Who speaks up?

By Ron Keener

‘A new generation of pastors isn’t so driven to be that one, national voice.’

I never met Chuck Colson nor heard him speak, but I grew to love his viewpoints on Christianity and the church and his perspectives on today’s culture through his daily Breakpoint e-mails. After his death at age 80 I feel a tremendous loss without his wisdom and candor for the church.

I have to wonder: Who speaks for the church now? Billy Graham is 94 in November and we miss his presence in the pulpit. Franklin Graham has a strong message but his attention is rightfully overseas and focused on the parachurch.

When CNN’s Larry King wanted a point of view from the evangelical church he went to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, as if either of them really spoke for the church-at-large. Occasionally John McArthur, now 72, showed up at the “King’s Table,” and one or two other well-known preachers. Robert H. Schuller used to be a favorite, but, well, we know that recent sad story. Today, Piers Morgan is enraptured with Joel Osteen every six months or so.

But do any of these people represent the wider church and speak for evangelical Christianity? The extremes, yes; for the prosperity gospel, sure. Get past the “celebrity pastors” and who speaks for the larger faith?

Many of the best speakers for the faith, and for the church in the world, keep busy with their own congregations and avoid the national media scene. Chuck Smith Sr. is 84 and ailing. Charles Stanley is 80. Chuck Swindoll and Jack Hayford were born in 1934. Houston’s Ed Young Sr. was born in 1936 and Phoenix’s Tommy Barnett in 1937. (Thanks to Leadership Network for the birth years.)

Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels, 60, doesn’t feel the need to speak out on every social, cultural and political argument in the headlines. In that he plays the smart game. Saddleback’s Rick Warren, 58, takes a more visible approach to public issues, as “America’s Pastor” some would say, but chooses his themes carefully .

Where are the “young bucks” within the church who bring it fresh thinking? And I don’t mean universalist Rob Bell. Such as David Platt, Pete Wilson, Mark Batterson, Randy Frazee or Rick Rusaw? And the “not so young” Buster Soaries, Chris Hodges, Miles McPherson and Larry Osborne? They are pretty silent.

The church is under attack like no other time, and if responsible church men and women don’t speak up on its behalf in these turbulent social and cultural times, others, not so well meaning, will. The day this is written President Obama advanced the gay agenda another notch. Truth is, as Joel Hunter found out, when the culture engages the church, the church loses.

Still, one cultural observer suggests “I’m not sure that need [an acknowledged spokesman for the church] hasn’t passed.” Phil Cooke, a media consultant and pastor’s son, in Burbank, CA, says, “This generation is driven by ‘community’ and that’s why a single leader-spokesperson isn’t emerging. A new generation of pastors isn’t so driven to be that one, national voice. We’re also finding that second generation leaders, even of major national figures, aren’t as – shall we say – egotistical.”

“Look at Jonathan and Jerry Falwell, Robert Anthony Schuller, Gordon Robertson and others. All very low-key, but capable leaders. Not seeking to make a grandiose statement, just trying to take care of business,” Cooke says. Enough to do, right at home!

Got a question or comment? Email Ron@ChurchExecutive.com


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