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Friday, January 25, 2013

Manipulative or Visionary Preaching?

Last week I was leading the Master of Divinity students in my Christian Proclamation course in a discussion of what makes good preaching good and bad preaching bad. Several of them said that one of the elements that makes bad preaching bad is when the preacher seems to have a manipulative agenda. We discussed the differences between manipulative and visionary preaching. Here is a clip from Andy Stanley in a message he preached to the Northpoint Community Church where he serves as senior pastor. I invite you to check it out and respond to the question "Is this manipulative preaching or visionary preaching, and why?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSHmEbu_fPA
 

13 comments:

Kyle Holt said...

On the surface, this message from Andy Stanley may seem like manipulative preaching as he calls the congregation to be bold in four areas (invites, volunteering, giving, and prayer), but I would suggest otherwise. I would propose that his motive behind the call to be bold is not one of selfish gain or intent, but rather it seems his motivation is to intentionally engage the mission of God - to reach the people of God. To embark upon the mission of God requires sacrifice, requires a cost, and demands a commitment from the people, and I believe Andy Stanley is calling people to boldly engage God's mission through active participation in the four stated areas.

Kyle Holt

Brad Speck said...

Like Kyle, I'd agree that Andy Stanley is casting a vision for his people. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between vision casting and manipulation because in both cases there is a needed buy-in from the listeners. In the case of vision casting, the leader will speak in a way of promoting the vision of the organization, and in the case of manipulation, the leader will speak in a way of promoting his own agenda.
There were a few key lines that helped me to see this as vision casting. For one, he explained reasons that being bold in these four areas would be healthy for any Christian. Pointing out the spiritual benefits of both the individuals taking action and the individuals receiving support shows the motive of his mission. Also, he made mention how the church did not need their money to continue being a "big church".
As Christians, we have freedom for which Christ has set us free. As we grow and understand how much we do not deserve this freedom, the spiritual fruit should be one of giving and taking part in the mission God has allowed us to join in on. As such, Andy has sought to directly help and encourage people make decisions to join God's mission.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Kyle and Brad, I appreciate your thoughtfulness. And, at root, I agree with your comments. But, let me push back. Could someone suggest that if Stanley's message was truly about God's kingdom he would encourage them to bless small churches with their presence, or give financially to causes that are outside of the scope of Northpoint, or volunteer their time at community service organizations as opposed to Northpoint ministries? Is this about God's kingdom or Northpoint's kingdom? What do you think?

Brad Speck said...

Lenny,

I believe that just as you cannot remove one verse from one passage and let it speak on its own, so also you cannot remove one sermon from one pastor and take away his heart toward the gospel. I have had the opportunity to watch several of Andy Stanley's messages (including his "Be Rich") campaign, and in these messages, he talks about how Northpoint does not try to recreate ministries that are already happening in the community. Instead, they are at work funding different organizations who are effective at getting their jobs done with both man hours and money.
It can also be hard to differentiate between a local church's vision (or kingdom) and God's vision (or kingdom) when the local church is pursuing what they believe to be God's vision.

David Turkington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Turkington said...

Stanley’s message could easily be classified as manipulative – it depends on where the person passing the judgment starts from. Stanley made these bold statements in response to two main things which, I assume by the way he was talking, were already known to his hearers. Namely, Northpoint’s mission (summary = reach the un-churched) and their “unique opportunity” (as least at the time this was preached…Feb 2011?). If a person agreed/supported the mission/opportunity then I would gamble they would consider this a visionary sermon and visa versa.
This sermon was not the casting of a new vision, but in support of one already in place. I am guessing the nudge for this sermon was the unique opportunity Northpoint felt it had in regard to its influence in their community/country and its considerable resources. He mentioned several times that the material benefits Northpoint would experience as a result of members “being Bold” were unneeded (“we’re big enough”, “we don’t need your money”, etc). His crux of benefit was for the individual (inviter/volunteer/giver/pray-er), the Church, and the Kingdom.
On blessing small churches with the same four areas of Boldness; I don’t believe Stanley was preaching against the small church, rather churches that are not “getting it done” –whatever that means. Maybe for Stanley this is dependent on attendance, finance, or influence (the three areas he mentioned as Northpoint’s significance), IDK. Hearing him speak I got the impression he was saying in essence, “Invest yourselves in the areas God is already at work. Hey, Northpoint Ministries is a good place God is already at work and making good headway!”
BTW, we get extra credit for this, right, Lenney? Haha, totally jk!

Lenny Luchetti said...

Great discussion gang. You have made several points worht noting. First, as Brad suggests, you cannot pull one sermon from the pastor of a church out of the context of his sermonic corpus. I also appreciate Dave's suggestion that this message is Stanley's way of helping his church seize God-sized opportunities in front of them. And, finally, you do not get any extra credit. What you get is the learning that comes from a thoughtful discussion:-)

NathanJMetz said...

When sharing vision, it seems that pastors have a tendency to nudge the church by overcompensating for perceived weaknesses. In order to get the mass to move one inch the pastor calls for ten. The specific points in this video are agreeable. We should serve and invite and give. Yet, while there are certainly valid conversations to be had about his philosophy, it’s his approach that I wonder about. We may not all agree on where the middle ground is located but we can discuss whether his pendulum is swinging too far or too fast. In this case, even though his vision is lined up with truth his call moves too far, too fast and therefore becomes manipulative. I point to his description of the 'invest/invite' philosophy which stated “it’s never been easier for you” because “we will take responsibility”. I understand his end goal but the approach undermines discipleship within the existing church body.


On a side note, I can't tell if this is for a class or not. If it is, sorry for interrupting!

Lenny Luchetti said...

Nathan, thanks for joining the discussion. I appreciate your thoughtful response. So, you think Stanley moves too far too fast and doesn't allow for incremental discipleship steps? Right? I'm not sure, though, what you mean by "his approach undermines discipleship within the body." Can you elaborate?

Tim Gallant said...

On first glance, this does seem like a manipulative sermon about advancing a singular church, even at the expense of other small churches or marginal believers in the process. However, what I have learned from missionary service is that context is everything. Stanley’s exhortation, I use that term because I do not wish to invoke the term preaching or sermon, was contextual to his people, in his church’s context, and conducive to the vision that he and the leadership team has discerned from God for their church.
In the last sentence, I stated that Stanley’s message was an exhortation rather than a sermon. The main rationale for this statement is that his message did not fulfill the worship aspect of a “ministry of the Word”. While Stanley’s sermon did touch on topics such as stewardship, proclamation, boldness, and other aspects of holy living, his purpose did not seem to be to bring a message from God to the people of the church. Instead, it seemed that the message was an exhortation or admonition to the people of Northpoint to be the church that they were empowered to be. In this way, it is difficult to label the message as “manipulative” because it is not for those online listeners that tuned in via YouTube.

NathanJMetz said...

In his call for increased invitations he defuses possible insecurities in his congregation by saying “we’re going to partner with you”. This led me to believe that he was eluding to training, instruction and encouragement for the benefit of current church members. I hoped that he was describing the church as an equipping resource for individuals. Instead, he said “we will take responsibility for starting the conversation”. There are a few ways to look at this. You could say “well, something is better than nothing, let’s just get people in the door”. I see that benefit and agree somewhat. But I view this statement to a pendulum swing in reaction to the churches failed discipleship. If a church were regularly making disciples then everything he says about ‘inviting’ would seem odd and unnecessary. Disciples invite naturally and from their own voice. As I grew and matured as a Christian man I never asked my pastors or church leadership to ‘start a conversation for me’. Again, this is just an example. But it points to this common approach that we see in visionary preaching. The ability to see where we are and where we must go should be tempered with patience and determined efforts. It becomes very difficult to do this when you hit it hard for fifteen minutes without a bible or scripture reference to found.

Let me put it this way, when the ‘visionary’ compromises basic church function to see his teaching realized he immediately becomes a ‘manipulator’. Ex: Visionary sees need for community involvement but manipulates by trying to remove the need to be socially involved and capable of discussing and communicating the things of God. Ex: Visionary sees possibilities of global church influence but manipulates congregation by fostering an elitist mentality and burning bridges with the ‘other churches’.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Tim, you focus on the contextuality of this message which you suggest makes it hard to label this exhortation as either manipulative or visionary. It seems as though you're saying the only way to know for sure if this is a manipulative or visionary message is to be a part of the Northpoint Church. This is, I think, an important angle on this particular issue.
Nathan, thanks for pushing the envelope in the conversation. You have some important elements to add. Do preachers need to get manipualtive when we have failed to make disciples who make disciples? If NCC was making disciples who make disciples perhaps Stanley would not need to make such a manipulative??? plea. I think this is the base of your argument.

NathanJMetz said...

Agreed. If the vision had materialized in the church then manipulation would more likely be avoided. Considering Tim's comment on the context of the church, we may see that this approach is necessary. Personally, I just take this as a warning. I like dreaming and casting a vision. When that has been done I need to be patient and persistent with it. It could be too easy for me to shift or adjust my philosophy in an effort to reach those goals. Again referring to Tim's comment, it may be too hard to determine where they are in this particular situation. Perhaps they have had a long struggle with discipleship and this is part of an effort to change the frustrating landscape.