charisma, fairy dust and our addiction to kings

kathyescobar church stuff, co-pastoring, leadership, the refuge 27 Comments

blog charisma fairy dust and our addiction to kings and queenslast week we hosted a small gathering of co-pastors from 5 different communities/4 different states. it was a lovely, simple time centered on sharing the ups and downs of shared leadership and pastoring these kinds of nutty churches.  i have a lot of respect for people who co-pastor because it is a very unpopular & rare model in a world that loves to follow one strong charismatic leader and is used to being clear on “who’s really in charge.”

i have a theory that as humans we are always looking for a king, someone strong and powerful and certain who wil tell us what to do and how to do it.  this theory isn’t just mine; there are countless stories in the bible that demonstrate this point.  just recently, i was reading to my 12-year-old twins out of the old testament (easy reading) and we came upon the part where God said, “but you don’t need a king, they will rule over you in a way that’s not good for you” and tried to convince the israelites they were looking in the wrong direction, toward an earthly king instead of God  (1 samuel 8). but the people demanded one and eventually he gave them what they wanted.

today, still, we are addicted to hero worship and intoxicated by charisma.  look at who leads most every popular ministry. if they aren’t good looking (which is an extra bonus), then they seem to have the secret ingredient to success in a lot of contemporary christian ministry–charisma.

charisma in and of itself isn’t bad.  like everything, it has a light side and a dark side, a strength & a weakness. when it comes to the church, i believe charisma has been used for more bad than good because it creates a falseness to what kingdom living is all about.   i have seen people who will move heaven and earth to get to church when a certain pastor is speaking and drop that church like a hot potato when the pastor ends up resigning or getting fired.  i have seen people willing to ignore affairs, horribly damaging power plays, crazy unhealthy leadership, and a ton of other flaws for the sake of getting a sunday morning charisma fix.

i am not dismissing that many people are drawn to God in a very sincere way through these leaders, but that doesn’t change my belief that we have developed an unhealthy & damaging reliance on them.

i can’t think of one megachurch that doesn’t have three central ingredients: a charismatic teacher/leader, awesome music, and an amazing kids program. take out the music & kids program, and a charismatic leader can still sustain it.  take out all 3, and it’s almost guaranteed that things will dwindle.  fast.  give them up over the long haul and eventually everyone can see what’s really left–dedicated people who want more than charisma.

i also know that so many people don’t even know they are currently under the spell or how aware of how strong the pull is.

i’ll always remember how a few years ago i was at a party and bumped into a pastor who had done some pretty serious damage to a lot of people.  we had a brief conversation and when i got into the car, i shared the conversation with my husband, jose, and started singing his praises; it was kind of freaky.  jose was like, “listen to yourself, kathy, im telling you, he just sprinkled his fairy dust on you!”  he was so right!  i knew better, but in a snap i was under the spell.  unfortunately a lot of us don’t have joses around to remind us of reality.

i know of so many churches right now–small and mid-sized all over the place, not only in denver–who are struggling deeply right now because a whole bunch of people somehow became mesmerized by a charismataic leader’s teaching and left their local churches to feed an inspiration addiction.  it makes me so sad, but that’s what we have created as a system over the years.

we give people what they want in the moment, not what they need for the long haul.

my dear friends who gathered here in the mountains last week aren’t perfect.  none have the end-all-be-all solution to solve all of the ills of church, but i highly value each of them because they have chosen to use their charisma and influence as leaders to model things sorely lacking in the body of Christ–leaders who humbly share, men & women side by side as equals & friends, pastors dedicated to sacrificing growth in numbers to center on growth in relationship, people who diffuse power instead of amass it, servants who serve instead of expect to be served. 

yeah, there’s nothing wrong with charisma, but there’s a big difference between using it to cuiltivate The Kingdom here on earth or using it to build A Kingdom.

the sure way to know the difference is if you take out a powerful dynamic speaker, awesome music, and flashy kids program and see what’s left.  my guess is it won’t be long before an awful lot of people are looking for a king and jonesing for some fairy dust.

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ps:  a lot of people i know have been hurt by mis-used charisma or by systems that abused power and did spiritual damage to people’s souls.  no matter how big or small the hurt, one thing feels more clear than ever–church wounds can really do a number on our heads and hearts.  my friend and partner in creating safe online spaces for healing, phyllis mathis, and i are facilitating another round of walking wounded: hope for those hurt by the church starting november 6th.  it’s a safe space to process some of these feelings without judgment, spiritualizing, or fixing. 4 weeks, a mix of video & reflection questions & hope.  registration is now open, $79 for some really helpful tools for moving forward and getting unstuck, way cheaper than therapy.  feel free to email me if you have any questions.