Dear Penrod Reader,

A few comments before we begin.  What follows is not of interest to everyone.

If you are a local congregant, happy with your weekly worship at Shepherd’s Grove and unconcerned about other matters, this is not for you.  You should continue to be blessed with your fellowship and the quiet enjoyment of the services.

If you are a Penrod reader from somewhere else and you come to this site to learn about this ministry, this is an editorial. Which means it is clearly labeled as opinion, mine.  Should you read things here that concern you, I would encourage you to read – carefully – what others write and form your own opinions.

Out of respect for my dear friend Don Schnake, there are no names in Part One of this editorial.  They are not necessary.  There is nothing here that I am writing because I feel the need to say mean things. To the contrary I’ve invested my time in this because I care deeply about the legacy of this beloved ministry and I would like to see it succeed. I wish I could follow your parent’s advice and say nothing but nice things, but I care too much.     

Respectfully,

      Jim Kirkland


THE SEQUEL

Part One

I’m sure you’ve seen many great motion pictures that were memorable and important. Then you return a few years later to see the sequel and leave the theatre disappointed. Few sequels ever live up to the original.

This is about a sequel story we’re living right now.

In the original, a devoted young servant of God heads off on a pioneering path to bring people into a lasting relationship with Christ.  His methods are unique and he works tirelessly to achieve his mission. He is mentored by devoted, experienced leaders of the Christian community who help him craft his message and his appeal. He is aided by an Executive Producer who has the drive and dedication to assemble an elite team of television professionals. Together they develop a unique program format that achieves recognition around the world.


Donations from viewers and major givers make it possible for the Servant of God to fulfill his dream of creating a Christian landmark, a place where large numbers of people can come together to share great inspirational experiences and embrace God.


As the story unfolds, the Servant and EP hold the leadership reins tightly with only a small hand-picked group of confidants. Almost all family, plus a Business Manager who is skilled at using the loopholes available to a tax-exempt religious organization. The atmosphere becomes very difficult for people outside the inner circle. You either do things the “family way,” or leave.  Many good, competent people do leave. What remains is a supporting cast of less skilled but devoted performers. God’s work becomes a family business.


Because the family business grows quickly and successfully, the Business Manager is confident that growth and success will always be there.  Money that comes in is spent.  Tomorrow; God will provide. But He doesn’t.


Then mistakes are made.  There are a number of them, but good scripts have to be tight, so I’ll focus on a few. First, the charismatic Servant of God holds on to the reins way too long, making an orderly succession almost impossible.  Then an expected donor’s commitment to finance an addition to the landmark is withdrawn and the family group takes on substantial debt they have no possible way to repay.

 

The EP tries to pass responsibilities down to favored family members, triggering a string of failures.  Everyone who has ever seen this movie has their own list of major failures: these are mine. One family fave is given more than $20M to write and produce a spectacular testament to God that would be staged at the landmark most of the year.  It lasts just a few weeks.  Another family fave takes over the relationships with contributing professional performers, systematically driving them away from the landmark. And finally, several family members take on the management of the finances, looting the assets, designated funds and the operating treasury. They allow the landmark to fall into disrepair, leading to a bankruptcy that probably could have been avoided if the family group had been given any sound advice.

The bankruptcy result in a fire sale that barely recovers the amount owed to outside creditors. The Servant of God and the EP disappear into a secluded private world, and the original saga comes to a sad end.


The sequel begins just a few years later.  There’s an intervening period where several family faves try to hold on to the reins, completely destroying the acceptance of the program at the landmark and driving most of the audience away from the television show.


As the sequel begins, the family faves are asked to leave by a group of people who appoint themselves to take over.  There are no family members in this group, but they’re still all insiders and loyalists.  No new contributors; no new sources of sound advice.


The plot’s similar to the original – starring a new young Servant of God, a new EP and a new Business Manager.  The difference – as often occurs in most sequels – is that the quality of the performances in the sequel are dismal compared to the original.  There’s not even a moment of success or recognition in the second story.


The new Servant of God actually has great potential.  He’s a family member, of course, but some think he’s a better classically-trained theologian than the first Servant. He is lacking one major thing that made the original Servant of God successful.  He has the wrong mentors. This part of the story is so important that I’ll write about it separately

The new EP is a major part of the sequel storyline. This EP is not a family member, but she’s been so close to the family for so many years, she thinks she is. No one asks her to be EP; she writes a few big checks and assumes the role. That’s what EP’s do. The replacement landmark (?) and the TV show are her domains and she is involved in everything that happens in both places, to the dismay of most who are trying to do God’s work.


The new Business Manager: I’ll try to be sensitive to the idea that we’re talking about God’s children here and limit my comments.


Our new Business Manager openly admits that he’s not qualified for this job.  He’s not happy, he’s not inspired, he complains about everything. He dutifully does the bidding of the EP, and that’s probably why he stays.

 

As for the supporting players, the cast gets smaller every week.  The good performers see no future and some are treated poorly.  Lackluster performers hang on because they need employment, even if it’s reduced. To their credit, most still believe in the original mission and the vision of the original story.


It is likely that the final act is being scripted right now, which is why I’m writing this.


The self-appointed leaders find themselves in a new storyline when they elevate a trusted advisor to full inner-circle status several years ago.  What they didn’t see (because it wasn’t in the original script) was that this person has the audacity to ask questions and expect answers.  Several other long-time inner-circle members see this as a long-overdue opportunity to improve things and they ask questions, too.  Quickly, the once-subservient inner circle becomes completely dysfunctional.  The EP and the Business Manager see an opening here and begin to ignore the entire group, doing everything as they see fit. Many mistakes are made, as in the original, and funds are depleted again. But the group holds on, with short-term bailout funding from inside sources. They focus on a “new beginning” as the enterprise leaves the revered but costly landmark for a new home.


The audacious member of the inner circle resigns just before the move, but he’s replaced by an equally nimble questioner. This is more than the EP and the Business Manager can abide! As this is being written, I’m advised that they’re concocting a plan to change the By-Laws in a way that would make the upstart questioners ineligible for continued membership in the inner circle. Then, once again, life can be peaceful, tranquil, uninterrupted by any noise from outside the circle. Sadly, the new Servant of God has been seduced into supporting the plot. His script is a little different. He would get rid of the inner circle completely and replace it with a hand-picked "Consistory," composed of people he can control.


But that is not the final scene.  If the EP and the Business Manager head down this path, it’s a certainty that an inquiry into the tax exempt status of the entire group will be started quickly.  It’s been among the sub-plots under consideration for this sequel for some time.  This places the storyline in the bright public spotlight of scorn one final time.  No one will buy a ticket to see this show ever again.



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