Top Men: A Response to Paul Helm

Paul Helm has an interesting piece critiquing the critics of megapastordom over at his blog, Helm’s Deep.

Three things require a brief response.  First, it is clear that Paul does not understand how discipline in a Presbyterian context should work.  In actual fact, disciplinary charges need not be made public to the whole church unless the offence being charged is itself a public offence (i.e., already widely known to the congregation -- in which case, the problem of suspicion and the presumption of guilt is really a matter of fallen human nature, not the structure of the polity).   In my experience in such discipline cases involving sins known only to a few (i.e. those having the legal status of private offences), confidentiality among the elders (which connects to how Presbyterians understand 'church' in Matthew 18) has been maintained – but even if it had not, that would then be a failure caused by human nature, not a structural fault of the system itself.

Second, while I cannot speak for other critics of the Mighty Men (my preferred term is Top Men), my own concern has not been so much for the egotism etc. (though that can certainly be a problem) as it is for the manner in which such Top Men are received by their followers and the way their churches are viewed as normative aspirational models.  It may not be their intention to become normative role models (and thus to set unrealistic expectations for the ministry which today’s students anticipate) but that is what happens when they are so carefully and attractively marketed as such.   Paul does not address this issue, which is for me, as a teacher of future pastors, the central concern with the celebrity pastor problem.

Third, Paul’s comments are prefaced by his observation that the debate is not taking place because the critics are not engaging the other side.  On the contrary, the problem is that the Top Men and their followers have adamantly refused to engage the critics.  We have been dismissed, blacklisted and bullied.  When I first raised the issue, I was summoned to a phone conference with a Top Man who told me that I simply needed to shut up as his organization had no intention of acting on any of my criticisms (except, if I remember, the removal of the term 'VIP seating' at their conferences), a point which he and his assistants have since reinforced by email on a number of occasions.  Then, when we critics have been proved correct (as in the case of Mark Driscoll) we have still either been ignored or accused of being ‘smug’ simply because we then pointed out to those who were crying 'Somebody should have spoken up!’ that, well, yes, some of us did speak up and that the belatedly wise were at the forefront of dismissing our criticisms as the mean-spirited murmurings of mediocre also-rans.