Serving Up Some Manipulation

March 3, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Here’s something that I know is going to seem – at least initially – sort of random and “out there.”

But awhile back, someone sent me a link to an entire collection of videos of CJ Mahaney preaching.  I haven’t had time to watch a lot of ‘em, but in the ones I did glance at, I noticed something.

In almost every sermon, CJ injects the notion that he is “serving” his audience with his message.

He does it in his classic Happiest Place On Earth sermon, too – a message CJ has traveled around the country giving to both SGM and non-SGM audiences for many years, a message which captures the very heart of what Sovereign Grace Ministries believes and teaches about submission and obedience to pastoral authority.  Notice this, which you can find toward the beginning of the first half of the message (transcript available here):

So, the accent of this message is gonna reflect the accent of this passage, and I pray serve you, and the accent of this message is going to be on the responsibility of this assembled congregation TO the pastoral team OF this congregation.

I also have noticed the “serve you” language in other SGM communications. For instance, that seems to be the refrain du jour nowadays, if pastors DO acknowledge former members’ grievances.  They will express the sentiment of, “I am sorry that we did not serve you better.”

I’m not sure I’m going to be able to articulate precisely what I’m thinking, but I’m going to try.  I know this might seem a little odd and tedious, but I invite you to hang with me for awhile, to see if I can’t flesh out what it is about the “serve you” language that is troublesome.

The notion that someone is “serving” us automatically sets up a situation where WE (the audience, or the average member) occupy a superior position…while the one who is “serving” us is lowly and humble.  If we are receiving a “service” – especially a service for which we have not paid a price – we automatically will feel like we do not have any right to critique it or complain.  The very notion that something is a “service” to us removes from us our ability to evaluate it or be unhappy about it.

After all, that would be the same as “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

Yet the REALITY is that while CJ uses the language of “serving,” he is very definitely ensconced in a position of superiority, merely because of his position of authority over people.  He’s not even a pastor at this point in his career – he’s ABOVE pastors…he is the authority to whom the pastors in his denomination family of churches must answer.

What happens when the LANGUAGE of “service” is superimposed upon scenarios where the REALITY is the exact opposite of “service”?

What happens when lingo that would normally denote a relationship of “servant to master” is used to describe a relationship that ultimately will still be “master to servant”?

Really…I think I’m on to something here…so please hang with me and tell me what you think.

In this Happiest Place sermon, CJ starts by talking about how he wants to “serve” his audience.  In so doing, he becomes the “server,” or “servant,” of his audience.  His audience is put in a position where they are practically obligated to accept whatever is being “served” to them, since they are receiving it for free, and since they are occupying this (supposedly) superior position of being “served.”

Yet the ultimate end of the Happiest Place message instructs the audience to go to those who are (supposedly) “serving” them and place themselves in this weird groveling position where they are asking their pastors if they are “a joy to pastor.”  Here are CJ Mahaney’s own words:

But let us not assume that you are all a joy to pastor.  Therefore, let us humbly go to our pastors and say, “Am I a joy to pastor?  And if not, why not?”  Listen, do this because – if – if – look at the end of this verse.  “That would be of no advantage to you.”  If they aren’t happy – if they’re groaning instead – if their pastoral ministry is characterized by groaning and complaining, that is of no advantage to you.  It is of – listen – follow this – it is to your advantage for you to be a joy to pastor, through your appropriately biblically defined and described obedience and submission to the pastors of this church.  It is to your advantage to be a joy to pastor.  I mean – doesn’t it – when you read that, you – it  seems like the writer is appealing to self-interest as a motivation.  Actually, it’s just another illustration of the following:  God’s commands are always for our good.  His wise commands are for our good.  This is what grace is like.  Ultimately for His glory. 

The bottom line reality is that in SGM churches, members serve their pastors…even while the LANGUAGE that is used would seem to indicate the opposite.

This is a very crafty, manipulative trick.  People are left feeling “empowered with powerlessness.”  In other words, on the one hand, they’ve been TOLD that they are “BEING served,” while the BEHAVIOR that they are instructed to engage in is actually – bottom line reality – the behavior of one who is SERVING.

If CJ were really blunt and not so silver-tongued, he could just as easily have said, “Shut up and listen as I tell you to lower yourselves.”

The end result would be the same.

But instead, it’s all masked with this language of “I am serving you.”

When pastors can think of all that they do as “serving,” then they are automatically off the hook for what it is that they’re actually serving up.  And the people are predisposed to feel like they have to accept whatever is “served” to them, because, as the ones supposedly “being served,” they have no right to analyze or critique what’s being given to them.

Does anyone else see what I’m saying?

© 2010, Kris. All rights reserved.