Back in the day, when folks would learn that I was a pastor, the very first thing out of their mouths would be, “How many people go to your church?” My reply would be, “All of them!” We hadn’t yet reached the stage of pop-legitimacy. Our first church having been surrounded by 900 acres of dedicated forestland and little else, I would caution them, with a grin on my face, “If you wanted to be seen going to church, you wouldn’t want to attend ours!”
Having positioned Jesus on a throne in the ether somewhere awaiting further instructions, high-profile, success-driven Evangelicals are now ready to force-feed to the rest of us the American version of the triumphant Kingdom of God. Expect that with enough money, power, and political clout, America will reignite John Winthrop’s 1830 lay vision of the new world, “City Upon a Hill” – not with impractical love, of course, but with the wrath of a god of our own image!
Former megachurch staffer, Darvin Wallis, condemns such zealots as hypocrites:
We are hypocrites for valuing the bottom lines of church attendance and revenue over the character of our church leaders. We are hypocrites for identifying and forming church leaders not by their faith, but by their dominance. We are hypocrites for becoming more interested in organizational growth than discipleship. We are hypocrites for adopting corporate-level leadership norms, and expecting not to have corporate-level scandals. And the true tragedy is that our hypocrisy is resulting in millions of people being turned off to faith in Jesus.
“Good Old Plastic Jesus”:
Hypocrisy is a built-in character flaw peculiar to us white, male citizens of a nation whose motto has long been, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” If your church is not in winning mode; if it is not appealing to the sensual desires of the “nones” and the “dones”, it is being rendered obsolete, orthodoxy or orthopraxy be damned!
Corporate America’s ethic of greed has found new disciples among evangelical Christians eager for a new wave of a pending apocalypse, abandoning on the scrap heap of history poor, struggling local churches with burned-out pastors (“Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”). The megachurch industry stands ready and willing to create a new, inviting, far more practical American Jesus!
“Goodbye” to the small, local church?
Long-time evangelicals like authors Jon Ward (“Testimony”) and Tim Alberta (“The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory”) have done an amazing job of exposing the underbelly of American Evangelicalism. Like them, however, we believers at the margins seem hyper-focused on the noisiest contingency – trickle-down Christian leaders within the megachurch industry. Nevertheless, my gut tells me that God may be hard at work within little trickle-up communities of faith beneath the radar.
The truth is that 65% of the churches in America have congregations of less than 100 and are in decline. As the growing megachurch industry continues to build on the fallout from these smaller churches, the handwriting may be on the wall: “Goodbye” to the small, faithful local church; “Hello” to the corporate ecclesiastical hustlers!
… “Goodbye”, that is, absent the divine intervention of a God angry enough with the foolishness of His people to rein down judgment on the “organized” Church. But then, how many of us would be left to man the shovels?