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Praying for Dollars in the Mega Church Movement

 

The prevailing wisdom in America is that bigger is better. We're lying if we say it's not. We want bigger houses, bigger vehicles, and bigger paychecks. Bigger candy bars. Bigger stores. Bigger asses and waistlines.

 

 

 

By Rev Rahelio Soleil


If in fact bigger is better, then mega-churches are best. Boasting attendance of of 2,000 to 10,000, no little house of God can compare.

I found this out when I was diverting to a worship service in a place that had once been a K-Mart.

A couple of years ago I left my little church because our pastor was having a theological meltdown. Every Sunday we were treated to an shameless George W. Bush campaign speech. You see, it was God's will that we elect W and kill Muslims. Somehow, odd as it may sound, God was telling me something different. He was telling me to run quickly from this church of war.

Several people recommended another church, a really big one. They said there was something for everyone there. I was initially afraid because mega-church folks can be scary. Most of them were previously "unchurched" and most of them became born again after discovering some charismatic personality in place of a pastor. They can be a bit too giddy about the Lord, even for a Jesus freak like me.

They get the spooky look in their eyes when inviting you. Your not sure if it's Jesus that has enlivened them, or crack.

The short story is that I joined the Walmart of churches and found it to be very welcoming. They have their hands in all kinds of good works. They raise their hands when they worship and show concern for every part of your life. They want you to stay, to join, and to get your kids locked in to the community.

But for me, it was terribly middle class, impersonal, and somehow distant from Christ. The pastor was funny, personable on stage and incredibly intelligent. But he's a personality not a shephard. Like most mega-churches, everything hinged on him as the focal point, rather than Jesus.

After working with them for a while and starting a ministry I was overwhelmed by the bureaucracy. It wasn't a church of heart, it was a church of mind and finances. Apparently this is not unusual for the big houses.

Looking into mega-churches I found this:

 

It's just good business practices that we all need.... We are a church but we are also a business that happens to be operating by the name of a church. We are a ten million dollar a year church that has to operate like a business. - Administrator, Chapel Hill Harvester church

 

That sums up the controlling idea in my mega-church experience. When I left there was one thought in my mind....

"Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:12-13)

 

The idea of large groups of Christians coming into fellowship is exciting to me. The "idea" of the Promise Keepers is awesome. Billy Graham's crusade events in stadiums, great. Church sermons the size of football games, excellent.

But the mega-church phenomena is more than a question of size. It is also a question of theology, one that creates quite a problem.

 

The trend for big churches is to deliberately increase in members who are like-minded and have common socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Just as marketing and businesses segment the marketplace, so have church builders cast a scientific eye toward the religious economy.

 

Meanwhile, 50 years after Billy Graham courageously desegregated his crusades, the face of evangelicalism struggles to display one of God's greatest gifts to humanity—melanin. In part this is because many evangelical denominations were founded to serve the needs of European immigrants. As the face of America changes, evangelicalism risks once again becoming simply a collection of ethnic churches—this time reaching a declining rather than a growing segment of the population. - Christianity Today

 

Lest I be accused of turning a benign situation into a racial one....

 

On the "Homogeneous Unit Principle"From John Mark Ministries
Here we are linking two related church growth principles, one a corollary of the other. The principle of selectivity simply says the church should concentrate on the responsive elements without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers. A homogeneous unit is simply a group of people who consider each other to be 'our kind of people.'

 

Ah yes, our kind of people. This is a tenant of the "church growth" movement, which is a science intended to increase church membership. Be selective about who you attract. You want people to be comfortable, because Christianity is all about comfort - as exampled by the carefree life of Christ.

You might wonder what happened to the Jesus who moved through prostitutes, thieves, murderers, tax collectors, fishermen, and upper class dropouts. How is that for a comfortable group of "our kind of people." Can you imagine Jesus using that principle? He would have only hung out with other messiahs, which means no one, leaving humanity without salvation.

Why didn't Jesus hang with just Jews, or just the wealthy, or just the politically popular?

Because Jesus had no intention of devolving into a marketing strategy. Jesus is Lord, not a dead president.

The church-growth movement rightfully has its critics:

 

Jurgen Moltmann has written: The church of the crucified Christ cannot consist of an assembly of like persons who mutually affirm each other, but must be constituted of unlike persons... For the crucified Christ, the principle of fellowship is fellowship with those who are different, and solidarity with those who have become alien and have been made different. Its power is not friendship, the love for what is similar and beautiful ('philia'), but creative love for what is different, alien and ugly ('agape'). So the homogeneous unit principle is a form of ecclesiastical apartheid.

 

No credible reading of the gospel insists the purpose of God is to divide people, tear them apart, and assemble them into a hierarchy of classes, races, and politics.


It would be unfortunate if true adherents were to be led astray into massive cults of money, only to be tested by themselves, never to interact with a variety of God's creation. The focus of Kingdom workers is advancing the Kingdom. The purpose of mega-churches is different, as told by a church administrator..

.

It seems to me that the essence of faithful stewardship is that a steward does what is master wants him to do with the money: that is, he increases it.

 

Is it all about Jesus, or all about the Benjamins?

 

For mega-churches and the marketing teams that expand them it's about the Benjamins, Hamiltons, and Washingtons. Beyond the naked money schemes, there are also social dangers that even supporters of church-growth theory have to admit:

 

However, there is a very great danger in a church's becoming like a country club if its people's values are not prophetically challenged. There is a constant - and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure on preachers to selectively filter their message to reinforce the racism, sexism, or materialism of one particular group of people.

 

And there is the problem.

Mega-churches are typically white, suburban, middle-class, and likely to call themselves conservative. When you hear that Evangelicals elected this government, that they are responsible for the current administration, you can best believe there is no greater collection of reliable politicized and organized bodies than the mega-churches.

 

When a pastor tells thousands of people who look to him as a spiritual authority that God wants you to vote for Bush, they are obligated to act - if they are faithful.

Having been built on the "homogenous principle," their dangerous theology and expression of faith has stunted into a single-minded, issue-centered thought system, rather than a bible driven outgrowth of belief in God.

Is it any wonder that these are the very people who use God to justify ignoring the poor in favor of gross commercialism and invidual materialism?

I've left the mega-church now and returned to my small church roots. The more I look at it, the more scared I am of how close I came to being taken in by the large group of my kind of people.

Now, thankfully, I'm home again and this time I'm only down for hangin with God's type of people.

 

Rev Soleil is a writer and political commentator on today's America. He blogs at Americanhotsausage

 

Please send comments to editor@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

Big Churches:Money, Bush and God

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