Sunday, February 11, 2007

don't bite the mega-church that feeds you

So I recently played a unique gig deep in the bowels of religion here in the fair mother city.

I was hired to provide background music for a banquet of leaders at the largest mega-church in town.

Yep. Over 200 leaders dining (no wining) in their massive state of the art church building. Me: center stage, under big lights, and assigned my very own sound guy. I haven’t had it so good since 9 years ago when I played with a band that once opened for Third Day. That night, Agent Wife-to-be served as my roadie, which sealed her place in my heart. I caught Third Day’s bass player eyeing her up and down.

I almost went down in history as the first guy to kick Third Day’s ass.

Anyway, this mega-church paid and fed me fairly well for playing about an hour and a half of non-stop background music. This is my kind of gig: a captive audience whe
re no one’s really paying attention to me. I turned it into a free-form improvised deal, like a mild version of Sun Ra. Well, I only wish I could get away with music like Sun Ra. But I did manage to work in Behind Blue Eyes. Now there’s a song for the mega-church.

The gig was exactly as I had hoped for. Low pressure, decent paying, and huge exposure, opening the door for future gigs as this church is chock filled with the young influential movers and shakers of our city.

And they’ve got money.

Most of the cheesy business cards I had made five minutes prior to my arrival were gone by the end of the night. I even chatted with one nice young newly engaged couple that was looking for potential wedding music.

Despite the warm welcome and hospitality, I still left there disturbed. Maybe emotional.

I just don’t know anything anymore.

I’m not a big fan of “leaders” as opposed to the pew-jockey church members. How does all of that add up with “the last shall be first”?

After I played, I hung out in the lobby with the food. Then I went exploring while some motivational speakers were talking.

I just don’t get it anymore. After being imbedded within the poverty culture of the fair mother city and away from the church culture for four years, I feel like Isaiah, “whoa to me. I am ruined”.

I mean, everything in this church’s building was so pristine and excellent. There was a book store in the lobby with all the latest christian products. The furniture in some back hallway was nicer than anything I’ve seen in the homes I’ve visited in recent years. Everything was new, perfect, ornate and sometimes gawdy.

They had a prayer room with the nicest d├ęcor, including framed photos of the president and one with the church’s pastor hugging our area’s republican congressman.

I wonder if they had a photo with the recent 26-year democrat congressman, before the redistricting ousted him a few years ago...

I’m really not trying to judge these folks. Bare with me. This is such culture shock to me. I don't know what to make of it anymore.

Usually church people can use scripture examples to back up this fancy church stuff. I don’t know where these scriptures are, but something about making the house of the lord an excellent place or something.

And I’m well aware that the “how rich/poor you should be” argument cannot be won from either angle. I think.

What really did me in were these signs posted in subtle places around the lobby, by the water fountain, above the men’s urinal, etc. They were stating the church’s mission statement. It was something flowery and vague as expected. But it also had a ”membership covenant” stating “I will...” with bullet points like “serve the pastors”, “obey the leaders”, “give financially”.

Man. I assumed church members just wanted to do those things. I didn’t know they were written down somewhere with guilty overtones.

They were nice hospitable folks and it was a great gig. But it was hard to hold back the tears during my exit.


Mike said...

i didn't know "the lord" had a house. frick. maybe if i went there, to his house, he would talk to me again. i have been trying this stupid prayer thing. duh. of course he can't hear me over his phat sound system blairing tunes in his ears. but now i know. what is the addy, i will write him a letter. i have some questions about his governence of the univers and what not. nothing big, just some issues with genecided and other little things.

or does he have "people" that answer his mail?

maybe i should camp out in front of the gates to his house and hold up a sign? or just egg his limo? anything to get through right?

Neva said...

This is a powerful post. It was also hard for me "hold back the tears" and I am sure our Father is weeping and shaking His head and saying, "Are you still so dense"

Thank you for your thougths,

Pastor Phil said...

Did the bullet points really say, "serve the leaders," and, "obey the pastors?"

Isn't that a bit backwards from the Jesus model?

Matthew said...


Anonymous said...

I think of this movie i cant remember the name of. BUt this guy brings this starving little african kid to this big freakin rich charity banquet like the 1000 dollar a plate type deal. and they almost freakin kill him or something. ANd i go to church and all i can think is prostitue whore drug addict homosexual embezzler adulturer; man that chicks hot; damn you all got some fancy make up; wait stay humble, love them love them love them. Like my freinds had this big freaking debate of wheather you should dress up for church or not and all i can think of is "were made of freakin dirt for Gods sake" but i dont say anything because debating is even more freakin retarded and im not of the right heart to speak andi smell the urin stench from beneath the paint and dirt stains on my only pair of jeans waft upwards and know that my freinds by the riverbank smell 10 times worse and i know that if my freinds are right i am so damned to hell.

Agent B said...

Dr. Phil:

Yes. But you have it reversed (serve pastors, obey leaders).

These are the exact words as I was shocked so I wrote them down on some scrap paper I found in the lobby.

Of course, there were some "good" bullet points, like "I will not gossip about other church members".

But still...

Mark said...

I've finally started meeting (and have a few in my family) those who are really digging into the "health and wealth Gospel" that we've all come to know and love so much. It sounds like this church may have had some run ins with Mister Olsteen.

It's interesting to see people's reactions when you tell them that God doesn't live in a building made by humans hands. Sure everyone knows that, but that still didn't stop the crowds from stoning Stephen. Scary. Good thing that conversation didn't come up while you were at your gig. Tips would've sucked.

Anonymous said...

Idolatry in the church is the ugliest kind.

Mark said...

by the way, loved the title...

Agent B said...

I'm kind of shocked that all of the comments so far are backing me up on this issue.

I really expected someone, if not all, to rip me to shreds for criticizing what is commonly found in North American church culture: wealth and/or appearance over faith.

And honestly, this subject is more difficult for me than expected, as I am a recent product (and former employee) of a seeker-sensitive type church.

In some ways...I believed that God really wanted me and all others to "have nice stuff" ala "good gifts for his children".

Of course, being paid to minister to poor people for several years threw a huge wrench in to this viewpoint...

I still believe in the goodness of god equating good "gifts" (I use that term loosely) in some minor ways (very minor). But no way do I see that a comfortable life is the reason for the faith, etc. Just ask the handful of North Korean christians...

Any more thoughts on this? Comment away. Or soon, I will post on a similar subject and asking for input.

I'm still surprised no one has mentioned my run in with Third Day, or my link to Sun Ra...

Tangerine Tinselbreeze said...

I had a somewhat similar reaction to a church I visited in the BIG city. DFW. Being from a small community, although I have lived in many large cities in the US, I felt like a country mouse visiting a distant city cousin. I did not understand why the embellshments were required. Marble everywhere. The nicest bathroom I have ever seen. I felt like an old grandma saying, " there are starving children in Africa." ( In my head). This particular church I visited had a donations only Starbuck's Bookstore/gift shop HUGE screen TV's in the lobby, a Rock climbing wall and video arcade for the kids. The pastor drove a Viper and dressed like a rock star. It was really overwhelming. I expected his sermon to be watered down. The crazy thing was that it was not. The word was deep. I decided that it was okay to be financially blessed. I could not judge him, or the members. It wasn't my job. I could choose not to worship there. At the same time, these wealthy people in this region were starving for the gospel as much as poor people were starving for food. I rationalized that Jesus would poor out his spirit on all people. Even the plastic, glitzy, well-dressed people if they were truly seeking. There are those that finance a majority of Kingdom work in the world. SO that's my take, but I can respect what you felt given your proximity to the "povery culture."

Agent B said...

Thanks for stopping by Tang,

Yeah, I agree. Jesus is for all - even the rich and/or plastic.

I hope it was clear that I wasn't commenting on the people of this church that I gigged at. They were very accomodating, friendly, and hospitable.

But...I guess I was commenting on them. I mean, they're the ones who built and/or endorse the existence of that fine facility, I suppose.

How does all this fit in with, "sell all you have and give to the poor"?

Honestly, this is one of the main reasons my wife and I operate outside the institutional church. The fact that a church pools their money together via tithes, then they have so much of it that they can build this mega facility...I, I don't know. I can't give in to that.

Anyway, one of the many quotes from Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution:

"I did a ton of research on tithes and offerings in Scripture, and discovered they are unmistakably intended to be used for redistributing resources to the poor and not go toward buildings and staff for the church."

I thought the bluntness of that was kinda funny...