The danger of building a church around a personality


I love outgoing people. I love people who have some unexplainable magnetism about themselves, people who ooze qualities that make me want to follow them wherever they go.  In my own Christian experience I have had the opportunity to know and serve alongside some of these people. When I try to explain their personalities to someone else the best I normally come up with is, “If they weren’t leading a church they could be leading a cult.” Don’t get the wrong idea by that comment,  I don’t think there is anything wrong with such people. God made and gifted them in particular ways and they are merely living in the life that God has given them. However, I have often witnessed–and been a part of–churches that interact with strong personalities in what I now believe to be improper ways. I was recently reading a chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book Life Together in which he masterfully states the problem:

In the spiritual community the Word of God alone rules; in the emotional, self-centered community the individual who is equipped with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive abilities rules along with the Word. In the one, God’s Word alone is binding; in the other, besides the Word, human beings bind others to themselves…Thus, in the spiritual community the Spirit rules; in the emotional community, psychological techniques and methods.

To often the church elevates human leadership or techniques and methods. No one ever starts off trying to do that, it just happens. A strong personality joins the community, he uses successful techniques, and suddenly a man and particular ‘ministries’ begin to rule the church along side the Word. Here’s a simple question I think we need to ask ourselves often in our churches: what is binding us together? Is it God’s Spirit empowered Word or is it a personality leading the church or a set of methods our church uses. What is most often the ‘glue’ that binds you to your best friends at a church. A common leader (whether a pastor, small group leader, or ministry leader), or maybe a common ministry–a technique or method–that you both participate in or enjoy? Or are you bound to one another by the Word of God’s gospel?

Think of how small a gospel we offer when our community is built on anything less than the Word. We stand and proclaim to the world, ‘the gospel can unite you to people just like you, people who like the same personalities and methods as you.’ That is an impotent gospel. One of the great glories of Christ’s gospel is that it makes into one family people who would otherwise mix as well as oil and water. My prayer is that God will spare us from the folly of personality or technique based bonds as we seek to cultivate a deep and meaningful community at Union View.