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.