Author’s note: I edited some of this post due to the unneeded offense my wording caused.
I am at a point in life and ministry in which I’ve become quite jaded by all of the God talk that comes from church leaders. It’s getting hard for me to stomach lines like “God is at work here” or “total God moment” or “Come see what God is doing”. I’ll admit that I used to use this language but it’s been making me increasingly uncomfortable as the years go by due to various personal experiences in pastoral ministry. I have found that more often than not what we consider to be God’s blessing or God at work are often situations that are successful because of extenuating circumstances and factors.
In the LC-MS we hear of successful church plants in states that are in the Bible Belt like Arkansas or Texas. The culture there is still very much “Christian”. Also, if one digs a little deeper one will discover that in some of these cases the said plants are accorded lots of money to begin and maintain the plant, money that goes towards musicians, staffing, production. The same can be said of the large churches in the LCMS most of which reside in the suburbs of Midwestern cities. Better still I think of my father-in-law’s church in Southern California which grew tremendously in the 90s. In part that was due to his preaching ability, but also due to the fact that Southern California was one of the fastest growing parts of the country at that time. Often churches have grown because they were the next big thing and people are attracted to that in a place like Texas. Often churches have become mega-churches because of white flight. Often churches grow because they have the resources to. Then, it seems, we stamp God’s name onto it.
Now please bear in mind that there are definitely good things that go on in these churches as God’s Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments given. But I write about this because recently I came across a video from celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll about his new church plant in Scottsdale, Arizona. You may remember that Driscoll was formerly the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle only to be removed from that position for scandalous behavior such as bullying, plagiarism and the misuse of church funds. Instead of bowing out from ministry or waiting a good long while Driscoll has now popped up again in Arizona to start a new church. Of course, Driscoll is invoking God’s name claiming that God provided them with the perfect location for the plant. In other words, Driscoll has God’s stamp of approval for his new ministry. But that’s hard for me to swallow considering what he’s recently done, but I suppose claiming God helps to silence critics like me. But, then again, maybe it is God. After all, we liberal and conservative Christians tend to throw his name around a lot claiming he’s on our side or somehow implying that he supports and approves what we are doing. Maybe this is because we don’t really spend time on the second commandment – you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God in vain. Or maybe it’s because we’ve bought into the pragmatism and materialism of the American Dream that says more is better, that numbers are a sign of success and then project that onto God. Whatever it may be, I’m becoming more uncomfortable with the invoking of God’s name for all of our causes. Maybe I’m just a faithless curmudgeon. But it seems to me that we so often invoke the name of God to legitimate the things that we do. Claim God’s stamp of approval and you’re good to go, right?