Minister locally. Starve the Evangelical Industrial Complex.
(The signs and slogans say "shop local" though I really wish they would say "shop locally" but let's just let it go.)
Though I could write a book on the Evangelical Industrial Complex, the recent Christianity Today (CT) article and a response by investigative reporter Julie Roys illustrates yet again the sentiment I would be chasing after with many thousands of words.
First off, Roys is a bulldog when it comes to a story. And her first name is Julie, so there's also that. Roys is no slouch for research, reporting, and standing firm against a tidal wave of negativity. I may not always feel warm fuzzies when I read her articles, but I can't deny she's on the money in her observations.
As Roys points out, people are lauding Mark Galli at CT for his op ed calling for President Trump's removal. But this is the same editor and publication who let James MacDonald run his bull through the Evangelical china shop. Roys covered the MacDonald debaucle without wilting, and if you want to see all the nitty gritty, it's there on her blog.
Not only did CT run MacDonald's poorly thought-out article on why it's swell to sue other believers, they've done some other ignoble things under Galli's watch. Roys writes:
But CT’s collusion and complicity doesn’t end there. When I published my initial exposé on MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel in WORLD Magazine, CT published an article disputing my exposé. In addition, CT did something almost unheard of in journalism: it published Harvest’s press release in full.
Interestingly, CT had done something similar about a year earlier when famed apologist Ravi Zacharias was caught in a sexting scandal. Like MacDonald, Zacharias pre-emptively sued his accuser before she went public. And then, after the woman had signed a non-disparagement agreement and could not speak, CT published Zacharias’ full statement against her.
Roys actually continues to document further things that CT did that are, well, Trumpian.
So here's the thing, and I'm going to pull some more Roys quotes in at the end to flesh it out: stop looking to the Evangelical publishing, conference, thought leader industrial complex for direction on how to live and be a child of God.
Look to your local church body.
That's where God placed you. Those are the human beings he put you with. The leaders there in your local body, while maybe not as eloquent as the Big Famous Chistians, are who he put in place for the people, place, and time you are in.
What happens is these famous Christians who reach a platform and place of reputation amongst the right intellectual crowd become more used to green rooms, podiums, audiences, conference stages, talk shows, podcasts and pretty much anything else that is removed from the actual regular in-the-pew believers that make up your church and my church. They are fleshing out their three-book publishing deal and aren't down in the arena dealing with the local body like the pastors and lay leaders are in the local church.
Why do we continue to buy books and buy the spiel that someone a few thousand miles away with a publishing deal can tell me how I can win in my walk with Christ, how I can use their seven steps to better my prayer life, or how I can grow my church?
Local pastors, please dump the celebrity thought leader books and just get your Bible out and ask the Holy Spirit what you are supposed to teach your flock! Trust that God will guide you on how to lead your local body of believers instead of relying on marketing campaigns and kits from the Evangelical Industrial Complex.
Most of us aren't called to be evangelists on the scale of Billy Graham or Luis Palau or those in past decades and centuries. We are called to minister local(ly). The local body of believers was and is a big deal from the beginning of the church and onward. We don't need the editor of a magazine located neart a growingly liberal "Christian" university to force his views on us. We don't need a "Christian" publishing house owned by a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a decidedly NOT Christian publisher to tell us what our faith should look like. THE BIBLE TELLS US.
This weird Evangelical Industrial Complex has created a top-down poison. When it starts to lean away from the Bible in theology, sexual ethics, social aspects and more, we allow it to drip right into our local body willingly. We trust that because it's in the Christian bookstore or advertised in a Christian magazine or listed in a Christian sale flyer or a known name, it must be safe and doctrinely sound. Why hook up to that IV? You already have access to the spirit of God! You can read your Bible. You can lead a study. You can create your own notes, questions, and discussion points. You can pray and ask God to help you. You don't have to keep having moments of shock and disbelief when yet another famous Christian thought leader or teacher crashes and burns morally or theologically, because you were letting the Holy Spirit lead instead of Rick Warren or Bill Hybels.
But we turn to see what Ed Stetzer or Matt Chandler or Christianity Today or Russell Moore or whomever else has to tell us on how to think, build the church, lead, and live a life of faith. Your attention, your purchases, your subscriptions, your social media likes and shares -- they all fuel this bizarre Evangelical Industrial Complex, a complex that, in order to stay relevant, has to keep churning out opinions and thoughts whether the Holy Spirit asked them to or not.
You legitimize it.
I legitimize it.
It's hard to know when you've gone from enjoying good teaching, a helpful book, or a good Bible study into turning your eyes to human process and human thoughts instead of being led by God, but it is rampant. The push to use the methods and teachings and basically change a local church body into zombie clones all across the world is frightening.
Let those guys lead their own congregations if they are pastors. They don't need to put their hooks in the one God gave you to shepherd, pastors! Did God tell you to lead that way, or did you pick up the methodology at the latest leadership conference?
If there was something I would encourage all believers to do in 2020, especially those in leadership positions of any kind, it would be to stop looking at the latest and greatest new book or church growth kit or marketing explosion of whatever from some Big Name Totally Removed From The Local Church and simply ask God what He would have us do in our local church body. It would be to truly look to the Holy Spirit and the Bible as the place to get your studies, sermons, teaching, and vision from. It would be to stay on top of trends and books and thought leaders, not to ape them, but to be aware of what your local body of believers might be consuming so you can address problems and bad theology that might come from the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Or, so that you don't bring this stuff in unwittingly. It would be to stop letting these people be the spokesperson of power to your church and instead, step up and be a shepherd and lead and guide specifically.
This is not the time to abdicate leadership to the Evangelical Industrial Complex! This is not the time to phone it in and let someone else's sermons or thoughts blanket the church God placed you in to lead and live in.
Mark Galli doesn't sit next to me at church. He doens't know or even understand the things that concern me, that are on my heart, that the Holy Spirit is stirring in me. He sits in Illinois and writes op eds to a calculated audience to further his purposes. Why in the world do we let people like him, people removed from the local body, determine what our sermon series will be, what our seasonal themes will be -- why?!
If you think I'm being too harsh, consider this from Roys' article:
I suspect the reason for this hypocrisy is that CT depends on the evangelical industrial complex to survive. It needs its evangelical advertisers and relationships with top Christian celebrities and thought leaders to remain in business. But CT doesn’t need Trump.
The magazine has been building its more progressive base for years. And as Matthew Schmitz, senior editor of First Things, noted in an op-ed in the New York Post, most of the leadership class within evangelicalism is far more liberal than the movement it supposedly represents.
Galli likely knew his op-ed would make him a hero to the people who write the books, sell the books, organize the conferences, and staff Christian colleges. It seems a calculated risk, and one that’s apparently paid off. As Galli told CNBC, three times as many people have subscribed to CT than have unsubscribed since his op-ed went viral.
Christianity Today was dying. Galli publishes a particular op ed that would appeal to a specific audience. He got the subscriptions. Well now.
Galli, the publishing industry, and those with a platform of fame or a position they don't want to lose all know what they have to do to hold onto their power. They know who they have to feed. And that's what they do. That's who they feed.
I heard a story once from a preacher who told of a man from a developing country coming to visit the U.S. to see how we were growing our churches. When asked what he thought, he said something to the effect of "it is amazing to see how much the American church can accomplish without the help of the Holy Spirit."
That makes me ill.
And that won't work, especially now as the culture gets worse and worse and the church continues to capitulate to the demands the culture makes.
The Evangelical Industrial Complex allows us to buy, sign up, and get kits to grow our church, but the church we grow won't be Spirit-led. I want nothing to do with it.