When you retire and are no longer pastoring, people can ask, “Whatever happened to…” In fact, I often get the question, “Are you still preaching?” Yes! Although I’m going through cancer treatments, God has allowed me to have the strength to travel and speak on a limited scale. I remember Ron Dunn said, “I have to show up at the Southern Baptist Convention every year or people will think I’m dead.” That’s the truth. Out of sight, out of mind. A sad reality of our day.
They say, you have fifteen minutes of fame. Some maybe more. Others not as much. The American culture of consumption chews up people and spits them out. We always want something new or different. Something or someone explodes on the scene and before you know it, they are gone.
I remember serving on the Board of 4HIM in the 1990’s. They were the hottest group in Contemporary Christian Music at the time. They had a number one hit, “Where There Is Faith” before they ever stepped off the TRUTH bus. At our first retreat, I told them that the record company was already looking for the next big group. They needed to be prepared that someone younger would come along with the right promotion and they would begin to decline in popularity. Every group, in every genre better think long and hard about this. People are, by nature, fickle. Even with nearly 25 #1 songs, the day came for my friends in 4HIM to call it a career and move on to other things.
Many of the artists I listened to in the early days of Contemporary Christian music are long gone. They no longer have the big record deals. They don’t tour consistently. Times changed, people changed. A new generation wanted their own music. Most of the records, cassettes and CD’s I bought were by singers who no one in this generation knows.
I often search ITunes looking for records that might have been remastered for ITunes. I was told by a record company official one day that it wasn’t profitable for them to remaster an old record (that same record company doesn’t even know where some of the master recordings are because it’s been bought and sold so many times). Apparently, if you aren’t the latest thing, no one cares what you like or want to listen to.
One of our families favorite movies is “That Thing You Do” set in the 1960’s about a group that was a one hit wonder. In the 1960’s there were a lot of rock and roll groups who were one hit wonders. You wonder, if they had a hit, why couldn’t they have another one or two? Some of the groups broke up because they couldn’t get along. Others just couldn’t write another song with a great hook. When disco hit, a lot of pop and rock and roll groups couldn’t make the transition and quickly faded off the charts. Out of sight, out of mind.
I wonder what will happen as my generation passes off the scene, will the next generations even know about the music of the 50’s and 60’s? Hey folks, a great song is always a great song, it doesn’t matter when it was written. I doubt if “Snoopy and the Red Baron” will be remembered years from now, but there were some songs in that era that have stood the test of time.
Even as I type this blog, I’m listing to my playlist on Itunes of some music from the days of the Jesus Movement. The Imperials, Dove, Truth, Andrae Crouch and others remind me of days when the Spirit of God was moving in power across our land. Today, most folks don’t even know those names or the songs.
Whatever happened to, that group, that preacher, that author, that favorite conference speaker, that staff member? Have you ever wondered where they are, or what happened? I have hundreds of old books from the 1800’s in my library. Authors that I love to read and glean from. These men were giants in their day, but today, their books are out of print, their names are forgotten and their impact on Christianity is considered irrelevant.
When I was young in the ministry, there were often two week Bible Conferences in cities around the Bible Belt. Churches would gather to hear people like Vance Havner, A. W. Tozer, J. Oswald Sanders, John Phillips, Ron Dunn, Bertha Smith, Bill Stafford, Peter Lord and others. Today the average seminary student couldn’t tell you a think about these giants. In fact, one seminary recently asked some students if they knew who Adrian Rogers was, and less than 25% had a clue. Adrian was one of the giants of the pulpit in the late 20th century and pastored a historic church. Today, out of sight, out of mind. That breaks my heart. It’s sad and it’s a commentary on our flavor of the month mentality.
I have lived long enough to know there were some preachers that were constantly used in every conference that could secure them on the calendar. There were some preachers who were so popular, you couldn’t have a barn raising without them being asked to speak. Today, they are long since forgotten. It’s not that they aren’t relevant, it’s just they are “old news.” I know I’m sounding old here, but let me just say, you don’t have to wear skinny jeans to relate. You have to be real and relatable. This generation needs some older, wiser, more mature voices that have been further down the road. It would save them from some headaches and heartaches. But, alas, we need the guy who can “communicate” not the guy with a message that matters.
Years ago, I was trying to collect sermons of my mentor, Vance Havner. To my shock, I discovered that dozens of churches that had him preach and had recorded his messages had thrown them away or lost them. They saw no value in keeping them. What a shame.
Just about the time you think you’ve got this figured out, it changes. Even at our denominations conferences, speakers seem to have a season. It’s no longer about who has a word from God, it’s about who is hip and can draw a crowd. We are more interested in communicators than preachers of the Word. Therefore, the guy who speaks truth is forgotten for the guy with the latest best selling book. Unfortunately, where pastors and speakers were once servants, now, far too often, they demand certain items in a green room and expect to appear to preach and then disappear back into the green room, or out the door. I miss the days when you could actually talk to a famous preacher, before we started confusing famous with celebrity.
Let me say another word about books. I have about 10,000 books in my library. Many of them are by preachers and authors no one even knows today. Today’s book is often more fluff than substance. They are filled with illustrations stacked on top of each other, with very little application or eternal principles. Illustrations are good, but they are like windows. No one wants to live in a glass house and a book with nothing but countless illustrations might be interesting, but it’s not life changing.
Whatever happened to books, sermons, conferences that stretched us out of our comfort zone. Whatever happened to the altar call? Whatever happened to prayer meeting? Whatever happened to personal evangelism? Whatever happened to tithing and sacrificial giving?
Whatever happened to making Sunday a priority? I can go into clinical depression just looking at the number of church members who find any reason and every reason to be gone on a Sunday. We seem to give the least to the one who gave us Himself. No longer do we sing or live, “My life, my love, my all I bring to Christ who loved me so. He is my savior Lord and King, wherever He leads, I’ll go.”
The largest denomination in America today is the “We Gotta Go” Church. We gotta go to the beach, the mountains, grandma’s, the game, anywhere but church, church. Just remember, what adults do in moderation their children will do in excess. Inconsistent parents will produce a generation of children that don’t give any thought to church. If you don’t believe it, read the book of Judges, “There arose a generation that did not know God…” just 2 generations removed from the pledges of their grandparents in the book of Joshua. We forget, because we fail to remember.
Vance Havner wrote, “We have too many casual Christians who dabble in everything but are not committed to anything. They have a nodding acquaintance with a score of subjects but are sold on nothing. ‘Of course I’m interested in church – but with my club and my lodge and my golf and my bridge and my stamp collecting and my ceramics and my African violets, I just can’t get too excited about religion.’ Our Lord had no place in His program for casual disciples. It was all or nothing.
One day we will wake up and find all the fences are torn down, history has been forgotten, heroes have had their statues removed, preachers libraries will be worthless, there will be no song in our hearts and we will wonder “whatever happened to…..” — when it comes to that, remember, it happened because we assumed it would never happen.
Think about it.
In the forty plus years I’ve been in ministry, I’ve seen more than my share of failures in ministry – people who started out like a rocket, but ultimately crashed and burned. It’s a far too common occurrence. Years ago, I heard John Bisagno talk about the 25 best and brightest ministerial students at Oklahoma Baptist University. These were the great “preacher boys” – the ones with charisma who were always able to find a place to preach. They were the rising stars of that generation.
John said he wrote the names of those 25 young men in the front of his Bible. By the time John was in his 60s, all but three of them had either left the ministry or had a moral failure. The only names left were another pastor in Texas, Ron Dunn, and John.
Stories surrounding misdeeds, bad judgment, pride, arrogance, lack of accountability, moral failures, lack of ethics, and outright rejection of the gospel are far too many to mention here. Every time there is a train wreck, innocent passengers are injured and some never recover.
When a minister leaves the ministry or walks away from their calling, it is their family, the church they serve, and those who have bought their books or been mentored from afar who are wounded. It can lead to a lack of trust in all leaders, and the ripple effect can impact generations.
We cannot ignore the negative impact on the name of Christ and the testimony of good and faithful people when those we look up to stumble and fall. In our American Christianity where there is a celebrity culture in our subculture, it’s easy to forget that there is only one true hero in our story. Our hero is the Son of God. He never failed in His purpose. He lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
Before we get down this road too far, we must remember that there are bad actors, deceivers, charlatans, and con artists in every area of life. Yes, as believers, we should expect more from our leaders. Yes, we are doubly accountable. But let’s not forget that failure, falling away, and damaging others is not an exclusive trait of a handful inside the church. Jesus had one in his inner circle. Judas was a betrayer. No one names their child Judas these days.
There have been corrupt political leaders. Corruption is not a political party issue; it’s a heart issue. To allow it, ignore it, or excuse it is to destroy integrity. It leads to mistrust and cynicism among the people. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the local, state, or national level. It damages the institutions they represent and the people they have been elected to serve.
Among presidents, we have the scandals of the Grant administration, the Lewinsky scandal of the Clinton years, The Iran Contra affair, Watergate, the Teapot Dome in which a cabinet member under Warren Harding went to prison, the Whiskey Ring, and Andrew Johnson’s impeachment to name a few. Today, scandals, accusations, and partisanship have seemingly destroyed any ability for government to work together for the greater good. Additionally, people seeking to profit from sharing what went on behind-the-scenes have all led to a cynicism we may never recover from.
There have been business leaders who have scammed people out of billions of dollars. Get-rich-quick deals and Ponzi schemes, which only make the con artist wealthy. Those burned and bankrupted by such “investments” could write a library full of testimonies. We’ve seen sports scandals throughout history. In 1919, eight members of the major league baseball team, the Black Sox, were accused of throwing the World Series in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.
When we worship sports celebrities as idols and gods, we can expect something or someone to bring our idols down. The fall of Tiger Woods comes to mind. The attack of Tonya Harding on Nancy Kerrigan made worldwide news. The Death Penalty for SMU football. Pete Rose betting on baseball. College athletes taking money from boosters. The New England Patriots have had two major scandals: Spygate where they were filming their opponents’ defensive signals, and the deflated football incident. Now their multiple rings are tarnished for all except the diehard Patriots fan.
In the Bible there are multiple stories of failures that impacted the nation of Israel. We find kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. They could have been great, but their worship of idols and godless deeds are recorded for all human history. In the New Testament you have the accounts of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the church. Demas forsook Paul “having loved this present world.” Diotrophes “loved the preeminence.”
Church history reveals corrupt popes and kings who used the church to their own advantage. Through the ages there have been heretics who watered down or even denied the truths of Scripture. They had a voice and used it for evil and destruction. Catholics and evangelicals have been rocked by sex scandals, abuse of children, predators in pulpits, and more.
Think of the scandals of reported in the media of Billy James Hargis, Marjoe Gortner, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Peter Popoff, Mike Warnke, Robert Tilton, Ted Haggard, the recent situation with Jerry Falwell, Jr., and others. All of these left us seeking to explain to others “that’s not Jesus.” Add to this the best-selling authors in recent years who have denied their faith or renounced in some form or another the Christian culture that made them famous.
While the names I’ve mentioned throughout this piece are more well-known than others, we all know people who have taken a detour off the narrow road and headed down the wide road that leads to destruction. So, how are we to respond? Let me wrap this up with a few thoughts.
- If you put your faith in people, you will ultimately be disappointed. Everyone at some point will disappoint you at some level. Everyone is a sinner, and sinners sin. Don’t elevate people above Jesus. He won’t disappoint you. He will never fail you.
- Reject the tendency to make celebrities and stars out of talented people. They are talented, but they are frail flesh just like you. With their rise to “fame” is also a rise in the level of temptation. The devil delights in letting us get to the top of our game, sport, denomination, etc. and then orchestrating a fall that damages the Kingdom.
- Don’t point fingers. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). We are all one dumb decision away from bringing shame to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stay humble. Pray for the fallen. Pray that they will repent. Ask God to redeem and restore. Peter fell and denied Jesus three times, but Jesus restored him. When Pentecost came, God used the restored Peter to preach the gospel.
- Be accountable. A failure to have people in our lives who can ask us the hard questions is a set-up for our own fall. Have people in your inner circle who can examine your life and be honest with you. They won’t tell you what you want to hear – they’ll tell you what you need to hear.
Recent events should break our hearts. No one should rejoice in the failure or fall of another brother or sister in Christ. In the end, live for Jesus. Love others. Serve others. Walk humbly. Pray. Abide in Christ. Let your biggest concern be that you might be a branch that doesn’t bear fruit and must be cut away. Listen to the Spirit and walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.