“After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 9:12)
In October Mark Driscoll, the outspoken Pastor of the Mars Hill “Mega-Church” in Seattle, sensationally resigned following accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his followers.
In the same month Rory Alec, co-founder of the God TV Network, announced he was stepping down from leadership of the network citing “moral failure” in his relationship with his wife Wendy.
Neither story will have been particularly surprising to Evangelicals or (sadly) the wider world. Both men are the latest in a long line of very public falls from grace for outspoken Christian figures. Referred to as “the cussing pastor,” Driscoll courted controversy for his strong opinions on gender roles, sex within marriage, and church leadership. The programming of Rory Alec’s God TV Network regularly featured “Televangelists” of dubious reputation, and ran frequent “mission week” appeals for extra funding to continue broadcasting.
Driscoll and Alec were controversial, loud, Christian voices, and sadly their very public failings reinforced common perceptions of Christianity in the public consciousness.
The recent death of Ian Paisley was a reminder that the power of strong, uncompromising oratory has been, for better or worse, central to many people’s understanding of Jesus’ Gospel and mission in Northern Ireland.
The writer Susan Cain, in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” draws parallels between mainstream Evangelicalism and the brash vocal leadership culture of Harvard Business School (HBS). The HBS teaching method “comes down on the side of certainty – if you exude uncertainty, then morale suffers, funders won’t invest, and your organisation can collapse.” (Cain, 2013, p 45)
The school also tries hard to turn quiet students into talkers, with live webinars on how to be a good class participator. Students at HBS go out in big groups several nights a week. Participation isn’t compulsory, but it feels as if it is to those who don’t thrive on group activities. It’s no surprise that the people who organize social events are at the top of the social hierarchy.
It is easy to see how the modern evangelical church often mirrors these methods through its programmes and outreach activities, catering for extroverts and their obvious gifts, whilst leaving introverts and the gifts they can offer (such the ability to contemplate, listen, and reflect) on the margins of their own faith communities.
An obvious leader who wouldn’t fit the extroverted mould was Moses, who displayed many characteristics of an introvert. Cain argues that “people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well.” (Cain, 2013, p 45)
As the public square increasingly resembles a market place for competing voices of faith, are we in danger of cultivating a religious culture that sees extroversion not only as a personality trait but also an indicator of virtue and authority?
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
Outward enthusiasm and passion are undoubtedly part of the “fire” within expressions of Christian witness. However just as God was not in the fire or the wind when he spoke to Elijah, we need to ensure we are listening to, and creating space for the still small voice, that gentle whisper of silence and mystery that demonstrates a quieter path to God.
Jonny Currie works for a community development charity in Belfast and is on the board of Contemporary Christianity. He blogs occasionally at www.scrabopower.tumblr.com.
Cain, Susan (2013) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Penguin UK