Stuffed Shirts & Their Sycophants
The Cult of Evangelical Leadership, Part 3
Stuffed Shirt: Someone viewed as exceedingly competent, a notch above others, extraordinary, superior, elite, a surpassing expert, a change agent, above average, higher up, unrivaled, first-class, a higher degree, hardly ever wrong, and wealthier than average. Stuffed Shirts are perceived as formal, pompous, narcissistic, arrogant, excessively elite, stiff, controlled, perfectionistic, smug or conceited; and many are considered to be inflexible, condescending, controlling or reactionary.
Sycophant: a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning sidekick; naïve or blind follower; a favor-seeking underling.
The evangelical universe has an over-abundance of Stuffed Shirt Types these days. Parachurch organizations are overflowing with them. Seminaries breed them. Conferences are booked to capacity with them.
Stuffed Shirts exist solely because they are continuously surrounded by vast armies of Sycophants, their own True Believers.
Here is a partial list of Stuffed Shirt Types, the New Breed of evangelical Mucky-Mucks – consultants, experts, leaders, trainers, coaches, change agents, financial stewards, executives, entrepreneurs, professors, investors, managers, gurus, mavens, best-sellers, keynote speakers, advisors, commanders, portfolio managers, senior specialists, analysts, accountants, CEOs, administrators and top honchos.
The above list was compiled from recent scouring of the Internet to see what sorts of conferences BigWig evangelical Leaders and their Multitudinous Organizations are sponsoring these days. All of these Stuffed Shirts flourish impressive credentials as Successful Experts in their field. No Peons Allowed.
This is the new face of Evangelicaldom. It is being overrun with Stuffed Shirt types. Legions of them. They are all plaguing the church in these last days! And they all cost money! Lots of money.
Stuffed Shirts come in all shapes, sizes and kinds. Defying the stereotype of starched collars with formal suits and ties, modern-day Stuffed Shirts appear in a wider variety of disguises – rugby stripes, button-downs, T-shirts… you name it. Casual is hip. You can more easily spot them when they sport their own name brand on their sleeve. In fact, their entire operation will sport their logo.
By definition, a Stuffed Shirt is a Change Agent. But Stuffed Shirts do not all fit the same personality profile. (Some appear humble.)
Here’s the key to identifying one: Stuffed Shirts are the Esteemed Experts. You’re not. Never forget this! You can become an Aspiring Expert, but you will always be the lesser.
Who are the Stuffed Shirts?
Here are a few examples:
- Erudite Scholars who hash out beliefs in the stratosphere, mixing complex historical lineages with postmodern thought to create new ideologies. These will frequently use obscure language delivered via complicated minutiae of intricately tangled logic.
- Concoctors and Inventors develop their own terminologies and theologies. In order to follow them, a Sycophant must become indoctrinated through the Stuffed Shirt’s Bible 101 class, read their books, follow their careers, imitate their mannerisms and methods, attend all of their conferences, watch all their DVDs, and generally glom onto them wherever they happen to go.
- Executive Stuffed Shirts in the business world – Managerial Elites who are rapidly turning the church into a Marketplace of Ideas, while integrating their Financial and Corporate Wizardry into a new sort of Theology. Here is one impressive description from Tim Keller's coming big Movement Day, the Executive Marketplace Leaders & City Engagement Track:
Executive-level marketplace leaders in our largest cities are career-focused individuals who devote much of their lives to the advancement of their career. The great need is to identify and unleash the spiritual gifts and passions of marketplace leaders. This track aims to assist senior-level marketplace executives in building an individual game-plan so that they can have maximum influence in one or more sectors in the life of our cities.
- Brash Stuffed Shirt Statisticians create intricate formulas for monitoring spiritual implementations and measuring spiritual success. These are often the Psychosocial Engineers who intend to re-organize Evangelicaldom with Military Precision. Rank and File Sycophants must march in lock-steps.
- Stuffed Shirt Luminaries who attain notability and nobility at the helm of their movement’s ship, steering it into uncharted theological waters. These are the Demi-Gods and Goddesses who reign over entire Empires of Sycophants.
- Financial Stuffed Shirts – Cash Cow Types – strategically maneuver assets to fund themselves and other Stuffed Shirts within the Hierarchy of Haves. (Notice that you are a Have-Not.) They straddle the fence between Sacred and Secular, carrying Wealth and Prosperity into the doctrines and practices of the Church to Come.
- Servant-Leaders – this is a very popular Monogram a Stuffed Shirt can wear on his sleeve. Sycophants will spot this and be gullible enough to believe that their Stuffed Shirt is merely exhibiting the Elite qualities of Leadership that are a result of being a Humble Servant.
Impermeable Stuffed Shirts
There are some unique and peculiar traits possessed by all Stuffed Shirts. Stuffed Shirts are typically Sacred Cows. They can meander towards sin or heresy and get away with it, especially if they do it gradually and progressively. They can do something very controversial and call it a mishap, a foible, a stumble. When they compromise the faith, or engage in an outright sin – they are excused. Not only excused, but justified, and held up as a role model for other Stumblers. Even if they do it repeatedly! They sometimes become even more popular after a noteworthy controversy hits the press.
Stuffed Shirts are venerated as Saints. They do not err. Hanging out a Stuffed Shirt’s Dirty Laundry isn’t as terrible as it used to be.
Stuffed Shirts are invincible. They have a tough veneer. A few of them have been hounded by persistent rumors for years, but remain intact, impervious to any dents in their Kevlar type shirt fabric. Some Stuffed Shirts have been charged with outright heresy, real crimes, or accused of sexual indiscretions. But their Sycophants will make excuses, help peddle their redeemed image to the public, forgive and forget. Even when the Stuffed Saintly Shirt is still running up a tab with Satan!
Many Stuffed Shirts seem so sincere. They truly believe they have a Sacred Calling to rectify deficiencies in the church. They act as though they have a Divine Calling to assist, manage, cultivate, and oversee things that are inferior in the church. These Pragmatists want to spiff up the Bride into a state of Superior Betterment. They believe they are adding Value to the Church, increasing its desirability to Society, especially by engaging in Cultural Renewal to improve the Planet.
The Cream of the Crop Stuffed Shirts were trained by the Elite Professional Stuffed Shirt organization, Leadership Network. Here they were taught programs and practices that redefined primary biblical doctrines and directives. Here they learned the arts of Dialectic Engineering, Progressivism, Radicalism, and Change Agentry for Global Community Transformation.
Stuffed Shirt Stars were launched onto career paths to become Leadership Network’s Elite Transformational Agents. They were hand-selected, well-funded, given book contracts, propped up in ministry, given churches, set on the conference circuit, and marketed with a unique Image of Hipness. Lesser Stuffed Shirts were also recruited into important roles that aligned them, and their organizations, with the Big Scheme of Things in the Mega-Stuffed Shirt world. Stuffed Shirts need Accessories to complement them.
Not surprisingly, Stuffed Shirts operate via Peer Pressure. Stuffed Shirts don’t want to be ostracized by other Stuffed Shirts for nonconformity to the New Way of Doing Things. Note: a small-time Stuffed Shirt can be a Sycophant for a Bigtime Stuffed Shirt. This is the Herd Mentality. Follow the Leader.
Which brings us to the point about Sycophants. Sycophants are Lemmings. They go wherever the Stuffed Shirt goes, even if off they head off a cliff. Why do they follow? In hopes that the Spiritual Elitism and/or Financial Success of the Stuffed Shirt will rub off on them.
There is a Symbiotic relationship between a Sycophant and a Stuffed Shirt. A Sycophant's role is to elevate the Stuffed Shirt to his superior expert role. Sycophants are an essential part of the process. A Stuffed Shirt cannot exist in his Supremacy without many underlings who function as cheerleaders, facilitators, networkers, conference attendees and book purchasers. Sycophants are expected to be advertisers of a Stuffed Shirt’s ideas, theologies, projects and brand name. Sycophants pay to do this. It helps fund the Stuffed Shirt’s life calling, including his Halftime retirement plan.
The role of Sycophant has key requirements: Don’t think. Don’t analyze. Don’t ask questions. Just accept. Just follow. Sycophants are expected to adulate, imitate, emulate and admire their Stuffed Shirt. The self-esteem and life’s purpose of a Sycophant must be tied to the ideas, plans, visions, theories, theologies and ambitions of the Stuffed Shift that they follow. Name-brand loyalty is another key to Stuffed Shirt survival. Sycophants must proclaim in unison, “I am of Apollos” (1 Cor. 3:4), especially in order to disdain any of their Stuffed Shirt’s competitors or opposition.
Stuffed Shirts use Snake Oil for aftershave. They have clever ways to guarantee that they will remain in Sacred Sainthood regardless of opposition. In fact, some Stuffed Shirts seem to be made of Teflon. They will often band together into newly-created Entities for Elites that are given clever marketing names and new conference circuits. The list of Stuffed Shirts as keynote presenters is always filled with Impressive Credentials. No one ever has a Bad Hair day in their Conference promo photo.
Stuffed Shirts wear Bulletproof Vests. Below are a few clever methods that Stuffed Shirts will use to stay in Positions of Power and Influence, deflecting any criticism or opposition that comes their way:
- The Office of Stuffed Shirt is a good one to stand behind. Because of the “office” they are above reproach. They then can demand subservience and submission.
- Multitudinous expansions. Diversifying. Networking. No longer coming under one single hierarchy of authority. These practices permit the Stuffed Shirt to adapt his wardrobe. He can change his shirt whenever he needs to change his role. This permits him to leave a bad scene and hop into another role. It is a good escape hatch in case things get nasty. Occasionally there are wardrobe malfunctions!
- Public accolades. Some Stuffed Shirts become so famous that no one dares question or accuse them of anything. When even the mainstream press likes a Stuffed Shirt, watch out! When the average public becomes Sycophants, no one will want to hear anything negative.
- Ecumenical councils are great to hide behind. Stuffed Shirts can get away with anything when they don their Ecumenical Garb. Who oversees parachurch organizations? Other Stuffed Shirts, who are also Sycophants, who have achieved equally high levels of compromise!
- Act super-ordinary. Watch out! It is an act! Stuffed Shirts with acumen love to flaunt their normality. “Just an average Joe,” they say if anyone questions, and then they will produce a photo-op with their good-looking family doing nice things. Note: Many do not practice what they preach.
- Put the Sweet Wife on the Conference Circuit, standing in pulpits with other Stuffed Shirts. The Stuffed Shirt’s Wife will be touted as some sort of Expert about Something Popular in Church or Society. This will increase Stardom and Respectability for the Stuffed Shirt.
- Use Mega-Star Status to the best advantage in every situation. Stuffed Shirts must ensure that their Sycophants truly believe that their level of achievement is unattainable and even divinely ordained. When they have a vision to jump, everyone must jump. Don’t think, just jump! He’s the pilot, he knows what he’s doing.
- Progressive compromising. Publish a series of books or articles that start out conservatively but progressively become worse each new book. Some Sycophants notice when the Stuffed Shirt is eroding from biblical Truth. In such case the Stuffed Shirt will refer them back to the original conservative work and assert that this is the true belief.
- Develop a Statement of Faith that suits all purposes, seasons, and beliefs. Use wiggle-room language that can mean all things to all people. A very clever appeasement tactic indeed!
- Hold a Conversation. If colleagues notice and begin to write articles questioning an errant, eroding and/or emerging Stuffed Shirt, he will respond by engaging them in a dialogue and lead them to consensus. Common Ground is an effective strategy to diffuse all opponents. Other Stuffed Shirts (who are often also Sycophants) are particularly susceptible to this mollifying strategy. It feeds their ego to feel like they are part of the “Conversation.”
- Be overly Polite and Nice. Politeness masks many bad things. Being Nice deflects criticism. “He’s such a nice guy,” his critics will say. And forget what they were upset about in the first place.
- “Wining and Dining,” i.e., schmoozing and flattering. A very effective method of silencing any opponents. Invite critics and roll out the Red Carpet. Wow! Impressive!
- Build a rich organization that is made up of upper middle class, well-educated people. No one else quite fits in. This works like a charm to diffuse criticisms of any Stuffed Shirt. Everyone surrounding him is monochromatic and the peer group reigns supreme. The poor become an object of ministry. And the rich get richer.
- Expect or demand absolute loyalty. Particularly important when there is a brand name at stake. There are perks for loyal Sycophants! No dissension allowed! Yes, it does happen. More often than you think.
- Distinctives. This is a key element for any Stuffed Shirt. His Distinctives are what makes him superior. His Sycophants soon learn his Distinctives by rote and become promoters of the same. Any who challenge this are referred to the Code of Holy Distinctives of the Stuffed Shirt. If his Holy Distinctives actually become New Theology – WOW! That’s really impressive! It makes Fawning Followers feel very blessed to be a part of his new movement.
- Be Strategic. Stuffed Shirts love to launch Strategic Initiatives that further their Vision and goals. Sycophants are required to “buy in” to the Grand Vision and sacrificially implement it. Sycophants are told they are “Stakeholders” when, in reality, it is the Stuffed Shirt who is driving the stake.
- Special powers. Some Stuffed Shirts claim to have Special Spiritual Abilities that others don’t have. Some have even formed organizations that ordain and anoint Stuffed Shirts into their ranks. These special powers keep Sycophants in a state of awe. While in this state they are very compliant. Sometimes they are motivated by promises that they, too, will gain these special powers if they follow their Stuffed Shirt.
- Deception. Certain Stuffed Shirts employ strategies of deceit and lying. This is because Sycophants are usually quite gullible and will believe anything. This is also much more common than you think! The easiest way to deceive is to not tell the WHOLE truth of the matter. Stuffed Shirts are often engaged in activities that are highly questionable. So they keep potentially controversial things under the radar.
- Act superior. This is the basic definition of a Stuffed Shirt and this is what they are best at doing. Some have it, some don’t. Let’s hope you don’t!
One might note in the descriptions above that there is something missing: Jesus Christ. Yes, this is a sad common occurrence these days. It seems that the Methods and the Means are becoming much more important than worshipping the Saviour. The Stuffed Shirts’ Mega-Programs and Gigantic Projects are now the focus, not Jesus Christ, the “author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him… Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 5:9 and 12:2)
In the Stuffed Shirt Universe, being Elite is key. And therefore everyone trained by the Stuffed Shirts focuses on Higher and Greater and Upper levels of Man-Made Status and Significance. But what did Jesus say about His ministry focus?
Note that much of the subject matter in this post is covered in a multitude of previous Herescope posts spanning 2005 to the present -- posts which have exhaustive documentation on these topics.
Written by Sarah Leslie of the Discernment Research Group.