The Gurufication of Evangelicalism (1)

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

I’ve thought about the above verses and their import for evangelicalism for at least three years now. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been writing and thinking more intently about it, observing how “the greatest among us” develop within evangelicalism and how evangelicalism in turn treats those “greatest.”

This presupposition drives my thinking: the perceived “greatest among us” in evangelicalism are the pastor-teachers. They are invited to conferences, they draw large crowds at their churches, they write and sell popular books. They carry a following that extends beyond their local churches, and many times Christians implicitly identify more with the individual leaders then with a particular church or organization. Don’t get me wrong: having particularly gifted individuals known in the broader evangelical world is a wonderful thing. But the proliferation of influence by a few often has unintended consequences, both for those who follow the few and those who aspire to be like the few.

In this series I want to explore four contrasts between two kinds of pastor-teachers: “leaders” and “gurus.” I’ve chosen the latter term for reasons that will hopefully be immediately apparent. Consider:

Leaders are accountable to those they serve and lead.
Gurus are accountable either to their peers or to no one and don’t seek such accountability.

Leaders share their responsibility and the power it affords
Gurus cling to their responsibility and power.

Leaders raise up other leaders and hope they will be surpassed by those leaders.
Gurus ensure that no one in their midst will surpass them.

Leaders point disciples to the one Rabbi.
Gurus gather disciples to themselves. 

Before I explore these four contrasts further, I want to examine 1) how the “market” in evangelicalism has become ripe for gurus to thrive, and 2) how the market sometimes makes gurus out of people who don’t want to be gurus at all. That’s for next time.

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