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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trends And Fads In The Church

Since we left our last church (where we had been members since 1981) a few years ago, we've visited a lot of churches in our area trying to find a new church home. Because of some very hurtful things (dare I say, abusive things) that happened at our last church in the last couple of years we were there, we are definitely gun shy. Ever since all that happened I've been praying that God would enable me to forgive and release. I don't want to carry any unforgiveness or bitterness, anger or hurt. As a lifetime Christian, I'm well aware of the pain and bondage that I would walk in if I lived with unforgiveness in my heart. I want to be released from all the negative feelings, the hurt, the rejection. God wants me to be released from it too. So If I want it and God wants it, I can trust that it will be done. But it's still something that is working it's way out. I don't want anything bad to happen to those who hurt me and I want nothing but God's best for all involved. I have asked God's forgiveness for any hurt I caused. I told the truth and I stood up against what I perceived was the abuse of others within the congregation. I thought I did it the right way. Since the Deacon Board was aware of the leadership's abuses of power and still supported him, I sent a letter to the regional superintendent with copies to the leadership and Deacons. I very carefully wrote that letter and I do not think it was emotional or mean spirited. I certainly didn't use ugly namecalling or language. It was not a tirade or rant of rage. I just listed the greivances that I felt were abusive to myself and other members of the church. At that point, I feel there was a break down. I was never contacted by the Superintendent. Biblically, he should have called me and the pastor and tried to arrange a meeting with the 3 of us to try and resolve the situation. He should have acted as referee. He had been in that position a long time. He knew that I had never written his office before, never called him before. I was not a "troublemaker". I was not a known instigator of constant trouble. I feel that he should have given me the respect of calling me. I was willing to talk to him or to meet with him and thepastor. But I never got that chance. I was ignored by the superintendent. I did get a very nasty letter from another church leader (whom I had praised extravagantly in my letter to the superintendent) that shocked and hurt me. I had said, in my letter, that I thought he would make a wonderful replacement for the pastor but I got a gut kick when I got that nasty letter saying that God hates me for bringing discord. It was handwritten and not on church stationary so I have to wonder if it really was written by that man. I never heard from the church Deacons who rallied behind this pastor. They had known me since 1983 when we joined. They knew that we NEVER made trouble. We always stayed away from trouble during all the different scandals that had gone on in the church past. We had always been very active, supportive and helpful in that church. They knew us, had visited with us, been friends with us and, yet, they didn't rally behind my family when we were subjected to abuse. They stood behind the abuser.

Enough rehearsing the problem. I don't want to bring out the details in a public forum. I know I tried to do it the correct way. But I know that I also need forgiveness for hurt I caused even though I was trying to do the right thing. As objectively and carefully as I tried to write the letter, my heart was full of hurt and anger when I wrote it. I've been angry that I've had no closure. I was ignored by people I trusted while they took the side of an abusive pastor. We had attended and been good members of this church for 25 years and we didn't even get the respect of a meeting to attempt reconciliation.

So what's the ending here? For 3 years I've prayed that God would help me to forgive and let it go. I don't want to be held in bondage to our former church. I don't want any soul ties. I don't want any subconscious crap either. I want to forgive and be forgiven and be released. That is what is healthy for myself and any others. For the 1st year I visited many different churches looking for a new church home. I found a couple. But as soon as I would go back a 2nd or 3rd time I could feel that inward resistance and fear. My mind is saying, "How do you know they aren't doing the same thing here as they did at your other church?" As a visitor or new member it will take years for me to develop enough relationships and experiences to be able to discern if something is going on behind the scenes. By then I would have invested my time, money and myself in the new church  and in making new friends in the church only to find out it's got secret goings on or abuse or scandal too. I consciously draw back and start visiting other churches. I can't seem to make a commitment. The  more I try to, the more panicky and anxious and resistant I get. It's like, to join a church, you would have to drag me kicking and screaming down the aisle. This lets me know that there is still unfinished business in my subconscious mind. I don't think it's so much about forgiveness or unforgiveness (because I believe I've really prayed through that) but fear. Yet this fear is attached to our old church and pastor (who no longer is pastor there). They have moved on, that pastor has moved away to another church. But I'm still under his control and under the old church's control. They don't know it. They wouldn't want me to feel that way. It's all in my own head. I can't seem to overcome the fear of it happening again in a new church. After awhile I gave up visiting churches and don't go at all. I'm still praying through. I know God wants me to be a part of the church. I know He loves me. I know He knows what is going on inside me and He has forgiven me for my wrongs and has helped me forgive others. He will work out His Will in me. I don't know how, but He will.

In visiting all these many different churches I have noticed some trends. It's sort of the fashion or a fad in churches. According to the Bible if you lift Jesus up, He will draw all men. I understand the argument that the church is trying to be relative to our culture. They want to draw teens, young people, everyone so they can hear the gospel. But, on the other hand, are your motives really to bring the gospel to everyone or to draw members in order to increase donations? Why are you using secular marketing strategies and consultants?

Some trends I've noticed:

Removing any denominational reference in the name of the church. Suddenly churches are called "Sunshine Community Church" or "Sunshine Praise Center" instead of "Sunshine Baptist Church". Sorry, but I see that as deceptive unless you are a non-denominational church.

Painting the walls and ceilings black to look more industrial and edgy like a hip bar or dance club. I went to one church that didn't have pews or chairs. It was arranged like big steps down to the stage and people sat on them. Pretty uncomfortable seating with no chair backs.

Pastors dressing casually, sitting on stools, using head mics in order to look cool and with it.

Bands, loud. I'm not against bands. I really like upbeat music and most of the time I don't have a problem with it being too loud.

Making the church lobby into a church lounge.

Getting rid of the church bookstore and replacing it with a coffee bar and baristas. I love coffee so this is not a problem to me. Please some Ensure and juice for emergencies for those of us who have sugar drops. I'm severely hypoglycemic. If I get the chance to worship in a more physical way (raising my arms, dancing, clapping) it uses my reserves of sugar and my sugar drops in a matter of 2 mins. As soon as I figure out that it's happening and have to run to the car, I'm almost in crisis. I try to keep Ensure in my purse and car but most churches don't want you drinking and eating in the sanctuary so I have to leave in the middle of the sermon. I know people don't understand why I'm interrupting and leaving at a quiet time, it looks so rude. They just don't know.

Jumbotron screens, at least 3 of them. You don't need to take your Bible or use a hymnal because it's all up there on the screen.

Jazzy entrance music and video on the screens. As the pastor begins to come out on stage, the hype-it-up music and video comes on the screen.

Announcements are now made via professional videos with skits and flashy camera work.

The Praise and Worship team dresses alike so they look like a professional singing group.

The Sunday School classes have been replaced with Life Member groups. And using the baseball diamond approach to slot new members into the place where they are at... don't ask. It's just a marketing strategy. A New Members class is almost like a pyramid scheme seminar these days.

Security teams with FBI like communications. It's rather self important and pompous to have men standing around the platform and pastor while speaking into their sleeves as though they were guarding the President. In these days and times I guess security is important but I believe it can go overboard too. A pastor doesn't need body servants... someone rushing to bring him water in a crystal glass; someone else running to poof powder on his face; someone else giving his hair a last brush before he goes on stage. It's so affected and silly. And some of these mega churches don't stop at a good salary, they are using the congregant's money in mansions, multiple houses, jets, limousines, multiple expensive cars, $5,000 suits, etc. It's only right to pay the pastors a fair salary and housing allowance and reimburse him for legitimage expenses. Beyond that is getting ridiculous and engenders the sins of pride and greed.

None of this is bad but I have to wonder if it's got anything to do with Jesus and salvation and growing in God or trying to grow a mega church for someone's ego. Is it pride and stardom, vanity, money?What are the motives? How pure are the motives? Some churches actually hire consultants to study what to change and make suggestions on how to draw in larger crowds. Secular marketing strategies rather than presenting Jesus. Is it a matter of keeping up with the Joneses church? Pastors (like any secular CEO) may have lot of internal and external pressure to grow the church into a big splash in the pond with a lot of money flowing in. Otherwise they aren't considered successful. They and their congregants want to be able to boast that "I go to the Big Community Church;" or, "I pastor the Humongous Praise Center." And, in these large churches, people can get lost in the crowd which so many want to do. Hidden in plain site, as it were. Having a pastor dress casually doesn't bother me at all. I like having a band. Coffee bars are a convenience. But what is behind it all? That's what concerns me. Are congregants being controlled, deliberately "hyped" and for what reason? Is it truly to save souls or to get more money in the coffers? As a newbie in a church, I won't know this and it scares me off.

What am I looking for in a new church:

I want a place where I can worship in any manner the Spirit leads me. I want to close my eyes to all around me and have communion with the One whom my soul loves. If I feel like kneeling, or jumping, dancing or laying face down, hand upraised, tears or laughter, singing in the Spirit or being quiet. So many of these boisterous, rah-rah church services are like going to a rock concert. The people on stage are all coordinated and putting on a good show. The music is professional and great but the people in the audience are just standing there. Maybe a little handclapping and swaying but, otherwise just watching and mouthing words. It might as well be a rock concert. It's Sunday morning entertainment and entertainment is NOT what I'm looking for. If it's real, if it's sincere, if it's heartfelt... that's what I'm looking for.

I want a place where the Bible is the only authority. It is taught as the truth and the only word we can truly trust. If it's in the Bible, then I believe it. I want meat in the sermon. I don't want feel good stories, chicken soup for the church members soul. I don't want political rallies (although I definitely think the Bible should be the basis for all thought including political opinions). We should be encouraged to vote as Jesus would, with His Word as our authority. For instance, we know what the Bible says about the sanctity of life and how God is the only one who should make the decisions about who lives and who dies. Yet  we would vote for a pro-abortion candidate? Too often we vote for candidates based on what they can do for us. The poor will vote for candidates that promise more welfare programs, the rich will vote for the candidate that promises  less taxes, the women will vote for a woman candidate hoping for better pay, the blacks will vote for a black candidate hoping he/she will vote sympathetically to their causes. Let's face it, we vote for anything that will help us or line our pockets rather than on what the Bible has to say. I'm interested in what God has to say about current events but I'm not interested in political rallies or endorsements in the church.

I want a place where people are treated respectfully and not abused, brow beaten, lied to, manipulated, deceived. I don't want to see big "I love you's", back clapping, glad handing but then have congregants pulled into the pastor's office and browbeaten, or sermons turned into manipulations and control. A pastor who truly cares for his sheep would not abuse them.

I'm looking for a church where accountability and transparency is of top priority. This protects the leadership  AND the congregants. Too many times leaders don't want the board or congregants to know how money is being spent. Usually that's because it's being spent irresponsibly or unethically or even criminally. If a church isn't ready and willing to let a congregant see an indepth financial report, you can bet there's something wrong. And there shouldn't be large amounts shuffled in under broad categories. For instance, a financial report that has "Income $10,528.00, Expenses "$9, 356", that's too broad a category. I want to see a report like this:

  General Donations   $6,897
  Missions Giving       $1,520
  Savings Acct Interest $ 254
Total Income

     Pastor                   $1,000
     Assoc Pastors       $2,600
     Church Secretary  $   900
     Payroll taxes          $1,059
     Power                    $ 700
     Water/Sewer          $ 324
      Telephone              $175
Office Exp
      Internet/Web          $  75
      Computer               $200
      Office supplies        $  87
      Postage                   $ 89
      Missionaries           $800
      Home Missions      $300
      Crisis Pregnancy    $100
      Homeless Shelter    $320
Total Expenses
Checkook Balance

There should be checks and balances, especially within the financial office. There should be procedures developed and strictly followed. A pastor that doesn't bring in receipts, refuses to fill out requisition forms, etc. has no way of proving that he didn't mishandle money and the deacons have no way of proving money was used the way they said it was and congregants have no way to show that their gifts were used wisely. It's to protect all involved and remove even the slightest hint of impropriety. It should be an open book.

I want a church who practices communion, the Lord's Supper, regularly and reverently.

I'm looking for Bible study classes and opportunities to serve. I may not be good at being an usher or greeter but I'm good at teaching. I would like to teach again. I would like to see ministries for people within the church but also ministries that reach outside the church too.

I want a church that is accepting and welcoming to everyone who comes in. There is no one who is without sin. Everyone comes short. That doesn't mean they aren't loved by God or can't be used by God. I'm not saying we should water down or re-interpret the Word of God. If a homosexual comes to church, they should be greeted warmly. But they should also hear what the Word says about homosexuality. A homosexual is living a rebellious lifestyle that flies in the face of God's teaching. God still loves them and so should we. But we can show them the truth in God's Word and let them decide for themselves what they do with the teaching. We all are sinners. The homosexual is no worse than I am with my sins and weaknesses. I have to be confronted with God's truth about my sins, but after we are presented with the truth, it is then between me and God. We can't coerce, browbeat, force people to change their lives. We can tell them the truth, pray for them and leave the changing in God's very capable hands.

I'm looking for a church who would rather accept an out of tune singer on the praise team so as not to hurt their feelings than turn away that out of tune singer and hurt their heart because the group wants to sound professional. Love and ministry to individuals should come before pride.

I want a safe place to worship but there has to be a balance. As a Christian we say we trust God but then have armed men hovering around the pastor like he's made of gold. A pastor is suppose to be a humble servant of his people. I'm not sure how to balance this subject. As a Christian, I believe we should trust God for our security and if something bad happens, trust Him for the resolution and help during our affliction. On the other hand, there should be men patrolling the hallways, especially children's areas. Maybe there should be at least one armed man who could intervene in extreme circumstances. But I really think we should be trusting God more and show the world how we handle extreme circumstances that still may occur. I know part of the problem is that if someone was to be attacked or killed or molested, someone would sue the church for not having adequate security. That should not be. As Christians we should set the example of how to behave even in the midst of extreme circumstances like the killing of a loved one. In our overly litigous society, we, of all people, should be better than that. No matter what they say, deep down, it's money that's talking in 99% of the cases. Greed talks us into doing a lot of things and we are good at justifying it with shallow platitudes. I don't want my church bombed and my family endangered by rogue gunmen. On the other hand, I don't want to waste money on hiring security teams when God is my security. There has to be a commonsense balance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon,
I'm praying that you find a church with a good fit for you. Three years is a long time to go without! I can only imagine what it must like to feel betrayed by your church family. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.
I have to say that I'd be extremely uncomfortable in a "Humongous Praise Center" type of church.
I belong to a small/medium size church that has complete transparency with the finances. We're not a perfect congregation, that's for sure! But I've met some of my very best friends there.

I just came across your blog today, and look forward to reading through some of your other entries.

Good luck to you & God bless!

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