Another High-Profile Leader Abandons Christian Faith

A couple weeks ago, Joshua Harris, author of the infamous book I Kissed Dating Goodbye and former senior pastor at Sovereign Grace Ministries flagship Covenant Life Church, left his wife, renounced Christianity, and is now participating in gay pride marches.

This week, former Hillsong worship leader and songwriter Marty Sampson has announced that he is on shaky ground, citing issues with longstanding theological dilemmas.

The responses to each have been somewhat predictable. Harris has received everything from empathy and prayers, to outright condemnation. (Over here: I empathize with his departure from the cult of Sovereign Grace while calling him to account for his coverups of sexual abuse during his tour of duty at CLC.)

Sampson, however, struck a cord like no one else. Christian recording artist John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, dropped a long-needed hammer on the issue.

Cooper is making a point I’ve made over here several times: we need to stop elevating young Christians into positions of leadership.

Fact is, a young adult, no matter how intelligent, has not yet proven himself. Let him go to college or trade school, get a real job working long hours. Let him get married if he is inclined to that, and live that out for at least 10 years. Let him establish a track record of living the Christian life in the midst of hard seasons of life–career, marriage, children, or extended singleness if he doesn’t marry–and THEN maybe go to Bible school and/or seminary. Get some maturity in the faith before going the pastor route.

I found that, in my years coming out of college, I was well-liked by a pastor in no small part because I was a good public speaker. While that is not a bad thing to have if you’re going to be a preacher, it ought not be the be-all/end-all, as charisma is not character. Back then, I had some decent grounding on the fundamentals, but I still didn’t have enough grounding to be a pastor. I was a quick study, but–even as a straight-A student at SBTS in my mid-20s–I would not have considered myself qualified for that.

What prepared me as a teacher?

Was it seminary? Was it sitting under other preachers? Was it listening to great preachers on the radio?

Answer: None of the above.

Seminary was good in that I got exposure to some methodologies that top scholars use. That is helpful, as there will always be people who ask questions from those angles. Still, that does not prepare you to be a teacher. And none of the preachers I had were particularly solid teachers. Nor did I listen to popular preachers, as I have never been a fan of the celebrity preacher circuit.

So what prepared me?

  • In 1993, I bought an International Inductive Study Bible, promoted by Precept Ministries. I delved immediately in the inductive study method. The big picture clicked like nothing else. In the process, I learned to appreciate both the forest and the trees. (Yes, there is a punch line there….) I also wrote my own notes rather than reading the notes from other “study Bibles” that do your thinking for you.
  • As I studied the Scriptures, I gained a great appreciation for the life struggles chronicled by the wisdom writers and the prophets. Prosperity Theology is crap, and the corpus of Scripture tells us as much.
  • I gained a great appreciation for the presence of Jesus, even in the Old Testament. Reading the OT Christologically is a lost art among evangelicals.
  • I never stopped studying. Even though I sometimes consulted commentaries–seminary required that–I rarely use them except for comparison purposes.
  • I learned, from my college days, to always keep one foot on the ground. There will always be popular fads and popular preachers and teachers in the evangelical world. Big Evangelical is a vast marketing enterprise that has a huge amount of influence. But Church history did not begin with modern evangelicalism…
  • As I lived life, I fell down more times than I care to count. And I got back up every time.

Sometimes those falls were due to other people’s acts against me, sometimes they were my own sins, other times they were just bad things that happen in life that are no one’s fault. And yes, failure can be demoralizing. When you get your legs knocked out from under you every time you get moving, life can be very frustrating. When other believers treat you like crap because you aren’t like they are, it can get unnerving. Those of us who are/were long-term singles know that drill.

But life is more akin to an Ironman triathlon: it is long, and–while there are often times of triumph and euphoria–there will always be a suck factor.

Still, you keep swimming, you keep pedaling, you keep running or walking. You may stop to get water or electrolytes or carbs. You may stop to poop or pee.

But you never quit.

And the closer you get to the finish, you get encouraged, even amidst the mounting pain, even as you feel the pale dread of hitting the wall. Even as the pain and the dread hurt, you begin to see the endgame.

With very few exceptions, a young adult–no matter how intelligent–knows NOTHING of this. No, I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to take up endurance sports; I am saying that, to be an effective Christian leader, you need to have experience enduring–that’s what the Greek word for abide means–in Jesus.

6 thoughts on “Another High-Profile Leader Abandons Christian Faith

  1. Indeed. As for hillsong is it just me that finds their worship cringey? Like a lot of modern evangelical worship seems to lack gravity and majesty that the eastern orthodox chants have. It often sounds like: “Romance between Jesus and me” in music or lyrics.

    • Yep. I have noticed exactly that contrast. Worship has taken what I call the Bruce Jenner slide: we’ve gone from Wheaties to Fruity Pebbles.

      • I think worship music gives clues on how people in the church actually relate to god. It may not be the only indicator but I think it is an indicator nonetheless.

        Especially those that authored such songs produce such things out of their heart.

        • Absolutely.

          And Hillsong music is, with little exception, terribly shallow and soulish.

          To their credit, Sovereign Grace–for as bad as they are off the rails in terms of church government–actually have fairly solid music. Vineyard wasn’t bad either.

          But Hillsong is terrible in terms of theological depth.

          • Perhaps god is purifying the church in such a way that both bad church government and shallow romance music is replaced by good government and majestic glorious music on par with the eastern orthodox or even surpassing them.

            One can hope.

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