Screwtapes’ “Success Syndrome”

To my dear detestable nephew Wormwood,*

I want to discuss with you another subtle tactic to employ against those vile creatures that call themselves “pastors” in service to you know who. As you well know, we cannot always get them to fall into our traps of delightful public shame, although I despsingly love it when we do. Most of the time we must covertly work toward making them ineffective by deceiving them into thinking that they are really doing the work of you know who when they are really using the methods of our Father below. This is no easy task and is surely beyond the intelligence of someone as brainless as you. Nonetheless, I will employ the use of my superior intellect to try and instruct your inferior one.

One of my favorite ways to render these vile “pastors” ineffective in their attempts to do what they call “discipleship” is to lure them into the “success syndrome.” This is a term that you must put in your devious dictionary and commit to memory. The “success syndrome” is when we deceive these vile “pastors” into thinking that discipleship is more about fruitfulness, numbers, and size and less about faithfulness, prayer, and perseverance.

Mega is the Model

To bring about this demise you must start by making them think that the celebrity pastors and mega-churches are the standard by which they will be judged. Let them think that this is what real discipleship results look like. Get them to read the books of these celebrity pastors or the books that are endorsed by them. Try to convince them that there is a simple reproducible formula that these pastors and churches have followed and have them adopt it. If they are cautious of these “seeker-sensitive” models have them adopt only bits and pieces of the formula so they think they are taking the good and leaving the bad. Once you get them to nibble on the frosting of these formulas they’ll soon want the whole cake.

If these celebrity pastors have charismatic personalities make them think that teaching and preaching is less about “rightly handling the word of you know who” and more about presentation style, personality, and being relevant. As a side note, don’t let them think too much about what “being relevant” means. They might come to discover that it is not, as they would say, a “biblical” word. Our job is make them think that whatever relevant means at least it gets the job done.

Also, make sure that your subject doesn’t find out that these mega-churches have just as many people leaving as they have coming. Don’t let them ponder the fact that most of the people that make up these large churches are merely bench-warmers, which as you know are my favorite type of church attenders.

Businesses Need Consumers

Second, to craftily introduce the poison of the “success syndrome” have these vile “pastors” start to view the church like a business that is marketing a product to consumers. Don’t ever let them use this terminology or else they might actually start to question it. But move them away from an understanding of the church as this spiritual family that you know who is supernaturally building through that message they call “good news.” I shudder to even use their tasteless terminology. Have them overload the calendar with activities and events and meetings so that it’s all they really have time for. Or if you can’t get them to overload their calendars with the mundane and trivial, make sure that you have them go for the “good” rather than the “best.” The point is to get them busy enough with the wrong things so they can’t set aside the time that it takes to really invest in what you know who considers the real ministry of a pastor. But all the while they need to believe that while they’re doing something they’re doing the “right” something, or at least “right” enough.

To get them to view people as consumers, have them take attendance of everything. But let them think that they are just tracking data, like all good businesses do. Eventually they will start seeing numbers where they once saw real people. Make sure they know enough people’s names to actually make them think that they care about real people. Impress upon them a sense of excitement and accomplishment when the services are full and the events are well attended and make them feel deflated and awkward when attendance is sparse. This will work to bolster the thought that numbers are essential, if not enjoyable, to what they are doing.

Change their Perspective and Tool-kit

Third, to render these vile “pastors” ineffective through the “success syndrome,” tweak their understanding of the process and means of discipleship. By process, I mean that you should confuse your subject into thinking that growth should be instantaneous or at least relatively immediate. Don’t let him be reminded by you know who that growth is a slow lifelong process that requires grace-fueled effort. Make him think that discipling others should be more like getting a meal at a McDonald’s drive thru and less like slow cooking marinated steak.

By means, I have in mind that you ought to convince these vile “pastors” that they need to utilize things other than the word of you know who and that silly communication device called “prayer.” Have them start to question whether these things really produce any real results. Make them think that the Bible is too deep and sophisticated and that they should get around to teaching it at a later date. But don’t ever let this later date show up on their calendar. Or if this won’t work, make them think that the word of you know who isn’t practical enough for such a modern audience. Also, convince them that though prayer may be part of their work it shouldn’t be done during the workday because they have a real to-do list to tackle. Flood their inbox with e-mails so they start to be distracted by getting tangible things done.

Show them the Summit of Mount Popularity

Fourth, and this takes a great yet worthwhile exercise of patience, build up the peoples view of the pastor as an individual. Move their thoughts off of the office that he occupies and the responsibilities associated with it, to the personality of the man himself. Don’t let them ask silly questions such as, “did this man preach soundly?” But rather, “do I like the sound of this man’s preaching?” You see, just by altering the question you trade out discernment for a longing to be entertained. This in turn will produce feedback that has greater potential to inflate the ego than nurture faithfulness to you know who.

As the ego is continually fed, the man’s self-understanding of his role will move from “pastor” to that of celebrity. You might think that a minor alteration, but the less they view themselves as “pastors” the less likely they will be to hold themselves to the moral standards of a “pastor.”Celebrities are praised by the people regardless of and oftentimes in spite of their character. There are no standards, no accountability, just popularity within the celebrity culture.

If you can get them to climb the summit of Mount Popularity (or at least be carried up it by their followers), sit back and enjoy the show. It is a mountain prone to avalanches, usually in the form of moral failure as recent history has proven once again. These avalanches produce some of our greatest results because they don’t just take down one but the many who have celebrated the one. But even if there isn’t an avalanche, you’ve at least rendered him ineffective. How? He’ll be too busy trying to maintain and grow his own puny little “kingdom,” he’ll have neither the time nor the desire to invest in the so-called “kingdom” of you know who.

There is no doubt more to be said on this subject but I am already sure that I have educated you beyond your intelligence. So I will allow the little brain you have to rest.

Always your Superior,

Uncle Screwtape

*The inspiration for this letter came from C.S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters for an introduction and explanation of what Lewis was trying to accomplish in this book see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Screwtape_Letters

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