Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yes Ma'am I See Your Hand

On Sunday we decided to conclude our tour of churches by visiting one of the five largest churches in the country. Admittedly, differs from most mega churches in that it functions more like a denomination with satellites all over the country (although mostly in Oklahoma). So there were only about 800 of the nearly 20,000 members of this church at the one of seven "experiences" (which is what they call worship services) at this particular location.

For me, the experience was fascinating-- something like a cross between a rock concert, a movie, and a trip to the mall. Men in orange vests with glowing wands showed us to a parking space (which was really unnecessary-- the parking lot was half empty). Then we followed the sounds of Van Morrison into the building. Carol got coffee in the foyer so we were a little late getting in, but no worry-- a nice lady with a flashlight was able to show us to a seat where a cup holder was available on the arm of the plush theater-style chair.

There was no order of service, just a brochure detailing upcoming events and a place to fill in the blanks during the teaching, along with some take home notes. The lack of a printed order of service was probably due to the fact that there really was no order of service, just: music, teaching, pray for people to accept Christ.

The music was what you might expect: praise, rock band sort of stuff. The "teaching" was actually pre-recorded and resembled a music video, meaning that the pastor moved from park to city street to comfortable hotel room as he espoused the various benefits of the the Bible. You can watch it and other videos here, or by clicking "watch messages" from the main site

I did my best to participate in the service and take it seriously. Truthfully, I find rock music in church sort of fun. But when the music video sermon began with the man saying that we know that across the many voices and books of the Bible there is "absolute, 100 percent congruity" and I laughed out loud (assuming it was a joke only to realize that it wasn't), I knew there might be some problems. Still, I tried to follow along-- filling in the blanks on my worksheet and paying attention to the arch of the message.

It struck me sort of as an advertisement for Jesus. The initial part of the talk seemed to focus on how we were desperate, broken, etc-- without saying that explicitly. Then, came the convenient solution: the Bible in 5 easy steps. My hypothesis was best confirmed however, by the conclusion of the service.

At the end of the video, the pastor asked us to pray. Basically the prayer was for those of us who had accepted Christ to renew our commitment, and those of us who had not accepted Christ to do so. It seemed a very long prayer to me, and it talked a lot about how wonderful it is to accept Christ, how is the best thing you can do, how it will transform your life, etc. The praying pastor on TV moved seamlessly into a praying pastor in real life, who talked more about how great it is to accept Christ. Then, while our heads were bowed he asked people to raise their hand if they wanted to accept Christ. Much to my surprise and chagrin, he then simply acknowledged them by saying something like: "yes ma'am, I see your hand".

That in case you were wondering, is what life transformation looks like.

Now I have no idea what went on for the three or so people that did raise their hands, but I felt that the community and its leadership did very little to acknowledge whatever that was. They spent all this time talking about how great it was to accept Christ, and here was a chance to show us, here was an actual person actually doing it, and there was nothing but a simple acknowledgment from the stage, followed by a diatribe about how ashamed he was of this community for not having more people saved. The people who had decided to change their lives, who had taken this big step were worth little, because they didn't meet the quota.

I really am a different kind of Christian. I had heard tell of this other faith, this other world-- seen glimpses of it even, but truly, I had no idea.


Erin said...

A girlfriend and I have a running joke...does anyone ever really raise their hand, or is the pastor just acknowledging invisible people? Because in all my years of this practice in several churches, I never actually saw anyone raise their hand.

And LoL the quota. I'm sure.

Anyhow, personally I think it's a ridiculous practice.

Karl said...

hey, sounds like a slurpee would be the proper beverage to sip. not sure why, it is what came to mind. thanks for you kind words on my blog, you have a real knack (i used to say gift, but knack is more wholistic, you and the holy spirit)
hope you come back to denver soon, i have beer with your names on it!

tamie, the tamie said...

i've thought a lot about taking canterbury on field trips to various churches around town. wow, we could have amazing discussions afterwards. maybe we'll try it. except, i'd want to keep it in the vibe more of pilgrimage and less of tourism, which would be tricky, but perhaps possible.

yep, you really are a different kind of christian.

Friends of JointheLiving said...

Hey there y'all, Erin, Karl, and Tamie. Thanks for the comments. Kate wrote it, but I'll jump in with some responding too. —CB

Erin: I have to admit, I peeked. And really did see one woman raise her hand. It reminded me a little of cattle auctions I used to go to with my dad at the local sale barn. With the auctioneer acknowledging the bid.

Hi Karl: Thanks for your cross pollination post of kindness. We'd love to come back and hang with y'all soon. And hope that you will sojourn to sunny Tucson soon. Any chance some pilgrims of the Refuge would want to journey down to the desert for a Easter weekend all-night party of celebrating life?

Tamie: An interesting thing we found on the trip on spiritual tourism: Two of the emerging communities that we visited on the west coast actually said that they have to deal with spiritual tourists on a regular basis. One even started a separate service for "tourists" to observe. They were both very welcoming to us, and I got the feeling that even though people like us were always popping in, they see it as part of hospitality to be kind and open.

Spiritual tourists at LifeChurch.TV could have even bought "souvenirs." They had a whole shop of t-shirts, coffee-mugs, and such with their church's logo. But then when the Dali Lama came to Tucson, they also had t-shirts and bags and such for sale. I just wonder if Jesus and his disciples had sold screen printed tunics at Jesus' hillside and beachside teach-ins what they might have said.

blessings to all y'all. —Carol

donnav said...

"I just wonder if Jesus and his disciples had sold screen printed tunics at Jesus' hillside and beachside teach-ins what they might have said."....this so cracked me up as my mind went in all directions for what could have been said!!

It's been fun catching up on your journey...think ya'll will make it back up to Portland any time soon?

I grew up in this kind of hand raising church and the lack of follow thru and discipleship always really irked me. The focus on "saving" people from hell but not giving any help with the "hell" they might be experiencing right here and now still amazes and disappoints me. What a church for ya'll to save for last!!!!