Mega-Pastors and Professional Wrestlers

In recent weeks, the evangelical cyber-world has been full of news about two pastors for all of the wrong reasons.   Like two passive-aggressive juveniles who wrestlecan’t seem to play nice on the playground, these men have managed to “fight” one another without ever meeting face to face.   Most of the interactions have been communicated indirectly through a blog, a sermon, or any number of twitter posts.   Both men are smart.  Both men are strong leaders.  Both men lead big churches.  Both men have influential ministries.  Both men have large groups of loyal followers.   Their statements are always influential and their decisions are never accidental.   Their most recent conflict began with a open-handed cyber-slap to the face and ended with what can only be described as an invitation to a theological thunder dome cage-match.

As I have watched all of this unfold, I was reminded how much I used to love 1980’s professional wrestling.  Growing up, I became a huge fan of men like Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, and Jake the Snake Roberts to name a few.  Admittedly, it took me a year or two to understand what exactly “Professional Wrestling” was.   It certainly was unlike any “sport” I’d ever seen like football or Soccer.  There didn’t appear to be any unbreakable rules in the ring, anything but threats in the interviews, or any real hope for the quiet wrestlers without costumes or fireworks.

I am reminiscing about 80’s professional wrestling because some of today’s mega-pastors remind me of these “athletes”.  In an effort not to offend the two of you that read this blog, I will not use any names of any pastors.  If someone comes to mind, it’s not my fault.  Instead, I will simply describe the qualities of good old-fashioned Professional Wrestling (PW) and let the analogy lead you where it will.

Pro-wrestling is all about being louder than the other guy.

PW is all about being louder than the other guy.  PW is one of the greatest one-upmanship games ever invented.  The goal of PW is not to win in the ring as much as it is to win in the interview!  I remember more than one interview with  color commentator Mean Gene Okerlund. While these interviews would typically start off with questions being asked, they usually ended with the “athlete” wrestling the microphone away from Gene and yelling colorful challenges to his opponent.   The wrestler would say the most off the wall things you could imagine.  It didn’t matter whether he would really do what he said, only that what he said was more memorable than what the next guy said.  Eventually words aren’t enough.  If an opponent is louder, or getting more publicity at their event, then the best way to draw the attention back to yourself is to interrupt their championship match with a metal chair.  Guess what everyone will be talking about on Monday.?

Pro-wrestling is all about having the most shocking signature move.

PW is also about having the most shocking signature move you can imagine.  The signature move was the special move that each wrestler had.  One of the most famous as the DDT by Jake the Snake Roberts.  In this move, Jake would put his opponent in a reverse headlock, slam his face to the ground, and knock him out cold.  Then, he would proceed to put his pet Boa Constrictor on the body of the unconscious man.  Awesome.  PW became identified with their signature moves i the same way that you see Pastors getting identified with theirs.   Some pastors swear, some tell jokes, others have bands that play AC/DC songs, and still others are known for their flaming criticisms.  There are all kinds of signature moves some good (texas-foot stomp), some bad (flying flip off top turnbuckle), some effective (figure four), some just silly (butt-choke).   Then there are those signature moves so “effectively destructive” they have necessitated acts of repentance–something that usually lasts until the next “match” when the move comes out again.

Pro-wrestling is about the image of the wrestler.

PW is about the image battle.  Professional Wrestlers epitomize narcissism.  The battle in the ring pales in value to the battle of image.  PW not only have signature moves, they have signature styles.  These men do not stumble into a particular style; grown men will go to great lengths to create and perpetuate this image.  This is because a “good image” leads to good merchandising.  There is much money and influence to be won with a good image.  They will sell their name to create action figures, T-shirts, even lunch pails.  You may hear talk about wrestling, but all you see are images of the wrestler.   PW is very man-centered.  Consider what happens when a pastor becomes this way–talking about himself more than Jesus or the church He died for.  You know the pastor has followed the same path of merchandising when the pastors name becomes the icon for the church (e.g. audio channels, website addresses, even special Study Bibles) In other words, with success, pastors can easily become confused as to exactly what “name” they are supposed to be promoting.

Pro-wresting is about the fans and the followers.

At its core, PW is a huge popularity contest.  PW fans don’t follow the sport, they follow the man.  Professional wrestlers are not interested in making more professional wrestlers, they are interested in making more fans.  A professional wrestler does not care if someone  takes up the sport as much as they hope to see them follow them in their sport.  In truth, adding more wrestlers runs the risk of robbing them of their power and influence.  Fans of wrestlers look and sound like the wrestlers.  They will dress like them, talk like them, even wrestle like them.   There are fans, groupies, and similar kinds of followers for everything in this world.  Not even pastors can stop people from becoming fans of their work, but they can make decisions to encourage or discourage teams and “camps” of followers.  Pastors are not supposed to make fans; they are supposed to make disciples Jesus.   Making disciples of Jesus is how you avoid making fans, and if pastors hear people quoting more words from their sermons than they do from Scripture, they are failing in this regard.

Pro-wrestling is about fake wrestling.

PW is not real.  I realize this may go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway.  Though professional wrestlers call themselves wrestlers, sound like wrestlers, and even look like wrestlers–they are not real wrestlers, their actors.  If you put any of these guys into the octagon with Antonio Silva or Cain Velasquez, they will be slaughtered.  Sadly, not everyone knows the difference between “real” wrestling and professional wrestling.  If you put them side by side, you’d see that real wrestling is much less dramatic, loud, or colorful.  But it is much more effective.   Just because someone has the title pastor does not mean that everything they do is “real ministry”.   Like professional wrestlers, some pastors would rather be actors; it is much more fun and rewarding, and much less hard and bloody.  Unfortunately, these drama-king pastors are the ones who get the headlines.  It is unlikely that you have ever heard of Aleksandr Karelin–the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. But I bet you’ve heard of Hulk Hogan.

Pastors, we have a lot to learn from Professional Wrestlers.

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RE:Sermon: God is Coming (Malachi 2.17-3.5)

If there is one thing I am notorious for doing in my sermons, it is trying to say too much.  I write too much and I talk too fast.  As a result, there are often a fewmalachi notes of truth that get lost in all of the noise pouring out of my mouth.  Below, are a TEN of these “notes” that may have been missed in my last sermon. They do not represent thunderbolt-like truths you’ve never heard of but are probably more akin to 42 character quips you could twitter out–clever phrases that say so much…but so little at the same time.   If my sermon were a textbook, these would be the bold or italicized words you would pay attention to while working to ignore everything else that you know won’t be on the “test”.  Enjoy.

 

  1. “Our obedience does not ever dictate our relationship with God; but it always reflects it.”
  2. “As we saw with our first parents in the garden, Adam and Eve, what begins with doubt about WHAT GOD HAS SAID always ends with lies about WHO GOD IS….[and] refusing to take the blame for our sin will eventually lead us to blame God for our problems.”
  3. “[When God is silent] We are always much more demanding for God’s immediate judgment on the evil of the world than we are for His judgment on our own.  For that we are the ones who are usually silent. “
  4. “God is not fair. That might seem like a strange thing to say about God, or even a bad thing to say about God, but it is exactly what we need Him to be. ..He doesn’t give us what we fairly deserve.”
  5. “…the judgment of God results in condemnation of the world, the judgment of God results in redemption for His people…Before the judge destroys all evil in the world, He destroys the evil in the hearts of his people.  “
  6. “Removing our sin is painful for us, but NOT before it was painful for Him. “
  7. “The cross changes HOW WE LOOK, because it changes WHAT WE LOOK AT.   It is not enough to see our sin cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus, we must also see our sin as the reason He is on the cross in the first place.

  8. “Knowing that God is angry, and that there is a coming judgment of the world (but not those in Christ) helps me to know that what feels like judgment now is actually refinement—it should lead me to grow and worship, even in pain.”
  9. “Until you see that someone innocent took your guilt, became a victim for you, you will continue to accuse God and play the victim—you will always have something to complain about. “
  10. “…once you see the cross as the place where the judge, after justly declaring you guilty, took off his robe, stepped down from the bench, took your place as the accused, and was executed in your place—you will realize you have nothing to complain about.  “

The best sermon I have ever heard.

I don’t listen to many of the sermons of my contemporaries.  For the most part, this is because I can’t help but play the “comparison” game with them–a game I usually lose . Such is not the case with Tim Keller.  I figure I’ll never be able to preach like him, and that is a good thing.  I enjoy Tim Keller’s preaching immensely.  His sermons are deeply intellectual but, like CS Lewis, easily accessible.  Bottom line, he is an older man I respect and his sermons are smarter and shorter than mine will ever be.  He can accomplish in one 30 minute sermon what would take me 30 sermons. 

Below is a link to, quite possibly, the best sermon I have ever heard from anyone. It is about our Covenant God and, unlike most “sermons” preached today, it proclaims the gospel boldly, clearly, and simply.  Enjoy.

http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/covenant-relationship

RE:Sermon | Relationships as Worship (Malachi 2.10-16)

Recently, Pastor Mark preached Malachi 2.10-16 | God is Faithful.   I am grateful that God has blessed our church with several men who can preach.  Each worshippastor brings his own experiences, style, and presuppositions to the text.   I once feared sharing the pulpit with anyone.  Over time, God has shown me the beauty of what different perspectives, styles, and voices can bring to a given text.  Though each sermon may sound and look different– God is always glorified and they always preach gospel truth.

I have found it difficult to worship when I don’t preach on a Sunday. This is not a good thing (blog on this coming soon).   Unfortunately, when I don’t have the privilege of preaching on Sunday morning, I often find myself meditating on how I might approach the particular passage being preached.   In no way am I suggesting that my approach is better (or worse) than another preacher–just different.   Nevertheless, I have found it difficult to just sit on what amounts to an “un-preached” sermon…so I blog.   Like a good old-fashioned Monday-Morning Preacher, here are my thoughts:

Relationships Matter

Malachi has spent the better of two chapters (1/2 of the prophecy) condemning unacceptable temple sacrifices.  The worship at the temple has become worthless in the eyes of God.  They cannot fool God with their religious appearances–He knows their hearts are far from Him.   As Mark indicated, their refusal to honor God as Father, or obey Him as Master, was a refusal to take the covenant of God seriously.  Upholding the covenant of God meant continuing in relationship with God.  The covenant was a relational agreement between God and His people–it was a promise.  Interestingly, one of the primary aspects of the covenant was the prohibition of marriage to foreign wives.  This law was not simply God’s suggestion for Israel, it was an integral part of maintaining the covenant relationship with God.  And while this might seem strange for us, we learn that God’s primary motivation for this prohibition was that these foreign wives would lead them to worship false gods.  In other words, God declares that our relationships matter that they are, in fact, an essential part of how we worship and relate to our God.  

Marriage Relationships Matter

Relationships with others are, in some way, a part of our worship.  This is no more true than in a marriage relationship.   Marriage was created as the deepest relationship two people could share with one another.  God gave marriage, ultimately, to reflect the kind of relationship He would have with His people, made manifest in the New Covenant.  But we have much to learn from the Old Covenant.  God connected the purity of marriage with the purity of worship.  Our the nature of our love for our spouses revealed the nature of the love for our God.  The people of Israel did not love their the wives of their youth, they divorced them.  The emphasis of the passage is not so much on divorce, as it is on their failure to love as they ought.  The people should have loved their wives in the same way the priests should have loved their God.  The failure in their marriages has the same result as unacceptable sacrifices:  “the have profaned the sanctuary of the Lord.”  Marriage is an act of sacrificial worship.   It could be said that our relationships with others reflect our relationship with God. If their covenant with God was solid, then their marriage covenants would have been solid.  They profaned both.  Their marriages should have reflected three things: 1) PRIORITY  2) FIDELITY  and 3) INTIMACY.   These are the same things that any right thinking husband or wife would desire from their spouse.  These are the same things that any right thinking God would want from His people.  God connects the marriage relationship with one another, to His covenant relationship with us, because one reflects the other.

Child Relationships Matter

But God does more than that.  The main purpose of marriage is to bring glory to God. That is the primary, but not single, purpose for anything God creates.  Additional purposes for marriage include companionship, completeness (think helpmate), sexual purity, and procreation.  In Malachi, God warns Israel that their failure to hold to their marriage covenants will impact their offspring.  God goes so far to say that, through marriage, God seeks “godly” offspring.  God does not want more babies simply to populate the world.  Like marriage, God has a greater goal for childbearing–to fill the world with His name.   We can give many things to our children including food, shelter, clothing, gifts, protection, love, etc.  But out of all of the things that we can give our children, there is only ONE thing that will last in eternity–the truth of our covenant God.  In part, this occurs through teaching them to remember the covenant; but it also happens as we live the covenant before them in our marriages.  In other words, our marriage relationships impacts our relationship with our children in that they either display truth or lies about our relationship with God (Wow…long sentence).

Church Relationships Matter

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our relationships to one another matter in the church.  Malachi begins this section by reminding the people of God that their faith is personal but not private.  He asks, “Have we not all one Father?  Has not one God created us?  Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”   It seems as if Malachi wants Israel to understand that they are in covenant together.  What one Israelite does in their marriage relationship, for better or worse, impacts them all.  This echoes the perspective of the blind priests who didn’t consider how their failure to lead would impact others.  In the same way, we must consider how our relationship with others, especially our wives and our children, affect our worship.  And if it affects our worship individually, then it affects our worship corporately.  IF we are a family of families, then how you lead your family impacts mine–and vice versa.  This is what it means to be the church–we are in relationship with God and worship Him together; even if we are not always assembled together to worship.