Mega church. There. I said it. Now you can hit me.
I need to write a seperate blog entry because some of you want to clobber me regarding mega church and i would rather you did it here, in the comments section. some of the mega church people may also want a few swings. As i said last week, you cant please everyone and in some cases, neither group will like me for what i am about to say.
This started when i said that a large church wants to hire an "Emerging Generation Pastor". Many of you gave your negative views of mega church and i called you "snobbish". I still think you are snobs.
To throw another element in their for even further juicer conversation, yesterday was my daughters birthday (Elizabeth turned 11) and she wanted to go to a kids church. We took the whole family to . . . you will hate me for saying this . . . Hillsong London.
Hillsong - like Willow, Saddleback, and their derivatives, are doing a great job in attracting suburbanites to a church service that is done well (excellent is the term of choice). Not my style, i need to say. The music i listen to is not WHAM or Britney (look at the left column for what i am listening to and 80's easy listening rock is not one of my choices). And i feel talked down to when the pastor starts the "How many of you . . " questions, even though others seem to smile and are quite happy to raise their arms to the questions and get a lot out of the pep talk . . oops, i mean sermon. There are some people whose lives are boring and they need some loud poppy Jesus music to sing to, and a message to boost them up for the next week, and colorful graphics that make them feel that they are part of a movement that is lively, and happening. These churches succeed in what they set out to do. And we should congratulate them, not get snobbish and elitist.
Why don't many in the emerging culture respond to mega church? Let me take a stab.
1. We feel manipulated. The constant use of background music makes us feel manipulated, as does the man talking on the big stage with no one allowed to interrupt or add to his comments. Powerpoint is a program designed to sell a product and will always create suspicion among creatives.
2. We feel insulted. The cultural bar is lowered to a shockingly low height, and we find ourselves trying to sing music that we would never listen to and viewing graphics that are targeted at soap watching, TV dinner eating, mall-shopping consumers.
[i'm not describing the attenders here, but the mass-production art and style]
Are we therefore snobs? Perhaps we are and we need to repent so that we can worship side by side with cultural morons. Or perhaps we just need to find a worship environment that allows us to worship and speak out in our own language and culture. Which, by the way, is actually how Willow Creek started out.
We are also insulted in being treated as if we cannot handle a heavy-duty spiritual experience, as if we are spiritual lightweights. In reality, we are quite open to a spiritual jolt, and may be disappointed when we do not get one at a seeker sensitive/targeted church. What we are scared of is getting stuck in a room full of cheese and not being able to defend ourselves. Unfortunately, our fears find fulfilment and a very cheddery climax.
3. We feel dumb. The pastors message is aimed at lamers who want to be winners. We are not trusted with the source code of the Scriptures but rather with the pastor's 7 points that are, apparently, better than the Bible verses. We would rather see the code, rather have the pastor read the Bible verses.
4. We feel like we haven't been to church. There is little or no historical connection with the church of the past. There is lots of action and activity and very little or no reflection or rest. Again, it is church for bored suburbanites who need a lift, not for creative people whose lives are full with color and adventure, and who would rather use a church service as an opportunity to take time off to pause and reflect.
Am I hitting the target?
I know you all have structural and philosophical issues with the Pyramids of Megachurch, but i am keeping this to a more emotional level.
OK - I have vented some of the criticisms and stopped a few of your snobbish comments. Now keep reading to see some positive things (if you have the guts to keep reading)
Mega churches have battled to get respect and understanding, and some of the paths they cut have become highways for us in the emerging church. In some ways, they are forerunners to emerging church.
Willow Creek Church managed to digitize and layer worship into discrete elements - drama, song, and message could now be layered over each other rather than be chronologically linked back to back. Drama could now be used to highlight a problem but it did not have to answer the problem - the message could do that later. This prevented the cheese element that plagued Christian drama at that time and was a big step forward.
Another invention was the idea of blending the elements - the actors would stay on stage while the singer started the song, the preacher would interact with the props from the drama, one element quoting the other, or layering by continuing at the same time. This layering effect is normal for emerging worship, but was radical back then for Willow Creek, and a forerunner of postmodern worship.
Willow Creek and postmodern worship. I always wanted to use those words in the same sentence. Yes, I know, its all very modern - the big stage, the show, the predetermined outcome, but there are also pomo elements . . . if you look for them.
Willow also deconstructed the idea of Sunday service on a sunday. They shifted it to Wednesday and got a lot of flak for it. Today, we have gone even further, and many of us have replaced the service with other events, and may no longer even have a service. But we move ahead in the freedom that churches in a previous generation created for us.
And we should be thankful.
Thankful even for Mega-churches. Come on, you snobs, be thankful.