The Victoria Secret Strategy for Christian Authors

The Victoria Secret Strategy for Christian Authors

I read with a broken heart today the news that broke through WORLD Magazine how “popular” author Mark Driscoll paid $210,000 to circumvent the safeguards put in place by the NYT to prevent authors from manipulating their rankings to get on the list. In the article they report,

According to a document obtained by WORLD, ResultSource Inc. (RSI) contracted with Mars Hill “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your book, Real Marriage on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-To list.”

The marketing company also promised to help place Real Marriage on the Wall Street Journal Business,USA Today Money, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.com best-seller lists.

They go on to report,

The details of the agreement between Mars Hill and ResultSource are complicated. ResultSource received a fee of $25,000 to coordinate a nationwide network of book buyers who would purchase Real Marriage at locations likely to generate reportable sales for various best-seller lists, including the New York Times list. Mars Hill also paid for the purchase of at least 11,000 books ranging in price from $18.62 to $20.70, depending on whether the books were purchased individually or in bulk. The contract called for 6,000 of the books to be bought by individuals, whose names were supplied by the church. Another 5,000 books were bought in bulk.

Mars Hill would not say whether the funds for the purchase of these books, which would total approximately $123,600 for the individual sales and $93,100 for the bulk sales, came from church funds.

According to the terms of the contract between ResultSource and Mars Hill, “RSI will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” The contract called for the “author” to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.”

The purpose of this instruction appears to be a way to outsmart systems put in place by The New York Times and other list compilers to prevent authors from buying their way onto best-seller lists. ResultSource apparently uses other techniques to work around the safeguards of the best-seller lists. According to its agreement with Mars Hill, “RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”

Mars Hill Church has defended this practice via their PR spokesman, Justin Dean, who wrote the following  to WORLD Magazine.

Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience.

Ah… the all-too-familiar refrain, “everybody is doing it”… and sadly they may be right. Tony Jones writes in his Patheos blog, “Mark Driscoll Gamed the Publishing Game“:

Years ago, Rick Warren finagled his way onto the bestseller lists. Before Purpose-Driven Life came out, Warren had hundreds of churches lined up to buy thousands of copies, all of which he bought through Pastors.com and resold to said churches. It was so effective that Warren’s marketing rep and Zondervan left his job there and wrote a book about the process. Warren vehemently disavowed that he’d done anything unethical. Instead, the 35 million copies he’d sold was not marketing but “God’s supernatural and sovereign plan.”

So why does this story break my heart?

For me, it is not about Driscoll or others who do the same thing. Instead, the story is so troubling because this reflects a sickness both in myself and the Church. Aside from the fact that money given by the church is used for self-aggrandizement, I am grieved that the Church in general has made an idol of fame. My heart breaks because I have, at times, in my own life been consumed by those same idolatrous thoughts. For years it bothered me that sales of my own books seemed to “fail”, but through time and through stories like this one from WORLD Magazine I have come to realize that I was judging myself against a false image.

In my recent discussion with Jim Belcher on, “Ghostwriting and the Sin of Idolatry“, I concluded the following:

Much like the fiction of the Victoria Secret model, “famous” writers create a fiction about their intelligence to impress the world with a false image of who they really are.

Leaders in the Church, corrupted by the lure of fame, have “airbrushed” their way into notoriety and set up a standard of success that is neither biblical nor real.  Mark Driscoll is the Martha Stewart of publishing; using other people to do the work while one person takes the credit.

My prayer?

I pray, first, that my own heart will not be consumed with false images of success and that I can remain faithful to the mission of the Gospel.  Where I have failed Lord, forgive me and make me a better person tomorrow than I am today.

Second, I pray for the Church, that She will discover Her sin and focus again on storing up a treasure in heaven that cannot be purchased by PR companies (see: Matt 6:1-24).

Updated On March 10, 2014

In response to the above story, Christianity Today reports that Mars Hill has released a statement which, in part, reads:

In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.

Let’s be clear. Marsh Hill hired Result Source to create the fiction that Driscoll’s book was a bestseller. The reason they were hired, according to their website, was to increase demand for Driscoll as a speaker for conferences and events.

Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth—exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value,

The reason the Executive Elders of Mars Hill used the tithes from the church to hire this PR firm was to purchase the impression that Mark Driscoll is a “thought leader” who more people should bring to their events.  However, more important to the conversation is the phrase in The Mars Hill press release that their actions were neither “uncommon” or “illegal”.  As I teach all of my graduate students who take my course on Ethics and Leadership; we, as followers of Christ, should never determine right action based on its commonality or legality.

Updated On March 19, 2014

Just a week after Driscoll’s Public Relations manager for the church released the statement, “everyone is doing it”, Driscll has decided to release a new statement acknowledging his tactics were wrong.  As reported in Relevant Magazine, Driscoll writes,

First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.

In reading Driscoll’s open letter, the editors of Relvant are reminded of a similar apology from Driscoll in 2007. In reading his sermon, this seems to be the significant passage.

It comes up in the book [of Philippians] and so I need to preach it. But let me say this, that in all honesty, having reflected on this, I believe that humility is the great omission and failure in my 11 years of preaching. I believe that this is my greatest oversight, both in my example and in my instruction. I therefore do not claim to be humble. I do not claim to have been humble. I’m convicted of my pride and I am a man who is by God’s grace pursuing humility. And so in many ways, this is a sermon that I’m preaching at myself. This is a sermon that you’re welcome to listen in on as I preach to myself. But I truly believe that were there one thing I could do over in the history of Mars Hill, it would be in my attitude and in my actions and in my words, to not only emphasize sound doctrine and courage and strength and commitment and conviction, but to add in addition to that, humility as a virtue.

Mark Driscoll, “The Rebels Guide to Joy In Humility” preached at Marsh Hill Church in 11/04/2007, Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive 2005-2009 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009). 

Seven years later, we seem to be at the same place again.

The one immediate change announced is that Driscoll plans to take a “personal” break from social media. However, since Driscoll stills pays other people (including the Mars Hill Public Relations “Deacon”) to Tweet on his behalf, I am not sure what change, if any, this announcement really reflects. That being said, one can only pray Driscoll is more than just “sincere” in his latest remarks, but that he actually makes personal & structural changes that lead to discernible change to contrast against his historically onerous lack of discernment (viz a vie, calling a Social Media Marketing employee of the church a “Deacon”, or servant, to the church. Slapping a biblical name on a secular occupation does not make it any more spiritual.)

Ghostwriting And The Sin of Idolatry

Recent new of plagiarism by Mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll has led to a flurry of blog posts, but it all began when Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd confronted Driscoll with examples of the plagiarized content on her Nov. 21 radio broadcast. Driscoll quickly attacked Medford as “grumpy” and denied her allegations. Supporters of Driscoll rushed to his defense, detractors pounced, but more importantly thoughtful people began to discuss the lack of integrity in “Christian” publishing.

Did Mark Driscoll plagiarize? Warren Throckmorton has a series of articles on his Patheos blog that digs into the details surrounding 4 books by Driscoll that contain questionable passages. My assessment, as a professor, is that Driscoll did plagiarize, but most likely it was due to sloppy practice and a push to publish more materials than he could possibly manage. Similar thoughts are shared by many writers including the folks like Kate Tracy at Christianity Today.

But more important than Driscoll and discussion of plagiarism, are the deeper issues of pride that have brought us to this place where men and women who cant write, hire people who can and then stamp their name on the work. Much like the fiction of the Victoria Secret model, “famous” writers create a fiction about their intelligence to impress the world with a false image of who they really are. 

John Piper has weighed in on this issue and Throckmorton chronicled his various Tweets on the topic.

Andy Crouch also has a thoughtful article in CT challenging Christians to a higher ethic in our publishing practices.

All this is to set the stage for today’s conversation on the deeper issue of Ghostwriting. In this LIVE discussion Jim Belcher, author of “Deep Church” and I take these issues head-on and answer the question, “Is Ghostwriting a form of Christian Idolatry?”

Do we need a new definition of Church?

Do we need a new definition of Church?

The Context

I was poking around the web and came across the videos for a conference called Advance09.  Mark Driscoll was a featured speaker at the conference along with other pastors who have super large congregations.  He was there with Rick Warren (25,000 members + 200,000 pastors trained in the PDL) and Jonathan Falwell (20,000 + members plus “millions” through their TV ministy).  These men are considered hugely innovative and successful pastors because they have built really big congregations.

Just a minute into the first video from Mark Driscoll I heard the following…

Driscoll (8,000 attending + plans to have 100 worldwide campuses and 50,000 people) turns to this group of men who are the spiritual guides to hundreds of thousands of people and asks,

“what is the church?”

All of these successful pastors look at one another with confused looks and say,

“I don’t know!  What is the church?”

According to Driscoll, not a single pastor in the group had a clear ‘functional’ and ‘biblical’ definition of church!

How Would You Answer These Questions?

Mark Driscoll says we are living in an age when “Ecclesology is being redefined” by technology and redefined by the innovative ideas of this group of pastors (online church, video-venues, etc…).

  1. Is Driscoll suggesting that the Ecclesioology as defined in the New Testament is insufficient for today’s high octane mega-church leadership?
  2. Is God’s revealed Ecclesiology no longer viable for the next generation? Is that really what Driscoll is saying?  Is he right?
  3. Should Ecclesiology be redefined for each unique method of doing church (video campus, online campus, etc…)?
  4. Are these mega-church leaders the men God has appointed to lead us into the redefinition of church? And if not, then who?

I realize that since 2009, Driscoll has written books that he believes answers these questions.  He also published his “8 Marks of the ‘True’ Church.”  But… maybe it is time more believers engaged in a serious discussion about what, and who, the Church really is!

What do you say? Do we need a new definition of Church?

Bad Hermeneutics or Great Leadership?

Bad Hermeneutics or Great Leadership?

This sermon was delivered by the often controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll at Mars Hills Church on 09/30/2007.  This sermon title is, “Fathers and Fighting”.

The passage Driscoll preached from was Nehemiah 13:23-31 (ESV).

23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” 28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. 30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

The following excerpt demonstrates Driscoll application of this passage to his church life and practice of leadership at Mars Hill.  On this occasion, the two church leaders Driscoll mentions in this sermon were fired in a private meeting just a few minutes after this sermon was preached.

NOTE: this excerpt is from the actual transcript of the sermon so the bracketed words “(Laughter)” indicate the audience reaction to what Driscoll is preaching.

You either enjoy confrontation or you enjoy sin. You get to pick one or the other. If people sin and there’s not confrontation, then you better enjoy sin because that’s what’s going to happen. “Then I confronted them, and I cursed them.” He’s just cussing guys out (Laughter). “And beat some of them (Laughter).” I’ll read that again. “And beat some of them.” Now, he’s an older guy. And he’s beating up members of his church (Laughter). What do we do with that? I’ll tell ya what I’d like to do with that. I’d like to follow in his example. There’s a few guys right now that if I wasn’t gonna end up on CNN, I would go Old Testament on ‘em, even in leadership in this church (Laughter). Here’s Nehemiah’s deal. Now, Romans 13 says we need to obey the government, so you can’t just walk around beating people up tragically (Laughter). It does simplify things. There’s no like attorneys and blogging. Just like “I punched you in the mouth. Shut up (Laughter).” That’s clean. It’s simple.

Now, in this Nehemiah gets so angry that he can’t make these guys stop, and so he physically assaults them. Now, this week in your community group you can dialogue whether or not you think that was godly. That would be something fun to talk about (Laughter). Okay? You can debate the merits of this old day. But I’ll tell you this: I’m not saying it’s okay to beat people up, but I understand (Laughter). That’s what I am saying. I’ll tell ya another story. There’s a guy I met. He’s a mixed martial artist and ultimate fighter. Good guy. Loves Jesus. He was at church recently. And he coaches a lot of young fighters. All right?

And so I coach a lot of pastors, so I asked him, I said, “What do you do with a guy who just doesn’t submit to authority, doesn’t obey the chain of command, doesn’t listen, doesn’t do what he’s told, just rebellious, stiff-necked, hardhearted and stupid?” I said, “What do you do with those guys?” His answer was brilliant. He said, “I break their nose (Laughter).” That was his answer. I said, “Wow! Please explain.” I mean, I’m taking copious notes. Please explain. Here’s what he says: “If I get one of these guys in my fighter camp where I’m training guys and he won’t play by the rules, he won’t listen or respect authority, if I let him get away with it, I have anarchy on my whole team and next thing you know no one is doing what they’re told, and everything falls apart.” That’s exactly what’s happening in Nehemiah’s day.

“So I warn ‘em. ‘You knock it off or I’m gonna put you in the ring, I’m gonna take you down, and I’m gonna bust your nose.’ And if they disobey, disrespect or disregard me, I put ‘em in the octagon, I take ‘em down, and I bust their nose (Laughter).” Okay? He said, “So you’ll notice on the guys on my team they all have a crooked nose and a good attitude (Laughter) (Applause).” I thought “Wow!” I mean, it’s heartwarming (Laughter). I just thought “That is—that makes so much sense to me.” And that’s what Nehemiah is doing. Now, you can debate the merits all day, but I understand (Laughter). “I beat some of them.” And the next one is a little disappointing. “And I pulled out their hair”, which sounds like a chick fight, doesn’t it (Laughter)? That’s a little disappointing. “Pulled out their hair?” I’m like “Hmm.”

So let’s do this. Let’s read into the story just a little bit. Let’s say that maybe it was self-defense, they attacked him, so he had to defend himself. Okay. And somehow the hair-pulling thing I don’t know. I don’t know what happened there. Generally speaking, most men don’t respect other men who pull men’s hair (Laughter). So I’m not—maybe he scalped him (Laughter). Maybe they attacked him, he beat ‘em up and scalped ‘em. I’m gonna go with that ‘cause I can respect that a lot more (Laughter). And then he goes on, “And I made them take an oath.” You think? “Repeat after me.” “Okie-dokie”, you know (Laughter). “Now that I’m bad and bloody (Laughter).” There’s just certain parts of the Bible that [inaudible]—when I talked to the ultimate fighter guy, I said, “You know, you probably never had a verse for it.” And I actually took him to Nehemiah 13. I said, “Here you go. You got a verse. Quote it to your boys when you bust their nose (Laughter).”

Mark Driscoll, “Fathers and Fighting” preached at Mars Hills Church Seattle, WA, Nehemiah 13:23-31, 09/30/2007, taken from Mark Driscoll Sermon Archive 2005-2009 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009).

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Paparazzi Pastors Leading A Celebrity Church

Paparazzi Pastors Leading A Celebrity Church

Late last year I was working a booth at a conference in Los Angeles, CA for a popular Christian pastor.  A man, lets call him Tim, came to my table and noticed a book written by another famous pastor.  Tim turned to the stranger next to him, pointed toward the book, and with great pride exclaimed, “That is my pastor.”  The man either did not hear Tim or chose to ignore him, so this time Tim picked up the book and said, “That man is my pastor.” The other guy walked off—Tim was clearly hoping the man would be more impressed.

Tim turned to me, a captive audience at the booth, and proclaimed, “That man is my pastor.”

Tim’s “pastor” leads a popular church in Seattle and since I had recently moved from that area, I was interested to know if we had some friends in common, so I asked, “Oh, so you are from Seattle?  What brings you to LA?”

Tim’s answer surprised me, “No,” he said, “I live here in LA.”

Now I was intrigued.  How could Pastor X, be Tim’s pastor if he lived 1,200 miles away? So I asked,  “Did you recently move here from Seattle?”

“No.” Tim replied, “my church meets in my house and we watch Pastor X’s sermon every week on DVD.”

I immediately felt a twinge of sorrow—sorrow for Tim and sorrow for the Church and what She has become.  Pastor X may be an engaging Bible teacher, but he certainly has not taught his followers a biblical definition of what it means to be a Pastor of God’s people.  Read the Pastoral Epistles from the Apostle Paul, a pastor is a not a talking-head who ‘phone’s it in’ via DVD.  A pastor is someone with a gifting from the Holy Spirit to be a shepherd, a caretaker, a guardian, a servant, and a lover of God’s people.

It is impossible for a anyone to be “my pastor” via DVD or multi-site video.  He may inspire, educate, or even motivate, but he is not fulfilling the biblical role of pastor in my life or yours. Sadly, it did not matter to Tim that Pastor X wasn’t really living out the biblical role of “my pastor.” Rather, what mattered most to Tim was that he had a claim to fame through his Paparazzi Pastor.

I was reminded of this story when reading a recent article in Relevant Magazine written by Rachel Held Evans.  Rachel is the author of Evolving in Monkey Town and blogger at rachelheldevans.com.  She opens her article with the following words:

Much has been said in recent years about the rise of so-called “celebrity pastors” within Christianity, particularly within evangelicalism. Just mention names like Ted Haggard, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Joel Osteen, John Piper, Francis Chan, Bill Hybels and Joyce Meyer, and you’re guaranteed to get a fair share of impassioned praise or heated criticism.

Rachel goes on to share four ways in which the church has been overtaken by the celebrity-pastor.  Let me share an excerpt from each of her main points and then I will add two of my own.

We make celebrity pastors when we believe they can do no right or do no wrong.

Everyone has Christian friends who speak about their favorite pastors with the same reverence and awe generally reserved for Jesus or Apple products. These folks hang on every word the pastor writes, preaches or tweets, and can seem incapable of forming opinions of their own without first consulting the person behind the pulpit. This reveals an unhealthy dependency that elevates celebrity pastors to near idols.

We make celebrity pastors when we become their disciples rather than Christ’s.

When Christians look to pastors for wisdom on how to better love God and love one another, they become better disciples of Jesus and better lights of hope in a dark world.

When Christians look to pastors to tell them how to dress, what to eat, what hobbies to have, what systematic theologies to prefer, how to vote and what personality to adopt, they become creepy, unthinking clones of broken people—and big red warning flags to a culture that has grown increasingly suspicious of authority figures.

We make celebrity pastors when we measure success by numbers.

It has become popular for pastors and their followers to imitate the world by bragging about “fruitfulness” in terms of numbers…

But neither Jesus nor His earliest followers ever taught that fruitfulness should be measured in numbers. In fact, like many who labor for Christ around the world today, most of the early disciples were dismissed, marginalized, imprisoned or killed. Rather than attracting big-shot Roman officials and important Jewish scholars, the earliest churches were overwhelmed with the poor, women, widows and slaves. That is because Jesus established an upside-down kingdom, a kingdom in which the last are first and the first are last, a kingdom in which the poor, the meek, the humble and the downtrodden are blessed, while the rich, powerful and elite often walk away scratching their heads.

We make celebrity pastors when we think we need them.

Paul concludes his instructions regarding celebrity apostles by saying: “So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21).

In addition to Rachel’s thoughtful post, I see two other areas where the Paparazzi Pastor and celebrity culture have overtaken the church.

We Make Paparazzi Pastors When The Pulpit Is Used For Profit

When a pastor turns to his Book Agent for ideas on his next big preaching series, the celebrity culture has won the day.  At some point, the tail wags the dog, and teaching becomes a mere means to popularity and profit, but profit is not the purpose for the pulpit.

We Make Paparazzi Pastors When PR Agents Become Their Accountability

I read in the news yesterday that Pastor X hired a Public Relations Agent.  When a Paparazzi Pastor takes the tithes of the people and, instead of helping the needy, he hires a PR agent to manage his public image, you know that the celebrity culture has overtaken the church.

What Can We Do?

Reformation begins with discernment.  We need pictures of faith in action to contrast against PR machines in motion.

Check out this video which inspires me and makes me long for a day when the Church will stop consuming the Paparazzi pablum. and embrace humble servants within the local church who teach, practice their faith, and share their lives with the people.

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