Last summer John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, delivered a stinging indictment on televangelists and the tax perks of churches and non-profit ministries. While the show admittedly targeted the tiny minority of over-the-top financially abusive ministries (does a pastor really need a six-million-dollar home…uh, parsonage?), none of us are immune to the cancer of entitlement. Oliver even launched a tax-legit, legal, though short-lived, church to show how easy it is to start a religion: Our Lady Of Perpetual Entitlement. Seriously.
I’ve long warned pastors and churchplanters of the subtle dangers of entitlement and its Three Horsemen: Money, Sex and Power. The slightest improprieties in any of them will topple a ministry. It’s just not smart to even mildly entertain them…or in the simplest terms: never touch the money, keep your office door open and make sure you’re accountable to a legitimate board (not your wife, son-in-law and someone you led to Christ last year).
The recent implosion of Mars Hill churches was apparently caused by indiscretions at the leadership level of power and money. When news broke about the Mars Hill Global Fund not totally being used for its intended purpose, though there was no direct link to senior pastor Mark Driscoll himself, the danger is pastors can get too busy traveling or promoting their latest book that they lose sight of the flock. Or in Jim Collins Good To Great language: when CEOs start showing up on talk shows, it’s all over for the organization.
Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, articulates the danger of creeping entitlement and how leaders can begin to feel arrogantly bulletproof in their decisions. In describing true leadership, he writes:
(Leaders) are often willing to sacrifice their own comfort for ours, even when they disagree with us. . . . Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last. . . . The leaders of organizations who rise through the ranks not because they want it, but because the tribe keeps offering higher status out of gratitude for their willingness to sacrifice, are the true leaders worthy of our trust and loyalty. All leaders, even the good ones, can sometimes lose their way and become selfish and power hungry, however. . . . What makes a good leader is that they eschew the spotlight in favor of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people.”
I was never close enough to any of the parties involved to know what really went down at Mars Hill or to make any comment on its polity and accountability. But when Forbes.com calls your church “the Enron of American Churches”, you have a public relations problem of the first degree. And this has nothing to do with the size of churches; I’ve known very small ones with spiritually abusive leaders and a controlling culture with little transparency.
It simply has everything to do with leadership. Period.
None of us are immune to the cancer of entitlement. It creeps in after years of hard work, or when we’re tired or bordering on burnout, or when the grass that should be green on our side of the fence hasn’t been watered well. Or sometimes it’s simply the slime life throws at us that wears us down. Circumstances. Not taking care of our soul.
Two simple questions:
1. Do you have a healthy system of organizational and personal accountability and support?
2. How purposefully have you created and nurtured a servanthood-culture?
Come on. Be honest.