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Leadership & Language

As the first anniversary of the final North American Christian Convention passes, I’ve noticed several directors of Spire stiffly intoning words of grief, dissembling their true emotions. After having participated in its liquidation, they now explain in remarkably similar language how the NACC had “outlived its usefulness.” What is glossed over is the NACC’s unprecedented attendance crash in 2015 -described oddly as a “wilting” which spanned “25 years . . . [causing] attendances to shrink.” This proves to be a problem considering the Christian Standard had already published attendance metrics demonstrating that, indeed, a crash had occurred – the word normal folks use when crowd size drops by more than fifty percent in one year (from 10,000 to <5,000). A drop from which it never recovered. A drop that, coincidentally, occurred at the same convention (held in Cincinnati and headed by Mike Baker) which unceremoniously broke with two thousand years of well-reasoned theology to promote a tendentiously feminist agenda.

According to Spire’s revisionist history, the convention’s demise was due to declining interest in nostalgic nostrums that should be put away so we can all move forward. Any attempt to relaunch the NACC, warned one Spire executive, “would be a doomed attempt.” Never mind that only four years ago, one of Spire’s own corporate leaders had this to say,

“We need the NACC. Someone famous (I can’t remember who) said, ‘If we didn’t have this convention, we’d need to start something like it.’ I agree with that. What would identify us if we didn’t have this time to meet together? . . .  if there weren’t a gathering like this, there would be nothing to define who we are. . . I’ve never been more proud to be associated with this convention.”

Thus continues Spire’s penchant for wordplay, the timely bending of language to fit a political need. In Rick Rusaw’s popular designation, teachers of false doctrine are welcomed as leaders of various “tribes.” And here the heterodox views of Calvinism are no more. They are now hilariously “minute differences.” 

For Spire the words false doctrine may not be uttered. Language must be devised to disguise any unpleasantness.

Result? Spire leaders parry and thrust with linguistic tricks, deliberate misnomers, and ever more transparent euphemisms. Next: covert synecdoches.

In reality the word tribe is meaningless. People don’t devote themselves to tribes. Tribe has no content. What tribe? In this context, a tribe devoted to the supremacy of a radically commercialized view of Christianity and its Machiavellian quest for dominion and profit.

To that end, the name of the convention has been sanitized (direct references to Christ are bad for business), the convention’s unique peripatetic nature grounded, its grassroots administrative structure overridden by top-down authoritarian oversight, its target audience severely restricted, and its everyone-is-special school of theology superimposed – incomprehensibly they gutted the convention of its most distinguishing features and then came out praising themselves for its unprecedented uniqueness. And if that isn’t enough, the Spire website, using deliberately nebulous language, continues to patronize us by asserting that the “new format” will continue “supporting what the NACC has always upheld.

But the fallacy of that statement becomes painfully obvious as the main stage is flooded by a host of social justice crusaders. Tim Harlow proudly ingratiates himself to this crowd in his recent book, What Made Jesus Mad? Rediscover the blunt, sarcastic, passionate Savior of the Bible. In it, he explains that God, while revealing His stipulations for Old Testament worship, was something of a chauvinist. That He “set it up how He wanted” and in so doing acted in a “discriminatory” way against women. Nice.

Not only is this an affront to God’s divine nature, it is a blatant contradiction of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, which clearly states God’s gender-specific design is rooted in creation, not in Old Testament law. And yet Spire’s false doctrine remains officially classified not as an attack on God’s holiness, but as an heroic defense of downtrodden women.

Adding to this creative use of language, and particularly hard to both understand and respect, are the endless articles sanctimoniously extolling the virtues of unity. They tell us that disunity is both terrible and unbiblical—and then come out foursquare in support of the atomization that results from doctrinal tribes and generational stereotyping. They manage to criticize disunity, and still come out in favor of it. A neat trick—but, given the gravity of the issue, an unseemly one.

Every objection is waved off as nothing more than the failure and jealousy of those giving voice to concerns. After all, writes Harlow, “Who cares?!” “Seriously?” he asks. What difference does it make what people believe?

Well, it makes a big difference because, first, the church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Second, because if you continue lying to the movement you claim to serve, they may seriously question whether anything you say – for example, about the benign nature of your new platform – is not just another profiteering, self-serving lie.

To answer that very question, one need look no further than to Spire’s privacy policy written in indecipherable legalese. Quite the contrast when compared to the Global Leadership Network’s plainly stated privacy policy:

“The Global Leadership Network will not sell, rent or lease your personal information to commercial entities.” (Emphasis added)

And thirdly, because leading our movement through its current twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity. The Spire leadership team does not understand that the church is not a tribe, nor is it an organization subject to the machinations of man’s existence but an organism outlined in Scripture and animated by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the will of God in human history. And just uploaded to the Spire website, a video of CEO Rick Rusaw warning us not to ignore the innovations of the business world. Instead we should all move past our current models of church operations and adhere to the sage wisdom of a group of “CEOs of some major companies.” According to Rusaw, the choice is binary: heed the wisdom of man or die for failing to do so.

But that’s the point, the RM doesn’t need to move past Christianity’s first century model of church operation – we need to return to it.

Meanwhile, all the soothing words, soothing speeches, and soothing policies -“open hands,” “we’re on the same team,” “mutual respect” – have yielded nothing of what they predicted. Rick Warren has not “embraced his RM heritage,” Craig Groeschel has not “joined our movement” (in fact, he has been crowned “Champion of the Global Leadership Network”), and serious divisions within our own house persist. Indeed, under their watch, they have gotten worse.

This incoherence of doctrine and purpose is why sharp declines caused by false doctrines must be passed off as dwindling loyalty. Why changes to the very nature of the convention – making it unrecognizable – must be blamed on the uselessness of the original institution. And why serious doctrinal divisions are nothing but trivial peculiarities.

This would all be comical and merely peculiar if it didn’t reflect a larger, more troubling reality: The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of doctrine —which is served by Spire’s constant obfuscation.

In the end, it isn’t about language. It’s, ironically, about leadership. The wordplay is merely cover for money-making policies embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise.

This is no leadership conference. This is not leadership at all.

Terry Sweany serves as Senior Minister of Playa Christian Church. He received his Bachelor’s in Christian Ministry from Cincinnati Chripstian University and a Master’s in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Hope International University. He and his wife, Patty, reside in West Los Angeles.