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?

‘Franny’: A little piece of fiction

A little bit of fiction – not yet connected to a story. Come back tomorrow for another section of “A Story To Tell”.

No one wanted to be nice anymore and everyone was always staring down at their phones.

That’s how Franny Beiler felt about the world these days and she wasn’t afraid to say it.

When she was young people actually talked to each other, face to face. No, they didn’t always say nice things and they didn’t always get along, but they were a lot more alert and a lot less like a brain dead zombie; that much she knew.

The feet of the rocker hit the porch hard as Franny pushed her feet down. She felt turned up inside and angry at the world. She knew it wasn’t right but darn it, she was tired of being visited only if the battery on one of those darned cellphones died and her grandchildren were bored.

“Oh, Mom, there is nothing wrong with them being on their devices from time to time,” her daughter Hannah had lectured as she unpacked the groceries earlier that day. “They aren’t hurting anyone and some of their games are educational. Just because you didn’t have technology like this when you were younger doesn’t make it bad.”

Hannah closed the refrigerator door.

“Now, I got you that bread you like and some more of that ham you can slice up for your dinner. Robert will be over later with some dessert and to fix the buzz in the TV. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Anything else she could do? Why? So she wouldn’t feel guilty for rarely visiting her own mother and always being too busy to stop and talk awhile?

“No, thank you.” Franny’s top lip had disappeared against the bottom as Hannah leaned down and kissed her cheek and walked toward the front door. 

“Call if you need anything,” she said casually as she closed the front door.

“Always nice to be talked at and not to,” Franny mumbled to herself as she rocked.

Franny knew she shouldn’t be so uptight and disgusted with everyone and everything but lately the frustration simply seemed to spill over. It was spilling over even more as she thought about her daughter’s condescending tone. She increased the speed of her rocking.

“Hello, there, Miss Franny.”

The voice of Joe Fields, the new pastor of the local Methodist church startled her. She didn’t like being startled and she jerked her head around and leveled a furious glare at the smiling, red faced balding man standing on her porch. 

“Well, good grief. I thought you Southerners were supposed to be polite. No one taught you not to scare an old lady?”

If the pastor was surprised by her snappy response he didn’t show it.

“I’m sorry Miss Franny. I have been told I have a quiet way about me and I guess that didn’t work out as a good thing this time.”

He laughed easily. Franny didn’t.

He stopped laughing and cleared his throat.

“Did my daughter send you here to talk me into coming back to church?” Franny snapped.

Pastor Fields found himself clearing his throat again. Suddenly he felt like he was 10-years old.

“Well, no, I mean, yes, but that wasn’t exactly what she said – I mean..”

The chair creaked loud as it rocked.

“Or did she send you here to tell me she’s sending me to a nursing home?”

“Oh. I-no-“ the pastor laughed nervously. “That wasn’t something she – I mean, she didn’t ask me about – or that is to say that I don’t know of any such plan –“

“Not sure I’d ever want to go to church with a preacher who can’t seem to figure out how to finish a  sentence ,” Franny said tersely.

Joe wasn’t sure if he should laugh or run  back to his car and drive away.

“Well, yes..anyhow, Miss Franny, I just stopped to tell you that anytime you want to come to church, I’d be glad to send someone to pick you up.”

He spoke quickly, before she struck him down with her tongue again.

“I’ll keep you updated,” she said dryly, looking  away from him to watch the neighbor’s pick up pass by the house. Henry Sickler waved and Franny lifted her hand in a quick movement and then laid it back on the rocker arm.

“Well, that would be –“

“But don’t hold your breath,” she quipped, still not looking at the young pastor.

Joe cleared his throat again and nodded.

“Well, okay then. Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss Franny?”

“Stop calling me Miss Franny for one. He may be dead but I’m still a Mrs. Thank you very much.”

“Of course. I’m so sorry. I meant no disrespect, ma’m. Down South we just use the term ‘Miss” as a sign of affection or respect.”

Franny felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe she really was being too hard on the young man. He was just trying to be nice, to do what he felt was his calling, or whatever. She decided to throw him a line and hoped he wouldn’t strangle himself with it.

“That’s fine. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be rude.”

She focused her eyes on a bird on the bush next to the porch instead of looking at him.

“If you ever need to talk – you know – about your loss . . .”

Franny snorted and rolled her eyes. Good God he’d just hung himself from the nearest tree.

“I don’t talk about loss,” she snapped. “There is no sense in talking about such things. If that’s all, it’s time for my afternoon nap. You probably have a nursing home or two in town to visit so don’t let me stop you.”

Joe stood slowly.

“Well, yes, uh, I should be going. You’re right.”

He tried to smile, to ignore the internal feeling that he wasn’t able to hit a home run on one of his first home visits as the new pastor.

“You have a good day, Miss- I mean Mrs. Tanner,” he said softly and at the risk of being yelled at again he added: “I meant what I said about being here if you ever need to talk.”

Franny nodded curtly without looking at him. She listened to him him step off the porch, walk down the sidewalk and to his car. When the sound of his car faded she tightened her jaw and fought the tears. She would not cry. She’d cried enough tears in the two years since Ned had died. She didn’t need to be reminded of all she had lost that day and she didn’t need to be reminded Ned wasn’t there anymore. Not by her family and certainly not by some upstart pastor from the South.