Faithfully Thinking: And Jesus commanded them: ‘Go into all the world and make merchandise to promote your church.’

You could say that his week I broke under the weight of Christian commercialism.

I got a bit fed up.

I finally had enough of church promotion being held higher than Jesus promotion.

When Jesus called the disciples he told them to lay everything down and follow him. That meant everything. EVERYTHING. Lay down the way you make your money was included in that. And the disciples did it. And God provided.

Many Christians don’t have money to toss around on fancy cars.

We have to trust God to support us, to provide for us, to make sure we don’t get thrown out onto the street.

Fortunately, many megachurch pastors today don’t have to worry about that because their parishioners are being told “Trust that God will provide ten fold what you give to the church in tithe money.” So the congregation should sacrifice but the pastors? Well, that’s a different story. (Don’t read this and think I don’t believe in tithe. I certainly do and believe it is needed to help a church reach people. I don’t, however, feel that guilt should be levied on to get that tithe.)

Some of the top pastor’s you are seeing all over YouTube and your social media feeds right now are worth millions. Yes. Miiillllions. Some as high as $55 million. They have the best cars, the best clothes, the best food, the biggest houses and take really awesome trips to really awesome places.

And on Sunday they remind you God wants you to sacrifice. You. Not them, of course, but you.

Many pastors today have their own clothing lines, books, reality TV shows, record labels, music, bands, and some of them even have their own TV networks, movie companies, and sets of plates and cups.

It seems today that you’re not a real pastor if you don’t have at least 2 million followers on your social media feeds.

That’s how out of control it has gotten.

“The sermon is good.”

“He’s a good preacher so . . .”

“He works hard so he should be rewarded. . .”

“They’re reaching people. That’s what is important.”

These were all things I have told myself over the last few years. I have excused away all the excess, thinking that is the only way you reach people. You have to have excess to afford to be able to reach people right?

But Jesus didn’t have his own Youtube channel.

Jesus didn’t have an Instagram account.

He didn’t make sure his sermons featured bite sized quotes that are “tweetable” and might fit nicely across the front of a Tshirt.

And he definitely didn’t stand up in front of a church and talk about how great his church was. I once heard a well-known pastor go on and on about how someone in his city criticized his church. That pastor then went on and on about how great his church was and he didn’t care if that man criticized his church. I guess you did mind or you wouldn’t have spent 10-minutes tell us all why that man was wrong and your church is so awesome. I still listen to this pastor but it really does bother me he seems to be so sensitive and keeps bringing up similar remarks in sermons.

“I don’t need you to tell me my church is great!” he yelled Sunday. “I know this church is great!”

And everyone in the sanctuary (which looks like a concert hall) jumped up and cheered dutifully. Sort of like a political rally.

I even ignored how he said “my church.”

We’re humans, right? We get “butthurt” as some like to say. We get offended and we lash out. Been there, done that. He was there and did that.

Not the end of the world and I still think he preaches Biblically-based sermons.

I just wish he’d stop reminding the world how great his church is.

We don’t exactly have megachurches in the area I live in, but we do have one big church. The people there are nice. The pastor delivers strong, Bible-based sermons and he doesn’t end even one sermon without doing an altar call (which is the same for a megachurch pastor I have followed for a few years now. ) I think that’s awesome and this next paragraph is not directed at the church or the pastor.

I think they meant well when they had decals made for their church members to put on their cars. They wanted people to know about their church and learn what a church can offer a person — friendship, fellowship, and a closer relationship with God.

I think, maybe though, that plan backfired a bit. That decal became a symbol but maybe not the symbol people thought it would. It became a popularity symbol in our area.

“Do you go to That Church too?”

“I do go to That Church!”

“Oh my gosh, I’ve heard That Church is so cool! The music is great and they have so many activities!”

“I know, right?!”

Before long, driving around with That Church’s logo on the back of your car became a status symbol. It was like being part of a really cool club. It still is. The other day I watched two people gush over each other’s decals.

“Do you go to That Church?” a man asked a woman in the parking lot of the Dollar General.

“I do! It’s a nice church! Do you go?!”

“I do!”

They both go to the same church but don’t even know each other. That’s possible since this church has two different services, but still . . . to me it smacked more of a popularity contest than excitement they were both part of the family of God.

Maybe they don’t even care that they are part of God’s Church, just that they attend That Church.

The church where everyone is cool and hip and the music is modern and the pastor is “killing it” every week.

Again, the problem isn’t the church.

The music there is awesome.

Everyone who goes there isn’t cool and hip but it could be the impression newcomers have when they attend and I’m sure some of the people are cool.

The pastor is a good, caring pastor.

Members of the congregation are good, caring, sweet people. I know many of them and know they would give someone the shirt off their own backs.

So, the problem is not the church.

The problem is Christians or people who attend (who may or may not be real Christians) being more interested in “gear” they can wear to declare they are part of a club than in really learning and knowing about God. Once you start focusing on who Jesus really is, what you are wearing really isn’t going to matter that much.

Can you wear clothes promoting a church and still want a deeper relationship with God? Sure! I get that not everyone is promoting a church just to feel part of a group. They’ve found something that brings them joy, into a closer walk with Christ, and they want to share it with others. That makes sense. It does.

But for me I still have a bad taste in my mouth when churches grow so big they become more like a social club than a church. I have a bad taste in my mouth when regular church attendees are struggling and a pastor gives a sermon telling them they need to trust God to meet all their needs and give more, while the pastor is driving his family out of the parking lot in a Lamborghini (no, I’m not referring to the more local church on this last one. Pretty sure that pastor is not driving a Lamborghini. Ha!)

I don’t know. Maybe I am wrong. But I don’t believe that’s really what Jesus had in mind when he said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”

Nowhere in his ministry did he say, “Go into all the world and market thy self.”

Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Go into all the world and sell as many books as possible.”

Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Go gather followers on your Instagram feed.”

Nowhere did Jesus say, “The more money you got, the more chance you have to enter heaven.”

In fact, he said the opposite. He said wealth can actual hamper your path to heaven.

“And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter in to the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

Notice he said “again”? Apparently, he had to explain wealth to his followers more than one time. He had to keep reminding them that wealth wasn’t going to get them into heaven. Did he say you can’t have wealth? I don’t think so, but I think his comments refer to the trappings of wealth – the fact that having money and prestige and popularity distracts you from what is really important and distracts you from saving souls for the Kingdom. In this modern age of self-promotion I think some churches are excited about their popularity, focusing on the quantity within their doors, but not on the quality of their ministry.

How can these churches truly focus on helping people if they’ve grown too big to even know who attends their church?

Of course, maybe none of that really matters, as long as you have a cool hoodie with the church logo on it to wear during the tough times, right?

Faithfully Thinking: Which is more real, new or old time religion?

Church isn’t what it used to be and that can be both a good and a bad thing.

Yes, it’s good that the pastor’s who screamed hell and damnation at every service is fading out of the mainstream, but I’m not sure that it’s a great thing the pendulum has swung entirely the other direction and now we have pastors telling people to do whatever makes them feel good because God loves them anyway. God does love them no matter what, but I don’t know telling people to do whatever they want is the message God wants them to be pushing.

Today church is like going to a full-fledged concert, complete with fancy lights and singers and dancers and sound systems and a complete stage show leading up to the headliner – which is of course the pastor presenting the sermon.

Up until this past Sunday I thought these halftime-show type of churches was only something found in bigger cities, but while looking up an old college friend online I learned there is a copy cat style church near us, complete with fancy backdrop and professional sound system.

I watch a church service based out of Charlotte, N.C. every Sunday and it’s one of those churches that holds a 30-minute worship concert before the pastor, dressed in ripped jeans and a trendy shirt, comes out to preach. I actually love the pastor at the church and feel the worship is heartfelt and truly “worshipful” and not simply entertainment. To me the pastor is very honest about his doubts as a Christian and his awareness that many Christians don’t always feel good enough but pretend they’re fine. In my opinion, he is not at all the caricature his detractors paint him out to be. I’m impressed that he never ends a service without an altar call and always asks for everyone to stand until the Word of God has been read.

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Still, I sometimes feel uneasy with the slightly staged feeling of the service overall – the way you know when the sermon is going to end because the keyboard and base players appear in the background to begin playing the pastor’s “background music” to accentuate the emotional, serious final sermon point; how they break away during the music so they can show someone being “spontaneously” baptized in a big tub/pool in the lobby; and how you can see customers at the the merchandise store behind the commentators who talk about the sermon on the Youtube channel after it’s over, making sure they commemorate their visit to the church that now has their own touring worship band.

Though there are parts of the service that make me uncomfortable, I feel the pastor and others associated with the church are sincere and believe what they preach. There are times the Holy Spirit does seem to be leading the service such as when the main pastor swerves off script and prays or preaches a little longer than he should (he has to be careful because he preaches and they broadcast two morning services so he doesn’t let the Spirit get too out of control).

But then there are the churches trying to copy the church I watch or similar churches. The local church that I watched a little of this weekend featured frightened-looking women with large, fake smiles plastered on their faces saying things like “Tell Jesus you love him this morning. Okay? That’s right. We love Jesus.” without even blinking. Creeeepy.

The churches that have worship concerts to kick off services are mainly aimed at the younger crowd, who apparently need constant entertainment to feel like life is real. Maybe I’m an old fart at the ripe age of 42, but sometimes the inability to present the gospel without a light show is disconcerting to me.  I love worship bands and worship singers possessing long hair, tats up and down their arms, and recording contracts, don’t get me wrong. I believe many of these worship leaders are anointed and aren’t after the fame. There are others, though, who are just the opposite. As Christians we have to be careful and weed out which is which; not always an easy task.

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I miss when we went to church and there was a little lady up front playing piano and the congregation joined their voices together and could be heard, instead of being drowned out by the pounding drums and the singer showing off his or her vocal acrobatics. I miss the pastor simply preaching to preach, not to make sure he produced a Twitter-worthy quote or an Instagram-story worthy clip. I miss people trying to save souls instead of reputations. I miss when a relationship with God was personal and not an effort to seem popular.

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Can there still be the personal outreach and the intimate connection with God in a church that uses a light show and a sound system to dazzle our eyes and tickle our senses? Of course there can be and, of course, I still feel God is moving in a church that sometimes seems preoccupied with appearance. Even with the show, with the light, with the perfect color-coordinated advertising campaigns, there is definitely some real preaching going on in some (the keyword being some) of these types of churches.

But we can definitely get lost in all the perfectly crafted moments and lose sight of the simple, uncomplicated, God we are here on Earth to worship and fellowship with. God doesn’t need our light shows or YouTube Channels. He doesn’t need our new clothing lines with the names of our churches emblazoned on T-shirts and beanie hats. He doesn’t need big buildings or big screens and he doesn’t care about subscribers or followers.

All he wants is to have a relationship with us and we need to be careful that the pounding drums and the raging guitar and the pastor’s catchphrase don’t drown out his voice.