This story is symbolic of the way entrepreneurial North American evangelicals often operate. Mahaney saw a talented young man, he plucked him from obscurity, and groomed him to become his successor. This is not how a real church operates but it is the way American evangelicals often operate. Christian, you need to learn that there is a difference.
Yet another evangelical personality has announced that not only are he and his wife separating—this after he wrote a widely-read book on dating and courtship—but he has grave doubts about the truth of Christianity and he is intent on starting a podcast to share those doubts with the world. He announced the news of his separation on Instagram, which is something one might expect a movie star to do, and then asked for privacy. Days later, an interview appeared—so much for privacy—in the theologically and socially progressive (liberal) magazine, Sojourners, in which he lamented his “fundamentalist” past and expressed doubts not only about the historic Christian sexual ethic but also about the truth of Christianity itself.
The Business Model
Harris rose to prominence within the Sovereign Grace Ministries orbit, under the umbrella of C. J. Mahaney, another prominent “New Calvinist” and former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mahaney left his congregation in Maryland after a controversy over the way he handled a child-sexual abuse scandal. Harris is perhaps most famous for his 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Good Bye. Harris succeeded Mahaney as pastor of the flagship congregation of the SGM movement until he resigned to move to Vancouver, BC to attend seminary at Regent College. When he became pastor of the Maryland megachurch and when he published his widely-read and influential book on dating and courtship, he had no formal theological education. Since attending Regent he has left ministry and opened a communications consulting business.
This story is symbolic of the way entrepreneurial North American evangelicals often operate. Mahaney saw a talented young man, he plucked him from obscurity, and groomed him to become his successor. This is not how a real church operates but it is the way American evangelicals often operate. Christian, you need to learn that there is a difference. In a rightly ordered church, a real church, a historic church with a church order, with genuine accountability, with historic roots in the Reformed, medieval, and Patristic church, with a public confession to which ministers and members alike are accountable, things are done differently.
The Churchly Model
First of all, when an experienced minister finds a young man who might make a good pastor some day, he does not thrust him into ministry. He might test the young man’s gifts a bit and mentor him for a while but before the young man enters ministry there are some things he must do. One of those is that he must get an education before beginning ministry, before preaching, and before writing books. It is more than helpful to know a little bit about what one is saying before one says it in public and especially before one says it with the authority of “thus saith the Lord.”
Second, in a rightly ordered church, a ministerial candidate must present himself to the churches for examination and testing. In Reformed churches, a candidate comes before a regional gathering of churches (we use the Latin term Classis, a fleet of ships to describe that gathering. Presbyterians speak of a Presbytery, a gathering of elders). There, before the gathered ministers and elders, the candidate is questioned. He preaches a sermon, and is evaluated by the Classis. Before all that, however, during seminary, while he was supposed to be reading Greek and Hebrew and writing term papers, he has been mentored by seminary professors and pastors. He has served an poorly-paid, sometimes difficult internship, where he gained some hands-on experience before entering into pastoral ministry full-time. Candidates frequently also serve an internship after seminary too to gain even more experience.