Friday, May 24, 2013

Bishops and Politicians

Virginia politics has always been...interesting.

Making it more interesting still this season is the GOP choice for Lieutenant Governor.  He's the fiery pastor of a congregation in Chesapeake, Bishop E.W. Jackson Senior.  He is a "nationally prominent" African American pastor, as his campaign website proudly announces.

Jackson's ferocious and uncompromisingly conservative positions have made him the darling of the Tea Party and of national conservative media.  Here, a bona fide leader of an African American congregation, standing as a staunch conservative for a significant public office.

So being a pastorly sort myself, I found myself wondering: what sort of church is Bishop Jackson overseeing?

Rule number one of any congregation in the net era: check the website.

Websites speak volumes about a church.  You read what they say, but you also read other things.  How is the site structured?  Is it regularly updated?  What are the stated priorities?  Who is visible?  Who is not seen?  How much care is taken in site maintenance and design?    It's like a church building in that way, or our own bodies.  If we're taking care of them, it shows.

Best I can tell, Bishop Jackson leads a congregation slightly smaller than my own sweet little church.

Meaning, maybe twenty to twenty-five souls physically in worship on a Sunday, with a slightly larger network.   That's very difficult to ascertain on the website of the church, where most of the pictures are shots of Bishop Jackson himself, with the whole church rarely in evidence.  But from the volume of call and response "Amens," it does not appear to be a whole bunch of people.  They do not have a building or structure or regular meeting place, so images of that are not presented.  They meet in a hotel meeting room, with mail going to a PO Box.

Lord knows I'm the last person to claim that you need a building to do ministry.  Buildings can be a distraction, and a royal pain in the tushie.  But that means effective 21st century ministry and relationship building needs to happen through other media.

Like say, the website.

And the website itself's not exactly state of the art.  As of today's date, the last time anyone updated it was about three years ago.  The calendar announces Memorial Day 2010 as the last date when anything happened.  Perhaps they've been so busy bringing in new members that they just haven't been able to get to it.

More likely, there are two factors at play.  First, Jackson's aspirations for the national stage and political power have been more on his mind.  His political websites are more polished, showing attention and updating.   Second, for all of the site's rhetoric of Big Large Successness, this is a "family ministry."  Meaning, it revolves around the leader and their spouse, and outreach and evangelism are subordinate to the authority of the patriarch and matriarch.

In denominational churches, these are the little congregations in the country run by Old Man Johnson and his wife, where everyone in the church is related.   These churches are where hapless seminarians are sent to test their calling and endurance.  In the nondenominational world, Old Man Johnson becomes Pastor Johnson.  Or Bishop Johnson.  Or whatever he wants to call himself.

According to the website, Bishop Jackson is the chair of his own board of directors, on which his wife also serves.  This is sort of a no-no if you plan on having any meaningful accountability.  That, plus one of his board members is described as "Late/Emeritus."  Emeritus I get.  But "late?"  I'm reasonably sure that having a dead guy on your board doesn't meet the standards of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

I don't know...maybe the dude just never shows up on time.  Maybe that's it.

Perusing the rest of the site, I'd also recommend a change in the name of the Youth Worship Service.  "The Hook Up" may not carry quite the connotations that they intend.  Sort of like naming a Men's Choir Gathering "The Down Low."  Because, you know, they have lots of baritones.


What's clear from the web page is that he is a "Bishop" over an "International Ministry" in the same way that I am the Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of PPC International Ministries Incorporated.

Being a small church pastor is fine and dandy.   But I tend to think it's fine to own that reality.

Keep it real, as they say.  Keep it real.