Tag Archives: pastors

Preachers of L.A. (article in the “Telegraph”)

By Philip Sherwell, New York9:00PM BST 26 Oct 2013
They live in opulent mansions, enjoy the company of beautiful women, drive flashy sports cars, proudly sport their clunky gold jewellery and heavy tattoos and revel in their celebrity status.
They also happen to be the pastors of six evangelical Californian so-called ‘mega-churches’ who deliver their charismatic messages to tens of thousands from the pulpit each Sunday.
And they are now the stars of Preachers of LA, a new hit reality television show chronicling the lavish lifestyles, emotional dust-ups, entrepreneurial flair and of course spiritual zeal of these men of the designer cloth and their wives and admirers.
Among their ranks are a one-time Los Angeles gang member, a former professional skateboarder and drug addict, the brother of Grace Jones and a chart-topping contemporary gospel music singer.
What unites them is an interpretation of Christianity that is dramatically at odds with the “church of the poor” frugality espoused by Pope Francis since arriving in Rome.

Just last week, the Pontiff suspended the so-called “bishop of bling” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from his German diocese of Limburg after he racked up a 30 million euro bill for new church headquarters.

The bishop would encounter no criticism of such apparently conspicuous consumption from these celebrity ministers who champion the gospel of “prosperity theology”.
This doctrine, an offshoot of Pentecostalism and one of the fastest-growing in the US, holds that financial wealth and physical health are the blessings of God, a material reward in this life for a faith that alleviates the curses of poverty and sickness.
So it is that Bishop Ron Gibson, who joined the Crips street gang at 16 but now ministers to 4,500 people each week at Life Church of God in Christ, is shown cruising the streets of Los Angeles in his red Cadillac, one of his fleet of luxury vehicles.
“P Diddy and Jay-Z – they’re not the only ones who should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses,” he says to the camera as he compares himself to secular celebrities. To whoops from his congregation, he notes: “You see my bling, you see my Bentley, you see my glory but you don’t see my story.”
For Noel Jones, the brother of Grace who has a spa session before delivering his Sunday sermon to a 15,000-strong congregation and lives in a hilltop Malibu mansion with sweeping Pacific views, life as a unmarried rock star of the evangelical movement brings other attractions.
“Of course, women throw themselves at you in this business,” he notes. “When you get to be my age, then you think ‘why can’t you have some fun’.”
And viewers follow the personal and religious struggle to emerge from scandal of Deitrick Haddon, who started preaching at 11 and is a also a famous gospel singer. He is now forging a new life with Dominique, the attractive second wife with whom he had a child out of wedlock while divorcing his spouse of 15 years.
It is hardly surprising the show has been prompted controversy and condemnation, even from others within the prosperity theology movement, such as Bishop TD Jakes, senior pastor at a Dallas mega-church, so-called because they attract more than 2,000 worshippers to a service.
“Now, I know you been watching that junk on TV,” he told his congregation recently. “I want to tell you right now, not one dime of what you’re sowing right now will buy my suit. I want you to know my car is paid for. I want you to know I got my house on my own.
“I want you to know I’m not bling-blinging….I don’t need your offering to pay for this little slimy suit. So I rebuke that spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.”
The show has, unsurprisingly, been denounced by prominent figures in the African-American church – five of the six preachers are black – for the example set by its participants. “If you watch on mute, you can’t tell if these are preachers or rap stars,” lamented Jacob Samuels, who leads an Orlando church.
At Harlem’s New Horizon Church. Michael Faulkner was just as scathing.
“These guys are so off the wall they give the church a bad name, they give preachers a bad name, they give TV a bad name,” he said.
But the stars of Preachers of LA are unapologetic. Mr Haddon said that he was “humbled to be able to be a part of such a groundbreaking, history-making product”, referring to the series’ popularity, and that God had told him he should take part in a reality show about preachers.
“Never before have you ever seen the name of Jesus on a reality show like this proclaimed throughout the entire show,” he told The Christian Post.
“The men on this show, are men of integrity, established men who have been working hard down through the years, and they should have something to show for it. When you work hard, especially working for the kingdom of God, sacrificing your life for the kingdom, He rewards those that are diligent about what they do for Him.”
He said that the programme would win souls in an unorthodox way, a message echoed by Jay Haizlip, the former professional skateboarder-turned-pastor.
“They’re not going to come listen to a preacher, they’re not gonna turn on Christian television,” he said. “This is not a preaching TV show. This is a show where millions of people will get to watch us do life, and what it’s really like to live in our shoes.”
Indeed, the cameras follow Mr Haizlip as he returns to the crack-cocaine dens he once frequented as a drug user to minister to addicts and Mr Gibson as he drives into the hard-knock district of Compton to encourage “gang-bangers” to follow his path away from street crime.
But this new breed of preacher is as at home in the language of the entrepreneur as the minister, referring to their “brands” and income streams, describing off-shoot churches as franchises and terming themselves as chief executives.
It is from the for-profit arms of their operations that they fund their lifestyles — and according to the tenets of prosperity theology, set an example for others.
“The prosperity gospel is one of the most popular theologies of modern Christianity in American,” Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School who has written a book about the doctrine, told The Sunday Telegraph. “It is about faith, health, wealth and victory in this life, with an emphasis on the wallet and the body as in part of the contract with God.
“Even many believers in the prosperity gospel will hate The Preachers of LA as it seems to distill certain excesses, but others will love it because of their belief that the high life might actually be divine.”

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Zack Hunt – Huffpost

Why Protestant Pastors Should Follow Pope Francis’ Lead
Posted: 11/22/2013 6:20 pm

I’m Protestant, but I’m fan of Pope Francis.

A big fan.

I’m under no illusions that he isn’t without his flaws, but when it comes to the Christian faith and in particular being Christ-like he just seems to get it, probably more than any other major Christian leader I know.

From rejecting the luxuries of the papal apartment to washing the feet of a Muslim female inmate to his theology that seems more concerned with loving the poor and defending the oppressed than drawing lines of exclusion to that time last week when he put a kid on the papal seat during a talk at St. Peter’s or just the other day when he embraced and kissed a man stricken with a disfiguring skin disease Pope Francis never ceases to wow me and, more often than not, bring a few tears to my eyes.

Again, I’m not Roman Catholic, but he’s the sort of leader I would gladly follow, the kind of Christ-like example I want to follow.

But incarnated grace aside, the thing that’s really shocked me the most about Pope Francis is the response he’s received from those outside the faith.

And I don’t just mean non-Catholics.

I mean those of entirely different religious traditions, but especially those with no religious affiliation at all and those who oppose religion altogether.

If you spend enough time on the internet, you can just about predict the sorts of comments that will appear under religious news stories, particularly stories about the Roman Catholic church. To say the comments are typically not kind would be an understatement. Even calling them irrationally hateful doesn’t quite capture the vitriol spewed in those comment sections.

Which is why I’ve been so blown away by the comments left on stories about Pope Francis.

I expected to find cheap shots about the child abuse scandal, dismissals of his actions as a PR stunt, or at least a bizarre rant about how helping the poor is actually evil.

But I’ve found almost none of that. And trust me I’ve tried to find it.

I winced in fear the first time I scrolled down to the comments section under a Pope Francis story that really moved me, knowing the internet trolls would be there waiting to gleefully destroy my happiness. But they weren’t there. So I kept scrolling. And still nothing. Then I went to another site thinking surely they’ve got to be hiding out over there. But they were virtually nowhere to be found.

Instead, over and over again I keep finding comments like this….

I’m not Catholic, but man do I love this Pope! (Buzzfeed)
Agreed. I’m a Recovered Catholic, born-again pagan- but this is one cool dude! (Buzzfeed)
I’m an atheist, but I am really starting to like Pope Francis. He really seems like he understands that the church should be focusing on doing what Jesus said- helping the poor, needy and undesirables. If more Christians would actually live their life like this- Christianity wouldn’t get such a bad reputation. I truly hope Pope Francis continues on this path. I know he will do great things in his time for the church. (Huffington Post)
Though I am not Catholic or even religious, my respect for Pope Francis continues to grow. He strikes me as a true man of Christ. (Yahoo)
Makes me want to rethink my atheism. What a kind, good hearted, loving human this pope is. (Yahoo)
This Pope is crushing it. I’m an atheist from a very religious family, but I’m so pleased about some of Pope Francis’ actions and stances. He gets it, and the church needs it. (CNN)
I have long held a grudge against the Catholic Church (and the Christian faith) for the hypocrisy and intolerance so often exhibited by its practitioners. In no time in my life have I liked a Pope or felt that they embodied what Christians and Catholics proclaim is the essence of their faith. That is, until Pope Francis. I’m thrilled to finally see a religious leader so full of love and compassion. Though I am not Catholic, I truly believe that Pope Francis is a wonderful human being and actually deserves the respect he is given. (Washington Post)
I am certainly no fan of the RCC and there is a lot of work they need to do in order to clean up their act, but this pope? Is a class act. Shine on, Your Eminence, shine on. (Huffington Post)
Now, I’m not dumb. Well, at least not that dumb. I’m well aware of the fact that there are some not so nice comments out there in these comment sections too, but they’re usually hard to find and even when you do find them, they’re lacking the usual sting you expect to find.

And I know that drawing attention to the lack of vitriol will undoubtedly bring the trolls out from under their bridges.

But as someone (a blogger) who spends an absurd amount of time on the internet and an equally absurd amount of time reading through comments, I’m telling you this simple presence of love where there is usually only hate is a big deal. I’ve never seen anything like it and I don’t think I’m likely to see such a near universal outpouring of love, support, open-mindedness, acceptance, and grace again anytime soon – if ever.

That’s just not the way the internet works. The internet breeds cynicism and hate. It’s like it’s in its DNA. Even in the most warm-hearted stories you’ll find somebody making a cynical, hateful, or smartass remark just because they can.

But with Pope Francis it’s just not there and its absence is incredible.

Maybe even more incredible is the fact that Pope Francis hasn’t just silenced his critics.

He’s won them over.

Which makes me really hopeful.

Not hopeful that everyone is suddenly going to become Christians. I’m just hopeful that maybe, just maybe some old wounds can begin to heal, wounds that too often the church has inflicted. And if that can begin to happen, then maybe, just maybe Pope Francis’ example and the goodwill he’s engendering will allow us all, both Christian and atheist, agnostic and Catholic, to beat our swords into ploughshares and find a way to coexist peacefully.

Which is why I really, really hope other Christian leaders, especially the celebrity pastor kind who wield enormous influence among Protestants, are taking note of Pope Francis and the response he’s receiving.

As a Church we lose so much sleep over millennials leaving and our inability to reach those outside our community of faith, particularly those who are antagonistic towards religion. So, we create elaborate programs. And spend fortunes on buildings and worship bands and stage lighting and multimedia experiences. And when that doesn’t work we try hitting people with some good ole fashioned “turn or burn,” God hates you and you’re going to hell preaching.

But it’s not working.

People are leaving in droves despite our fancy graphics and despite our best efforts to literally scare the hell out of them.

And yet here is this humble man from Argentina who doesn’t seem to care at all about outreach programs or marketing campaigns or cutting edge worship. He’s shunned the glamorous house that came with his celebrity status, stopped battling over theological issues that aren’t worth fighting over, and instead of trying to scare people into heaven with words about God’s wrath, he’s chosen to embody God’s love to the least of these with his actions.

And the world is loving it. Young and old, he’s being embraced everywhere he goes. Even those who have no love whatsoever for religion, love this man and what he is doing.

As the Church, we would describe it this way, “They’re loving the incarnated love and grace of Christ unfold before their eyes.”

Which means in his simple humility and compassionate servitude, Pope Francis is succeeding where our best programming and marketing efforts have failed – he’s reaching those who don’t want to be reached.

So pastors, if you’re out there and you’re listening and you really care about reaching the people in your own community, stop listening to the ministry gurus tell you how to grow your church. Stop funneling money into the latest fad program. Stop being a slave to the latest worship trend. Stop trying to be like the celebrity megachurch pastor you follow online and start trying to be more like Pope Francis.

If nothing else, it’s cheaper and the results speak for themselves.

But more importantly, it’s a much more Christ-like way of leading and living than most of us have seen in a very, very long time. The kind of example the Church needs now maybe more than ever. The kind of example all of us need to embody whether we’re the pope or a pastor or just somebody sitting in the pews.

As Pope Francis seems to be reminding us each and every day, if Christianity is going to have any credibility it has to be to lived out, not just talked about.

He’s doing a lot to restore some of that credibility.

I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Follow Zack Hunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/TheAmericnJesus


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