Sunday morning is approaching and churches will be occupied and active, not like the emptiness on the other days of the week. The congregants are excited in preparation to hear the message from the pastor. When I was attending a mega-church here in Houston a few years ago it was not uncommon to hear some members express that their attendance is mostly predicated on the pastor giving the sermon, not by one of the associate ministers. None of them can do it like the pastor. This is an example of cult personality and charismatic influence. Decreasing attendance means lesser amounts in the offering so the pastor has to be there to protect the financial statement.
The secular community should prepare for a new wave of leadership as ex-pastors shed their cloaks of god-talk for their robes of reason. They will be looking for a new podium perched on a new pulpit seeking a new follow-ship. Some may be bringing their former but de-converted members for a ready made support base that will give comfort and credibility to this new message utilized in a familiar process in attempt to build a secular church. It’s like getting a new car, learning the new gadgets, but using the same driving skills.
One of the joys I celebrate in escaping from religion and church is no longer participating in this unbridled authority and reverence given to the pastor; the position of entitlements. Their needs and desires are always met or a concerted effort is attempted by the membership with much toil and sacrifice. The pastor is doused with honor and respect, given a god-like public image, and proclaimed a truth teller. A celebrity is added to the culture.
After receiving these former religionists with open arms and nurturing their non-belief, how will the secular community respond when they seek leadership positions? Will the secularists, humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics embrace these individuals with greater enthusiasm just because they are ex-pastors? Will they seek to find the true character and uncover those holy skeletons? Will they put forth adequate vetting to determine that their integrity matches their charisma? These are my concerns, because a secular church in the hands of a cult personality is a religion disguised as a humanist community. Will there be a secular church on every corner filled with sheeples?
I hope this is not the scam of the 21st century. After all, they need to make some money, so do what you do best is normally sound advice.
Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions. However, my unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership. Ask the tough questions. It’s what we should always do. As many of us ex-Christians can attest, it is difficult to remove a preacher from the pulpit unless they find another one. More importantly, there are many in our community that need jobs too, and let’s not forget healthcare.
Donald Wright is the author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go. He is a former deacon in a Baptist church and a professional engineer. He currently owns an engineering consulting firm in Houston, Texas.