With this post, I enter the next stage of this extensive journey through the mountain of details about Lakeland that I linked to in Part 2-Considering Various Sources. Here I offer my analysis of what I see as lapses in leadership and discernment. (However, I do not address theological issues extensively – most of those are highly complex and would need an appropriate amount of time to process them in the context of their larger system, and I do not have that available at present.)
I explore in brief a key issue of making the Kingdom more sustainable, namely, how to move from intervention when situations or people are already out of hand, to interception when they are at risk, to prevention so they do not become at risk. Also in this post, I issue a “challenge and an appeal” to several categories of leaders whom I believe need to take responsibility for their actions regarding Lakeland.
I understand that this series involves taking a risk – especially this post. There may be negative responses. But which is more important – drawing attention to leaders who have flaws and failures like all of us, but could help make their movement more grounded in grace and truth for the sake of the entire Kingdom? Or retreating in order to avoid controversy, or to protect self? Since we all – not just Charismatics and Pentecostals – have been drawn into the public arena already by the unfortunately events surrounding the Lakeland Outpouring, it makes sense to carry on appropriate acts of scrutiny and restoration in public as well.
I believe the sentiments of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 apply here: “… when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (NASB). This current conflict is a sad state of affairs. But, for the sake of our shared future as disciples of Jesus Christ, it would be unconscionable to neglect or refuse the opportunity to correct whatever is correctable.
Forthcoming in Parts 4 and 5: The wake of Lakeland points toward the need to develop a new profile of everyday learner-leaders, and to composite a new Kingdom platform from all the “post” movements (post-Charismatic, post-evangelical, post-emergent, etc.). What do these look like in practice, not just theory?
Forthcoming in Parts 6 and 7: The wake of Lakeland offers a portal to explore changes of generations in leadership, and consider imperatives for modernist-paradigm leaders in the transition over to holistic-paradigm leaders. How radical are the steps called for, and what could dynamic, intergenerational and interparadigm collaboration look like?
SEVEN LAPSES IN LEADERSHIP AND DISCERNMENT
I have identified seven general issues where I believe there were lapses in leadership and/or discernment regarding the situation at Lakeland. Here is a list of categories and key issues, for those who benefit from an overview before attempting to plunge into details.
Before the commissioning on June 23
1. Insufficient burnout prevention.
2. Lack of authenticating/validating the reports of miracles.
3. Unclear criteria for determining whether potential leaders are qualified, unqualified, or disqualified.
4. Lack of timely investigation and endorsement processes; start the testing process soon and don’t endorse too soon.
During the commissioning
5. Issuing a categorical, unconditional endorsement.
After the commissioning (especially after the stepping down of Todd Bentley in mid-August)
6. Flawed understanding of the discipline and restoration processes, and inconsistent responses and taking of responsibility.
7. Deflection of responsibility, i.e., “Don’t kill the messenger.”
Now for some details. I have attempted to be brief, and limit my comments to a few paragraphs max on each issue. I won’t be citing specific posts that “prove” my points. I found the body of evidence reviewed in Part 2 sufficient to support these general conclusions.
Before the Commissioning on June 23
1. Insufficient burnout prevention. In the midst of “revival,” apparently there is little or no concept of taking a regular rest on a weekly basis. (This is frequently true for ministers in the conventional kinds of congregations and ministry settings as well.) Does the Spirit lead against the very Scripture He breathed forth? Sabbaths are indicators of offering an appropriate sacrifice of ourselves, not in slacking off of our work. It can lead to credibility problems when revival leaders ultimately need “revival” themselves because meeting the needs of others has completely overtaken any healthy boundaries for self-maintenance. As I have stated before: If you don’t take a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath will arrest you. (I’ve had to learn the hard way that taking weekly rests does not ensure stress-free ministry, but neglecting personal times of restoration almost guarantees eventual burnout.)
2. Lack of authenticating/validating the reports of miracles. Because of the emphasis in the Charismatic/revival movements on the supernatural, the exuberant, and the ecstatic, legitimate questions of activities stepping over the line from the light of the Holy Spirit into the darkness of occultism will always – ALWAYS – arise. These serious concerns must be discerned, not simply dismissed.
One of the ways to help validate whether a miracle (or a movement) is from God or not is to authenticate purported miracles. When there is no evidence, the conclusion is clear enough that it is not from God. And even if there is documentation of supernatural occurrences, that still does not automatically authenticate the miraculous as being from God. If we do not document and weigh the evidence, we have no basis for saying it is from the Lord, and that means we function in hype which will inevitably lead to dashing people’s hope. We should not be surprised if complaints of “pastoral malfeasance” or its equivalent are lodged in such situations.
3. Unclear criteria for determining whether potential leaders are qualified, unqualified, or disqualified. I understand that discernment beforehand is not foolproof. If people are intent upon deceiving us, and are skilled at it, they may well succeed. This is why we must develop clear and extensive criteria for public leadership in ministry, and work toward developing stages of leadership involvement appropriate to the personal/spiritual maturity level of leadership apprentices. This means our criteria need to reflect core issues of personal character, integrity in relationships, theological orthodoxy, and ministry skills. Qualified leaders manifest all four at a sufficient level of development and balance.
We also need clear criteria for what group of people is qualified to evaluate an apprentice’s readiness for public ministry, and at what level, as well as to discern a candidate’s overall “anointing.” We must do better in letting people with first-hand and long-enough relationships with candidates both evaluate them and provide ongoing, in-person supervision in their ministries.
4. Lack of timely investigation and endorsement processes; start the testing process soon and don’t endorse too soon. Assuming we have the criteria and assessors in place, we need to implement discernment in a timely manner. This did not appear to happen with Lakeland until well into the movement, long after questions and critiques were being raised by both responsible advocates and irresponsible agitators. Failure to ensure a spiritually safe environment potentially has serious negative impact in the lives of revival participants.
I would suggest that revival meetings are like movies – they are by intent “emotional media,” designed to provoke some kind of response – whether that is to feel comfort, resolve, identification, acceptance, conviction, elation … whatever. Hopefully, when we buy a movie ticket, we realize that we’re opening ourselves to emotional manipulation through visuals, sounds, music, and story. But if participants at revival meetings come in good faith, yet have their emotions manipulated under false pretenses or false pastors, that is incredibly irresponsible. People who seek spiritual change, physical healing, and worshipful experiences are vulnerable. To fail in protecting the flock constitutes gross spiritual negligence on the part of all who claim to shepherd under the name of the Great Shepherd … and, again, if we fail in our pastoral responsibilities, we should not be surprised if it leads to legal claims.
During the Commissioning
5. Issuing a categorical, unconditional endorsement. Very absolute language was used during the commissioning service for Mr. Bentley (words like “decree” and phrases like “God showed me”). Subsequent reversals less than six weeks later raise doubts about whether the leaders present heard accurately from God in the first place. Otherwise, why did the Spirit not warn anyone of the 17 apostles and various prophets present of current or forthcoming problems? In the future, if those in charge discern any grounded sense of caution about a candidate, either they should not commission him/her, or they should make it utterly clear what the boundaries of their endorsement are. If your endorsement dictates the behavior of your followers, sound the trumpet clearly now so you do not inject confusion (1 Corinthians 13:1 and 14:8).
Regarding “apostolic alignment,” I find the concept theologically questionable. It has more evidence grounded in hierarchical organizational or business structures than in Scripture. However, if leaders in the Charismatic/Pentecostal stream choose to hold on to this doctrine, at the very least they should require of themselves to take care of investigation business far sooner to discern what/who is or is not from God, and decide as soon as possible on public endorsement (or distancing or waiting).
After the Commissioning (especially after the stepping down of Todd Bentley in mid-August)
6. Flawed understanding of the discipline and restoration processes, and inconsistent responses and taking of responsibility. Some of the most grievous actions have occurred in this interwoven area of discipline and restoration, responses and responsibility. I realize that feeling under attack makes discernment and forthright responses even harder. We should have some compassion for those who’ve had to make difficult decisions and statements while under fire. Some of those involved should be commended for attempting to stay connected with Mr. Bentley in a restorative relationship when this went against others with influence who distanced themselves from him. Yet, compassion intact, still we need to challenge equivocating responses by some leaders involved. These indicate their necessary work remains undone. I would suggest the following issues in brief, since an aspect of this subject comes up in the final section of this post.
- There is passive endorsement of Mr. Bentley and/or the Lakeland Revival, evidenced by the continued sale of past and/or recent products that feature him or the Outpouring. At the very least, I would recommend you make clear-cut decisions about what you are selling in this regard, why or why not, and when to implement your decisions.
- There is aggressive dis-endorsement or distancing from Mr. Bentley and/or other parties central to the Outpouring, the commissioning, and/or the aftermath. I commented already on leaders’ inappropriate, abusive, “unfatherly” behavior in my August 28 post about Leadership in this Current Era. In fact, the name callings, veiled threats, and repudiations were what most moved me to write this present series. I consider it an extension of my nearly completed series on recovery from spiritual abuse, and you may want to read Wikipedia’s entry on “Spiritual Abuse,” and especially note the opening section on “Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse” and consider how it applies to the Lakeland situation.
- There have been partial apologies for misunderstandings by recipients but not for personal miscommunication or misreadings of “signs” by communicators, semi-distancings from the conflict after holding a central role, and hyper-cautionary responses seemingly designed not to offend those with positions of “power.” Double-mindedness injects more confusion and instability into an already devastating situation. Please let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Consider humbly taking full responsibility for your actions. Stop both fearing men and being a respecter of persons. Speak tactfully without compromising the truth.
7. Deflection of responsibility, i.e., “Don’t kill the messenger.” Some primary documents I cited refer to the specific organizations, ministers, or the whole Charismatic/Pentecostal movement or specific ministries claiming to have a message for the entire Body of Christ. However, if you exhibit a clear unwillingness to receive/process questions and criticisms that come from outside your movement and ministries – and blame them for speaking up – surely you should not be angered when outsiders deny any legitimacy to your theologies, authenticity, or authority. Your medium shapes our message.
There are stark new realities to ministering in a post-privacy world. This is not George Orwell’s Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which history can so easily be rewritten and past versions destroyed by the “Ministry of Truth.” Also, as seen in the contemporary diaspora of disciples from institutional-model churches, guilt-laced attempts to “reprogram” people – as through vilification, intimidation, and manipulation in the Oceania “Ministry of Love’s” – will likewise increasingly fail. The era of authoritarian is ending; an era of authenticity has been entered. (I believe this is true of all modernist movements, not just Charismatic/Pentecostal, and that every Traditional and Pragmatic Paradigm/model for doing church will face a major meltdown. More on this in a later post in this series.)
When we choose a platform in the public forum, we cannot escape the archived, documented realities of our own spoken and written words, our own actions shown on photos and videos. Documented words and deeds speak and hold us accountable. So, if we do not act with integrity in regard to what we say and do, I would suggest that, regardless of the purity of our motives, such attempts would be seen at best as “spin,” or even stronger as “hype,” and at worst as “outright and outrageous deceit.”
And thus, I would appeal for a clear and humble admission of failings, owning up to responsibilities, and reporting on appropriate follow-through actions taken. And it may be that anything less simply fuels continued defamation of the one we name as our Lord and Savior.
MOVING FROM INTERVENTION TO PREVENTION
That is plenty analysis of the present and some of its implications. Now, I’d like to move toward the subject of implementing a healthier future. Specifically, as I wrote about in this previous post, how do we progress from intervention to interception to prevention? Since I have written elsewhere on the basics of this three-layered task that leads to sustainability, I will just list here a flow of ideas related to Lakeland.
Take responsibility for lapses in leadership and/or discernment, starting with this instance, and doing so any time from here on out where leadership or discernment fails by falling short or by going overboard. Do not blame-shift, do not shame, do not curse others or automatically assume critics are from the devil. Keep cultivating a heart that is willing to receive criticism, not just praise, and to learn from both. This is hard to do, but the seriousness of intervention requires it when things are already out of control.
Clarify the relevant theological issues, processes, procedures, and evaluation criteria that will be used in the future. Then, implement them all consistently and oversee them without overcontrolling. While there is some evidence that this may occur – e.g., see the last section on “Bringing Order to the Issues” in the August 11 report on the Lakeland Apostolic Findings – these apostolic councils appear to function as “closed systems.” For instance, few members of the International Coalition of Apostles appear to have expressed any public opposition to the public positions of their President. Also, will they address issues raised by those outside their camps? Thus, I am not certain the organizations assigning themselves the tasks of “sorting things out” have the credibility to authenticate the findings to anyone except those within their own groups. So, it is to be expected that the theological equivalent of “citizen journalists” will do their own investigative reportage, as will members of the secular press and public.
Continue developing your own “learning library” of case studies to document the progress in direction (forward, backward, stalled) and consistency of leadership, discernment, and “apostolic function.” Document honestly the entire range of faithfulness from absolute failure to reasonably successful. Also, this investment of effort now creates resources for future needs in discerning and resolving situations of intervention, interception, and prevention.
Train next generations of learner-leaders with as many methods as possible. Use studies in church history and historical theology, contemporary case studies, on-the-job training and internships where apprentices serve and observe at investigative events, etc.
Turn over the reigns of leadership to next-generation learner-leaders at the appropriate time – when they demonstrate the gifting, the spiritual maturity, and the passion to carry the baton and then pass it on to the next generations after them.
A CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY
I asked members of The Virtual Abbey, and several other trusted individuals, to preview my “Challenge and Appeal to Own Our Responsibilities,” the final section of this post. Among the responses I received was the following clarion call from my Australian Abbey brother (AbbY – for Abbot the Younger) who goes by the internet name “Celtic Son.” He gave me permission to include his email of September 20 in this post. I share it here in full, unedited.
As a “pentecostal” leader (note small p!) and hence charismatic in theology and experience, I completely agree with your sentiments and your questions. The handling of the Lakeland situation has raised legitimate questions on the reliability of the charismatic leaders involved – though I also think some of the response has been refocussed onto biblical charismatic phenomena rather than non-biblical practices by those who claim charismatic leadership.
My perspective on charismatic phenomena is that it did not die off with the initial apostolic band, I think the theological approach to justifying that position tries to force too much argument from what the Bible does not say. However, I also believe that authentic charismatic phenomena is consistent with Biblical content and directs people towards Christ… when it becomes about specific individuals, locations, techniques etc I smell a distinctly sulphurous vapour… and when it becomes focussed on unseen angelic visitations and distinctly non biblical phenomena I tend to refer people to Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor 11…
Where something is authentically Christ-centred there ought to be no fear of examination by others, nothing to hide… any lack of transparency usually indicates that what is presented publicly is not what is at the heart of the matter. Jesus suggested that we could tell much by an examination of fruit and Paul suggested that we don’t act too hastily in the laying on of hands… If what has been passed off as “revival” was allowed to pass sufficient time to bear authentic fruit, then we could determine much more clearly what is good fruit and what is not…
I look forward to reading your thoughts and will be in prayer for you Brother Abbot
AbbY – Celtic Son
A CHALLENGE AND APPEAL TO OWN OUR RESPONSIBILITIES
Here is the final text of my own “challenge and appeal.” This is the third major version I have edited since producing the first draft a week ago.
I do not come from a Charismatic background – a fact I have not hidden. And yet, I wanted to post an appeal to leaders within the Charismatic/Pentecostal stream who, in their public leadership roles, offered some form of spiritual endorsement of Todd Bentley and/or the Lakeland revival but now appear to be repudiating their responsibility. I read a number of the links to your own posts and comments, I saw some of your videos online. I have also read a number of online comments, some supportive of your actions, and some critical.
Paul’s pastoral epistle to Timothy states: “The sins of some people are soon in evidence; they lead on to judgment. But in the case of others, they dog their steps. Equally so are good works readily observed; while those which are otherwise cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25, Modern Language Bible). Our double-mindedness becomes quite obvious when people can both see and hear it in the original sources that we ourselves have provided, and can compare our conflicting or confused before-and-after statements side by side. The actions, reactions, and inactions of many (but not all) of those associated with the Lakeland events show double-mindedness and/or other acts of mistaken leadership.
The Scriptures do not let us off the hook easily, regardless of what we blog, podcast, or vlogcast. 1 Timothy 5:22 says, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure” (NIV). In the case of some of you involved in outright laying hands on Todd Bentley as a sign of recognition, and/or who indirectly endorsed him or the Lakeland revivals by such public actions as convening, blessing, anointing, prophesying for/over, etc.:
- How is it that you made such public gestures – on the record – and yet expect or accept no backlash over your mistaken judgment and apparent lack of doing your homework before such an endorsement?
- How are we to trust your authority to say anything if you so clearly refuse authentic correction when the evidence of equivocation that you yourselves are providing seems quite clear enough? Many of you have books, newsletters, websites, broadcasts, etc. – which of these can we trust, or not?
- If this is how you treat those who fail, that is discouraging – whether they do or do not turn out to be deceitful, not fully truthful, and/or poseurs. How is it that you can still truly claim to be concerned for our next generations of learners-leaders if this is how they are treated when they fail? Why did you give your public acclaim to such a one as Mr. Bentley, putting even more pressure on him?
To those who have refused their culpability and responsibility, I issue this challenge and appeal with such direct questions – not because any of you have acknowledged me to have authority to do so – but because I have two credentials for saying these things.
First, the imperative verb for “do not lay hands suddenly on anyone” is right there for all of us to see in 1 Timothy 5:21, and you provided your own necessary two or three witnesses to your missing the mark (1 Timothy 5:19) because you conducted these actions in public, in print, and in broadcast. This type of behavior has opened you to a direct and public challenge (1 Timothy 5:20).
Second, my credentials for issuing an appeal come because I have made this exact same mistake myself. In fact, unfortunately, twice within a several-year period I “laid hands” too quickly on designated church leaders. In both cases, I led a number of my friends to get involved with “leaders” who turned out to be spiritually abusive. When I finally understood the true character of these leaders, I confronted them according to principles of Matthew 18. (Neither responded with acknowledgement of their flawed character that was now apparent; there was no repentance that led to restoration.) Meanwhile, I had to witness the consequences of these abusive leaders’ destructive impact on others. I also suffered that same destruction myself, both before and after leaving these situations.
I apologized to those whom I was responsible for misleading because of my premature endorsement, and I worked on restoring relationships with those who ended up wounded. In one of my most seriously affected friendships, it took almost two years to work out restoration from damaged caused by direct involvement with an abusive leader. In another relationship there was “collateral damage.” Our relationship deteriorated due to my lack of boundaries through involvement with that same leader. However, in this case, it took nearly six full years to work out restoration! Most relationships took a few months to a few years to normalize.
All that was grievous, especially considering that most whom I misled were young leaders from the next generation – in their middle to late twenties. Wow … what had I done! Perhaps as difficult, was that I had to ask myself very hard questions: What was in me … what did I gain out of the relationships with those so-called leaders? What set me up to fail in my discernment and thereby, in effect, lay hands on men who were not simply UNqualified to serve, but in fact had DISqualified themselves from service by their deceptive character and abusive ways? I hope I have developed the wisdom to wait and discern before endorsing, just as the Scriptures command – not merely advise.
This unfortunate drama occurred in a small stage, involving relatively few people. However, what happened with Lakeland played out on an international stage, with thousands of people watching, participating, being affected. How many people have been directly wounded by the lack of discernment you displayed as leaders? And now, how many continue being wounded indirectly by your failures to take clear responsibility for wrongs – mistaken discernments and endorsements, unfulfilled and perhaps unfulfillable prophecies, reviling those who challenge your public stance of seeming innocence when your own newsletters, videos, blog posts, etc., don’t fully back that up? How many disciples will take your lack of integrity as implicit permission to do in the future exactly according to the flawed examples you have given in the Lakeland situation?
Why is this important anyway? These lapses of judgment and/or apparent disintegrity on the part of representative Charismatic leaders may lead some of our spiritual siblings to repudiate Charismatic perspectives altogether. However, that would be a pitiful mistake. The Charismatic movement offers several important features to those of us who are not Charismatic, even if we do not agree with other aspects of your theologies and practices.
For instance, there are ways in which you appreciate the creative character of God, and show freedom and spontaneity in listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We who come from non-Charismatic backgrounds need to learn these perspectives from you. Those who are missional from non-Charismatic backgrounds especially need to understand better how to be led by the Spirit, how to anticipate God’s moving among people, how to listen and watch to see how God is at work. Overall, your stream of Christianity has some important lessons to share about God’s working through the supernatural.
However “non-rational” the supernatural may be, much of the documentation about Lakeland shows strong strains of the anti-rational and irrational. It is unfortunate that many missionally-minded folk are overgeneralizing the Lakeland situation, and thus repudiating all aspects of Charismatic theologies. We need to “live into” the leading of Holy Spirit, as many of you do – but we cannot go against clear scriptural commands under a veil of the Spirit’s leading. We need to understand better about how God moves in supernatural ways – but cannot accept that it need always be as spectacular as the cravings expressed at Lakeland. We need a broader framework on spiritual warfare – but cannot accept an overemphasis that registers almost as “Christian animism” where we are supposedly in constant, direct conflict to overcome demonic forces.
I would appeal to you to review your recent actions, and take full responsibility for whatever actions went against Scripture – regardless of the sincerity of your motives, regardless of having been deceived or not being told the full truth, etc. Own what actions are yours to own, end your equivocations, and do not expect your other well-doings to cover the consequences of these episodes. Any good we do does not negate any evil that we perpetrate, just as the fact that we sin or sometimes wound others through our wickedness does not negate the good and growth we have.
We are a family, and we need to learn from one another and work together to survive this chaotic era of global change in which we live. You have been acknowledged as leaders within the Charismatic and revival movements; I pray and hope that you will take steps now to restore the trust that is needed in order to be acknowledged as leaders within the Kingdom.
Series Links ~ Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland
- Part 1: Discernment and the Costly Descent into Darkness
- Part 2: Considering Various Sources …
- Part 3: Seven Critical Lapses in Leadership and an Appeal to Own Our Responsibilities
- Part 3 – Addendum #1: Notes, Quotes, and Questions on Reconstructing Authority
- Part 3 – Addendum #2: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-Six Trends Toward Systems Solutions
- Part 3 – Addendum #3: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-When Churches are Like Leaky Ships, How Do We Fix the Boat?
- Part 3 – Addendum #4: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-How Do We Fix a Leaky Boat, and Who Can Best Lead in Doing So?