The Demonic Deception of Superficial Significance | World Challenge

The Demonic Deception of Superficial Significance

Seeing major church leaders walk away from the faith has almost become a common feature in the news. Many believers are left asking, “Why? What happened?” In today’s episode, Doug Welbourn joins us to share his insights after years of counseling pastors and church leaders. God offers us freedom from the pressures and hollow promises of culture, but finding our way out of that mindset can feel challenging. Community and good friends will remind us that God’s word satisfies and will never fail. Our Father calls us to be free from earthly standards, to be foolish in the eyes of the world and find heavenly wisdom.

Seeing major church leaders walk away from the faith has almost become a common feature in the news. Many believers are left asking, “Why? What happened?” In today’s episode, Doug Welbourn joins us to share his insights after years of counseling pastors and church leaders. God offers us freedom from the pressures and hollow promises of culture, but finding our way out of that mindset can feel challenging. Community and good friends will remind us that God’s word satisfies and will never fail. Our Father calls us to be free from earthly standards, to be foolish in the eyes of the world and find heavenly wisdom.

Gary Wilkerson: Hi, Gary Wilkerson here on the Gary Wilkerson podcast. I'm excited about today's podcast, I think we're going to see and hear some amazing things. It's especially designed for those of you who are in Christian Leadership or aspire to Christian Leadership or ministering to people. We're going to be talking with Doug Welbourn today about developing the inner strength to carry out the kind of ministry that God's called you to and soul care, some really good issues.

Doug was a pastor for many, many years in New Jersey, and now works partly with World Challenge doing pastors conferences all over the world and leading very life changing ministry there and also then personal counseling ministry with other pastors as well. Doug, welcome, glad you're here and looking forward to talking to you about some deep issues, some things that are really deep in the heart.

Doug Welbourn: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Gary: Doug, I want to ask you more specifically now about Christian leadership, pastors, leaders of ministries, missions organizations. You have a personal counseling ministry for Christian leaders. You travel around the world speaking to hundreds and hundreds of pastors and leaders. What are you seeing overall taking place in the church? What would you say is the spiritual condition of Christian leadership today as you see it and as you're experiencing people in the field?

Doug: I would say there's a difference between the US and overseas. I would see in the US, there is still, though it's waning, because the younger generation is not interested in a show. What I mean by that is the big band and the props and everything. I read recent-- I didn't read. My nephew is a very high-end sign maker. He can do anything. He worked for a church. They’re client. They spend $250,000 a year on signs. When I heard that, I told him, I said I didn't blame him. They’re a client, but it just kind of made me sick. I just don't believe in that at all.

Still, a lot of pastors that are into that mode of building shows, building edifices, buildings that are very impressive and trying to get people into their buildings and to their children's ministries which are like Disneyland. I'm very concerned about that. I guess in a nutshell, Jesus doesn't need that to be cool.

Gary: Is that symbolic of something going on inside the heart of the leadership? Do you think there's a correlation between--

Doug: I believe there is.

Gary: What would you say would be the inner workings of somebody who's—I’ve heard you talk about this before. You're not saying like, "To have a good band is wrong," or, "To have a nice building is wrong," but if all your energy's wrapped up around, "How good is our performance?" and, "How good is my talk?" and Christ is not the center of [crosstalk]

Doug: Yes. I think there's a line somewhere, and I'm not the one to make it. I'm not one of these guys. Even though I'm doing it now in this podcast a little bit, I don't go around knocking churches or--

Gary: You are somebody who's seeing-- You're looking underneath the hood and you're seeing the condition of a pastor's heart who is striving, burned out and--

Doug: Those kind of pastors burn out bad, okay? On a regular basis. A lot of them keep going once they're burned out, but that's when you see mega church crisis and because they're more famous, they become more in the media, and so on, because they've been burned out for 10 years so they have an affair or the people begin to leave because they don't have the chops anymore. They're very, very, very talented people. Some pastors are extraordinarily talented.

Really, sometimes I'm surprised at just the utter ability someone to not only preach, but lead, and way more talented than I am, or ever was as a pastor. They rely on themselves and in most cases, they're doing it for themselves. They're building a kingdom, and that is just contrary to the Kingdom of God. Though God is gracious, he will use those churches in any way he feels he wants. I don't believe the basis of the church is from the Kingdom of God. It's a strong statement. I can't say that about every church, but I'm saying that as a pattern, and I think there's still a lot of that going on, though some--

Gary: What would you say would be the-- Again, take a look under the hood, two or three of the primary things that you're seeing that the pastors are-- Not dealing with a sense of like trying to grow a church or meeting their budget, but internally, what are some of the major struggles pastors are dealing with? When somebody calls you saying, "Hey, Doug. Really, my issue is I feel really--"

Doug: The biggest issue I see is pastors that are not that talented trying to do what those other pastors are doing. That's the biggest issue I see. They try and try and try, and it never works. So down the road is a church of 5,000 to 10,000, whatever, and they never get past 150 and they're trying the same things.

Gary: Why are they trying to do that? What do they want?

Doug: They're trying because that's what's expected. That's what it means to be a pastor and be successful. They're believing the ultimate lie of the evil one that life is found in this world, which is completely a lie. There is no life in this world. Pastors use this world to find life from God, which is an abomination. "My people have committed two sins," it says in Jeremiah. "They have drinken from cisterns, cisterns which hold no water, and forsaken me, the living water." They're copying, they're striving to find their life in this world.

There's people around and they're very good and they're full of shame because they think life is here. The shame is overwhelming and they're broken. They’re ‘nobody’. "I'm no good. I'm a loser. I can't preach," and sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're good pastors. If they would live out their calling, they'd be an okay pastor, but they're never going to have 10,000 people.

They're not following the Lord and they're living out of this world and they're copying others. For a man, significance is the highest need. For a woman, it is security and safety. If you don't have significance as a man, you feel like you're dying. If you have it, you feel like you're alive, just think in your own life. If you had a promotion or something, and they said, "Man, I feel so good." Or you get fired, it's like, "I'm a piece of crap," and if we're secure then that's so important to men.

Gary: I believe it comes down to wrong definitions that you're absolutely right, that men are created to have significance is one of the deepest drives in our heart. How we define it, that'll mess up our lives. If we defined it as being larger, bigger or better or more popularity, more fame or recognition, more invitations to speak, more sales of the book. If you find your significance in that you're hoodwinked by the enemy and you're headed for a fall, probably.

Doug: He's playing you. The enemy is playing you. There is no doubt about it.2:09]

Gary: The other end of significance is much richer. It's more nuanced. It's more difficult to look at it and say, that fills that need for significance in me and that is, it's being gracious to people. It's being helpful. It's being generous. It's being long suffering. I would wrap it up to sum it up like the gospels do with the law, it's fulfilled by love. I think if I were to meet two pastors in a city and we were sitting around having lunch and one of them said-- Like a pastor did to me, we were in Brazil and this pastor walked up with entourage in he had these hipster glasses on, he put out his hand and goes, "I'm the pastor of the second largest church in our region." I said, "Do you have a name?" It's like he's introducing himself by, his identity is wrapped up in his building and the number of people that he has in his church.

I know right from the beginning, I could be sitting down at a table with him and another pastor who could tell him the story of a teenager in his church who started using drugs and he walked alongside of him and prayed for him and counseled him and six months later that kid's set free thriving and now going to college. He loved that kid. That to me that's significance. Unfortunately, we live some of this is not our fault in a sense. I don't mean to excuse our own sin, but we are culturally inundated with this message of smell good, look good, have a lot of Twitter followers, become famous, become rich, become wealthy.

That seeps into ministry too and so our culture around us, that's what I think is different. Excuse me, it's different. When I first asked the question about the state of pastors today, you said to this America's one thing and the rest of the world is different because I think there's a less, like I see a lot like when I'm in Poland or Ukraine, South America to some degree Central America more. I don't see as much cultural pressure to become visibly successful by measurements that are not biblical.

Doug: That's not their issue?

Gary: No.

Doug: I'm trying to think if, I agree with you on it's not all our fault.

Gary: Here's what I mean by that. I grew up in New York and when I was in New York, I acted a bit like a New Yorker. There's a New York persona right. You know what I mean?

Doug: So did I, I pastored there.

Gary: When I moved to Texas, I was in a totally different culture. I calmed down a little bit. I wasn't so hyper. I went for walks, the culture affected me and that's what I'm saying. I think culture affects us. We're conditioned to some degree by our culture.

Doug: Culture is controlled by the prince of the power of the air, is what I'm saying. I'm saying like, since I've gotten involved with this new ministry, I am more involved with deliverances and satanic issues than I ever have been before. What I'm saying is we're not fighting back, but Satan is fighting us constantly and unless we get involved with that realm it's going to be very hard for us to win this battle.

That battle that you're talking about because it is so strong, the lie is so strong that's coming at us all of the time. Regarding what gives life, what's important because I agree with you and I am sucked into it just like everybody else is. I'm older now, it's easier for me now but I will tell you when I was in my late twenties and thirties, I was a sick puppy man.

I was hot. My churches were doing well. My denomination they wrote me up, I was in their magazines and I was all about that and I was sick and I was way out. Missing the boat, I missed the boat. I hit up a two by four and I thank God for--

Gary: The kindness.

Doug: It was my other big pain and I thank God for it to this day that he gave me that because I was what I can say on a podcast. We're under attack and there's no life here and we have to learn that. The only way I know to do that is to wait on God and I do believe in deliverance. I do believe people, Christians, have allowed Satan have footholds. I'm not talking, they're full of demons, but they've allowed footholds in their lives and strongholds in their lives so that those doors open for them to just be really captured by the world.

Gary: You can't ignore the supernatural. It's a lot of counselors--

Doug: I've found it’s bigger than I used to think it is. I don't think there's a demon behind every bush but I believe it's a lot bigger than I used to think.

Gary: I think you can fall off the wagon on both ends of over emphasizing the demonic or ignoring that it's not there. C.S. Lewis talked about that in The Screwtape Letters, that's one of the great strategies is to get them convinced we're not here, the demonic forces in some way, but that seems to bare and because that's the Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. You see that as in this podcast we talked about pastors, but for, we talked about one episode we talked about, pastors who've committed suicide, which is happening. More and more pastors are quitting.

Doug: I am seeing pastors quit more. 1500 pastors quit a month. 50% of all seminarians quit before five years and there is more suicides that are taking place.

Gary: Then you've got the radio station called me a couple of days ago and asked me about the Joshua Harris, a well-known Christian author and pastor who's, first of all said he was getting divorced and then he went on to say, “I'm not a Christian anymore,” and so you got pastors not only leaving the ministry. Now they're leaving. It's not necessarily new, but it seems to be, and that's got to be something--

Doug: I was just as shocked.

Gary: It's got to be from the enemy it's not just somebody who's just on his own, just trying rationally thinking through things or a pastor rationally thinking through whether I should keep my life or take it. These are demonic forces that, are at work right?

Doug: I believe that.

Gary: Your message to these pastors then as you're traveling around you preach to-- You were in El Salvador recently, and you did 11, you told me 11 sessions?

Doug: Yes I preached a lot. I think--

Gary: What are you trying to communicate?

Doug: Since you've invited me to travel, what I find is most of the pastors it's different in different places, obviously, based on what they've been taught. Number one they're very devout. Some places are very poor so they work a full-time job and generally, they're very sweet-spirited people. I can't say enough about how much I love these people. God has given me a tremendous love for these pastors. I really believe it's supernatural. I really love these pastors. What I find is what they are taught for the most part is we've talked about it before, they've been taught moralism, behaviouralism.

In some cases, it really is a legalism because it's out of the Bible, and you’re bad and we’ll kick you out of the church and that kind of a thing. It's at least moralism, do this, don't do that. It's the law. Basically, it's the law. You're good if you do this, you're bad if you don't do that. It's that all the time. In many, many places, they're very forceful in the way they present it, that's their style. They have absolutely never heard what I'm talking about, so when I start talking and start to get into it, it's very often that many of them begin to quietly weep.

As I go along more and more, I don't always give altar calls. I try to listen to the Holy Spirit on that but when I do there's usually a good amount of people that come forward and I have some great opportunities and their words are always the same. They say, "You need to go, you need to come back. You need to go here. You need to go there. We've never heard this. You have to teach this to other people. This is the truth. We've never heard the truth." They've never heard the inner message of Christ before, and they're like- This last time, some of them were panicky.

They had people who worked in different places and they were like, "You have to go there. I have friends there working and you must go, you must go right away." I'm not putting myself up. It's not me. It's because the Holy Spirit is teaching them about Jesus and not about good. It's not about good and bad, it's about life and death. You're living in life or death and that's why it is so incredibly satisfying. I can't think of anything more satisfying.

Gary: What is the main thing that you could press down into one thing that they haven't heard that they're hearing now that's helping them come alive? Is there one particular- If you could give your elevator talk on- If you're on an elevator and somebody said, "What message is that that you're preaching?" Either from your notes there on your iPad or from your heart if you prefer one. [laughs]

Doug: The only reason I'm opening my iPad is just to remind myself of things. I give the first message, it's long, so I usually do it into pieces and I just call it the foundation. I teach them that everything is on the inside which I believe that the whole Christian life is on the inside, and it's not on the outside. There are certain things, there's nothing wrong with trying to do the right thing, but the truth of the Gospel is on the inside, it's not trying to be good. That's probably the most important thing. I really hit that hard.

Gary: That's good.

Doug: Secondly, I talk about their identity and that's also two messages because there's so much shame. These men are so full of shame. They've been told since they were young- I don't know where it all comes. I talked to some of them and counsel some of them but they're so full of self-loathing and it just breaks my heart. They're really heroes in my mind, but they don't think much of themselves at all. I work very hard to help them to see how much they're loved.

Gary: If your identity is skewed from who you really are, it's just throws everything and it's the thing that drives people to build a kingdom for themselves like they feel like, "Because I have self-loathing, but if I could just do enough for the Kingdom then I won't hate myself and I won't be hated." I was just looking the other day at when Jesus said to his disciples and his friends- This is astonishing. He says, "You are the light of the world," and so basically what he's saying to these guys is you're brilliant. Everywhere you go you illuminate things just like you light up a room when you walk into it.

If you read that through your own lens of self-hatred, for instance, or through the law, the law will hear Jesus as speaking into your identities trying to speak life into you and you hear him say, "You're the light of the world," and you go like, "Okay. I'll try really hard to be the light of the world give me ten laws, ten rules to become this light you're talking about." He's not saying, "No, become the light of the world," or, "Try to be the light of the world," Or, "Here's how you become the light."

He's saying, "You are the light of the world." Others would say, if they're self-loathing or self-hatred like, "No, I'm not the light of the world, Jesus. I know you're trying to be nice to me." Then, the self-help movement would claim that 10 times over, "I am the light of the world." Trying to convince yourself you are something he already told you. Again, it's not an aspiration. To me, that speaks to what you're talking about, the identity is you are loved. You are accepted. You are the light. You are forgiven. You are whole.

Doug: It takes revelation. I talk about the Ephesians where it says that we must be strengthened and in our inner man by the power of the Spirit so that we might know the height and depth and so on of the love of God. Most people don't realize that we just take love lightly it's like for Christmas and baby showers. This is a big deal. It takes work. God is doing work. Our inner man must be expanded and emboldened. I talk a lot about what it means to embolden and enlarge our spirits, so we have raisin spirits. We're experts on the world.

Biblically speaking, our minds and our volition and all that- We know we're experts at the world because we're in it all the time, but we don't even fool with her, so we have to build our spirits. I talk about how to do that, so that we will begin to be strong enough, spiritually to take in the love of God. When that begins to happen, you begin to feel loved by the God nothing else matters. It doesn't matter. It's like that guy over there hates you it's just like-

Gary: It doesn't matter.

Doug: -"I'm sorry about that, but that doesn't knock me off my feet. It used to knock me off my feet but I'm full."

Gary: I love that.

Doug: That gives you identity.

Gary: That's powerful stuff. You have a book, you wrote a book, was it last year?

Doug: Yes, I wrote a book last year. It was published last year.

Gary: What is it called?

Doug: It's called Spirituality Unscripted: Don't believe everything you hear.

Gary: Don't believe everything you hear in the book or?

Doug: What?

Gary: Don't believe everything you hear in the book. Is that what you--? [laughs]

Doug: No.

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Gary: [unintelligible]

Doug: It just talks about these themes in a kind of a free flow style but it talks about these.

Gary: How can people get it? Do you have like--

Doug: It's not on Amazon right now. Can I give an address?

Gary: We'll put it in the show notes so at the end of the- as people are looking at the podcast they can see that.

Doug: Okay if they write 216 Hawthorne Lane, Barnegat, New Jersey, and request the book, it's nine bucks but if they can't afford it, I'll give that- give it to them.

Gary: I love that. Do you have any slots left if any pastors are listening to this and they feel like they could use a little bit of help as on their path? Is there any? Can we put your email in the show notes as well so people can look at your email and contact you? Do you have any openings for any pastoral counseling that you might be doing?

Doug: I have some. I do phone counseling. I will be living out here in Colorado at some point soon but right now I live on the Jersey Shore. My email is douglas.welbourn@gmail.com. If you're from around the country and you would like to just talk a little bit or you want to talk about more serious things, I'm very happy. I don't charge, I'm a missionary in that regard. I'm funded so it won't even cost you. If you're in the Jersey area, you can call me we can get together so I'd be happy to chat with you.

Gary: I appreciate you all for that Doug, thanks for taking the time, you flew in from Jersey to be with us here today, spoke to our staff this morning and shared on this podcast. Thanks for taking the time, appreciate being with you and the work you've done around the world and helping people, keep up the good work, man.

Doug: Thank you, Gary, for having me here. I appreciate it.

Gary: Thanks Doug.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • What is the spiritual condition of Christian leadership today?
  • How does godly significance differ from worldly significance?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

Men are created to have significance. It is one of the deepest drives in our heart. How we define it, that can mess up our lives. If we define it as being larger, bigger or better or more popularity, more fame or recognition, more invitations to speak, more sales of the book, if you find your significance in that you're hoodwinked by the enemy and you're headed for a fall. – Gary Wilkerson

Some pastors are extraordinarily talented. I'm surprised at just the utter ability of someone to not only preach, but lead, and way more talented than I am, or ever was as a pastor. They rely on themselves and in most cases, they're doing it for themselves. They're building a kingdom, and that is just contrary to the Kingdom of God. – Doug Welbourn

For a man, significance is the highest need. For a woman, it is security and safety. If you don't have significance as a man, you feel like you're dying. If you have it, you feel like you're alive. That's so important to men. – Doug Welbourn

The other end of significance is much richer. It's more nuanced. It's more difficult to look at it and say, that fills that need for significance in me. It's being gracious to people. It's being helpful. It's being generous. It's being long suffering. I would wrap it up to sum it up like the gospels do with the law, it's fulfilled by love. – Gary Wilkerson

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast 

About Doug Welbourn

Doug Welbourn has served in ministry for over 30 years. He has pastored in several states and in churches of all different sizes from 60 to 1100. Doug served in Abidjan West Africa as an International Pastor. Doug’s experience also includes working as a consultant for the western churches of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He specialized in the revitalization of unhealthy and dysfunctional churches. He has served on the Spiritual Care Team of Samaritans Purse where he traveled internationally to minister to the rescue and developmental workers across the globe. Doug has been a speaker at workshops and conferences here and abroad and writes for Christian publications. He has three grown children and three stupendous grandchildren. He loves to ride his bike, follow everything Boston sports and even dabbles in interior design.

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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