The Church is not the NFL, so why are some pastors confused?
Why would any Christian leader envy Jerry Jones?
The owner of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, Mr. Jones seems to be much on the minds of certain mega-church pastors these days. Just look at how the mere thought of the Cowboys’ new billion-dollar stadium fires up North Carolina’s Steven Furtick and adds an extra layer of intensity to this tithing rant from Texas’ Ed Young Jr.
It is striking how Furtick and Young both invoke the Cowboys as a means of coaxing more from their respective congregations, and both do so in a deeply scolding manner. Certainly, a pastor could rightly preach on the idolatry of the NFL in American society, but neither Furtick nor Young do that in these clips. Their purpose in citing Jerry Jones and the stadium is to compare – as in, If the Cowboys can swim in money and build a palace like that, why can’t we?
Translated: Give us more money. Both suggest that those who won’t give the right amount, or who don’t share the pastor’s ambitions, are not serious Christians, or perhaps are, as Young suggests, wasting God’s time.
I have been a business journalist for 25 years, and I have seen business people represent both the best and worst of human behavior. I believe that free enterprise is part of God’s common grace and provision for the world, and I believe one can pursue profit in a Christ-honoring way. In fact, I know and have written about many business owners who do just that. Work is a gift from God, and doing it well honors and pleases God. As Luther noted, the shoemaker may honor God with his shoemaking. Yes, and at the same time, my quarter-century in business journalism also makes me rather confident in this statement: The Cowboys exist for one primary purpose — to build wealth for Jerry Jones via providing entertainment to the masses.
Nothing wrong with that, per se. It neither lauds nor condemns Jones, nor by itself indicates his standing with Christ. But the fact remains: The Cowboys are all about entertainment and money.
But the Church has a different purpose, does it not? The Church is here to proclaim Jesus Christ to a lost world, to call sinners to repentance, and to feed the Lord’s sheep. As an American Christian, I sincerely feel discouraged how little the Church in America does those things these days. The offense of the Cross seems pushed aside, with an emphasis instead on entertainment, self-esteem, expansion, and branding of mega-churches and their pastors. I say this not out of self-righteousness but out of my own recognition of my deeply sinful nature and my crying, ongoing need for unfiltered Gospel and genuine sanctification. How badly I need the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). How empty, how deflated I feel when I see mega-church pastors obsess over bigger buildings and money.
As a business journalist, I look for signs of a growing economy and increasing prosperity. As a Christian, I look for signs of a Church that is in the world, but not of the world. Too often, it seems the Church is pursuing success by wordly standards.
I bag on Furtick and Young reluctantly. I personally know wonderful Christians who attend their churches. But I find those video clips deeply disturbing and their preoccupation with the billion-dollar stadium telling.
When we read the book of Acts, or the letters of the apostles, we don’t see early church leaders preaching like Furtick or Young. Paul does not go to Greece and rant that he should have his own Parthenon, nor does he scold his fellow believers because Caesar has the Coliseum but he, Paul, does not.
I find it embarrassing that for some branches of American Christianity, faithfulness basically means you will get a jet. While most are not quite so over the top, nevertheless, for most American Christians, myself included, being faithful is still supposed to mean getting blessed with a happy life of liberty and material comfort as well as joy in Christ (in other words, “All this, and Jesus too”).
In the scriptures, true faithfulness often seems to bring persecution. So it was for Jesus. So it was for the apostles. That truth probably is self-evident to our brothers and sisters in Christ in China, the Arab world and other places where belief in Christ can get you impoverished, jailed or killed, yet it seems utterly foreign to the American church. To hear some American pastors teach, the idea of persecution for faithfulness is borderline blasphemy.
I do, and always will, give thanks to God that he has provided so many means for people to earn a living, including the “business world” that I have spent my career covering. But I need something a lot more important than that from the Church.
A few years back, I was involved in a terrific Bible study with a small group of men. This was back when real estate developer Donald Trump was at the peak of his popularity with the television show, “The Apprentice.” One day we got to talking about Trump, about his incredible wealth, his lifestyle, his fame. One member of our group remarked, “I feel sorry for him.”
That is how I feel for Furtick and Young when I watch those sermon clips.