Why do so many rock-star pastors implode under the spotlight? Why do modern-day churches become so entangled in growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? This week on The Roys Report, I’ll be talking with Author Kyle Strobel about how Christians have succumbed to the temptations of power. Then we’ll learn about Jesus’ seemingly contradictory path to power. To find out what Jesus’ path to power is, join us for The Roys Report.
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
ANNOUNCER: In the midst of all of today’s noise and confusion, we need a voice that cuts through the chaos to bring wisdom and clarity. Welcome to The Roys Report with Julie Roys—an hour-long show exploring critical issues related to faith and culture from a uniquely Christian perspective. Now, here’s your host, Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: Why do so many celebrity pastors implode under the spotlight? And why do so many churches get so focused on growing their brand that they lose sight of their true purpose? Welcome to The Roys Report brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And there’s no doubt that the Christian church, or more specifically the Evangelical Church, is going through one of the toughest seasons in her history. Megachurch pastors are resigning in disgrace. And megachurches are folding in the wake of scandals. And while some of this trouble can be chalked up to the age-old temptations of money and sex, there’s always this nagging issue of power. Power and the abuse of power has been a recurrent theme in all of these recent scandals. And as I’ve broken these stories about James McDonald or Todd Bentley, or Bill Hybels, people who have been victims of similar abusive leaders, they always reach out to me. They email me or they message me. And the abuse can happen in either a small church or a big church. But the dynamic is always the same. Power-hungry pastors jockey to control their boards and their congregations. They take for themselves instead of thinking about the people under them. People get hurt and the cause of Christ is suffering. And you can’t help but ask in the midst of all of this, where is God? Jesus said whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily. But many Christian leaders, pastors even, aren’t doing that. Why not? Well, according to the late author and theologian, Eugene Peterson, all of us have a choice. He said and I quote, “We follow the dragon and his beast along their parade route conspicuous with the worship of splendid images, fond of statistics, taking on whatever role is necessary to make a good show and get the applause of the important. Or we follow the Lamb along a farmyard route—worshipping the invisible, practicing a holy life that involves heroically, difficult tasks that no one will ever notice, in order to become our eternal selves in an eternal city. It is the difference politically between wanting to use the people around us to become powerful, or entering into covenant with people around us so that the power of salvation extends to every part of the world that God loves.” Well, joining me today is someone who spent time with Eugene Peterson and theologian, J. I. Packer, civil rights activist John Perkins and several other respected leaders and explore this issue of power and godliness; the right use of power. His name is Kyle Strobel. He’s the co-author of a book called The Way of the Dragon or the Way of The Lamb—Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It. So Kyle, welcome. I’m so thrilled to have you join me.
KYLE STROBEL: Thank you so much, Julie. So good to be here with you.
JULIE ROYS: And I should mention. Kyle is also a Systematic Theologian and Associate Professor of Spiritual Theology at Biola University. You’re also the son of this obscure Christian author and apologist. Some may have heard of him. His name’s Lee Strobel. (Laughter) Actually, a million seller, author and just very prominent apologist. And somebody I’ve known for over 30 years and had on this program. So it’s pretty cool to have you on, Kyle. And to speak to his son. And he is one of the, I mean, speaking of this whole issue of power and use of power and platform and everything. I know I have found your dad to be one of the most humble guys that I know and just unassuming. And you would not know when he walks in the room. I mean, he doesn’t act like he’s the most important person in the room. He actually makes you feel like you’re important. And it’s a pretty cool thing. So I don’t know him from living with him. But I’m guessing you’ve experienced him the same way.
KYLE STROBEL: Oh, totally. No, he’s a real gift. And I think, you know, in many ways, I think the Lord has been particularly gracious to him, in terms of never really—and I don’t know how much of this is just the Lord’s grace or his own discernment—but never really giving him his own thing. I mean, he’d never run an organization. You know, he never had a branding that had kind of names his own. It’s never really been about him. He’s always been partnering and doing stuff with folks. I mean, even in many ways, my own writing career, which is unusual to then, especially in spheres I work in, to do so much partnering in writing. In many ways is modeled after him—in the Mark Middleburg and him and he has several partners. You got a partners list and I think that’s, recognition that we don’t have to build things around our sole personality.
JULIE ROYS: And I’m sure an amazing mentor to have. But I want to say something. When I first became aware of your book, I was in the midst of reporting on James McDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel. And you sent me your book with this note saying, “God bless you and your work. I hope this encourages you in all you’re doing.” I don’t even know you Kyle. And you said this to me and I was like, wow, thank you. That deeply touched me. But when you wrote this book, you couldn’t have possibly known what was going to happen and all these scandals that were about to break. Could you?
KYLE STROBEL: No. That’s right, yeah. When we started writing this, I mean, it took us about seven years total to write this book. And so when we started, this is way before you really saw any of these scandals coming out. It’s before the Mark Driscoll scandal. It’s before—I mean, at the time, of course, you have sex scandals and money. You have those sorts of things. But in terms of power, not a lot of people were talking about it. And for Jamin and I, you know, when we started this whole thing, it was driven—I mean, a big part of what we saw in the church, and we had seen these problems, even if they didn’t go public. We had seen things behind the scenes. We had friends telling us things they had seen in churches. But for Jamin and I, what really struck us is, when we really felt called to write this book, was how much of this problem was already in our own hearts—that we struggle with this problem. And we’re seeing what it’s doing to the church. And so we really felt called. We need to highlight this. We need to, kind of, shine a light in these dark places. And that means for us, in the dark places in our own hearts.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. And you talk about that in your book. You say the first temptation of power is to view the problem as out there. It’s somewhere else and ignore the problem in our own hearts. And I know I’ve done a program on narcissist pastors. And I remember the expert that I was talking to was talking about how, yeah, there’s this narcissism that’s really toxic that causes real problems. And we don’t want pastors who have that. But, you know, all of us have a certain amount of narcissism. And that could be good, right? You know, and I’m like, well, okay. I can see how it can have a benefit, practically. But Biblically, there’s really nothing good about the narcissism in our own hearts. There’s nothing good about our own desire for adulation and power and control. And I love that you get very personal in this book. You get vulnerable and you talk about it in yourself. So talk about that. What did you see in yourself where you said it isn’t just out there? I’ve got this problem.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. Well, you know, I grew up in an evangelicalism and at Willow Creek where you know it there were passed the power. I mean there’s a reason why narcissists are oftentimes gravitating towards ministry because it’s a very quick path. And, you know, when I felt a calling to ministry, that calling was very closely tied to my own brokenness; to my own grandiosity. And as I grew in knowledge, which happens when you go to Bible college and seminary. And, you know, there was there was a lot of temptations there. And I think what the Lord did for me—and then going, you know, going back to my father, actually, he’s a great model for me of this—just incredible honesty about what is going on in your life. And, you know, I was, you know, in seminary, if I’m honest, you know, I do feel, I believe I was called. But when I was in seminary, I was here because I wanted to be great. I wanted to have a big platform. I didn’t want to sit by the bedside of a person dying in a hospital. Like that wasn’t my fantasy. And yet, you know, I’m keep reading Jesus saying the crazy kinds of things Jesus likes to say. Like the first will be last and the last will be first. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. And over and over and over again, Jamin and I both were confronted with these things. And we kind of looked at each other and we said, we, you know, the Bible is talking about this other power that we don’t get. Like, we have to make sense of this. And so in many ways, both of us, as we wrestled with our callings to go into ministry—for him pastoral ministry, for me more academic ministry—was a path of kind of wrestling through our temptations. Naming what we see, not only in our own life, but what we see in the church. And then really honestly naming what Scripture very clearly states that Jesus and the kingdom have an entirely contrary power system than the world.
JULIE ROYS: And often to find your calling, your true calling, in Christ, you need to give up something. And even Jamin talks about that in the book. How at one point, he had this offer to go to this huge megachurch. And that’s where so often we see this grandiosity. Not always. I mean there’s some humble megachurch pastors out there. But we often see this grandiosity pool and it’s this big draw. So it was go to that big megachurch or go to this small church where you’re not going to have that big platform. And he had to really wrestle with that. And yet he felt God calling him to that smaller church. We need to go to break. But when we come back, I want to talk about some of these sages. You talk about traveling around the world. How cool that you were able to do that and talk to some of these people who have wisdom in this area. And can help teach us how to go the way of the lamb instead of the way of the dragon. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. With me today, Kyle Strobel, author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. We will be right back after a short break.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to The Roys Report. Here’s your host, Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: How should pastors and Christian leaders relate to power? Certainly, power isn’t inherently bad. But how do we distinguish between the good and godly views of power and the evil and worldly power that’s all around us? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And there’s no doubt that we’ve seen a lot of the world’s kind of power seeping into our churches. And sadly, some of our churches today look and behave more like Fortune 500 companies than like New Testament churches. And our pastors often act more like CEOs than shepherds. But how do we change that? And how does the church—and Christian leaders—how do we start using kingdom power the way that God and Jesus embody it? Well, joining me today to discuss this issue is Kyle Strobel. And he’s the author of the book The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It. And by the way, I’m giving away copies of Kyle’s book today to two lucky listeners. So if you’d like to enter to win, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. Also, if you’d like to join our conversation today on social media, you can do that. To get to us on Facebook, just go to Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. And on Twitter our handle is @ReachJulieRoys.
So Kyle, in your book, interesting, chapter 4, you start out with a description of a church that you visited. Sounds like you had some friends that attended their, correct?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, that’s right.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. So I can I ask how many years ago was this?
KYLE STROBEL: Oh, wow. I think about now probably 13 or 14 I guess.
JULIE ROYS: Okay. And this was before I mean, anything had been reported about Harvest Bible Chapel or James MacDonald, at least [before] I had reported or started exposing anything there. There were some rumblings there, The Elephant’s Debt (a blog) had published and done some things. But what you noticed when you went there is fascinating. I’m just going to read the beginning of this chapter because it’s really fascinating. You talked about how on a Sunday morning you attended a church.
The church was known for being biblical. And as we waited for our friends to arrive—you’re waiting for some friends—we noticed something odd at one end of the lobby—a huge model of an ancient ziggurat. A ziggurat was a pyramid shaped building that increased in height with steps. Importantly, this is what the Tower of Babel probably was. “Why in the world did they have a huge Tower of Babel in the lobby?” I muttered to Kelly. Of all the images in scripture to portray, especially in a church not often in the business of making images, the Tower of Babel seemed a strange choice. Why portray a story about human arrogance in your church lobby? The only thing I could imagine was that the children’s ministry had created a huge model for their Sunday school classes. So, we decided to check it out. I was wrong. It was a massive Fountain. And what was most shocking was not the exorbitant cost of erecting such a tower in their lobby, although that was certainly troubling. What was more disconcerting was its purpose. At the foundation of this edifice were huge boulders and on each boulder was a plaque that name something the church had achieved. Let that sink in. Without realizing the implications, someone built the Tower of Babel in the lobby of a church with the foundation stones representing their own achievements. Someone built a model of the biblical portrayal of human arrogance as a physical representation of their own success. The church no doubt believed God had been a part of these achievements as we are all prone to do. They undoubtedly assumed whatever they did was for God. But the hubris undergirding these achievements was unveiled with the presence of this statue. If God really was the focus, why not include other churches or ministries? Presumably God is at work elsewhere, right? What could possibly be the goal of spending a fortune to erect such a monstrosity other than proving that they had something to be proud of? This is a perfect example of the idolatry of specialness –that you talk about earlier in the book—that J. I. Packer had talked about. “No matter how genuine the desire, the quest to win and feel powerful had seeped into the veins of this church.”
Wow. I mean, to read this—was this the Rolling Meadows campus of Harvest?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: That you saw this, and you recognize this and yet, so many didn’t notice, didn’t recognize it. This is I mean, it’s stunning to me, that this was going on, people weren’t recognizing it. But how it’s an idol. It’s idolatry. Right?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. And you know, when churches—and I think it gets so difficult when the second we tie our activity to God, it is amazing how easy it can be to justify things that are unquestionably evil. Things that are unquestionably toxic. And yet people not say anything, because if they look around, there’s big things going on. And they say, “Well, God’s at work, right? And so what are we to do?” I mean, I’m amazed, you know, I’m sure this happens to you as well, you know, the second people find out we’ve written a book on power, you can imagine the stories that we hear. And one of the most shocking things to us was how many people we heard say something like, “Oh, you know, I know so and so is so arrogant. But man, they can preach.”
JULIE ROYS: Right. It’s the great justification or rationalization of all of it.
KYLE STROBEL: That’s right.
JULIE ROYS: And when I talked to even early elders that were part of that church, they said, “Well yeah, the pastor twisted, James MacDonald twisted the truth. He was doing things that were wrong. He was belittling people, but so many people were coming to the Lord.” And yeah, we do justify it. And you know, let’s turn to say the flip side. That’s obviously the way of the dragon that you talk about. You got to spend time with J. I. Packer. Tell me a little bit about that and what you learn from J. I. Packer that’s the antithesis of what was represented by say that ziggurat in the church.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, well Packer, like all the sages, I mean, meeting with the people we met with, I mean, here are folks who they just had taken a different way. They, you know, at the time when we met with Packer, he was writing a book which would eventually come out and called, The Weakness is the Way. And it’s him just not only reflecting on scripture, which is what the main purpose of the book was, but just even his own life and recognizing, “Jesus is right about this.” And you know, one of the things that for us, the sages did, you know, because it’s easy when we read Scripture, it’s easy to read Jesus and kind of, we assume it’s true because it’s the Bible. But deep down, we don’t buy it. Like how many Christians believe the first are last and the last are first? How many actually believe that our power is only found in our weakness? And so, what these sages were, were models of, “Look, these guys have done this.” These men and these women like they’ve lived this way. And they’re powerful human beings now. And that’s what we had never really had all that often found in the church. And you know, Packer is a great example of it. And when Packer says—I think you mentioned it earlier—that the kind of critique of specialness and how he sees a church, that is longing for an experience and is longing for specialness. That’s a church now set up to be used by a toxic leader. And each of the people we met with in a different way highlighted these things. Some just—J.I. Packer obviously—but Eugene Peterson. You know the fact that he went to his Presbyterian and said, “I can no longer Shepherd the people you’ve given me because I know all their names I’ve been in all their homes and all the kids names and there’s another couple hundred people in the town that don’t come to church that think I’m their pastor anyways. And so they have problems, they come to me and I can’t do it anymore. We’re gonna have to church plant. We’re going to have to split the church because I’m at my breaking point.” And they said, “No.” And so he said, “Well, I can no longer pastor.” And he walked away. I mean, that is an entirely different kind of thing where he’s looking at the call and recognizing, “If I continue to do this, I will abandon the pastorate to keep pastoring.” Whereas so many see not abandoning the pastorate, but they kind of see the pastorate as a way into something that is really, if we’re honest, not pastoral. It’s a kind of Guru. And the call to kind of embrace this way that is against scripture’s call to be a shepherd of people. And instead to be their Guru is really one of the great temptations–I think—in ministry today that so many have embraced. And the sad reality is I don’t think any of these guys got into it because of that. You know what, at some point, they just love Jesus. And they wanted to be faithful. And yet they didn’t anticipate the temptations that were coming. And they weren’t prepared for them.
JULIE ROYS: I think what you touched on is really interesting. There’s two things. There’s one: the pastor wanting to be special, the Christian leader wanting to be special. And many of us who have been in ministry, I know I felt that totally, totally felt that. And wanting to be respected and people to listen to you. That temptation is there. But then there’s this other side of the people in the church wanting to be special. Of us wanting to be part of this big thing God’s doing and we’re going to hitch ourselves somehow to this train of specialness. So, I want to talk about that when we come back. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. With me today, Kyle Strobel, author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It. We’ll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Now, more of The Roys Report. Once again, here’s Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: Why are prominent pastors and ministries imploding around us? Could it be they’ve succumbed to the seduction of worldly power and they’ve forgotten the way of Christ that to gain something, you must lose it? Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re talking about how pastors and Christian leaders should relate to power. Sadly, we often see pastors and churches incorporating the values, principles and methods of the world. But what is the right way to handle power? And how is kingdom power different from worldly power? Joining me today is Kyle Strobel author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It. And I want to remind you that today I’m giving away two copies of Kyle’s book. So, if you want to enter to win The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. Also, if you’re just joining us and want to listen to the first part of our discussion today, I’ll be posting the complete audio of today’s program to my website about an hour after the podcast. Just go to JulieRoys.com, and then click on the podcast tab. So, Kyle, you know, we’ve talked about the leader and the ways that they often embody power and these temptations of power. But it’s also the congregation sometimes. In fact, you write in many places, churches openly affirm the way of below. You talk about the way of below is the way of the dragon so to speak. “Instead of being told how desperately I am in need of God, I’m reportedly told how much God needs me.” And we like to hear that don’t we?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, you know, one of the ways that I think churches have kind of subconsciously or maybe consciously, I don’t know—subconscious is a more generous assumption—is that maybe they’ve kind of assumed that if we give them a kind of Guru that they can look up to and they can follow—because we like to kind of hitch ourselves to someone that we think is great—and if we’re told that we need to give ourselves to be a part of something that needs us, and that we have this very clear cut mission, because we’re this special place, that suddenly we get this—notice how so many of these things, it’s not that they’re totally wrong. They’re just wrong enough, where they can be painted with the gospel brush that makes it sound like, “No, we’re doing this for God and His glory.” And yet, right behind that, you can kind of start to peel back something that reveals, “Well, actually, we’re trying to do it for us and for our glory, and maybe for this person’s glory.” So in many ways one of the things that has come out of the studies on toxic power is not only that there’s people looking for it to become toxic leaders and narcissists who are embracing these things, but actually congregations want a toxic leader. They want someone to kind of gaze upon and think, “Wow, I’m going to ride his coattails.”
JULIE ROYS: It’s almost like codependency isn’t it?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah. Well, you talk about somebody who’s very, very different. You refer to her as a powerfully weak woman. I love the oxymoron. Someone named Marva Don. Someone I had never heard of. Talk about her and how maybe she’s an example for us.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. Marva. Marva is an incredible woman. I mean, here’s a person who, you know, she did her PhD. She’s kind of done some really serious work in biblical studies—theology—an actually is probably the only person we interviewed that had done even academic work on that very topic we were asking about. Most of the people were talking about their lives. And for her it was interesting, because she had done academic work in the area but she also just embodied it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a person with more physical maladies than Marva Don. She had just had a foot amputated before we met her. This woman was, I mean laundry list of suffering. And, you know, as long as the Lord gave her a mouth to speak, she would say, she’s out there proclaiming His word. She’s co-written things Eugene Peterson before. So that’s usually where people kind of run into her. But Marva you know, for us, she became a real turning point. You know, one of the things that happened with Jamie and I as we write this book, and the reason we took so long is we wanted to allow the book to be what it was supposed to be. A problem with a lot of Christian books is—and this is true about any book I suppose—is oftentimes you get a contract and you’re told to write a book in six months.
JULIE ROYS: Oh, my goodness, yes. I’ve been through it once. And it’s—wow—brutal.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. And so it’s like, and it’s not a great space for wisdom, right? That’s not a great space to kind of do something with depth. And so we thought, you know, let’s just give us the space to allow this project to be what we think the Lord wants it to be. And we had an idea, but we wanted to be open to be surprised. And she surprised us. We did an interview with her, and neither of us wanted to go the direction she pushed. We kind of weren’t prepared. But Marva made it clear that if you’re biblically in a talk about power and weakness, which is the main theme that we were wrestling with, that you also have to talk about the powers and the principalities. And for us what became a really important image from James 3, the image you mentioned earlier, the way from above versus the way from below. And James calls the way from below the way of, “the world the flesh and the devil.” And that changed things for us. Because when we looked at the James MacDonald’s of the world, those situations, like everyone that could see these things clearly, we kind of thought, “Wow, it shouldn’t be this way. This is worldly.” But suddenly scripture was pushing us to say something that was harder to say, which is, “This is demonic.” And then we started seeing Jesus do this when he calls Peter, “Satan,” to his face. And tells him he’s setting his mind on the ways—not of God, but of man. Where He links, the way of the flesh with the demonic. And so, what became clear for us is that, you know, there’s a power system that is shared by the world, the flesh and the devil. And we might think of it as power and strength for the sake of control and often domination. Whereas the way of Jesus—the way from above—is power in weakness for the sake of love. And that early temptation we had—and actually it was Martin Luther King and our study of him that helped us see that this was a temptation—was to think that, “power as such is bad.” And we then realized “No, that’s not the case. Actually all of this is for power. Christians should be powerful. But power in weakness for the sake of love means love is power.” And true love is actually the kingdom functions. To put it in economic terms, which is where a lot of our power themes come from, the economy of the kingdom is love. And that changes everything. And that’s what Marva really pushed us to consider that actually the great tragedy is not simply toxic leadership. The great tragedy is that demonic power is being wielded to try to further the kingdom. And it is warping the soul of the church from within. And we began to see this. And I think, you know, and in many ways much of your work has actually done a great job of exposing very clearly that that this has seeped into the very heart of evangelicalism under the guise of a church that should have been seeing this. Of a church that that knows scripture and therefore should be recognizing this and yet didn’t—just missed it entirely.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and it’s not one church. It’s the entire evangelical industrial complex—which you referenced in your book—it has seeped into an awful lot of ministries. Man, this is a great discussion. I’m looking forward to continuing it. We have to go to break. But when I come back, I’ll be speaking more with Kyle Strobel author of The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb. We’ll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is The Roys Report with Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: Rather than following the way of Jesus, too many Christians chase relevance and influence. They’re seduced by worldly power instead of the path to kingdom power. Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And that’s the opinion of my guest today, Kyle Strobel, author of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It. And I’d love to hear what you think. To comment, just go on Facebook, Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. Or on Twitter, my handle is @ReachJulieRoys. Kyle, right before break some powerful stuff you were talking about in the last segment, that we’re not talking just about, “Oh, this is a good way or a bad way or a better way.” We’re talking about the ways that the church is operating is actually in some cases outright demonic. In fact, Marva Don, you were talking about, she writes, “I was at a pastoral conference once and the pastors were trying to outdo each other as to who had the most important congregation. That was demonic.” We need to start naming it, don’t we?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. No, I think that’s important. And that became an important moment for us. That the temptation we had, you know, I think we talked particularly in evangelicalism for us the problem is the flesh. That we’re bad we’re fleshly were fallen. And therefore, we do fleshly things. And so that could kind of become a bit sterile actually. Like we don’t feel the weight of that.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and then you hear “Everybody’s human.”
Whenever you bring up any fault. When someone’s taking a half a million-dollar salary or a million dollar salary. “Well, everybody’s human. So, they’re a little greedy. Look at the good they’re doing.” Right?
KYLE STROBEL: Totally. And that’s where we have to see that the actual system of power is different. You know, I think one of the, if not the, and in my mind, greatest temptation in the church today is to use a worldly and fleshly and demonic power grid to kind of weigh the church. And you see this. I remember one of the things Dallas Willard said to us is he said, “Couple hundred years ago, and for all of church history, you could have been seen as a faithful pastor and not been a good preacher.” And he’s like, “I don’t think that could happen today.” And even the focus on good preaching there, what he means is kind of rhetoric, right? Like how the average person judges what powerful preaching is. And quite honestly the grid we’re using to weigh what a successful church is, what a meaningful church is, these are worldly fleshly, demonic systems. Jesus didn’t judge things this way. You get that famous image about David being made king as a child where it looks at the heart. Well, the similar thing happened in the church, God kind of looks to see the heart of a church. Does that mean it’s going to be the most influential? Does it mean it’s going to look powerful? Not necessarily on worldly terms. And I think the assumption has been, if a church appears powerful in worldly terms, God’s the one doing that. And I think the entirety of Scripture pushes the other direction and unveils there’s something vastly different going on. And so I think one of the things that has happened is that we’ve—the word that I don’t know if you heard this word a lot, but one of the words that has been ruined for me by people is the word anointed. Because it just covers sins for people. It’s like, “Well, you know, sure that person is a narcissist, but they’re anointed.” And what they mean is that they’re savvy in certain ways that get things done. And that’s again, worldly. That’s just not what the kingdom is. When you talk about discerning the way of Jesus, it is the way of kind of a weightiness of soul. And you just don’t find that in these places. And so, I think we have to adopt an entirely different method of thinking about the notion of success, of thinking about what does it mean to judge something kingdomly, rather than worldly? But we haven’t.
JULIE ROYS: You know, it’s interesting when you talk about anointing. It reminds me a little bit of the scandal with Todd Bentley. I don’t know if you followed that at all. It’s somewhat outside of the evangelical tradition that I’m sort of planted in because it’s more of a charismatic. But here’s a guy who had multiple affairs and sexting issues and every. And finally, there was several charismatic leaders who came together—and some of them you know; Dr. Michael Brown, somebody I respect a lot. I love Michael. And then they finally together, issued a finding and a judgment after researching everything, and saying, “This man should not be in public ministry.” There was one part in there though where they talked about anointing. And it is possible. I mean, I look at Old Testament kings who were anointed to be kings, and they were as evil as all get out. And the anointing might have been there to be king. I mean, we see with Saul, it’s taken from him and given to David because of his evil. But it’s very confusing. And I know I talked to a pastor who had known James MacDonald very well. And he said, “What just messes with me is he seemed like God’s anointed. He seemed to have all that, he was Saul and I was his David.” And he said, and you could tell this was, you know, 15 years post leaving, and he’s still confused by it, still wracked by it. Like, “How do I put that together that this man who seemed to be such a man of God—had such impact—was so corrupt?” I mean, how do we put that together? It’s very difficult.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah. And what I worry about is when you know, anointing, that term is loose in a dangerous way. Because I’ve seen the same thing. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of churches where someone has an affair. Of course, the woman, they get rid of her. She’s kind of not allowed anymore, but he’s anointed. So, we’re going to rush him through some sort of process. We’re going to get him back in ministry. And oh, shocker, two years later, has another affair. And it’s this crazy notion that somehow—because it almost inevitably, because this person can stand up in front of people and wow them—they’re anointed. And there’s plenty of people that can do that in this world. Most of Hollywood is filled with people who can stand up in front and wow people. It’s the assumption that somehow the church, you know, I think there’s an assumption that God will so protect the church that he won’t allow these kinds of people to come to power. But again, scripture’s full of stories where God for whatever reason, allows his people to walk down folly, foolish roads. And I think one of the things that has happened with, particularly in America where I think because for so long, evangelicalism has had a kind of cultural power, we’ve been able to tie these things. I mean, I think, you know, 20 years from now, this might not be a non-issue. Yeah. You know, that we’re going to hit a point where there’s going to be a certain amount of sacrifice and suffering to embrace a public ministry. That will maybe just undermine all of this. But for the time being, the church is still very much a place where this kind of power can be had. And again, when you think about pastoring, like do we judge our pastors by the grid of love? And how do we know that? Because I’ve met many pastors who are total narcissists, who you put them on a stage, they can appear like they really cared about love. But it was rhetoric. They know what needs to be said. And that’s such a great danger if that’s how we’re judging people. And you know, if you’re at a church, if you’re listening to this and you’re at a church—do you want to know what one of the best ways to think about how a church thinks about power is if either imagine or look at the last time you hired someone. What were you doing when you hired someone? I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve met that have never bothered asking a future hire if they pray and what their prayer life is like. It just never came up. And so yeah, you know, I think hiring someone’s an interesting model to look at because every kind of temptation you have kind of comes out when you hire someone. Particularly with the head pastor. Are you looking for someone who’s going to wow you? Or are you looking for someone following Jesus? Those two things will require two totally different ways of going about interviewing, of the kind of questions you ask them, of what you. Almost every church wants a video of someone preaching.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and if you look at the job descriptions too, they’re very telling.
KYLE STROBEL: Totally.
JULIE ROYS: Very telling. In fact, Scot McKnight wrote a very good blog post couple months ago just even analyzing Okay, Willow Creek’s looking for a pastor. Let’s look at this job description. What does the job description say that we’re looking for? And I think that’s important for us to soul search about. What does that say? That’s a great point.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, yeah, those statements, you know, when churches write out those job descriptions, those are a kind of a mirror back to the church of who we are. And it reveals the soul of the place. And it’s scary because quite a lot of them are not looking for a pastor even though they’re calling it a pastoral hire. They’re looking for a guru.
JULIE ROYS: Tell me this, because we don’t have a lot of time left. But how do we change that culture? Because we’re talking about a culture, so often. It can be a person, right? It’s planted by a person. But they create this culture, and it becomes systemic. And I’ve seen this with churches where they can get rid of the problem person, supposedly or ministry, the problem person, but that culture is entrenched, that way of thinking is entrenched. How do you change that at a church or at a ministry?
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, that’s a great question, but a hard one. You know, I think in many ways, you have to have two things go on there. There’s has to be a change in elder boards. And the leadership can be whatever your church structure is, whatever the kind of leadership.
JULIE ROYS: Okay, let me ask you that, though. Because often what happens, there’s a change, but all the people that assume leadership are from within. So, they’re within the culture. Does it have to be from without?
KYLE STROBEL: Well, not necessarily. I mean, I think that you have to start on both ends, like you have start at leadership and there also has to be a kind of grassroots movement in a church where a church just kind of in studying scripture, I think very clearly says now like, “No, this is not what it means to be the church.” And then hold their leadership accountable. And this is what the way unfortunately, particularly in evangelicalism where you have a lot of churches that have no—I mean, Willow’s a great example, right? After Bill [Hybels] they’re like, “Who do we turn to for help?” There’s no denomination. And so, when you have a lot of these independent churches, the danger is there’s nowhere to go. And the person probably has so much power they’ll just force you out. And you know, that James MacDonald is famous for this, right where there’s kind of these scare tactics and these like, you know, heavy handed like, “I’m going to force you into submission or scare you enough that you just shut up.” And unfortunately, often those moves are done behind closed doors. And so you might get an Elder board that learns about them. But, you know, one of the things that I think is important is when you think—let’s use elder board as an example, just because I think most churches have something like that, we have this group of elders—I think there that we all we need to ask some serious questions about why the group is the size that it is. Like James MacDonald, so how many were there? Like 30, 35 or some crazy number?
JULIE ROYS: It was over 30.
KYLE STROBEL: Yeah, well that’s a power move right there. Like if you have 30 people in a room, there’s too many people to know what the other person’s thinking. That is what a toxic leader wants to do, because now you control the room because you can manipulate different sides of the room at different times. And behind closed doors, you can approach one person and tell them to step in line because all the other people will go against them. And all the stuff that happens there. The fact that there’s any more than 10 probably is a bit suspicious in my mind.
JULIE ROYS: I hate to do this, but we’re running out of time. We could continue this a long time. But I think what I’m hearing you say is we need to get back to basics.
KYLE STROBEL: And we need to reevaluate every level of what we do around a biblical notion of power.
JULIE ROYS: Absolutely. And it just reminds me of Mark 10:42-45, where Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Kyle, I thank you so much for reminding us of that today. So appreciate your book and your input today. And just a reminder, if you missed any part of this show or want to listen again, just go to JulieRoys.com. Thanks again for listening. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless.