This story is fascinating and perhaps telling about the cult of personality that fuels many churches today.
Mike Aus, featured in the video below, is the former pastor of a church named Theophilus in Houston. For a variety of reasons, apparently theodicy was chief among them, Aus has become an atheist.
Here’s his story via MSNBC….
It’s not unusual for people of faith, even pastors, to abandon their faith.
What makes this story unusual is that Aus’ former church in Houston chose to dissolve as a congregation after his “coming out” as an atheist, rather than seek out a new congregation.
From the church’s website:
Being merely an outside observer it’s difficult to make complete sense of this situation.
In the church’s own statement they mention that “churches come and go”. That is true. But pastors come and go too and for 2,000 years churches have, generally speaking, simply replaced the departing pastor. They did so because the church’s existence and focus didn’t rest on who the pastor was, but who their Lord was.
While I am not claiming that this is the situation here, this situation does remind me of a disturbing trend in many churches today, particularly, but not exclusively, in non-denominational churches. Most of these churches are created and experience growth around the charismatic pastor who founds the church. People flock in droves to hear that person preach or to simply be in their presence. It becomes a cult of personality. Then when that personality is no longer there, these personality driven churches almost always experience a dramatic decline in attendance and sometimes, like the church mentioned above, they close all together.
This cult of personality can be seen most clearly in mega-churches with celebrity pastors, but smaller churches are just as susceptible. And often times, it is these smaller churches that are forced to shut their doors because they can’t make it through the subsequent drop in attendance.
It is primarily because of this cult of personality phenomenon, although there are other important reasons, that I am a strong proponent of denominations.
While it has flaws of its own, it is for this reason that I appreciate the appointment system found in denominations like the United Methodist Churches. Pastors are appointed to churches by their local conference and after a few years they are reappointed to another church. The strength of this sort of system is that it prevents a church from becoming to focused on a person, their pastor, and (at least in theory) it helps the congregation to keep its focus on the real reason for their existence: Jesus.
Again, the only people who know why this church shut it’s doors are the people in leadership at Theophilus. Perhaps their own faith was so rocked by their shepherd abandoning them that they simply couldn’t find the strength to go own.
If that was the case, and I wouldn’t completely blame them if it was, then this might be a great example of the need for denominational support and accountability. But that is a discussion for another day.
Regardless of their reasons for shutting their doors, I hope the people of Theophilus don’t lose faith in their Lord, even though they have lost faith in their pastor and apparently themselves. Hopefully they will find a new community of faith which will give them the strength, support, hope, and healing they need.
Thanks to our friend Levi for sharing this story with us.
Grace and peace,