On Sunday we decided to conclude our tour of churches by visiting one of the five largest churches in the country. Admittedly, lifechurch.tv 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.