Monday, October 20, 2008

Mega Church?

This morning I stumbled across yet another "megachurch-land" endeavor. The pastor is apparently quite a tech guru and even posts blogs about each service. So, curious as I am, I wanted to read what great things were taking place at their church. Well, what I found yet again reminded me of what I already ask, "What in the world is the church doing?". In order for you to see what I'm referring to, here is the service rundown (I've changed the specifics for the church to remain anonymous):

WOW…what a day at "Church X" - here are a few things running through my mind…
Today was the first day “we” met in THREE locations…"here", "there" and "over there"!
We had our largest non Easter/Christmas attendance today in our history–10,429 people.
We ran out of seats at the 11:15 service at the "X" campus and had to put people in the lobby.
If you normally come to the 11:15…we are asking (begging) you to switch up for the next several weeks and choose a different service, preferably the 4:15.
AND…if you will come to the 4:15 we will give your kids ice cream AND you a gift certificate to take them to dinner somewhere after church!!!
People met Christ today…that NEVER gets old–EVER!
Lives are being changed…hell is becoming LESS crowded because of what God is doing through our church.

Is this The Church? I’m really asking – is it? Are these really the highlights of the services? It has success written all over it when viewed in the natural, but is it really fulfilling the purposes of God? Now please understand me, I'm not singling out one specific church and attempting to stand as judge. What I am doing is growing more and more weary of article after article and report after report of churches advancing worldly kingdoms of men. You don’t have to look very hard to find information and updates regarding church growth reports and “success stories”. I was even on the verge of starting a new blog that only addressed this institutional craziness. There is a great wealth of what the organized church deems as success that is really just vapor. I chose not to though, simply because what I found upset me too much and I didn’t want to assign my time to such frustrating matters.

I guess I always return to this – I just can’t see what all of the hoopla that churches focus on matters whatsoever. I used to marvel at the services that my wife and I attended at one of the largest mega churches in the nation. All three morning services ran as slick as a Broadway production and I was always fascinated. Now, however, I just don’t view it the same anymore as I look back years later. What I used to marvel at, I now detest. Why? I was enamored with the setting and the show. I “enjoyed” the worship – I didn’t worship, as I know it to be now. I was challenged then but it was because I had virtually no intimacy with God – I was a spiritual baby, at best. I now see multi-million dollar buildings and cringe. Elaborate stages, light shows, sound systems that rival the nations greatest venues - for what? For who? For us, that’s who - Mr. and Mrs. Church Member (and of course don’t forget Mr. and Mrs. Potential Church Member).

Is there anything left for God to get the glory for? I mean really, is there? I believe with everything that is within me that He couldn’t care less how many people sat in your building on Sunday. He doesn’t get impressed with your annual budget or your elaborate auditoriums. I believe, in the midst of all of this fluff, He is saying one thing: “When will you worship Me in spirit and in truth?”.

I know some of you likely get tired of me talking about how wrong I feel organized religion is, and that’s OK. If you don’t agree, no one makes you read these articles. All that I can do is present what the heart of the Father impresses upon me personally. I just cannot escape how the Body is not being the Body – and trust me, I’m too often found lacking Body activity also. One thing I’m sure of though, I will never again trade in true Body life for the traditions of men. I would just as soon cut off my arms and legs.

We must get to our Father’s business. I find that so many people don’t even want to hear this. They won’t talk about it and many get greatly offended. Why is this? Why do so many people that profess to be Christians get nearly irate over the idea that the positional church might be flawed? Why do so many Believers have nothing to say about their personal relationship with the Father? Are we followers of Christ or not? I’m serious people! Are we or not? Although I’m not there yet, I believe a time is coming (perhaps I’m lagging behind out of fear and reputation) that I’ll look people in the eye and say “Why do you even bother professing to be a Christian?”. Friends, it is time we do something – it is time that we can’t even tolerate the thought of placing anything or anyone above God in any capacity. I don’t care if it’s a bottle of alcohol or your Sunday School class- I believe that in the eyes of God, they are one in the same if they’re embraced with selfish motives and intentions.

I cannot stress enough how the Spirit is telling me that all that is not rooted in the Kingdom of God will not remain. Soon, money will not matter. Positions and class will not matter. Who you are and what you’ve done, apart from the Kingdom will not matter whatsoever! Why do so few understand this? How in the world can the church continue on with blinded eyes saying, “Oh, all is OK, God is in control.” Is the church really so ignorant and blind? Yes, my hope is in Him and He is in control but life as usual cannot continue in this hour. Even some mainstream religious leaders are hearing this same call. It is time that we wake up and exit our Christian Fantasy Island! It is time to move out into the deep waters where God alone will sustain us and keep us alive! The island will soon be uninhabitable!

I’d like to share a metaphor that I saw when watching the movie “The Savages” several months ago. In the movie, a brother and sister have to address the fact that their father is senile and in need of a nursing home. They have had virtually no relationship with him throughout the years but find themselves in the position to care for him at the end of his life. They address very painful issues and the struggle of their pursuit to place him in the right home is well portrayed. In one specific scene, the brother and sister have a very heated argument as she is desperate to find a place that is best for their father. She begins to cry as she wants to place him in the nicest home possible, yet cannot seem to find a place that offers sufficient care. Her brother, seeing the true reality of it all states, in summary, “All of this fancy stuff on the outside is just for show! It’s for us, not for the people inside. It is to make you and me feel better, not dad! All of this landscaping and beauty on the exterior only exists to make you and I forget the ugly truth that people are dying inside those walls.”

What a harsh reality. This is how I see much of modern day Christianity. We have great buildings and programs, yet no life inside the walls. There are books and videos to offer you wealth and success – classes to teach you 10 steps in order to get over your addictions – tshirts and stickers in order to make you feel a part of something…. you get the point. There is no limit to the facades that portray to the world, "we are Christians and we are fine!". The reality, however is that we are dying. Marriages are ending, families crumble. Suicides are increasing, most are no different than the world and all hope is drifting off into oblivion. And the church wants to talk about attendance, building funds, giftings and positions? I just don’t get it. What we need to see is a longing for worship – a craving for the Father – to know Him and be known by Him above all else. Gatherings of Believers (errantly named "church services") are supposed to be a sanctuary where the LORD dwells in those who are gathered together and He is glorified. Think about it for a moment. What if there was a day designated where no church services were held? Everyone could just stay home and establish a tabernacle of worship with your family for one day. Read the Word and offer a sacrifice of praise unto Him. Invite your neighbors over for a meal and love them with no strings attached or motives other than love. Even set aside your need to “evangelize them” (gasp!). Some might actually enjoy talking to you if your motives weren’t to “get them in church”. (Don't even get me started on my local Christian community's latest endeavor where they proclaimed via signs and marches to "Get Saved or Get Busted!" in regards to drug addiction.)

In conclusion, the LORD is challenging me with some tough things lately. Don’t think for a moment that these articles are ever, “You do this because I’ve already figured it all out” writings. I am being given mandates to live out what He tells me and it isn’t always easy – in fact, it is rarely easy. I am being challenged to question why I’m doing everything that I’m doing. I can no longer flippantly go along and do what I’ve always done. It is a new season for me and I must be found obedient to the Father’s will alone. Pleasing myself or pleasing you just won’t cut it. I can hardly even tolerate any level of man-centered meetings – so much so, it is hard to do seemingly anything. If it isn’t all about the LORD and His Body functioning in equal parts, I’m just not interested. So there you have it – He wants it all. He wants your devotion, your time, your intentions, your trust, your everything. Are you ready and willing to lay all down in order to please Him alone? Do you have any facades in your life that portray you’re something you’re not? Do you know who you are? It’s my prayer that we all approach what is to come with unveiled eyes. No thing and no one can do it for us - it is our decision. I must live my life for one purpose alone – to carry out the will of my Father. Will I be His Ambassador above all else? Will you?


Anonymous said...

Hey, I agree with you 10000%!! I am so against organized, institutionalized churchianity. My husband and I appear to be church hoppers, but we really aren't. We are looking for the real thing, a vibrant and alive New Testament church. Haven't found one yet, so we are thinking of just starting a home fellowship, and see what the Lord does. You know, where EACH ONE can participate (can't happen in mega churches), we can have a meal together, pray for another, and have someone teach, maybe even discuss the topic! And be a real family. In other words, real christianity and real church.

Rose from myspace
aka Servant of the Lord

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more! My family and I have been out of the institutionalized church for two years after we realized we couldn't stand the facade anymore. We are meeting so many people who feel the same way and we have had some truly amazing times of powerful prayer, worship and true intimacy with the Father together.

I'm not saying all "churches" are doing everything wrong but it's the phoniness that we have seen which drove us away. We want to do what you said, love people and spend time with them without the ulterior motive hanging in the air all the time. I remember when we were heavy into our church, on the worship team, etc. It was almost like we were in competition with our other christian friends and we each thought "our" (what a laughable idea) church was the best!!! SAD!

Anyway, thanks for posting! I see the Lord is revealing HIS will to so many right now, it's awesome!

God Bless, Sarah

Mattityahu said...

Yet another piece on the paradox of institutional Christianity. Couldn't agree with you more. The Lord has been reviling to me the same Truths. Encouraging to hear about others on the same journey.

Amy said...

Excellent post. I could relate to you A LOT with your past experiences of the mega-church phenom. I, too, used to attend one of the largest AOG congregations here in the Phoenix area (I'm sure you can probably guess which one with a quick search). I loved the people...absolutely. However, I grew disillusioned with the lack of walking out the Spirit and Truth, the over-emphasis on it being a business/corporation, and all the Religiosity that underlayed everything.

I love what you said here: " I believe with everything that is within me that He couldn’t care less how many people sat in your building on Sunday. He doesn’t get impressed with your annual budget or your elaborate auditoriums. I believe, in the midst of all of this fluff, He is saying one thing: “When will you worship Me in spirit and in truth?”.

I fully agree with what you believe about organized religion. I really do. I'm right with you, brother.

"One thing I’m sure of though, I will never again trade in true Body life for the traditions of men."
"I cannot stress enough how the Spirit is telling me that all that is not rooted in the Kingdom of God will not remain."

Amen. Me too, on both. Again, wonderful post, Joel. Keep on writing.

Hope you can visit my blogpage:
Walking In The Spirit

~Amy :)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I loved the movie analogy, so true! It really does hurt inside to see all of this. I pray that God will be His normal grace self and pour it on to us ignorant people. I really do pray that some day the True Bride/ Body of Christ will be all about CHRIST! Yes, I include myself, still striving to be less of me and more of CHRIST. It is truly all about HIM.

Joel Spencer said...

Rose: If I've said it once, I've said it a bazillion times, the organized church model is just not capable of being the "New Testament church". There are too many unnecessary distractions and responsibilites that hinder her from carrying out what she is supposed to do. Let me tell you - if you can't "find" it, start it! Be a pioneer and open up your own home for others to see the true Church arise! Many are seeking for the real!

Sarah: You mean to tell me that churches compete? Say it isn't so! (sarcasm alert!) The LORD truly is in the midst of a great calling out - may we unashamedly stand up and declare that we will settle for no imitations!

Joel Spencer said...

Mattityahu: I agree - I have been overjoyed to get so many messages, emails and responses that assure me we are not alone. Some say we're just disgruntled or rebellious - I say we're the ones who will reveal the reality of the Christ to the world. And it does NOT look like what religion has declared for eons.

Amy: I've been to your blog and read some stuff - Ineed to comment next time. (Sorry, I write much more than I read - bad blogger etique, I know).

Anonymous: It's my prayer that what I "show" is who I really am - mistakes, flaws and all. It is time for Believers to stop acting as if accepting Jesus as LORD magically makes you perpetually happy and without any troubles or trials. Times are changing my friend!

Joel Hosler said...

Hey Joel, I didnt have the time to read the whole post, i am at lunch and got to get back to work, but I did notice in the Qoute for the blog of the church. He said, people "MET" Christ today, And Hell is getting less crowded because of "OUR" church!. Ummm first of all, I don't believe they met the Christ, they probably met some phony emotionally charged picture of Him, and even at that they just met Him, probably in a passing by verse. Pastor speaking "Our church is growing soo much and we just got 50 new flat screen tv's for the Lobby and the Coffee bar is open now oh did I mention jesus, oh well, we have three campuses now, we are just sooo amazing!" And second of all Hell is not getting less crowded because of your church, Hell is getting less crowded because of the LORD and you may be even adding to it. haha jk...

One thing I would like to say amidst my cynicism is we do have to be careful not to act like we are better because we aren't part of the Corporate Institutional Church, because then we are in the same boat saying how we have it right and they don't. And we are better than them. We need to stay on the Horse and keep and eye out for that Log. But I do agree that flesh is coming into the church in great multitudes.


Like a Mustard Seed said...

"Why do so many people that profess to be Christians get nearly irate over the idea that the positional church might be flawed? Why do so many Believers have nothing to say about their personal relationship with the Father?"

I've wrestled with these questions and ones like them many, many times. The answers have started to come, as I've come to realize that the institutional church isn't a scenario where a power-hungry hierarchy of leaders bamboozles an unsuspecting congregation into following them blindly. I think in the dissection of the institutional church, we tend to put most of the focus on the problems of positional leadership. (which isn't biblical, don't get me wrong...) My point is, that those who appoint such leaders, and participate in entertainment-oriented "worship services", do so WILLINGLY, because let's face it, it's much more conveniant to put my check in the basket when it comes by, and sit for an hour or two and listen to someone talk, then it is to do the alternative. The sad truth is, most people PREFER to be spiritual infants, to have a group of paid professionals bear the burden of ministering that is meant to be spread out amongst the entire body. People would rather sit in an auditorium like the one you pictured, that looks like a fottball stadium, rather than sit in a living room and look other people in the face, and talk about what the reality of the Kingdom of God in their own lives. And it's not surprising, because it IS much more work to not simply be someone watching a show, but to allow oneself to be spoken through, to be a vessel of God's love, to minister to people in everyday ways.
I appreciate the fact that you don't hold back your feelings of frustration and "angst" in your writing, even though I'm sure by now you know that that is usually what will be used against you to discredit the things you are saying... It's true that anger is a natural, and appropriate feeling to have in response to what we see, as long as we don't allow ourselves to be consumed by it, and the gospel to be overshadowed by our dismay...

In Christ, Daniel

Joel Spencer said...

Joel: Point taken. God constantly calls me to step back and assess my own walk. I agree that it needs to be stated often that it is not a "us" versus "them" scenario - ever. It is about holding up the Word and saying we must ALL submit ourselves to what God deems as right and acceptable in His sight.

Daniel: Well said - especially "most people PREFER to be spiritual infants, to have a group of paid professionals bear the burden of ministering that is meant to be spread out amongst the entire body." I could not agree more. I am not placing all blame on the leaders whatsoever because without the hordes of "consumers" that desire to be "fed" in such a manner, the organizational church would not be as fat, lazy and as occupied as she is. It is all of our responsibilites to establish the Body to be what She truly should be.

Jeff said...

I am of the mind that God has used all of these institutions over the years.

I understand what you are saying and the burden on your heart. I have had it over the years myself.

Frankly, I find sermons one of the poorest ways to "worship." It is just like attending another class I can ignore or put assimilate into my life, like the many other classes I have attended.

God is into changing lives and meeting people where they are. He can do that in mega churches or small bible studies. Many of the mega churches have struggled mightily with the growth issue and have made great strides to develop small group ministries within their fellowship - and others haven't.

There is nothing new under the sun. Back in Paul's letters he decried against people following the individual church leaders and ignoring Christ as the focal point of Christianity. Mega churches are "safe" for some because of the anonimity, and "scary" for others because of the size.

What we all must focus on is our own relationship with Jesus and His Father. Be fed and worship where we are led to be fed and worship. It is an individual choice.

Thank you for your warnings and concern.


G33K said...

And they are drawing the kids in with ice cream and the parents in with dinner gift certificates.....yes, America, your god is your stomach....I think we should all take a trip to a third world country and see what it may be like to have a "best life" now.
Total depravity. Starvation. Despair.
And you are worried about getting the best parking place and if your tie matches your belt?
Your pastor is using your TITHES to fatten newcomers instead of spreading the GOSPEL.
Preach it, brother, we have a duty to keep exposing the wolves so the sheep will not be devoured.
God bless you! -Amy

Like a Mustard Seed said...

I already commented, but felt I had to say something after hearing the comment about it being a matter of personal choice.....

I've heard that response many times from people within the institutional church. I suppose I would have an easier time processing such a thought, if it were true that if I were to attend a conventional church again, I could make it a personal choice whether or not to give money to that church....

The fact is, whether they be huge, mega-churches, or small country churches, they all teach that their members are required to tithe. They distort the scriptures, and tell people that God expects them to give their money in order to pay for the church's expenses. While it is true that God can still work through these organizations, (God can even work in the midsst of communist countries...), it does not diminish the fact that the word of God is being twisted week after week, year after year, to extort money from people in the name of Jesus.

Sorry, it just doesn't feel like a simple case of "everyone just be fed where you feel happiest.." to me. Sometimes, the truth just has to be called out.

In Christ, Daniel

Joel Spencer said...

Jeff: I agree with much of what you said. But is it really an "individual choice"? If all of the Body go wherever they like and only take part in what they "enjoy", I just don't see how She functions as She should. "Church" should not be about approaching God how I want to and where I want to. It is to be ALL on His terms and His terms alone. So, for me, "personal preference" is not a valid point.

G33k: I've never been told to "preach it brother!" before - lol. I truly just desire to see the Body discover her identity - it is vital to say the least.

Daniel: I agree, if it's all about pleasing me and where I feel most comfortable, then I've got it all wrong. (see above)

Gabe said...

Good Evening My Friends:
When you all realize that you don't need the "paid professionals" behind the pulpit [I like that term, use it myself sometimes], that's the first step in walking the journey with your Creator.

I'm amazed at how dependent church folks are of the illiterates behind the pulpits. The Creator spoke to Israel and told them,
Deut 6:6-9

6 "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children , and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

If everyone spent that much time talking about being obedient to the Creator with one another as well as their children, every pulpit in America would be bankrupt.

Instead people are taking their children to listen to people who know NOTHING about the eternal word of the Creator. They put the life of their child into the hands of another to biblically groom them. The Word says that we, the parent, are to teach our children; not the illiterate behind the pulpit.

Listening to a speaker behind a self made pulpit on an elevated platform isn't a new concept. The Greeks were good at it.

Isn't it time to stop teaching your children about Noah's ark and how jesus rose on easter [holiday originated by sun worshipping pagans] sunday [day of the sun] and start teaching them things with substance? BTW, has anyone figured out that you can't get a 3 day resurrection from Friday to Sunday? They keep teaching it anyway and everyone [not us Jews of course] keeps going along with it.

The words have been spoken; all we have to do is read it and obey it. That's real salvation my friends.

Joel Spencer said...

Gabe: The thing is, we're not to be dependent on ANYONE, aside from the LORD alone. There are so many "help tools" to assist Believers that they have, in fact, replaced our only Source and Teacher.

Steven Owen said...

I found your site through Alan Knox's. It sounds like we are on the same page as far as what people call church. I just recently left a traditonal/non-traditional church setting. The Lord has been dealing with me for a while why we did and do things the way we do in the traditional setting. You made the comment about are we followers that is a subject I covered in my blog the other day also. I would welcome you to check it out. It is titled Are you a follower since you believed. We need to compare ourselves to 1 John and what he said a follower should look like.
Thanks for a great post...Steven O.

Steven Owen said...

Correction on the title of my blog post. It is actually titled Are you a follower since you believed.
Excuse my lack of memory. I just got the kids off to school and am recovering. LOL

Joel Spencer said...

Steven: I'll be sure to check it out - thanks.