him, since this is simply research into the state of sexual addictions in our culture. Plausible deniability. Just enough reasoning to say that his propositions were innocent or the projection of histrionic women who misread his intentions. Get women to suspend their abilities to rationally recognize the abuse that they are experiencing.
These magician pastors, who as Christians we assume will model their lives after the life of Christ, can get us to somehow ignore or accept what should be the unacceptable. They can get us to minimize or explain away behavior that is wrong. They get us to deflect the arc of awareness back on ourselves, getting us to question our own sanity. They encourage us to not trust our reality. Crazy making! This allows them to:
-Manipulate and bully others to get their way
-To act in a self-important condescending way
-To sexually proposition women
-Live lives of wealth and opulence while demanding sacrificial giving
-Fire people under them whenever they feel threatened or angry
-Muzzle people with Non Disclosure Agreements to preserve their reputation
-Talk about living like Jesus and then not acting like Jesus
-Keep their lives away from the scrutiny that comes from real living among their congregants so that all we see is the stage persona
-Rage at and belittle people who oppose them
-Keep image as the measure of success so that integrity and congruency with the real life of Christ is not used as an indicator of the leader’s success.
Magician pastors usually do not have strong people around them who can speak truth and risk the rejection of the leader. As a result, the leader gathers around him or her those who at some level have bought into the mesmerizing perception of the leader. Mega-churches also allow these pastors to be primarily viewed as up on stage, where the illusions of success (programmatic excellence) enhance the hypnotic aura of the leader’s greatness. These churches literally use smoke and mirrors to set the stage for a high level of perceptual manipulation of the attenders. Mega churches also often churn through both attendees and staff, so that any long term, mature believers, do not represent enough of a block of influence to threaten the hypocritical inconsistencies of the leader. Individuals who do not drink the kool aid are sent packing, perpetuating an environment that insulates and protects the power and control of the leader.
Next Blog. Developing a Metric to Audit the Culture of a Church.