One of the strangest (and most unbiblical) things about our particular experience with “Charismania” was the odd dynamic that swirled around the pastors of Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are most other names on this website). Within the world that they’d created inside the walls of Living Word, the Smith family – Pastor Smith, his wife Mary, and their two young-adult sons, Timmy and Tommy – were treated like royalty.
We’d come to Living Word Church after a lifetime spent in more mainstream Bible-based churches, where it was a given that pastors were supposed to be unassuming “servant leaders.” So when we first arrived at Living Word, we were oblivious to the aura of celebrity that surrounded the Smiths.
It took awhile for us to fall in line and acclimate ourselves to Living Word’s hierarchy, but eventually we learned how things were. And despite how we always KNEW, at some level, that the Smith family’s belief in their own importance was completely unbiblical and inappropriate, we soon found ourselves going right along with the crowd who swirled around them, vying for their attention and approval. It really did not take very long for it to seem almost NORMAL to us that there was an entire “ministry” built around providing security for the Smith family as they walked around the church building. Or that it was considered a HIGH HONOR to open the door of Pastor Smith’s $85,000 Mercedes as his handlers hustled him out of the building and into his car.
Eventually, we realized that the people who were the closest to the Smith family – ESPECIALLY the people who handled the most mundane details of their lives – exhibited a real attitude about their proximity to the Smiths.
I happened to be reading a random website – a website about a subject that on the surface has nothing to do with the world of “Charismania” – when I came across a really amazing comment that describes to a “T” the dynamic that was at work at Living Word Church. I want to post that comment here, as I believe it provides a good summary of the attitudes at work within many independent “Charismaniac” churches, not just Living Word.
Here is the comment, by “Cindy K” (who has her own website here):
I would completely discount this as true if I had not heard and seen these things in the shepherding movement (the charismatic movement that got started about the same time that Bill Gothard started to get cranked up in the mid to late ’60s). We had a close friend at one time who was on the list to have the privilege of washing Bob Mumford’s car. The more holiness you have and the more submissive you are, the more deeply you can penetrate into the inner circle of leaders and the more intimate duties you are permitted to perform for them. So scrubbing the toilet for Bob Mumford is a far higher and more lofty duty than just washing the car. I actually talked on the phone with someone who left a sister church of my group whose father actually got to pick Bob Mumford up at the airport.
This is all a very big part of submission teaching, and in terms of this aspect and dynamic, Gothard and Mumford and some of these patriocentrists ascribe to the same mindset. Gothard teaches that if you want to have your own vision, the way to make that grow comes through serving others in their mission. So the more humble you are, the more grace you get (like God puts money in an account or you get grace warm fuzzies to counter all those sin cooties). The more selfless you are in your service, the more benefit you gain. If you are asked to wipe someone’s bum because they are too lazy to do it themselves or if they are actually taking pleasure in the fact that they can get you to do it, this is a test of your virtue. Submission, submission, submission. It is seen as an act of piety that builds your character in a direct cause and effect manner.
But what’s interesting is that no one is interested in scrubbing the toilet of the aging, obese woman who had a stroke and drools, who is seated in the back row and when she comes for prayer or to ask for critical help is patted on the head and told to be warmed, filled and to go in peace. The ministry efforts are directed primarily toward the elders and leaders in a group, because it is a type of validation and reinforcement of your own importance. Consider that this is like a drug, because you are in an environment of comparison as well as one where shame is used to motivate. It is more satisfying than a glass of cool water on the hottest summer day because it medicated the pains of comparison and shame.
People in these groups are overridden with shame, and gaining the favor of the elite is a most powerful neurochemical drug. It also feeds pride, because you are more special than the other people who can’t even get on the waiting list to wash the car, let alone scrub the toilet. But sometimes, if there is a favorite of the group, one that the group can hold up a non-normative they would like people to minister to – a pet project. Because it is seen as a virtue and is counted as virtuous by the leadership, attending to the particular non-normative who has been set apart by the leaders will also earn you bonus points with them.
They ALWAYS have their favorites. You might not get to wash the car of the leader, but you might be able to get on the list to wash the car of their pet project. And think about it. They have set themselves up in a hierarchy and established themselves as the visionaries who speak for God and discern His thoughts in ways that normal people cannot even begin to attain. Where would we be without Doug Phillips? We would have no one championing the family and the world would be a sad, sad place. If you want more than anything to honor and serve God in all the wonder and fullness that you can dream of, this is alluring.
If you believe their press, they hold out this fantasy for you. They create it with smoke and mirrors, and if you want that fantasy, there it is. You might not get to experience the awesome power and holiness and greatness of God, but you can perhaps glean something from the crumbs that fall from God’s table of greatness. I’ve heard people describe this as like unto those sick who took strips of Paul’s clothing to the sick so that the power of the Holy Spirit that remained on the cloth would heal them. [Charismania here: I want to point out that Living Word Church actually did have what they called an “Anointing and Handkerchief Service” each year, where they would distribute “anointed” hankies and vials of oil that had been prayed over by Pastor Smith and other guest speakers. Living Word Church actually had that passage from the book of Acts – the passage that describes how strips of Paul’s clothing were distributed for healing – printed on the hankies. Also, I myself once wrote a post about a funny thing that happened to us during the final prayer line during that “Handkerchief Service.” These things dovetail perfectly with what Cindy K is saying in this comment!] You might have a Holy Ghost experience by washing the very car that Bob Mumford actually touched and sat in. You might get a Holy Ghost jolt when you scrub the…
Don’t forget that Gothard teaches this. To have vision you must first experience the death of a vision, and then you work toward your vision by serving someone else in their vision. When God finds you faithful and you earn enough grace points and warm fuzzies, you win the prize – you get your own vision, and volunteers will in turn come to serve you as you aspire toward your very own vision.
This is all Gothard. It was all over Shepherding. It is a twist on being faithful over little so that God will make you faithful over your own greatness. By serving others greatness, God will eventually make you great. It’s all part of the formula.