The Bubble Bursts: How the American Church Has Set Itself Up for a Crash

July 30, 2014

You know, for all of the free market competition we have here in America, we have a real tendency toward conglomeration. Depositors Waiting for Bank to Open

You knew that already, I bet.

Of course, you know that scads of retailers have gone out of business, while just a couple have risen to the top and consolidated the market. Amazon dominates online retail because they are dog gone good at what they do, better than anyone else.

The food we buy at the supermarket has the appearance of variety, but really the vast majority of foods that we buy come from just a handful of conglomerates. Think you’re sticking it to Starbucks by purchasing the cheaper Seattle’s Best? Think again, sucker. Seattle’s Best is a secret Starbuck’s brand to trick all of their haters.

The vast majority of the news and information we are exposed to comes from just about half a dozen conglomerates a far cry from the thirty or so media outlets of a few decades ago.

And most of our nation’s money goes into the vaults of just a few banks. We saw all of the benefits of that in 2008 and beyond.

So what does all of this conglomer-ization have to do anything?

It has everything to do with the economy of the American church, which just might be situated for economic disaster.

The Economy of Big Church

Like big food, media, money, retail, pharma, oil and all the other conglomerates that make up most of our economy, it seems apparent to me that the American church has become condensed over the last few decades.

Sure, our denominations are still fractured. But what we have is the rise of the megachurch and the celebrity pastor. An 18th century celebrity pastor could be an itinerant revival preacher, reaching a few hundred people. A 19th century celebrity pastor might have a large urban church and have greater influence. A 20th century celebrity pastor could influence still more people with a television or radio ministry. But a twenty-first century celebrity pastor trumps them all. With enough dollars, a media empire can be built, far reaching and much more durable and lucrative than a revival sermon or a pamphlet.

What we are seeing is a great portion of the American church being defined and engineered by a very few number of pastors. I don’t have to name them. We all have at least one who comes to mind. Tens of thousands of American Christians consider a celebrity pastor to be “their” pastor. Tens of thousands of people: all of their energy, their time, their money and their attention, consolidated in the hands of a few mere men.

What could go wrong?

Redefining American Church

It’s a lesson that we do not easily remember: less competition in the market is usually bad for consumers.

The food in our grocery stores is not good for us because just a few companies are deciding what Americans eat. Of course, the cheapest food is the worst for us, crammed full of unhealthy artificial ingredients. Practically everything the food industry makes has some combination of refined sugar, soy or chemical preservatives. Big Food has redefined what food is and there isn’t much we can do about it, except die of diabetes.

In the same way, this is how the American church has been redefined. The most visible parts of the American church are these parts which have the most money and the most resources. And this is how we are taught to define “church” now. The word “pastor” itself has been redefined as some pastors dub themselves “visionaries.” Thousands of people are taught to believe that their pastor is not someone they should expect to see in person, or should have a personal relationship with. A “pastor” is a guy on a screen or in the Sunday School coloring books who has a vision for a great, big, beautiful media empire, and the rest of us live in a church culture defined by celebrities.

The Bubble Always Bursts

This is my biggest worry. Given enough time, every economic bubble pops, right?

And likewise, it is not a matter of if, but when as we think about the next pastor crashing and burning. It seems hard to believe, but I have cleared books off my shelf, written by men that I used to really respect. I just cannot read their books when their ministries are exposed for the hypocrisy they hide. Who would have guessed a couple of years ago, whose ministries would be laying in the ash heap? I sure would not. But that’s what happens when you cover up gross wrongdoing to protect your empire.

Likewise, it appears that we are seeing the slow, sad, and incredibly unfortunate implosion of one of America’s most visible pastors. It’s kind of an annual tradition now, but we are seeing the fallout, yet again, of concentrating so much faith in one man. Accusations are being made, revelations are coming to light. Suspicions are being confirmed. Thousands of people have been hurt. When a mega-celebrity-visionary-pastor crashes, the fact is that he creates a heck of a lot more damage than the everyday brother-joe-pastor in rural Nebraska. We have concentrated so much power and influence in the egos of a few people, that they are bound to do much more damage when they fall, then the good they ever accomplished. It always attracts national media attention. Far more people will be hurt, become disillusioned, abandon their faith, because these men are their singular experience of “church,” while people on the outside of the church will just find more ammo to justify avoiding the whole “God” thing altogether.

I don’t have a great prognosis for the near future or a great solution, except diversify your spiritual investments.

But what do you think? Have we put too much faith in the hands of a few fallible men?

3 responses to The Bubble Bursts: How the American Church Has Set Itself Up for a Crash

  1. I do believe in what you are saying. People tend to think that these mega pastors somehow represent or speak for all of Christianity. When there are only a few whose beliefs would even begin to fall under the blanket of Christianity. Many give a terrible representation of what it is to live as Christ, flaunting their own brand of beliefs or so called faith.
    I would however caution you and say that even the best of ministers are not perfect and capable of faults. It is after all our pedestal, which we have placed them upon, that they fall from. As if they are some sort of super pastor incapable of sin. No they are just folks like you and me, they put their pants on one leg at a time and are capable of the same shortcomings and sins.
    I would also caution against statements such as “they are bound to do much more damage when they fall, then the good that they ever accomplished”. This is true only if God is not in it, He can take our faults and magnify His power. If you want an example of this ability just look at King David. Who among them has sinned more than him? Yet we remember King David for far more than his sin, which could only be a God thing.
    Just one of your humble readers.
    That has been truly enjoying your blog.

  2. To answer your question with my own beliefs, no we should never put any pastor on a pedestal that is reserved for God alone, but it is not about diversifying. It is about finding a church in your community and holding your own pastor accountable.

    I would also like to point out that the Bible is full of people who fell from their pedestal, and yet, God still has their contribution in His book. Some of the psalms were written by David, who committed adultery and murderer, not to mention being a potential traitor to his people when he took up with the Philistines and a bad father to his sons. In all these situations, he still continued writing psalms. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were written by the wisest man of his time who became the biggest fool because he allowed his wives to turn his heart away from God. Peter could act pretty spineless and Paul could be unforgiving and let this characteristic to drive a wedge between Barnabas and himself, breaking up a great evangelical and church planting team.

    All this to say, we should be praying for all pastors, the bigjobs as well as the pastors of small churches. I have seen three small churches torn apart and congregations hurting because of sin, not just sexual sin. One church collapsed by a posting on Facebook, another because the pastor began to be verbally abusive. I have been in the midst of one of these instances and in the aftermath, I have realized that it was God doing the pruning and keeping His church as pure as possible when it is filled with a bunch of sinners, both repentant and unrepentant. And new life was created in my former church from the pruning. So God is to be trusted with His church and this might be what he is doing to Covenant Life Church, pruning so that new life can sprout, so that His people will be humbled and to protect His Bride from further harm.

    As difficult as it is, we should be praying for our pastors and highly public pastors, even the bigjobs in the middle of troubling circumstances.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Tales from the Tsaddaqim front

  3. it is not what the pastors do wrong it is people we are only human we are naturally greedy so why would that stop at a pastor or minister it is not important where we attend church but that we attend church and keep a strong faith in God one way to do this is to hear gods music and reflect