This past weekend we visited a large local church near our new home. By the time we left, I was even more convinced of everything that is wrong with the contemporary models we are told to adopt.
The first challenge as we pulled onto 'campus' was to navigate our way around parking lot islands and rotaries. We found a 'first time visitor' space quite near the door and noticed that many of these designated spots were filled.
Approaching the doors we were somewhat pleasantly greeted by two older ladies, although we were never asked about being visitors (I guess no one was keeping tabs on who parked in those special spots). At the far end of the massive lobby was a counter, like you'd find in Starbucks or Panera, selling coffee and refreshments. Even with the number of people milling around, not one inquired about us. Perhaps with so many people its hard to know who is new or not. (Perhaps no one really cares so long as the numbers stay up.)
When I entered the concert hall I was...I'm not even sure what word to use. Stadium/theater seating, sloped floor, huge sound and light control center, giant stage with all the theatrical trappings. Finding our seats, we were given a brief 'hello' by the aisle attendant, but again no one took any real interest in who we were.
The service started soon after as the lights dimmed and the entertainers emerged. The band took its place and the audience was asked to participate in the singing. Now I've been around churches for a long time and consider myself pretty up to date on worship music, but I didn't know any of the songs. Judging from the number of other people not singing it would seem I wasn't alone.
The words were projected onto the screen...along with the live video images of the 'worship team'. Anyone seen the movie, That Thing You Do? Near the end the band is performing on Ed Sullivan and we watch the technical controller giving commands to the crew. I could imagine a similar scene in the booth behind me. "Close up on drummer...now! Great shot. Now pan across the front...Hold it! Stop on the singer to the right. She has such a passionate worship face; lets make sure the audience sees that. Beautiful. Okay back to the lead singer. Pull back...back...hold it. Nice shot!" At this point I disengaged.
I'm not saying they don't love Jesus, I'm just wondering if anyone has ever stopped to question the over the top nature of such unabashed marketing in the church of Jesus Christ.
When the music stopped a man came out to share some announcements about a few of the ongoing programs. First time visitors were invited to go to a certain room following the service to meet some of the leadership team; even Pastor G--- would be there! I felt like I was being offered a backstage pass to meet the stars of the morning show. Maybe there would be autographed pictures...I didn't bother to find out.
At this point, Communion elements were passed, indiscriminately, through the auditorium. The man on stage spoke about his trip to visit his aging father-in-law who was losing his ability to remember, and how important it was to remember...and oh yeah, Paul tells us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus, so here's a tic-tac size piece of bread (I think it was bread anyway) and a cup of grape juice. "Come on folks, you don't need to understand it, just join in this weird ritual...You go ahead and take them whenever you feel you are ready." Not one word about the nature of the elements or of having a relationship with Christ. (this was the point at which my wife checked out).
A black bag on a pole was passed for an offering...we let it pass.
Then the pastor came out. A man of about 55, thin, bald (I liked that!), simply, plainly dressed in jeans and a plaid button down shirt. He spoke on why we could trust the Bible. He talked about archaeology, scientific and prophetic statements and the enduring nature of the Bible. He used Scripture verses to support his points. He was a fair speaker, but never offered any real study of the Word which he was asking people to read. "This book will change your life" we were told...but is that really the right message?
Don't get me wrong, I love the Word of God! But didn't Jesus warn people about reading the written Word of God and missing the Living Word of God? Yes He did: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40 ESV)
There was a brief prayer and that was it. The service had lasted almost one hour on the nose.
As we made our way back to the lobby and then out the glass doors (to freedom!) one of the ladies from when we entered said "Goodbye, nice to meet you." I immediately muttered under my breath (I probably should have said so aloud to the woman), "but you DIDN'T meet me!" We left as anonymously as we had arrived.
The announcement man had made a comment about how the Spirit had moved the week before, but if that service was anything like this one, I failed to see how that would be possible? There was no time for the Spirit. No prayer, no reflection, no invitation into the life of Christ. It was consumer driven, entertainment based and full of cheap gimmicks. It lacked substance from start to finish.
This past Sunday did me good. It reinforced my conviction that small and simple is the way to go; that less can be more; that being connected to the people around you draws you more deeply into worship...even if you don't know the words.