Like most of the rest of the evangelical world (OK, probably an overstatement), I’ve been listening to Christianity Today’s ‘Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’ podcast. Much of my listening took place on long walks during Sydney’s most recent lockdown. On numerous occasions I received odd looks from passersby as I gasped out loud and placed a shocked hand over my mask covered mouth. (Episode 5. Let the reader understand).
I’m an Aussie and so was at some geographical, denominational and traditional distance from Driscoll during his hey-day. However, I do remember being largely underwhelmed upon his 2008 visit to Sydney. In fact, a recent Facebook memory reminded me of just how underwhelmed I was:
“I would rather 20 mins full of the bible than 2 hours with very little of it to be honest”
In any case, the podcast has made for an interesting, alarming, despairing, challenging, difficult listen. And with the final episode having just been released, social media is now flooded with “Lessons to Be Learnt” pieces from every man and his dog.
And so, I thought, why not add one more?
Most of those reflections have been particularly focused on the lessons to be learnt and applied (from Mars Hill and any other number of similar cautionary tales) for the sake of godly, faithful and mature church leadership. And that’s a good thing. However, I’ve found myself pondering how those same lessons are also relevant to Christian leadership outside the context of the church.
Social media has not (yet) managed to recenter Christian leadership and discipleship totally away from the context local church. May that never be the case. And yet it is undoubtedly true that many Christians, and especially many younger Christians, are being shaped, formed and discipled by those leading in the online social media space and in online Christian communities.
Yes. I’m talking about Christian “influencers”.
And so that leads me to ask:
How do we avoid a reiteration of the same problems we've seen in certain examples of church leadership within the online space of Christian formation ? How do we head off the problems of Christian celebrity in a forum designed to promote, encourage and reward exactly that? How do we equip younger Christians to be discerning about those that they look to for Christian formation?
I think there is a lengthy and important conversation for us to be engaging with here. But for the moment, let me just make one particular observation.
We are each responsible for who we allow ourselves to be influenced by.
We are each accountable for who we allow ourselves to be discipled by.
We each have personal agency in who we allow ourselves to be led by.
And so… we should have high expectations of those at whose feet we place ourselves.
As we hit the follow, retweet, quote tweet, subscribe button and seek to engage with self-styled Christian leaders, we should have in mind certain questions:
What do we know about their character?
How do know that we can trust their judgement?
What have we ascertained about their experience, skills, training, qualifications, reputation, background?
How do they exhibit Christian maturity?
How do they demonstrate a commitment to godliness & growth?
Are they actively involved in the ministry of their local church?
Are they well regarded by other trusted believers?
How do they respond to pushback, critique and challenge?
When they get it wrong, what do they do? (Or do they never get it wrong? 🚩🚩🚩)
How do they seek to balance substance over style?
Who are they submitting themselves to?
To whom do they proactively go for feedback?
What accountability structures do they have in place?
How do they demonstrate humility and teachability?
How do they use Scripture? Do they in fact use Scripture?
What is their agenda and how does that align with God’s purposes?
What do we actually know about these "leaders" and their relationship with Jesus?
Brothers and sisters, we've heard the cautionary tales about those charismatic, young, assured, polished, energetic, self-styled leaders who separated themselves from accountability, training, humility, community & mentorship. The ones who felt justified in putting themselves on the fast-track rather than doing the long slog and hard yards because they were, well, the extraordinary exception. The ones who convinced others to put them on same fast-track with very little oversight and increasingly expanding influence.
We know now that it does not end well for these people’s disciples in real life. This means that it won't end well for their disciples online either.
There is no excuse for our naivety on this matter. We must take the lessons we've been lamenting offline and apply them online. We must take personal responsibility in who we allow ourselves to be discipled by.
Because make no mistake, Christian “influencing” is all about discipleship. The important question—the decisive question—is discipleship into whose image?
With all that being said, you should definitely subscribe here ;)