Has anyone else here attended a megachurch? Wikipedia says…
A megachurch is defined by the Hartford Institute as any Protestant Christian church having 2,000 or more people in average weekend attendance. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term, first documented in 1984, as a church with an unusually large membership, especially one preaching a conservative or evangelical form of Christianity and also offering a variety of educational and social activities.1
Based on that, anybody here attended a megachurch? Or perhaps, as I like calling smaller churches using their handbook, megachurch wannabes?
Earlier this month I ran into a tweet that, based on the event it linked to, had this image:
What do you think it is?
With the crowd and the lights, you might think it was a rock concert…but with what appears to be balding white guy in a collared shirt…it makes sense that, instead, it is someone preaching.
This was the description of the event from Eventbrite:
This conference will help you grow as a communicator and enable you to better lead from the pulpit. You will learn from world-renowned preachers who know how to translate theology into captivating and engaging sermons
You’ll also learn more about Rick Blackwood’s platform Leading from the Pulpit and learn about the M.A. in Ministry Leadership in partnership with Wheaton College.
Lunch provided by Chick-fil-A
You will receive a free copy of Rick Blackwood’s book The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching.2
That had you at “lunch provided by Chick-fil-A” too, eh? 🙂
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Now…I don’t want to read too much into the event description, and I definitely want to become a better preacher, but given the picture, “You will learn from world-renowned preachers who know how to translate theology into captivating and engaging sermons” sounds like, “Learn how to preach so well you can have a megachurch.”
Unfair? Perhaps…but not entirely. The focus of that short statement isn’t on faithful theology…it is on “captivating and engaging sermons.”
Contrast that with what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:1-6:
11 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
The implication here is that the super-apostles were adept at “[translating] theology into captivating and engaging sermons.”
Whereas Paul…not so much.
However, how faithful were the super-apostles’ theology?
Not at all. They were leading their listeners astray with a different spirit and a different gospel.
And we know from Galatians 1:6-10, such preachers are accursed:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul could have used that training in Miami this past Wednesday…but not the super-apostles. They were mighty good at translating their false theology into captivating and engaging sermons…deceiving their listeners the way Satan deceived Eve.
Should I…should you…aspire to be like the super-apostles or like Paul?
Dumb question, eh? 🙂
Now, as I stand and you sit in our humble location…generously provided by the Pizza Pit Stop each Sunday morning…is it really wrong to want God’s salvation…the Good News…to be so effective in the I-70 corridor that we quickly outgrow this location, have to build a large building, and maybe even have to have multiple services each Sunday morning to accommodate our huge number of members and attendees?
It’s all about intent…and the story in Acts about Simon speaks to that:
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Act 8:14-24).
Is it wrong for us to want the Holy Spirit and to have others received it by our ministry?
Of course not! We are even promised the Holy Spirit!
Then what was wrong with what Simon did?
He wanted the Holy Spirit for gain. I can promise you if I started doing the miracles that Peter and John were doing, we’d quickly have the biggest church in the Denver area…especially if I went to events that helped me “translate theology into captivating and engaging sermons.”
But why would I want that? For the good of the Gospel? For the good of those who would inherit eternal life through my ministry?
For the desire I’ve had since being a child to be popular like a movie star?
Better to faithfully preach imperfectly for a church of one than to do so for fame and gain for a church of 20,000.
The Price of Fame
Staying with the power of three today, I’ll share one more point in today’s sermon.
The first point was that it is better to be like Paul, being an imperfect preacher, than like the super-apostles. Faithful theology beats out dynamic speaking in God’s eyes and in eternity.
Not that someone cannot have both.
The second point was that what matters is intent. If someone wants to preach well and have a large church because of the good it’ll do for the lost and the kingdom…and God has put that on his heart…nothing wrong with that. But, being we humans are expert rationalizers, we should frequently question our intent and pray to God to make sure it is pure.
My third point can be derived from a few verses in Proverbs:
18 Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).
23 One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23)
Now, I’ll admit I like positive feedback after a sermon…it’s good to have a parishioner come up and say, “I really appreciated your sermon today Alan.” I even ask Michelle pretty much every week if she liked my sermon, and then hope that when she says, “Yes,” it’s not just because she loves me and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. The fact that almost anytime we have a visitor they do not return makes me wonder. 🙂
However, if you want a really good reason to never put any minister or Christian leader or speaker up on a pedestal…verses like those in Proverbs are a good reason.
Treat anyone like a rock star (something else I’ve wanted to be since I was a kid) and…well…there is a really, really good chance you’ll get forms of infamous rock star behavior.
The news often has stories of popular Christians crossing the line (this past one included investigating a former megachurch pastor for accusations that he tried to hire a hit-man)…and I cannot help but wonder how responsible we are. We make them popular. We allow them to get insulated by yes-people who won’t tell them they are off their rockers. We cheer for them at conferences like teenage groupies.
We set them up for failure, inflating their pride and ignoring God’s true servant-leader paradigm:
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first (Matthew 19:27-30).
Becoming so popular that people treat you like a rock star isn’t really leaving anything. “Private jets” and suffering for the gospel don’t really align.
Point number three is to not put other Christians up on a pedestal…or to seek to be put up on a pedestal yourself. If someone tries to put you up there, point them to Jesus instead…and not in a false humility kind of way. The apostles didn’t allow people to worship them (see Acts 10:25-26 and 14:8-18); don’t let people worship you and don’t worship people.
When you idolize someone you increase the chance that the “last” in the “first will be last” may be so far back off they won’t even make it.
Their price of fame can be their souls. Ditto for us.
Perhaps the summary of the three points of this sermon is my “point them to Jesus instead” or “keep your eyes on Jesus.”
If you do that, both for yourself and how you treat others, you will be faithful in what you say, your intent will be pure, and you will neither give nor seek damnable fame.
Keeping your eyes on Jesus will see you through to eternal life when your time on earth is up.
1Megachurch. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Megachurch&oldid=897372025
2Leading From The Pulpit // One Day Conference. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2019, from Eventbrite website: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/59395583790?aff=efbneb