An Emerging Profession: Resisting the maintenance of Spectacle

Portrayal of King Xerxes from the movie 300

***This blog entry is bit dated. I was asked to contribute to a conversation on leadership and the emerging church. I thought of this post in light of the recent news about the allegations surrounding Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth in Atlanta/Lithonia, Ga. I believe the cult of personality/celebrity is a dangerous environment to be in as a spiritual leader. Pastor that have large platforms need to be more careful when entering into this strange American cultural practice. I believe it is wrought with peril and unncessary suffering.***

I received an email some days ago asking me to contribute to a great conversation about church leadership in 21st-century North America.  This conversation is being facilitated by Drew Ditzel.  He’s studying @ Columbia Theological Seminary.  As a part of his studies he’s investigating leadership and the emerging church.  There will be seven emerging  church bloggers that will be contributing to this conversation.  I look forward to chatting with folks on this very important issue.  

As one who comes from the world of black Pentecostalism and the Word of Faith/Charismatic storefront the image of pastor as CEO is gaining wide currency.  An example of this would be popular pastor Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA just outside of Atlanta.  He, along with many other prominent ministers, have been under fire recently for affluent lifestyles that are largely supported from the coffers/finances of their non-profit ministries.  I’m not here to debate the ethics of Long’s particular case.  I’m interested in something he said in a recent interview regarding his affluent lifestyle being largely supported by his church.  It appears Congress has gotten into the mix by interrogating and investigating the finances of prominent ministers.  Bishop Long will be one of many preachers that will be under Congress’ scrutiny.

In defense of his affluence Bishop Long says, ” “We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation.”  Long proclaims with confidence that he is a CEO of a multi-national non-profit ministry.  And like any other CEO of a large corporation he should be well compensated.  His use of the image of CEO and corporation I find to be interesting.  I have respect for Long’s ministry.  I refuse to join the cacophony of voices throwing broad and sweeping condemnations towards his ministry.  Anybody that has truly done ministry knows that ministry can be a complex reality.  A mixed bag of good and bad. 

The use of CEO/coporation to describe the pastor and church seems to be the controlling metaphors or images by which the community and its leadership is seen.  The pastor is CEO and members of the community are corporate workers and donors.  The non-profit ministry itself being a corporation just like any other corporation.  In the book Missional Church, edited by Darrell Guder, the image of pastor as CEO running a multinational corporation is put within in a larger historical context.

“The nature of leadership is thus transformed into the management of an organization shaped to meet the spiritual needs of consumers and maximize market penetration for numerical growth. Schools of management now replace medical and law schools as the professional model shaping seminary leadership training.”(p. 198)

One of the things embraced within the postmodern is the realization that we do theology from some place.  Our place is within the political economy of democratic liberal capitalism.  We live in a Market culture where just about all human interaction is seen through the lens of commerce and exchange.  The language of the multi-national corporation guides the understanding and structure of many in Christ’s body.  This is not necessarily a judgment but an observation that Market culture dictates our understanding of church leadership and the mission of the church in God’s world.  Pastor is CEO.  Church is multi-national corporation.  For the most part this reality seems to be a very practical thing given the world in which we live.  But there is a danger, I believe, in uncritically embracing these images of controlling and directing our understanding of leadership and community. 

I believe leadership in the emerging church will not uncritically accept these metaphors and images of leadership and community.  Largely because uncritically embracing Market language and image into the church’s mission can easily make it difficult to see one’s complicity with the negative pathologies of Free Market fundamentalism.  I would hope that leadership in the emerging church would be able to deconstruct the bad habits of free market fundamentalism by at least being able to resist habits, beliefs, and practices that make it difficult to see one’s complicity with structures of injustice.  As Jacques Derrida once taught us: deconstruction is justice.  In deconstruction, leadership is able to be honest about the finite nature of humans building these institutions and communities.  The very real human tendency to create structures/communities/institutions that maintain injustice among neighbors.  That they are just as easy to get caught up in practices and beliefs that make if difficult to discern one’s complicity with injustice. 

One such habit that needs to be resisted is the ‘maintenance of spectacle’.  I can see emerging church leaders positioned by theological humility, focus on peace-making, reconciliation, and forgiveness as a way to resist the maintenance of spectacle in their respective congregation.  What is spectacle?



12 thoughts on “An Emerging Profession: Resisting the maintenance of Spectacle

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  1. I enjoyed your post, and the content resonates with me. I think emerging church is a misnomer, however. Throughout history there have been groups who lived fruitful lives in the Spirit of Christ while not participating in the established church. Because of the pervasiveness of media and coverage, groups today knowing simply being in Him together are gaining attention.

    Probably a good thing, as some of these “emerging” groups are simply reactionary and that will most likely not be sustainable. However, as the insight of your seven year old noted, “…no such thing as too much love.” Therefore, groups based on the love of God will flourish.

  2. ded,

    I agree that there are communities that have lived fruitful lives in the Spirit. My comments were not meant to exclude other communities and movements in history. I was focusing on the emerging church conversation/movement.

    Thank you for your response.

  3. I often wonder when I read comments of wealthy pastors if they consider themselves disciples of a suffering Christ. When the church transforms itself into a corporation then it also should yield its constitutional protection from all Federal laws. I am completely against any religious organization having its cake and eating it. In other words New Birth has constitutional exemptions and protections that basically gives its leaders the right to do whatever harm that they deem appropriate. No I firmly disagree, ministry is not a mixed bag of bad and good, rather it is a field of tares sowned into the wheat.

  4. I do not begrudge pastors who receive large salaries from large churches. And I don’t think pastors that take little to no salary are any holier. What might concern me would be how the organizations are led, how the finances are stewarded, and so on. If a group of leaders come to a prayerful decision together in public consensus with their congregation that their pastor should receive a certain salary and benefit level based on job description and performance, then so be it. If the pastor or employee determines his own salary, then I think there is greater potential for corruption.

  5. I believe this is deeper than whether or not a pastor should get a salary. The issue is the ‘spectacle of the CEO-pastor’. Could it be that hiding behind the legality and public acceptance of being a CEO of a non-profit make it a challenge to handle one’s duties a more justice-seeking way? Making one susceptible to narratives and beliefs upheld by the Market (e.g. profit-over-people, success-over-communal well-being?).

  6. Milicent,

    I do not believe the suffering Christ looms large in the imagination of the CEO-pastor. Maybe Christ as Nobleman or World-conqueror. Definitely not the suffering insurrectionist and non-violent insurgent/terrorist that Jesus was.

    1. You are for real about this idea of Christ being a cross between Ghandi and Che? Suffering insurrectionist? Jesus did not cme to overthrow either Rome or Jerusalem; “My Kingdom is not of this world…” Ultimately, the kingdomes of this world will become the Kingdom of God and of His Messiah, not because of a rebellion, but simply because they are unable to sustain themselves without the Word of His power. When He returns, they will no longer be necessary.

      Sometimes different is good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s just different. Just because Jesus is not the poster child for the market economy doesn’t make him the pre-existing Huey Newton.

      Grace to you and peace…

  7. Regarding the larger issue of how pastors see themselves and the ministry, I agree that, once you see the ministry as your corporation, you think in terms of compensation. How diffferent when the image of a family is used instead. Then, leadership is seen as a responsibility which must be done for the benefit of the group, instead of a job for which one should be paid.

    On teh other hand, seminaries are expensive, and those student loans have to be repaid. What to do, what to do?

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