The well-known megachurch pastor was exhausted as he headed off the stage at the end of the third service. “Just one more meet-n-greet and then I’m done,” he thought. “I can’t wait to escape into my office and put my feet up and eat my sandwich.”
The meet-n-greet room was packed, though, with dozens of people wanting a chance to shake the great man’s hand and tell him their story.
One couple from the Midwest cornered him and told him that God had told them they were to move to his city and be a part of his ministry. “Has God been talking to you about us moving here?” the woman asked. “Is there a position open for me?” asked the husband. “We’re sure this is God…we put our house up for sale…we’re looking for a place to live near here…” they both went on talking excitedly at the same time.
The tired megapastor just shook his head agreeably and said, “If God is in it, he will make the way.” And then the pastor moved on to greet the elderly woman who had been grasping his arm and trying to pull him away from the other couple. “Pastor, I’ve been coming to your church for five years now and you have never even greeted me. I bet you don’t even know my name. And yet I pray for you every day. Shame on you for not even noticing me.”
I am so sorry,” the pastor replied. “But how many times have you come and introduced yourself to me? I can’t recall meeting you at one of these meet-n-greets before, and there are thousands of people at each service, how come you waited so long to introduce yourself?” The woman was at a loss for words and the pastor quickly moved on to the next person.
And so it went, person after person, everyone with a story or a concern or just wanting to connect with their pastor. Until suddenly, after the room had emptied out a bit, the pastor looked across the room and made eye contact with someone he recognized, a well-known movie star who had played a leading role in one of his favorite movies. The pastor quickly excused himself from the line of people waiting to talk to him and made his way over to the celebrity. “I’m so glad you are here!” the pastor gushed. “You are one of my favorite actors! I loved your movie! What brings you here today?”
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” said the celebrity. “I just feel like there is something missing in my life. I was raised in church and I thought maybe I might go back to my roots. But this is so different than what I grew up with. When I went to church as a kid everyone knew each other, and people cared about each other and helped each other out. It seems like people here don’t even know each other or care about what is going on in each other’s lives. It’s all so different.
“And watching you and the worship team this morning,” he continued, “I got the feeling that your job isn’t all that much different than mine. When the lights go on and the cameras start rolling, we have to perform, we have to stick to the script and play our role the best we can. And even when the lights go down and the show is over, we still have to perform, have to be nice to everyone that recognizes us. I feel sorry for you, to be honest. At least I have places where I can go and hide; it seems like this is your life 24/7.”
And with that the celebrity turned and walked away. This time it was the pastor who was at a loss for words, which didn’t happen very often. That night, though, as he laid in bed and listened to his wife snore, he thought about what the celebrity had said.
“He was right,” the pastor thought. “Our jobs aren’t that different. We both play a role and follow the script, even if I do write the script or choose which one we will follow. We both have supporting actors and musicians that we have to work with. The whole service is choreographed and practiced just like a play or a concert. And the show’s not over when the service ends, I still have to play a role for all the people who come to my church.
“What has happened to me?” he thought. “I didn’t go to seminary to become a playactor. I had a passion for God and wanted to serve Him and His people. Where is God in all this? When was the last time I really connected with Him? The church has really grown and people say I am a success, but is He really pleased with me? Does He want me to go on putting on a show every Sunday or does He was something different from His church? It is His church, after all, even if I don’t think about it much anymore….”
The megapastor’s thoughts haunted him for many weeks to come, both night and day, whenever there was a quiet time when he could be alone with his own thoughts. Memories of people whom he had hurt in his pursuit of excellence and success made him feel guilty. Unresolved conflicts and bitter disputes had left him with a bitterness of soul that could not be denied. He was filled with anxiety over declining attendance numbers and increasing interest rates on the multimillion-dollar mortgage for the new church auditorium.
“How did I get into this mess?” the pastor asked himself. “What should be a dream come true has become my worst nightmare. I’m a powerful preacher of the Good News but I feel so empty and sad, like I’m just playing a role, going through the motions. I’m known as a pastor but I don’t really shepherd anyone. I’m afraid that when I stand before the Lord, I won’t get a “Well done, faithful servant” but will instead be like the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34. Or even worse, when I call out “Lord, Lord,” will He say to me, “Depart from Me, I never knew you”?
As the feelings of hopelessness, despair, and anxiety continued to increase, the megapastor realized that despite his mega-status, he was in desperate need of some help. He wisely reached out to a counselor who helped him work through his feelings, get re-connected with God, and take a Sabbatical to work through his issues.
Even though the fictional pastor above is just fine now, the question he asked still remains. How did we get into this mess? How did we get to the point where Sunday morning services are a performance instead of a family meeting for God and His people? How did worship become something we watch rather than something we do? How did prayer become something only the professionals do? Why has godly living gone out of style and love for the world become acceptable? Why do churchgoers say they love Jesus but don’t even try to follow Him or keep His commands?
There is a disconnect in the Body of Christ today. We read one thing in the Bible and then do another. We know God’s will but then go do our own will instead. We exalt a pastor and put the whole weight of the church on his shoulders and then we’re surprised when he falls. We know what church should be like but we still go on putting on performances. And it’s not just pastors and church leaders that do the playacting, it’s all of us to some degree. Let’s get on our faces in repentance, there is no other way.
Let’s Pray Together:Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do, especially when it comes to how we do church. We have made a mess of Your church and of our lives. Sometimes we know what we should do but we refuse to do it or fail to do it. Other times sin and darkness and deception are so pervasive that we don’t even know the way out of the mess we have made. Help us to stop putting on performances and to be real with one another. Help us all realize that every member of the Body has a function and each one has spiritual gifts, testimonies, and teachings to share with the rest of the Body. Help us to see Your church as You see it, as a Body, as a Family of God, as a living organism instead of as a performance or a building. Be with these churches and people that I bring before You now….(continue praying as you feel led)
Questions for Discussion and Contemplation
How did we get to this current church model that makes many church services a performance? Why do we do church the way we do? What could we do differently?
Many suggestions have been made to help churches become more Biblical in their approach. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the following ideas:
Make services more participatory and less performance-oriented. Throw away the script and call upon many different people to teach, read Scripture, give testimonies, share an encouraging word or whatever is on their hearts.
Follow the Biblical pattern of having teaching elders that share the teaching and leadership load rather than having just one pastor who does it all.
Encourage worship leaders to lead in prayer and worship rather than putting on a performance. The emphasis should be on leading people into God’s presence with an attitude and posture of worship rather than excellent musicianship. Leaders should be worshippers themselves and give invitations to enter into worship by singing, clapping, kneeling, raising hands, giving shouts of praise, quiet prayers, whatever seems appropriate and pleasing to the Spirit.
Even large congregations can become more participatory by breaking up into smaller groups for prayer, to share testimonies, or discuss a sermon point or life application. Teaching tools such as these are commonplace in schools and training workshops today. Why should churches cling to the lecture and think that it is the most effective way for people to learn?
Facilitate the “doing one-anothers” and encourage love among the people by promoting home groups, common meals, fellowship times before and after services, Bible study groups, prayer groups, ministry groups, etc. People can’t really love one another, care for one another, encourage one another, exhort one another, teach one another, pray for another, help one another, etc., unless they know one another.
Scriptures to Study: 1 Cor 12, Rom. 12:1-16, Eph. 4, Acts 2:42-47, Col. 3 (There are no Scriptures for doing church in its modern form of watching sermons and worship teams. These developments came many centuries after the New Testament was written.)