Is Your Church Built on Personality?

Orginally published on Monday, June 16, 2008 at 7:42 AM
by Todd Rhoades

One of the blogs I read regularly is BrianJones.com. Brian is the lead pastor of Christ Church of the Valley and has a real heart for leading his church to maturity in Christ. I had the opportunity to meet Brian a few weeks ago in Orlando. He's the real deal.

On a recent Sunday Gene Appel spoke at Brian's church, and Brian was a little disappointed that more people didn't attend the services to hear Gene speak. Someone on his staff suggested that maybe people didn't come to church that week because Brian wasn't speaking.

Ever have a moment of righteous indignation? Well, Brian did, and he posted his honest and very direct open letter to his church on his blog. (Brian has a great dialog with his church members on his blog. They trust him. And that gives him the respect he needed to pull off this post). Here's what he wrote:

This past Sunday one of the great pastors in our country spoke at our church.

Yet, a significant number of you chose to either sleep in or blow off church to do something else. Attendance on Sunday was 1,062, which is just pitiful for our church.

Many leaders at CCV wonder if people chose not to come because you knew I was not speaking.

Please understand that if that turns out to be the case, honest to God you won’t hear me speak until 2009. I will hire first-year Bible college interns who can barely chew gum and talk at the same time to rotate the speaking responsibilities for the next 6.5 months.

I will not have any part in helping build a church around a person, personality, or particular style of preaching.

What a strong and powerful way to communicate your passion and integrity as a leader. This is a great example, as far as I’m concerned, of leading out of love. As a matter of fact, Brian later shares in the comment section:

The issue here is discipleship. Are we trying to put on a “religious show” where people will attend based on the person presenting God’s word, or are we fashioning a gates-of-hell-storming-community of disciples?

1 Corinthians 1:17ff makes it drop-dead clear that leaders cannot participate in exacerbating personality adoration in the body of Christ. “I follow Paul.” “I follow Cephas.” “I follow Christ.” Paul went nuts over this, as he should!

The focal point of CCV can never be Brian Jones, ever. And as one of its servants, if I sense that I am getting in the way of someone’s ability to grow as a disciple, it is my God-ordained responsibility as a pastor to remove that barrier. That’s not a threat, or un-Christ-like behavior; it’s spiritual leadership.

Thanks, Brian, for the transparency and the guts to share some tough love when it’s needed.

I wonder…is your church built on personality? If so, how can you communicate the importance of getting back to the one thing that IS important?

This post has been viewed 3556 times so far.

  There are 38 Comments:

  • Posted by Rob Grayson

    How refreshing to hear a respected leader talking this way.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    There is always a certain “drop-off” when our main speaker (who is UNUSUALLY gifted) is not speaking, and that drop-off is diminishing all the time (especially since several of our pastors are decent speakers in their own right, too).

    Here’s why I doubt we’d send out an email like this. A lot of our folks who stay home because they know our SP is not preaching are either still exploring Christ or are not very formed in their faith. I don’t expect instant discipleship out of them. And the ones who are closer to Jesus are the ones who know that I or one of the other pastors might each have something worthwhile to speak into their lives.

    I’m not saying Brian was wrong in what he sent, because I don’t know his congregation, but I know ours, and for my part… I don’t think we’d send this.

  • Posted by

    Hate to say it but most any church running a thousand or more in attendance is built on a personality. (Thats an arbitrary number) Ive seen it al my ministry life of 30 years. We dont want to admit it but it is. Brian is learning a hard lesson. God pruned our church when I lost my voice doing 4 services a weekend, 9 years ago, and now we have 7 teaching pastors, 2 are laymen, 13 services and I never do more than 3, normally only two. That will prune the Branch real fast. Oh, by the way, our church is almost 4 times the size 9 years later. God is going to do His work, with or without us. Thanks Brian for an honest and loving post to your church. Wish more pastors could look honestly at what we are building.
    Guy Melton
    Oasis Church, Pembroke Pines , Florida

  • Posted by Brianmpei

    Maybe everyone who wasn’t there just had something more important to do.  Discipleship is NOT measured by perfect attendance to Sunday mornings.  I don’t know Brian but it sounds to me like he was embarrassed in front of Gene because of the low turn out.  The most spiritual way to spend your Sunday morning, and I repeat this to our church often, may be reconciling with a neighbour, staying in bed with your spouse, taking your kid fishing or cooking breakfast for some hungry folks.  If I was in Brian’s church, that Brian’s, I’d tell him to get over himself and let people decide when and if they’ll be there.  Spanking grown ups is NOT healthy.

  • Posted by Drew Hill

    Seems like some of us set our churches up for this by having less than stimulating substitutes fill the pulpit when we need to be away. One or two weak subs and people remember and stay away. Over time this can be addressed by having really fine guest preachers fill in for us. Eventually, our people get the idea that if the pastor is away, there is still a real blessing to be gained from attending worship.

    Maybe too many of us are secretly flattered by the dip in attendance when we are away. Too few of us would see it through Brian’s eyes and even fewer would have the backbone to meet the problem head on. I admire his courage and his candor.

    I do think Peter Hamm makes an important point that would influence my approach. Genuine seekers and baby believers need to be considered in the tone and content of the pastor’s response.

  • Posted by

    I have exactly the same situation as Brian.  When we have a guest speaker, 1/2 our congregation doesn’t show up.  At first, I too was disappointed but after praying about it, I accepted the fact that spiritual growth takes time.  If at first, they come to hear me speak and are loyal to me, then my responsibility is to be faithful in teaching them to love God’s Word and those that teach it.  Eventually, their loyalty for me (their pastor) will mature and they will not be tied to my apron strings.  For me, this is very humbling and motivating.

  • Posted by

    tried to find the post on his blog. i’m old and my eyesight is failing. anyone help?

  • Posted by

    KC, the post on this blog (on my computer) is below the article.  At the top of the page is the article on personality, then below that is the posts.  Finally at the bottom of the page is the comments area (which I know you found because you posted a question).  So if I am right, if you go to “Post Your Comments” and scroll UP, you should find what you are looking for.  God bless you brother

  • Posted by

    I agree Drew,

    I have been in a church where our Senior Pastor is not a very good preacher (he admits it). most of the time, the fill in speakers are more gifted communicators. There is no drop off when he is not preaching.

    However, there are a ton of times that I have been to church where the main speaker is awesome, and he is not speaking that day, and the place seems like a ghost town and they guy in his stead, is mediocre at best. While giving the pulpit away is difficult for a senior pastor to do, especially if he is a gifted communicator, it must be done. the catch is, it must be given away to other and even more gifted speakers.

    There is a shortage of places and leaders that develop this kind of gift intentionally. One Pastor that is not gifted told me that he thinks it’s solely his job to preach. That is a big issue for me. You can be a great senior pastor and not be a great speaker, but you have to put people in the pulpit that are gifted to do so and make it much less about them and more about the love of the Word. we are obligated to honor God by making sure His word is understood.


  • Posted by

    Tim Keller, respected pastor who also spoke at the Orlando conference is certainly a larger than life preacher and teacher. His church, Redeemer Pres in NYC clearly has a “personality” situation and though aware of it doesn’t go spanking the adults...in fact, they give subscribers to Dr. Keller’s sermon tapes the option to suspend their subscription when he is away for extended vacation in the summer..... things that make you go hmmmmm....
    I have a similar situation to Brian in my church so I can relate. What I have found is that the older, more mature saints show up regardless of who is speaking and, may I add, regardless of the weather, as well. The question at heart is...Are they growing in Christ-likeness?...that’s my concern. Sheep like their shepherd...big deal.

  • Posted by

    Continues to show how much our worship has strayed from being Christ center worship to being entertained by man. Discipleship is the hardwork we need to focus upon, which the majority of Christian don’t desire to participate in.

  • Posted by Malcolm Webber

    Usually in our church, of which I’m the SP, we have a much GREATER attendance for a guest speaker. I wonder what that tells us? grin

  • Posted by

    Here’s a wacky idea. How about you don’t annouce the senior pastor’s going to be not teaching?  Seems to me the crowd would have still been there if the word hadn’t gotten out? That’s what we used to do, but we only had two services on Sunday morning and not several over the weekend.

    Finally, I don’t know if you realize this or not, but this could well be a thermometer of the spiritual depth of your membership. Its natural that seekers and newcomers are first drawn to the pastors personality.  The goal is weaning them off you and onto Christ.  I dont’ think you do that with email or blog threats, I think the above solution is a good way when they start to go, well I didn’t expect that other guy to be here but God spoke to me through that new guy too!  I know one pastor friend who tells me his goal is to only be in the pulpt 65% of the time just so others will experience God’s voice through others.  (Of course I’ve read a little of his blog, and he has plainly said he didn’t think God speaks to folks directly anyhow. so I could see why this suggestion may not work in his locale.)

  • Posted by

    Huh?  Seems like Brian did precisely what he asked his congregation no do.  Is this not a classic example of “don’t do what I do, do what I preach”?

    While preaching that his flock shouldn’t make a decision of Sunday attendance based on the personality at the helm, he reprimands them for not showing up when the great spiritual orator, Gene Apple is in the pulpit. 

    Sorry, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that kind of in-your face-disrespect.

  • Posted by

    reference to Malcom Webber’s post, you sir have a wonderful sense of humor and I enjoyed hearing from you this morning.  In light of the previous blogs, if people not coming to hear a guest speaker is a result of spiritual immaturity, then the opposite must be true.  By having them come out in droves to hear a guest speaker is a direct reflection on what a stellar job you are doing in the “Discipleship” area.  Well done....

  • Posted by Phil DiLernia

    How silly.  All churches are built by personality ... whether quiet or loud, reserved or dynamic, etc etc.  Most, if not all, organizations take on the personality of their leaders.  That’s a fact. 

    That has nothing to do with what the “personality” is promoting!  If the “personality” is not promoting Jesus Christ and de-promoting himself at EVERY TURN then the “personality” is not leading well.  Don’t you think Paul led by “personality?” His “personality” was such that WHENEVER he felt that the congregation was more focused on the human leadership over the true “head” and “personality” of our churches, Jesus Christ, then Paul’s “personality” was such that he pointed out the error of their ways ... with much “personality!”

    What this pastor did may not have been what everyone else would have done but that’s irrelevant.  He is the God-ordained man for that local community and needs to be trusted to have his finger of their pulse.  I commend him for 1) recognizing the problem and 2) attempting to address it.

    Any postulation or insinuation that he somehow was “embarrased” or had some other less than honorable motivation is not Christlike since we have NO IDEA what this pastor’s heart was other than what he says it was.

    God’s peace.

  • Posted by

    May I add.... though I may not have responded in like fashion, I agree with Phil’s comments
    regarding Brian recognizing the potential problem and attempting to address it as the man of God for that church.

  • Posted by Dane

    I kind of felt he was enforcing the personality cult by being upset that the church didn’t turn out for the big man.

    At the end of the day, you’ll probably never know if the church is built more on your personality or Christ...until you wean the baby!  Leave the church to someone else and move on.  Then you’ll find out if you built on you or on Christ.

  • Posted by

    This attitude is far different than the Ed Young Jr kingdom building blod a few weeksa ago.  I certainly appreciate that spirit and mentality!  May God continue to bless that church.

  • Posted by David

    I don’t think that Brian was reprimanding his flock for not showing up to listen to the “big dog.” Rather his response was to the suggestion that they didn’t show up because he wasn’t in the pulpit.

    In an era of ego stroking pastors I think that his reproach is indeed refreshing even if some of you would be to proud to receive that type of rebuke from your pastors.

    I also don’t think the concern for the seekers and spiritually immature is sufficient to back off from strong statements like this.  People are not stupid and they know that God desires for them to be involved in a community of believers.  If people in his church are offended by this challenge to grow up and commit to the community of believers then I am sure that they will have no problem leaving and finding a church that will allow them to stay spiritually immature and comfortable in their own situation.

    A bigger issue might be the questions of what type of communities are we building in our churches.  Those of you who have hit on the problem of personality centered worship instead of Christ centered worship are definitely on to something.  Yes, the seekers and immature believers will latch on to the personalities of men, but we must push them towards Christ and not men.

  • Posted by Derek

    Right on Phil.

    From my experience, most local churches tend to take on the personality of the pastor. This is unavoidable. Leaders and teachers certainly lead and teach from their personality. Their uniqueness is a part of how God uses them.

    I do think we have to work hard and not building the church too much around our personality. This is done through shared power, shared ideas, community, etc. I was gone one Sunday at the end of May and I had one of our elders teach on finances. He is not the best communicator, but is a crown financial ministries trained counselor. We had a great crowd and even though his presentation was a bit dry, it was filled with good Bible and good application. And he preached and hour!

    I was thrilled to know that people came to church even though I wasn’t there.


  • Posted by Jeff Ables

    Hey guys, it’s SUMMER! Am I the only pastor whose numbers dip EVERY summer REGARDLESS who’s speaking??? It doesn’t bother me that our numbers dip a little in the summer because I know our people are on vacation and I want them taking family vacations! If I have a speaker I want to bring in and I want to make sure all our people are there to hear him, I’m not going to do it in JUNE! (Just thought I’d add a little “seasoned” perspective.) As to the issue of “personality-driven” churches, the same apostle who said it’s not about Paul or Apollos told people to follow him as he followed Christ. I think our church families feeling connected to their pastor is a healthy thing as long as that connection ultimately points them to Christ.

  • Posted by

    I agree it is important to feel a connection to the pastor.  However, I don’t think it’s healthy to only feel a connection to a specific pastor.  It always leads me to ask the question - why do we go to church - for the Pastor? for us? for God?

    I have also experienced a “warning” from our Senior Pastor that the service will be “different”.  That kind of warning just makes it easier for people to stay home that day.

  • Posted by

    You all analyze this way too much. Don’t you realize that people are creatures of habit? Folks don’t like change. I think there are a lot of churches that don’t foster change.  These congregations become routine. Sheep don’t like their routine broken.

    Many larger churches have developed teaching teams that showcase different personalities and teaching gifts.

    Heres a way to change all that. Find a trusted associate in the church and start to develop a tag team approach. Recently I was at Saddleback Church in Lake Forrest California.  Rick Warren often uses the tag team method. Rick uses his father-in-law Tom Holliday to present one of the points of the sermon. Together the congregation sees a competent team and it opens the door for Rick to be gone on a Sunday and the congregation not to feel abandoned.

    This also helps to develop other teaching gifts in the church and starts to limit the ‘following of one personality’. This concept will help some of you guys break the routine. Congregations that are constantly fostering change allows their people to accept change better.  Attendance should hold when the congregations realize that God can bless them through a multitude of teachers. After all, isn’t part of the calling of a pastor… to “perfect the saints for the work of the ministry” to help others discover their gifts and calling.

  • Posted by

    While I applaud his ability to be open and transparent in his frustration, it should be a good indication for determining the nature of his congregants.  It sounds more like a community center, with a bunch of people coming out to watch the star performer.  This should not be a surprise for a congregation of seekers. 

    Now, if this was a boulder tossed at regenerate believers, he may want to drill deeper to see what is happening in his discipleship ministry.

  • Page 1 of 2 pages

     1 2 >
Post Your Comments:





Live Comment Preview:

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: