January 26, 2021

Two Churches that Closed Down the “Show”

'walk away.' photo (c) 2010, Valerie  Mcgovern - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/By Chaplain Mike

This week, as we’ve been discussing the church, I have read two intriguing stories of megachurches that began and grew explosively using an attractional, seeker-oriented philosophy of ministry, but then decided that approach was contrary to Jesus’ call to discipleship. So they closed down the “show,” re-ordered their priorities, revamped their programs, and began stressing spiritual formation and missional living.

Give them credit for trying to move away from the evangelical megachurch circus.

The first is a 2008 article in Leadership called, “Showtime” No More!” by Pastor Walt Kallestad of Community Church of Joy in Phoenix.

The second is the book, Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation, by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, co-pastors of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California.

I found hope in reading these stories. Both are worth your time. Both contain many points and emphases that evangelical churches (in the U.S. in particular) need to hear. Both show what happens when church leaders actually take seriously the prophetic voices of people like Dallas Willard, Robert Webber, and Eugene Peterson, writers we have commended here on IM.

Both also raise some questions in my mind.

In 1978, a young Lutheran pastor named Walt Kallestad was assigned to a small church in Glendale, Arizona. Over time, that little congregation of 200 grew exponentially into a megachurch with 12,000 people in attendance. And so Community Church of Joy became something of an oxymoron: a Lutheran megachurch (there are fewer than a dozen in the U.S.).

It all started when Pastor Kallestad attended a conference that included church leaders like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren and learned about designing ministries for those who had been turned off by traditional churches. A natural evangelist, Kallestad ate it up and became committed to an approach he called, “entertainment evangelism”: “The only way to capture people’s attention is entertainment, I thought. If I want people to listen to my message, I’ve got to present it in a way that grabs their attention long enough for me to communicate the gospel.”

So our church strategy revolved around the gravitational force of entertainment for evangelism. We hired the best musicians we could afford; we used marketing principles and programming specialists—for the gospel’s sake. Attendance skyrocketed. More people meant more staff, more programs, more facilities, more land, and of course the need for more money. We became a program-driven church attracting consumers looking for the latest and greatest religious presentations.

However, after years of running the “show,” Kallestad became personally burned out and disillusioned by the results. He had built a great church organization, but the church was not producing disciples.

Our church was a great organization. But something was missing. We weren’t accomplishing our mission; we weren’t creating transformed, empowered disciples.

We’d put all our energies into dispensing religious goods and services. But our people weren’t touching our community. If our church, with its sheer number of people, was populated with disciples, we would be feeding the hungry, building meaningful relationships with neighbors, and transforming our community. But we were neither salt nor light.

After pouring more than 25 years of my life into this church, I knew we weren’t developing disciples who were taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. We’d produced consumers—like Pac- Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.

Too many were observing the show but not meeting God. They meandered in and out of relationships but weren’t in real community. They sought their spiritual fix but didn’t give themselves fully to Christ.

After a heart attack served as a wake-up call, Walt Kallestad took a sabbatical to seek God and visit churches where God was moving and people’s lives being transformed. When he came back and observed his own congregation, he saw a marked difference and knew something had to change. In fact, radical changes were in order. “We didn’t need to tweak our methodology, we needed a modelectomy.”

They let their hired musicians go and began using volunteers. They stopped encouraging people to remain anonymous spectators and began challenging them to get involved in the life of the fellowship. Instead of having all “ministry” revolve around the organization, they released people to start their own ministries in the community. They moved from a high control/low accountability style of leadership to low control/high accountability.

They lost thousands of people in the process, but Kallestad thinks they are moving in the right direction.

• • •

In 1990, seven leaders from a church of 200 members in Folsom, California attended a conference at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, IL. As was the case with so many young pastors in those days, Bill Hybels’ challenging question, “Lost people matter to God; do they really matter to you?” caught their imagination, and they went back to their church inspired and energized to reach their community for Christ using the successful methods they had heard about and seen in action at Willow Creek. “We bought into this philosophy of how to do church with total and almost reckless abandon.” (p. 22)

Within a couple of years, over 1000 were in attendance, and during the 90’s they topped 1700 in their Sunday “seeker services,” which was impressive in their small community. The “new community” meetings on Thursday night, specifically designed for teaching believers, had an attendance of about 400. The leaders made annual pilgrimages to Willow, and others began to notice their success and look to them for advice at conferences and events.

However, the constant demands of their ministry approach began wearing on them, and questions began creeping into their minds.

During these days there was a growing and nagging realization that there simply was no way we could attend carefully to a rich and full life with God and still live at the pace we were living. In addition, we also began to grow increasingly uneasy that this model of doing church might be unhealthy for the people whose understanding of the Christian life was shaped by a church culture that treated them as religious consumers. …We might be able to speak on the more radical teachings of Jesus, and we did with some regularity, but our model of doing church was louder. The medium is indeed the message. (p. 28f)

In the midst of the stressful demands and vague unease, many of the leaders were feeding their souls through reading authors like Merton and Nouwen, Foster and Peterson, as well as works of classic spirituality. Then they discovered Dallas Willard and Pastor Mike Lueken enrolled in a DMin class with Willard that proved to be deeply unsettling. And then came the breakthrough.

At their 2000 summer leadership retreat at Donner Lake, California, they read a book by Lyle Schaller that included a chapter on the subject of “consumerism” as a fact of life in contemporary America. In the course of their discussion,

…we began to get some clarity on a troubling truth: attracting people to church based on their consumer demands is in direct and irredeemable conflict with inviting people, in Jesus’ words, to lose their lives in order to find them. It slowly began to dawn on us that our method of attracting people was forming them in ways contrary to the way of Christ.

Throughout the rest of that year and through 2001, they began to teach differently about the purpose of the church. They altered their seeker service and began emphasizing discipleship. They eliminated the midweek believer’s service since its purpose was now being duplicated on Sundays. Over the course of that year, they lost 1000 people.

The succeeding chapters describe the new emphases that Carlson and Lueken began to teach about and implement at Oak Hills.

  • The Gospel of the Kingdom: the good news that God’s reign over all of life is now available in Jesus and that followers of Jesus can experience its reality in their lives here and now.
  • The problem of consumerism: They began to fight the pervasive spirit in our culture that tells us the most important thing in life is having my wants and preferences satisfied, including my religious cravings.
  • The problem of leadership ambition: They saw that our culture’s pastoral ethic of productivity and “success” rather than faithfulness has fueled the fires of ministerial ambition and caused church leaders to value external measures of achievement. One step they took to “unplug” from the leadership style of the consumeristic megachurch was to share oversight of the congregation as co-pastors.
  • A renewed understanding of the church: They began to see the mission of the church as, “to invite people to experience the reality of life in the kingdom of God.” They began to emphasize the priority of spiritual formation, to promote a missional approach to outreach in contrast to their previous attractional philosophy, and to engage in renewed worship services that tell and celebrate God’s story by giving priority to solid content and structure while encouraging creativity and freedom within a coherent framework.

The final chapter of Renovation of the Church is important. In it the authors share many of the mistakes they made along the way. They didn’t always lead in a Christ-like manner. They drove change from the top down and were not always aware of what it was doing to people. They admit to being insensitive and impatient, to not listening well and talking far too much, to taking an activist approach and not praying adequately, to not recognizing the danger of creating a spiritual “elite” in the congregation and forgetting those who were at other places in their faith journey, to focusing on the negative and deconstructing what they were against rather than offering positive alternatives. In their zeal to implement a new vision, their theory often was ahead of their own formation and they failed to live out what they were preaching.

• • •

'Seeing the light' photo (c) 2011, Jenny Poole - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/What then, shall we say to these stories?

(1) Give these pastors and churches credit for waking up and seeing the problems.

(2) Give them credit for doing something about the problems.

(3) Give them credit for addressing some of evangelicalism’s most glaring weaknesses: selling out to American culture, providing entertainment worship, evaluating success on external measures, failing to make disciples, propping up a Christian subculture that takes Christians away from their mission in the world, and perverting Christian leadership into a competitive, entrepreneurial business vocation which can easily degenerate into personal kingdom building.

But I have some concerns, too.

(1) An aggressive pietism is not necessarily the best answer to consumeristic religion. To their credit, Carlson and Lueken recognize the tendency to become demanding and ungracious in promoting discipleship and spiritual formation, as well as the danger of encouraging spiritual elitism. Nevertheless, I wish more was said in both these stories about the overwhelming grace of God and about the irresistible attracting love and hospitality of Jesus in welcoming us out of our self-centered lives into the God-soaked reality of the Kingdom. Instead, I sometimes get the idea that now it is the church’s job to engineer spiritual formation and missional living simply by altering our message and getting passionate and changing our program so that it encourages people to get busy doing something different.

Whether we’re catering to consumerism or emphasizing spiritual formation, we can still find ourselves promoting self-centered religion. A lot of “law” gets press in these narratives—you must not be consumers, you must engage in serious spiritual practices, you must not merely seek entertainment, you must live missional lives, and so on. Despite its name, evangelicalism is not always strong on providing the objective teaching and means to counter our impulse to provide for our spiritual wellbeing through our own good works.

(2) Can we trust this kind of leadership? From what I’ve read in Walt Kallestad’s article and in Carlson and Lueken’s book, I would infer that these are solid, well-intentioned ministers who are trying to hear from God and lead their congregations in Christ. So what I say next is not personal, but more fundamental than that.

Were these and other pastors WRONG back in the 1980’s about the seeker movement? Did God lead them then, when they set up churches according to the seeker model and promoted “entertainment evangelism”? What are we to say about the dramatic change in understanding they received along the way? Is this just par for the course, a natural part of the journey of faith for a pastor and other church leaders?

And if so, what about all the people who trusted their certainty and passion at earlier stages of the journey? If those folks are not ready to “move on” when the leader takes a right turn and starts running down a different path, are they just out of luck? Thousands of people left the two churches whose stories are noted above. Why should any of them believe the next evangelical church, with no ties to any tradition or foundation bigger than itself, that speaks to them with certainty about God and right ways of living?

Are the methods of “doing church” subject to the whims and enthusiasms of church leaders who “ride the waves” of the Spirit? What’s to say this new emphasis on “spiritual formation” and “missional living” won’t go the way of the dinosaur when the next asteroid shower of church leadership fads hits?

There is a lot to recommend in these stories.

There are some fundamental questions still to be resolved.


  1. Richard McNeeley says

    “they released people to start their own ministries in the community”

    I’ve always thought that the ministry fo the church should be out in the community and not confined inside a building.

    • Vilmarie Nixon says

      100 % agree. we are all minister of the Gospel (everywhere we go). The Church building or Church name is not necessary for us to engage in ministry.

  2. These situations was touched on briefly in the other recent post on “Some Things I Believe about the Church”.

    A pastor with a strong personality can take a church in almost any direction. This is just one of those directions. And what happens when one of these pastors leaves, retires, dies, etc… without passing the torch to another strong personality? And this usually only works when it is a son or son in law as such a strong personality usually makes it very hard to for a church to develop an internal replacement.

    In my opinion these churches many times die off. Look at the Crystal Cathedral for example #1.

    Were they right in changing direction? Most likely. But should they be leading things. Now or then? Maybe not.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Great post by CM on this topic – lots of good info and many things stated in ways that I couldn’t but were things I had thought about. Regarding change in direction – my big issue is new pastors coming into churches with their hand picked loyal staff and doing a church version of an H-Bomb and decimating a congregation so he can build his kindom at their expense. What of God’s kingdom?? What of the people whose lives have been destroyed, whose spiritual growth is throttled/slowed or stopped altogether?? Why is there this felt need to fix what does not need to be fixed to begin with. Adjustments, polishing a little refocus – sure that’s needed and expected from time to time but you do not have to decimate/destroy a congregation to do so! I’ve seen this in a big way in a former church (2 churches ago) and to a lesser degree in the last one and our current church – a progressive COC that’s in the middle trying to shake off some of the bad theology and doctrine that the old hard line over legalistic vesions around the southeast have yet I see little tinges of PDC style stuff, seeker style and the family oriented how to live life good type of messages. We can handle it right now but the future…… who knows – only God knows but right now it’s a wilderness for me and my wife.

  3. Charles Joshua Lake says

    There is a lot of wisdom in the last section of the post. Thank you.

  4. Mark Copley says

    Thanks for telling this story. Surely many pastors can relate.

  5. Martin Romero says

    I’ve only read the article by Pastor Walt Kallestad, due to lack of time. It is very interesting and I do think it shows a lot to celebrate and be glad about… However, there is something that is bothering me and I can not clearly point at. I guess that my concern with some of what I read is related with the congregation now having a mainly “missional” focus. While that is certainly something to be welcomed, as I believe it’s a fundamental part of what the Church is, I’m not completely sure that should be the main focus, or the only one.

    Recently we’ve finished a series of Bible studies in my congregation, going through 1st Corinthians. We spent quite a long time in chapters 12-14, talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The main point I got from all that is that whatever gift we’ve got they are to be used to build up each other in Christ, building up the Church, and love being the engine moving all forward and the all-encompassing context within which those gifts should be used. Although I can see that evangelisation would be a logical consequence of that, I couldn’t sense in Paul’s text that the main purpose of all that was “mission”, besides some parts in the text that mention non-believers or inquirers attending services (1 Cor. 14:22-26).

    Just yesterday I was with a group of friends and we were talking about the Christian Union at the university we attend. He then said something about it, in the past and years before I came here, focusing on mission and building each other up in Christ, and then transitioning toward just mission. In that sense, I have the feeling that church life should find a good balance between looking both outwards and inwards. If only looking inwards it might risks becoming elitist and self-centered, while if it only looks outwards it might risk focusing so much on those coming in that it forgets the needs of those already inside, or move them to a second plane. Therefore, I think a sound approach for church might be both “pastoral and missional”, rather than just one or the other. Well, certainly not “entertainmental”.

    Maybe it’s just me. As I’ve been going through my own Christian life paths and struggles, I have had some previous experiences that certainly tint my points of view and opinions… Fortunately, my word is definitely not the final one!

    Just as a side note, I live very close to the St Thomas church mentioned in the article. I attended there for about 6 weeks a couple of years ago until I moved to another congregation. Not a bad church, and I think it was what I needed at the time. However, I guess that wasn’t the place for me to stay in the end. In any case, it was surprising to find a reference to Sheffield in the article and I would mostly agree with his description of the church.

    • Martin Romero says

      On second thought, maybe I’m just not getting what exactly they mean with “missional”?

    • Laurel Hubbard says

      WELL SAID!! Balance is worthwhile and healthy.

    • David Morris says

      I was a student in Sheffield 10 years ago and remember St Thomas, Crookes well. They still had services in the old Roxy Club downtown back then. It was a great place, but I felt called to somewhere smaller and wound up at a small Methodist Church in Broomhill. I love the school of theology that St Tom’s is now doing. I wish wish wish they had done that when I was a student.

  6. Mike touched on this in “Can we trust this kind of leadership?”. The problem is that the pastor decided to do the seeker oriented mega-church, and the pastor decided to change course. I am tired of a system that creates narcissistic pastors who radically change course, even if the course may be correct. Instead of focusing on the pastor and the books he writes, what about the thousands of people left wondering what is true?

    • I have to question any system that makes it possible for a group of leaders to go away on one retreat and then return and change the whole direction of a church’s life and ministry, for better or worse.

    • +1

      Maybe the worship show ended, but the pastor show must go on.

      There was a Lutheran mega-church in Arizona, where the pastor boasted of reducing the service to 20 minutes by eliminating communion and the sermon. I don’t know if this was the same one, but how many Lutheran megachurches are there in Arizona? Either way, Kallestad seems go from seeker-sensitive to individual pietism. There is no mention about rediscovering the place of the sacraments in worship.

    • Here’s what I don’t trust–leaders who won’t change their minds, no matter what. I feel a lot more comfortable being led by people who have the courage and humility to admit that they aren’t done growing yet.

    • Why does Christianity have so much narcissim in it? I find it interesting given the calls by Jesus to humility and to lay down all pride. Is narcissism a sin that is accepted and practiced? There’s a magnet of these types of people to Christinaity. It’s not only with leading but also with certainity. You know…always having the answer and not being able to say from the stage, “I don’t know….”

      • I agree there’s a lot of narcissism in the church and that it’s a big problem. But I don’t think pride is a Christian problem. I think it’s a human problem. It’s just really easy to take advantage of Christians when part of the message is “give up yourself”. The rest of the world doesn’t have a problem with narcissistic people, because the world teaches that *I* should have that same attitude. In the church, when everyone is supposed to be giving, the few people taking have a real easy time.

  7. I can only speak of Walt Kallestad, as he is a personal and very dear friend. I walked with him thru much of the stormy change that came about in his church. He repented before the Lord of how he had “done ministry” for so long. Then he repented before his staff–and close to half quit. They didn’t want to give up programs for discipleship. Then he repented before his congregation, and thousands never returned. They wanted to be entertained.

    He is not perfect. But he is a man after God’s own heart. I can’t answer Chaplain Mike’s question about why he did ministry the way he did before he repented and changed to a discipleship model. Those who left when it was no longer a show can be, I think, compared with those who left Jesus when he uttered hard sayings like “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” or, “hate your spouse, your children, your parents.”

    I’m really glad Chaplain Mike brought these stories to our attention.

  8. I grew up in ministry in churches that either were seeker-friendly and very large, or attempting to become seeker-friendlier and larger than they were. We did it all…massive building projects that we couldn’t really afford, with the idea that we were “stepping out in faith” (if you build it, they will come…); big production music; smoke machines; concert lighting; professional sound techs; guest speakers like John Maxwell, Bruce Wilkinson, and whoever the Promise Keepers’ “flavor of the month” might be.

    I picked up Merton’s “Thoughts in Solitude” in the midst of it all, on impulse, out of a section of the local Christian bookstore I had never perused before. It was intriguing, so the next time I was in there, I went to the back of the store, to that section again. I read everything Brennan Manning had to offer. I picked up Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship”. “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” led to C.S. Lewis’ “Weight of Glory”, followed by Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”. Eventually, I wound up reading Webber, Galli, Eusebius, Bede, Tickle’s “Ancient Practices” series, and others that not only weren’t making the cut to be in the front of the store, they weren’t even in the store! Thank God that Border’s and Amazon.com carry Christian books with depth!

    In my first seven years of ministry, I had not one single person in my life who stressed the importance of spiritual disciplines, outside of instructions to read the Bible, pray, participate in Wednesday night discipleship classes, and have an “accountability partner” at all times (From the Greek, the words “accountability partner” translates into “I’m going to tell you some sins I’ve committed, and you tell me yours, but let’s minimize them as much as we can, so we look really holy, ok? By the way, do you like my new Audio Adrenaline t-shirt?”).

    The people I was reading on my own were considered apostate (if they even knew what the word “apostate” meant) by my fellow pastors, some old Catholic trickery, except, of course, for C.S. Lewis (They didn’t know he was Anglican). As I pursued ordination in the Anglican church, a pastor from my old denomination told me that he heard I was “doing all kinds of incantations and stuff, burning incense, and wearing robes “. No matter how much I talk to some of the folks from my former churches about this new, rich life I’ve found, they just don’t get it.

    I’m sorry that the pastors in this article have lost so many people from their churches, but I believe they’re in a refining process, learning that attendance numbers don’t necessarily reflect success in ministry. They’re returning to their first love…I would almost equate it with leaving your mistress, who’s hot, exciting, and wild, to go back to your wife…her beauty doesn’t necessarily lie in the physical, or in the daring, but there’s a depth to her love that makes her absolutely ravishing. It’s a choice between the strip in Las Vegas vs. the little country road I grew up on. Vegas is exciting, but it will wear you out and beat you down, take everything you have, and leave you feeling empty. The simple road leads to a place of comfort, rest, growth, and peace. The grass is green, and it’s real. It’s not open all night, but when you wake up in the morning, you’re refreshed, not hung over from the “joy” of the night before.

  9. One more Mike says

    Nothing to cheer about here. Mega-church pastors writing books about how not to be like all those other mega-churches. (yawn) They’ve had “epiphanies” (not to be confused with the real “Epiphany”) and have fallen on their faces and begged forgiveness for how they’ve being doing God’s work here on earth “wrong” for the past 25 years. I just read the “christianity today” article for the second time and I think I’m going to go kick a cat. I hate evangelicalism in its present, manipulative form as much as anyone who comments on this blog, and I can smell pastoral manipulational way before it pops up over the horizon. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s many evangelical churches began discipleship programs which bred little cults of super-christians that fell lock-step into the church growth mantra. These churches (and I was a life-long member of one) lost members (like me), but attracted many more with programs and shows, thus where evangelicalism is today. These guys are using the same terminology, i.e., pruning, splitting families, friends, using “the word as a sword” as the early church growthers did (I guess they’re counting on short memories).

    This is the next step in the church growth movement, it’s the same non-accountable pastoral arrogance run amuck. Church growth has stabilized and now the church growth folks are retrenching and going after those people who are searching for more spirituality, who are going to be more long term “consumers” than the easily attracted and easily lost “happy, clappy” generation of church goers. Yeah, they’re really sorry about how they “did church” for the last 25 years, and they’re really sorry about all those folks they attracted with programs and entertainment, but now they’re on a new mission, and the folks they attracted at the expense of those of us in the “wilderness” are now in wildernesses of their own. Oh well, hate it for ya, we’re movin’ on. It’s a gamble, and there may be rough times when the notes come due on the $12M mortgages, but the model worked in the past, and it will work again, that’s what they’re counting on. They have no conscience, their arrogance still has no bounds, and these guys are the “willow creek” for the next generation.

    The only upshot is that this is one more indicator that the “Coming evangelical collapse” is right on schedule, maybe even a little ahead, and Micheal Spencer was right. As always. I’m going to be humming “Won’t get fooled again” the rest of the day.

  10. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but after reading this article, what came to mind was how grateful I am that I’m Catholic! The teachings or directions have not changed in over 2000 years and I can go to any Catholic Church anywhere in the world and it would be as though I was attending mass at the church by my home. It’s not dependent on a popular preacher and it’s goal is not meant to entertain; it’s meant to bring us closer to Christ, period!
    I attend mass at a very faithful church in an abbey of Norbertine Priests that happens to be just up the hill from Rick Warren’s Huge Saddleback Church and as I pass it on the way, it appears more like a social gathering than worshipping Christ.

    • “The teachings or directions have not changed in over 2000 years…” ???

      Apparently you have not read your own Church’s history! Also, I doubt that you are older than 50 years of age and cannot remember the days when Latin was the lingua franca of the Mass, only tried and true hymns were sung, nuns wore habits and priests ALWAYS wore their black suits with Roman collars.

      Even the Catholic Church has bowed, at times, to cultural forces…even if it IS the Pope who makes those changes.

    • I hate to burst your bubble, Lisa, but of course the teachings and directions of the Catholic Church have changed over the last 2000 years. For three examples, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed in 1854, the dogma of papal infallibility when speaking ex cathedra was proclaimed in 1870, and the dogma of the Assumption was not proclaimed until 1950. These examples are remarkably (and alarmingly) similar to the way the Mormons decided to renounce polygamy just as Utah was trying to attain statehood in 1896 (polygamy was — and is — against the law in the U.S.) and also decided many decades later, during the Civil Rights movement days, that black Mormons could advance in their ranks. Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but I trust you get my point. Also, when you say you can go to any Catholic Church anywhere in the world and it would be as though were attending the church by your home, you are saying the same thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses say about their group.

      Please don’t misread me; I am not at all intending to imply that the Catholic Church is a cult like the other two groups I mentioned. It’s not. You are my sister in Christ. But to insist that your church hasn’t changed in 2000 years just doesn’t hold water no matter how many times someone says it.

    • Lisa, I get the spirit of what you’re saying.

      I don’t think Lisa intended to imply that absolutely nothing has changed about the Catholic Church in 2000 years. The point she’s making is that when you consider orthopraxy and orthodoxy, someone who is a Catholic today would feel at home in a Catholic Church today or 1000 years ago (even if the Mass was in Latin); and would feel at home no matter where the church was geographically.

      rhymeswithplague, maybe your point would be better made by talking about changes in Protestant churches that claim orthodoxy, or the be “the true path”. I can’t even consider ideologies of Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in comparism with the largest Christian denomination on the planet. Methodism gave birth to charismatic movements that are profoundly different in theology; TEC has changed on issues of ordination of women, homosexuals, and priests who are as near to universalism in theology as can be; Baptist seminaries have gone from conservative teaching to liberal to reformed (it’s funny to think that the “hip” seminaries are producing so many reformed pastors these days); Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian groups have splintered over theological issues.

      I guess my point is, though the Catholic Church has changed in some ways, the core of it has remained the same. It’s had its warts, for sure, but I haven’t read about any Catholic Priests serving communion to dogs, practicing Islam for 40 days to celebrate Lent, or baptizing an individual multiple times to pad numbers.

      Maybe compared to the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church appears to be in a constant state of change. It sure appears more stable at its core from what I’ve experienced in Protestantism, looking at it from the outside.

    • I agree with you, LisaC.

    • Lisa but the Catholic church has its own problems. I think the biggest problem is the credibility issue it now faces becuase of the pedophile scandal that seems to be ongoing. Instead of the United States now its popping up in other parts of the world. How the church has reacted in the past also has caused a loss of credibility. Instead of helping the victims, part of the church protected the pedophiles. That’s just horrifying for me.

      • By the way and I don’t just think this is an issue that affects Catholics. I think many fundgelicals are in denial about this issue also.

        • Eagle, I’m of the opinion that anywhere children are, there pedophiles will be. In our little corner of rural Georgia, I can think of three Baptist youth pastors, a well-respected high school coach with deep roots in the community, and an elementary school teacher of 20+ years who have been caught either sexually abusing children, or possessing and distributing child pornography…This is in a three county area, within the past year. I agree with you that this is not just a Catholic issue…it’s a cultural issue.

          I think it’s a bit of a reach to offer up the problem of pedophilia as a part of this particular conversation. Yes, pedophilia is a worldwide concern. Yes, it has been covered up in the past. Yes, it was horrible. But it’s not a reflection of Lisa’s experience with the Catholic Church. If we dug deeply enough, I’m sure we would find just as many children who have been abused by Muslims, agnostics, atheists, teachers, Baptists, and the list goes on and on….

          • One more Mike says


          • Lee…

            I’m in complete agreement with you. If my post came across as something different than that was not intended. Pedophila will happen in all walks of life. Whereever there are children it will be present. My parents want me to return to Catholicism and the entire pedophilia scandal bothered me greatly. If I can have faith again I can’t imagine going to a church, ANY CHURCH, that disguises, protects, shelters the molester and targets the victim and causes more harm by challenging the claim.

          • I understand your concerns. I’ve read your comments about your history, and how you’ve been burned in the past by institutional Christianity…church, para-church, whatever it is, it’s institutional. I can tell you that I’ve been burned just as badly. I eventually found some peace in a small Episcopal church, attending anonymously, not getting noticed by anyone, not really agreeing with a lot of things TEC is doing these days…but hungry for the Eucharist, restoration, refreshment, and inner peace about faith. I found it there, in a church with plaster falling off the walls, priests that were paid waaay too much, and an attendance of about 20 people at the service I would attend. At age 42, I was the youth group at this little gathering, as well. I hope you can find a place that offers you a similar peace. Ministry certainly hasn’t been perfect for me since that time, but I’m pushing on.

            People are rotten at times, no doubt. We Christians, myself included, give Christianity a bad name. I had to make myself suck it up and have the resolve to battle through my questions about faith, with a goal of restored love for the church, restored passion for my relationship with God. I hope you can find those things, as well….I eventually did, but not without great effort. I’ll stand in a pulpit for the first time in almost three years this Sunday, and deliver a message…say a prayer for me, but if you can’t do that right now, just wish me luck. I’ll do the same for you.

            In the meantime, I continue to enjoy your honesty, transparency, and thoughtful comments…even when I might debate a little. That’s what we do out here in the wilderness, isn’t it?


          • I don’t think it’s a stretch for Eagle to use this as an illustration of one of the weaknesses of the Catholic church. What allowed the pedophiles within the church to continue in many cases was a coverup of it by the hierarchy. That hierarchy is at once one of the Catholic church’s greatest strengths, and, when it fails as it did in many of these cases, one of its greatest weaknesses. When it failed in the case of pedophiles, it greatly increased and prolonged the damage caused.

            Christ is the head of the church, but every congregation and system on earth is composed of some very fallible human beings still capable of sin. The minute we forget that, we set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations and inevitable disappointment.

    • Hasn’t it only been since Vatican II in the 1960’s that the Roman Catholic Church has restored the chalice to the laity? For those who value the sacraments, that is a pretty big change.

  11. “Those who were His true servants denounced the entertainments, socials, and other worldly devices employed by the churches to hold the young people.Those who were the true servants of Christ refused to use carnal methods for adding numbers of nominal professors to their membership.”

    ~A.W. Pink~


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’d be leery of citing A.W.Pink. The original Internet Monk had a couple essays on him as a “What Not to do”. A.W.Pink was one of those Perfectly Parsed Theology types, who wound up worshipping alone each Sunday because All Churches Were Apostate — he’d analyzed ALL their Theologies and found Error according to his Perfectly Parsed Theology.

  12. I thought that the general opinion was that “church as show” was one of the primary things wrong with contemporary evangelicalism and that a return to spiritual formation would be a good thing. I’m somewhat perplexed by the reaction to these examples of that sort of redirection.

    • I hope you saw the positive points I made in the post, dk. I affirm much in the direction these churches have taken, and indeed, that direction is parallel to much that I have written here on iMonk. Still, there are some basic ecclesiology issues that remain unresolved, as well as a few theological concerns.

      • I felt the same as DK. At the end of the post you almost seemed impossible to please. You condemn showy churches, and when they repent and try to change, you write it off as “aggressive peitism”. What exactly would you applaud?

        • Did not mean to leave that impression about the specific situations. I really do applaud their course. I guess what I was trying to say that changes like these, as good as they may be, do not get to the root problems in free church evangelicalism IMO.

  13. “Seeker Friendly” is out,”Spiritual Formation” is now “in”? Hmmm…now THERE’S a buzz word if EVER I heard one! To MY critical ears “spiritual formation” sounds pretty generic and not very specific in its goals. How about “Creating passionate disciples of Jesus Christ” for a motto?

    The name of Christ will winnow out a whole host of people, I’m afraid.

  14. Chaplain Mike. I love it. You are so Lutheran. I appreciate how you pointed out how good and right things like spirtual formation can still be part of a theology of glory as opposed to the theology of the cross. Good stuff.

  15. First of all, kudos to the pastoral leadership at these churches. As we all know here, this kind of humble introspection is incredibly rare among pastoral leadership.

    In regards to Chaplain Mike’s questions,

    Whether aggressive pietism is the right response to consumeristic religion.

    My two cents on this is two two-fold:
    1) This might be part of the dilemma of being at a mega-church. Changing directions in any large organization, whether church or large business, is like changing course with a battleship. You are trying to transmit big ideas that need to understandable and digestable for a very diverse population, and the result can be oversimplification. The Word of the Day is now pietism.

    2) I wonder whether that characterization is fair. It appears that there was a transformation in how the churches ministered to their congregations. If you want to describe any change in a one sentence buzzword, while it may have the convenience of simplicity, you are losing something in the translation. Was it simply “aggressive pietism” that was pursued in these churches? I would think that it was something more.

    As far as how it was these leaders who shifted the direction of the church. I say, “Praise God!” Again, changing directions with a church can be like changing course with a battleship. I seriously doubt, that it was a simple as the pastor waking up one morning, calling in his staff and changing vision for the entire church. Changes like this usually are the culmination of experience and prayer over time. The people who were actually following these leaders did so, not because they believed in entertainment, but because they believed in bringing the living Jesus to people. For those people who attended the church because of the show, they no doubt found another show to attend. Personally, I find some of the critical remarks here in the comments to be snarky. Its as if some here would have preferred these pastors to simply resign their positions and let their churches remain in the status quo, as opposed to actually leading them.

    • I’m not sure what a better approach might have been.

      In the case of Kallestad, the article is too brief to describe the process.

      In the case of Carlson and Lueken, they identify many of their own failures and mistakes and admit that they did not handle this change with pastoral wisdom, patience, and sensitivity.

      In answer to your observation about the speed of change, it apparently was pretty rapid in both cases. After a period of growing unease led to a “breakthrough” at a single leadership retreat, everything had changed within a single year. And if you read the book, you may agree with me that “aggressive pietism” is indeed a fair way to put the new emphasis. According to the pastors themselves, they were haranguing on consumerism almost 24/7 and verbally deconstructing the whole church culture they themselves had built up over more than a decade. They confess that they did not listen very well to criticism and pressed on like zealots because of their passion for the new direction. Many accused them of becoming legalistic and works-oriented in their teaching.

      The approach actually differed very little from the original decision in 1990 to turn the church into a seeker-style congregation. Seven people went to a conference at Willow Creek and came back and changed the entire direction of the church.

      So, is this what we should expect from pastoral leadership? Every ten years or so (or however often!), should we expect them to ascend Mt. Sinai and get a new vision for the church that will lead to a complete change in direction? And should we expect them then to descend to the congregation, hand us tablets of stone, and say, “OK, here’s the new plan. Follow us or hit the road”?

      Let me be blunt: Is this leadership or jerking God’s people around?

      • Dear Chaplain Mike:

        I like the questions that you ask.

        So, over the course of time, you have a growing sense of unease about the direction of church, you feel that you have sold out on the gospel and you have sold the people at your church the wrong bill of goods. You have a mountain top experience where it finally becomes clear for you. You talk about it with your church leadership and surprise, surprise, they all agree with you. To a man (or woman), they agree with you, because they have apparently been praying and struggling over the same exact issues and they have come to all the same conclusions.
        So, what do you do?

        What does a pastor do, when he believes that the way that his church is pursuing God is wrong?

        1) Do you just ignore all of your concerns, because it’s unfair to the church and it’s unfair to change your mind every ten years? Yeah, you have your doubts, but you have a good thing going here, and you don’t want to rock the boat.
        2) Do you create a discussion in your church over the course of a season and encourage people to pray and discuss the course of the church, asking people to consider where they see themselves? This could allow people to get comfortable with the new vision of the church, and allow more thoughtful deliberation.
        3) Do you preach several messages on the direction of the church, more or less staking out your position, and reflecting your new approach to discipleship? People who don’t like your new approach would probably leave the church over time, then you could bring in “the real change.”
        4)Does the pastor simply resign?

        I have been a part of authoritarian churches, where change was not in their DNA. They were unwilling to change because they were convinced that they were right and everyone else was wrong. They were also afraid to create a discussion on this topic among the members, since these kinds of discussions can be difficult to control. So, this is my lens to this issue. I would have probably chosen door #2.

        • I like #2 also, and please realize that in my earlier comments I am not criticizing on my own, but reflecting what the leaders in these cases said about themselves.

          Look, I’m not saying it would be easy. I’m not saying the results would have been any different had they been more wise and patient and pastoral. Actually, their specific situation does not really interest me as much as what it reveals about the system of non-denominational evangelicalism (in Oak Hills case). Not having any tradition or episcopal oversight, the pastors were simply free to “hear from God” and make huge changes. Now some might consider that a good thing, and in this case I agree they moved in the right direction. The purpose of my post, however, is to ask whether that kind of system is really sustainable.

          • GringoChilango says

            I agree with your focus on the issue of sustainability of a staff led teacher as opposed to an episcopal system of oversight. People who have no voice in the governance in a church are absolutely at the mercy of the leadership. The net effect is that they have little stake in the entity. They are in a real sense disenfranchised. The rumblings that many of us in the evangelical community are hearing is the second tier leaders of non-denominational churches coming to the realization that we are in fact the motor that drives our churches; we’re the elders, teachers, deacons, and usually the most generous givers, but we have no real voice the operation. We can either go along with the party line or leave.
            Many of us who have served as second tier leaders have children who are suspicious of the church. they’ve listened to mom and dad’s conversations and seen our frustrations with church. They’re interested in God, but reluctant to become involved in church. I can’t blame them. Churches that have disenfranchised the members, particularly the worker bees, are likely to confront a major dilemna in the next decade or so in how to keep troops on the front. As we workers burn out, die off or simply leave, there will be few to replace us as there hasn’t much discipleship recently. Even more significantly, our children are unlikely to volunteer after observing firsthand how their parents were treated.

          • And lets not forget the possibility that anyone who was a “Jesus follower’ not just a ‘Jesus fan’ – to use Michal Spencers terms – and might be able to help build a strong foundation for a significant change may have already left. It makes you wonder now many people approached them about the entertainment approach and were ignored – and of that, how many stayed or went to find a different congragation.

            I agree that the system is a problem. If members are not being grounded in the scriptures and taught an understanding of what it means to be a Christian, then a powerful leader can lead them wherever they decide, so long as they phrase it right.

          • Part of me totally gets your concern.

            How does this sound like.

            A pastor with a strong personality and a strong sense of the annointing makes most of the final decisions in the church. Yes, they have an elder board, or a staff, or some kind of executive committee through which to pass decisions, but there is so much deference given to the pastor that all of the decisions are more or less formalities. The pastor says, they feel led that the church should start a church plant a mile away, change the hymnal, change the small group model, or change the churches statement of faith and after a brief explanation, his board will 99.9 percent of the time agree to the change. I along with everyone here, has seen this model in place. I have also seen cases, where the “the leader” was off on vacation or a long term mission trip, and then see the church totally flounder in its ability to come to a decision. Most of the time the model works, because the decisions usually aren’t that big. If you were to ask people within this model, how they felt about it, they would say probably two things 1) They feel the pastor has some kind of annointing; and 2) They all share same the spirit, so its not as much that they rubber stamp the pastor, but that they agree with him, because they share the same spirit.

            Yet, at the same time, is it possible to have a strong leader with a strong executive committee/episcopal oversight who are nonetheless on the same page? Absolutely. Maybe this was the situation at Kallestad’s church.

            Yet suppose that a genuine revival needed to take place at this church, and the pastor was convicted by the Holy Spirit that some changes needed to take place, what would happen if he had to pass it through a significant layer of episcopal oversight? The reality is that in some cases, the oversight would block the revival from taking place, because they don’t like to stir up the status quo. In my opinion, there are a many more churches that need to get stirred up, rather than not stirred up. I would suggest that the larger problem, rather than a lack of episcopal oversight, is an institutional unwillingness to change.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        In your typical Lutheran church this wouldn’t really be an issue. The church governance is bottom up, with the congregation electing a council which controls the money and hiring and firing. (Firing clergy is non-trivial, as the synod gets involved and there are special procedures, but it is possible.) A pastor also typically doesn’t stay in one church endlessly. Five to ten years is normal. There are exceptions, but as a rule of thumb anything longer than ten years is a bad idea for everyone.

        One potential problem is that if the completely-ensconced pastor swoops in one day and says we are changing everything, the alternative of his leaving might be so unthinkable as to eliminate the possibility of calm deliberation, making the exit the only route for disagreement. In a more typical church, the council and the congregation as a whole have real authority, and while the prospect of a disorderly change of pastor might be painful, changes of pastors are not themselves all that unusual. (Useful tip: if you can think of an excuse why you can’t serve on the call committee, grab it!) So it jumps out at me that Kallestad has been at that church since 1978. There might be extenuating circumstances, but this is a an unhealthy situation before he made any changes.

  16. Were these and other pastors WRONG back in the 1980?s about the seeker movement? Did God lead them then, when they set up churches according to the seeker model and promoted “entertainment evangelism”?…

    And if so, what about all the people who trusted their certainty and passion at earlier stages of the journey? If those folks are not ready to “move on” when the leader takes a right turn and starts running down a different path, are they just out of luck? Thousands of people left the two churches whose stories are noted above. Why should any of them believe the next evangelical church, with no ties to any tradition or foundation bigger than itself, that speaks to them with certainty about God and right ways of living?

    yeah. use this same thought process for my own individual faith journey. did God really say that? want to do this? go there? accept this doctrinal concept? only to reject it later? reshape my theology? move me from faith expression to another? from one church to another? from marriage to divorce? from employment to unemployment? sure…this very same God?

    seems to me He can be schizophrenic at times. what about the troubles of this life that do not seem to abate? does it matter? look to the next life for ‘real’ peace, joy, contentment, safety, security, wholeness, etc.?

    one does not need to look to church leaders for a good dose of spiritual/theological whiplash. one just has to be honest about their own faith journey to have experienced such things… 🙁

  17. Tom Huguenot says

    “After pouring more than 25 years of my life into this church, I knew we weren’t developing disciples who were taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. We’d produced consumers—like Pac- Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.”

    And it took him 25 years to figure that out? How many thousand dollars have been spent “entertaining” a (huge) bunch of suburbans, when they could have been used in the States or on the mission field?

  18. I was once part of a dying church. The district superintendent (think bishop) came in and told the Pastor. “You need to make the following changes in order to survive as a church. In doing so you will lose a significant percentage of those who are currently at the church, because they be either unwilling or unable to adapt.” The Pastor did not want to lose anyone, did not make any changes, and in the end lost everyone when the church folded.

    Change can really put you in a catch 22 situation. Do I change things knowing that some people will be hurt in the process? Do I keep in the same direction, even though I am convinced it is the wrong direction? Do I start something new, where I can pursue the new direction while leaving the church in the hands of others?

    No easy answers.

  19. (Disclaimer: I realize real life can be different than what is portrayed in limited essays. Plus I have never heard of, much less visited, either church. Reality may be different than what I am about to say, but…)

    After reading Chaplain Mike’s post, plus the Kallestad article, the phrase that popped into my mind was “spiritual technology.”

    And the image I get is of a factory.

    The management went to seminars, conferences, read books, and became enthused about a new spiritual technology producing a modified spiritual product. Then they wholesale retooled the factory, trained the employees with the new technology, and started producing a modified product. Equipment/employees/previous product that couldn’t be retrofitted were declared obsolete and best gone so they didn’t clutter up the factory.

    Now it may be that the new technology has advantages over the old technology. And the new product may be superior to the old product.

    But, to me, it is the whole framework of technology and product that is troublesome.

    • Just to clarify, I don’t think that spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, missional approaches, etc. are inherently “spiritual technology” in and of themselves. In this case, it is the approach used to incorporate them into congregational life that made the term “spiritual technology” pop into my mind.

    • Very insightful, Becky. I think the industrial metaphor/model is foundational for how Americans see everything — education, politics, church, architecture, city planning, employment, etc. People may not say flat-out that they think children are just like machines or that employees are only cogs, but they make decisions based on those assumptions.

    • It certainly does reflect a business model understanding of the church.

    • When you talk about a factory are you implying an assembly line as invented by Henry Ford during the Industrial Revolution? If so does that have the ability to create clones from a different perspective? I’ve also noticed as an agnostic that sometiems people just arn’t happy and they always want more. Do you think that Christians will be pursuing that in another matter. Kind of like a mouse on a wheel in a cage?

  20. Richard Hershberger says

    Community Church of Joy is an interesting case study. It received a lot of attention in ELCA circles as a peculiar example of a Lutheran megachurch. (There are other very large Lutheran congregations, but mostly in traditional Lutheran parts of the county, i.e. the upper midwest. They aren’t so much Lutheran megachurches as Lutheran churches which happen to be very large.) It was pointed to whenever the topic of church growth came up. Church growth proponents pushed it as an example of what could be accomplished. Skeptics pointed to it as a cautionary tale: You can be Lutheran, or you can be a megachurch, but you can’t be both. The closest you can get is to be a megachurch with the barest thread of a nominal, carefully hidden, Lutheran affiliation. There are any number of people out there enthusiastically building non-Lutheran churches. It is hard to understand why the Lutheran church should join them.

    Sure enough, CCOJ has left the ELCA. They are now affiliated with the LCMC, which is sort of a holding body for congregations leaving the ELCA over teh gay. But you wouldn’t know even that unless you look at their website very carefully and find the note in the lower corner in a small font with remarkably poor contrast from the background. Their list of pastors is also telling. Only Kallestad shows any hint of Lutheranism. One of the others went to a Baptist seminary, one to a Methodist college, and the third lists no educational background.

    The list of services is also peculiar. There are three services. The early service includes “traditional liturgical elements such as the Apostle’s Creed and Prayer of Confession…woven in…” from which I infer that the later two services have no elements of Christian liturgy whatsoever. The early service is “led by the Celebration Singers under the direction of Pastor David” which is odd. I would have thought it the pastor’s job to lead the service, but here he seems to have an indirect supervisory role. This is still better than the latter two services, which are “led by our worship bands” with no sign of clerical oversight. After much searching I did find that they have communion once a month, for which I am grateful.

    Most interesting is the description of how to become a member:

    “At our Discover Joy New Member Class, you’ll find out about:

    * The story of Joy—our history, mission, and vision for serving people
    * Living by faith
    * Involvement opportunities—ministry information, community groups, grown and service opportunities
    * CCOJ Membership option
    * Tour of campus”

    Your typical Lutheran church deals with new members in different ways, depending on the candidate. If the prospective member is a currently active Lutheran transferring in from another church, there is no need for any class. A letter of transfer from the previous church is sufficient. Beyond that you might have anything from an inactive Lutheran making a reaffirmation of faith through someone completely new to the Christian faith. The educational requirements of these vary wildly. A typical case might be an educated non-Lutheran Christian, who will need teaching in Lutheran doctrine but not in the basics. A conscientious pastor will work out what is needed. I see none of this here, but a one size fits all course with no sign of those boring “doctrine” parts.

    So when I read Kallestad’s article about moving away from the megachurch paradigm, I don’t see it. I’m sure he made stylistic changes, but I don’t see a ministry of sacrament and word. It looks like services led by bands, like any other seeker-friendly evangelical church. I believe that he has the background to know what a worship service looks like, and I am happy that he was open minded enough to notice that it wasn’t happening at his church. But what he did differently after the change is all very vague. I can’t help notice that the one concrete example he gives is his refusing to go the hospital and pray for that parishioner’s grandson. That he spins his dereliction of his pastoral duty as a positive change is simply bizarre.

    • As a Lutheran, what struck me was the reference to “elders”.

      • As a life-long Lutheran who was a member of a rather well known Lutheran mega-church, it would be interesting to see how CCOJ does things. And as Richard said, “The closest you can get is to be a megachurch with the barest thread of a nominal, carefully hidden, Lutheran affiliation.” I can tell you from personal experience that is pretty much the truth.

  21. Paul Davis says

    I’m going to go to the same place that Lisac went in regards to the Catholic Church, but with a little different focus.

    Right now in a 15 mile radius are 4 Bible churches in my area, they all have one thing in common: A Pastor who is a gifted teacher, but has no ‘people’ skills. His attitude and personality have over the last 15 years created a number of fractions within each church he pastored, today he’s running a small church down the road. While the other three do their best to get over the damage of a church splitting in half. I work with a friend who endured one of the splits, he is a very faithful man, and it was incredibly painful for him. Like going through a divorce, but to this day the same Pastor is still running churches. We even tried to meet with him while searching and he never showed up to talk to us, so we figured our friends where right and he was a flake and moved on (I wanted to give him a chance at least).

    I have numerous examples I have personally experienced, of Pastors who got a wild hair and ended up doing mass amounts of damage to people, and in the process creating some pretty fierce atheists. I was told one time by a Baptist Preacher that they had to couch their message in softer terms, or people would leave. The message was that the church was about rear ends in the pews, rather than preaching the gospel. I’m glad these two preachers saw the light, but again Luthers prediction rings too true and close to home. Who had the authority to tell them no, when they started on this path. And I would be careful about assuming that only the good people stayed, Church splits are painful for everyone.

    We can argue about the Mass in Latin (it was in Greek before that), or changes since Vatican II, Papal cyclicals that make all kinds of silly statements. But as Martha pointed her piece about the See of Peter, the core dogma has changed very little in two thousand years, a couple of additions here and there, but even when we had bad Popes they for some reason left the dogma alone.

    I find stability with the Catholic Church, not perfection. Aesthetic practices for my faith, and a church who takes ordination of her priests very seriously. Pastors are not allowed to have wild hairs and go off on a tangent, and when they do, they get tossed (we just had one go over his insistence on Ordination of Women, whether you agree or not isn’t the point, as a Priest he was teaching outside the Churches doctrine, and he got tossed). I understand where Lisa was headed and I agree with her, without a central authority (and we have two to keep things in balance) things can really run amok, and people can get hurt and trampled in the process.

    I realize it’s not for everyone, but the Ancient churches (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodoxy) may have been onto to something about stability and a central authority long before Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli…


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The message was that the church was about rear ends in the pews, rather than preaching the gospel.

      i.e. “Butts in Seats”. The same reason behind all those angles cataloged over at Wrestlecrap.

    • Many of the same reasons I remain RC.

      Chaplain Mike….perhaps a look at what is involved in joining a chuch family might be interesting? From my decidedly RC background, I am puzzled and confused about the concept of “instant Christian”. While it is certainly true that some people are struck blind on the road to Damascus, and have a dramatic convertion to Christianity, I think it safe to say that many others slowly grow into their faith without a flashbulb “Ah-HA” moment.

      To say the Sinner’s prayer at an altar call and be a freshly minted new Christian is lovely, but it can involve nothing more than a moment’s emotion in some cases….a poor foundation for understanding one’s new faith.

      For those who might not know, RC and many other liturgical based churches require extensive learning and prepartion prior to full membership. At least you know what you care choosing and agreeing to with this system.

  22. I guess I don’t understand. The Evangelical church and the mega church have their flaws no doubt. It seems that this site is set up to take a lot of shots at the Evangelical movement. It’s almost like some are saying “nah, nah, our church is better.” I am someone who grew up Catholic and now lives in one of the most heavy Catholic demographic areas of Chicago with several Catholic parishes within a mile. I see very little discipleship in the Catholic church and many of the Catholics that I know quite well as either friends or family members do not have much of a Christ centered life at all. When they do go to mass is as if they are putting in their duty or punching a time clock and that’s it. There is no serious discussion of knowing Jesus Christ or growing in their spiritual life. Most have very little knowledge in scriptures. Most live lives that are no different than the pagans in the world. Sorry, but I have found in several Evangelical churches a desire to grow in Christ, to talk about serving and loving the Saviour. I have found many sincere followers of Christ. Yes, there is flaws as with any spiritual movement. I would think that as Catholics or Angelicans that you would focus much more on your own churches since many of them are struggling with many issues such as pedophile priests and the great cover up, shortages of priests/nuns, closing of schools and dying churches. In fact, only thing that has helped American Catholicism is the massive influx of Hispanics the past two decades. If not for that the Catholic church in America would be in serious decline. It’s not like many in America are finding Christ through the Catholic or Episcopal church. Many criticize these pastors for their methods – alright that’s open for discussion. But many of their desires fit with Christ command to go to all the world and preach the gospel. They take that command very serious and their are many people who have found a relationship with Jesus Christ through their ministries, including me!

    • Paul Davis says

      I have certainly run into Catholics like you describe, in fact I have been appalled at how little discipleship takes place. It’s a fair criticism, but it’s not just the Catholic Church. We sat with an Episcopalian minister who would not even open his bible, even though we had bible questions!!! I have a co-worker who is a lifelong Catholic, who would not even answer simple questions when I was searching (boy did that get under my skin, a protestant would have beaten down my door to answer questions).

      But it goes both ways, I’ve had the same experiences in protestant Churches, some who seemed appalled that I would ask about a discipleship program.

      I can sit and list off all the faults I have run into in the Catholic Church (and I’m sure others could as well), but when I compare them on the whole, I find a much more mature and deeper faith then I found in any protestant faith. It’s not perfect, it never will be. And to be fair, like any faith there is a core who are doing bible studies, there is a 4 year discipleship program being hosted by the Diocese right now in fact. And we do a Tuesday night religious education class at another parish that has me picking up Dante, Augustine and other church fathers, while learning about the bible and my faith.

      The weakest area I find for Catholics in evangelizing, it’s the one area we are terrible at. I think part of the reason is that the Catholic Faith is not something you can put on a Chick Trac, it’s so deep and historical that at times I’m just overwhelmed trying to figure it out. How in the world do I evangelize if explaining what I had to learn took me two years!!!



      • Re: Chick tracts (and a bit off-topic from the main discussion, but you said something that rang my bell), there is a fellow on the Catholic Channel on satellite radio by the name of Gus Lloyd, and God bless him, he sure tries to put topics on the Catholic faith into little soundbite-sized one-minute clips. He does pretty well on some topics, but others just feel like he tried to explain “War and Peace” while running after a bus. The Catholic faith has more nuance than you can reasonably fit into a one-minute clip or into a Chick-style tract (although I think it’d be really cool if someone would try), and most people, including Catholics, don’t always have the time or patience for nuance. Evangelicals have a leg up on Catholics in that they’ve figured out how to distill the basics of their faith into quickly digestible nuggets.

    • John I grew up Catholic and the Catholic church has its own issues. Many people here are burned out from evangelicalism and some have the “grass is always greener on the other side.” Well I’ve been on both sides of the fence..Catholic and fundgelical. I do find it interesting how some think the other side does it better. In the end both sides come up short in my opinion. That’s part of the reason why I have no faith.

      • Eagle, we know from your writings that you have been raked over the coals….and got badly burned. However, I think that you are smart and seeking………something. I wouldn’t be surprized if someday you get to a place of logic and love and know you are “home”. JMHO….thanks for asking the hard questions.

  23. I have been an I-Monk reader and have offered occasional comments over the past couple of years. I find myself on the same spiritual page as many of you here. But the last year or so, as I read these pages, I am often reminded of Luke 18:9-14. “Thank God we are not those flashy, egotistical, narcisistic evangelicals. We believe in the sacraments, apostolic succession,etc and are not at all like those religious hucksters.” I served as a pastor of evangelical churches for 20+ years and I did see some of the people described in the pages of Internet Monk, but they were far outnumbered by sincere, faithful Christian people who had found a place, along with other Christian people, to live out their lives in faithful service. I no longer claim “evangelical” to describe my faith and no longer attend an evangelical church but that has more to do with me than it has to do with them. The last 15 years I have served as a hospital chaplain, working with people of all faith groups-ministering to and preaching and speaking in Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran churches. Just a couple of weeks ago I spent an afternoon with a group of Catholic deacons, talking with them about ministry in a hospital. Beyond the superficial differences, they were far more like the evangelical pastors I rubbed shoulders with, than different from them. They both had a desire to represent Christ to the people they saw in the hospital.
    I know the evangelical church has problems. But I also know the “mainline” churches have problems, as well. If the evangelical church can be abusive of their parishoners and it can, the “mainline” churches can be neglectful of their parishoners. As a chaplain, I hear it often. But I never hear anyone here saying anything about that. All I hear is-“we are so much better than they are,” I know there is a need for the prophetic role and Michael was such a prophet through the years. But like the 8th century prophets of Israel, Michael’s voice was raised because, down deep, he loved the evangelical church just as much as he was frustrated by it. Now I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the evangelical critics here are more motivated by contempt, hurt feelilngs and spiritual superiority than anything else. I know this won’t be popular but it has been nagging on me for awhile and I had to say it.

    • JSturty, I’m sorry you’ve been finding us abrasive lately. Please believe me that we too love the evangelical church and want the very best for all branches of God’s family. We are probably closer to where Michael was in the last two years of his life and writing than he was earlier, when he was more involved in the SBC and evangelical churches. I think if you go back and read the posts from those two years, you will find more lament and critique, and of course, even the prediction of evangelical collapse.

      Open discussions, are, of course, messy. There’s that too. And we do tend to attract some people who have been wounded and are angry.

      I hope you’ll stick with us, and I hope that a sense of love and ultimate hope will come through for you as you read.

    • I tend to agree JSturty. I’ve followed this site off and on for a number of years and over the last year or two have felt much the same as you. There is a spirit of hyper-criticism that can lead to spiritual snobbery and a continual attitiude of self-justifying aggrievement. I know from personal experience it is all too easy to let one’s feelings about the church (or at least certain segments of it) tear us apart inside and make us doubt everything. It’s good to vent one’s feelings about some of the ridiculous aspects of the church at times, but we must be careful not to allow ourselves to stay in the place of bitterness. At the end of the day we have to examine what it means, what good we can take from those experiences, what to throw away, and move on. To stay in the place of anger allows those negative experiences too much power in our lives.

  24. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    I’ve been reading Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Evangelism over the last few days, and he speaks to a lot of what these pastors seem to have discovered: our consumer- and program-oriented models have created a church that is a mile wide but an inch deep. Webber then goes on to discuss, describe, and recommend an integrated approach to evangelism, discipleship, spiritual formation, and Christian vocation that is based on how things tended to be done in the pre-Imperial church. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is the idea that in order to be done well, all of these things must be done within the context of the local church and with a conscious view of being part of the Universal Church. This kind of ecclesiology is REALLY hard for those who’ve been burned by the church. I’ve been praying about perhaps incorporating some of Webber’s ideas into a small group setting with a bunch of my friends who REALLY need discipleship, formation, etc. (and they know it; they just don’t know what to do about it). Problem: Not a one of them is in a local church, as they’ve all really been burned. My hope is that if we do this small-group thing, these guys will soon get into a local church; I don’t want the small group to be a substitute.

  25. “we weren’t creating transformed, empowered disciples.”

    Double-rainbow time: WHAT DOES THIS MEAAAAAN?!!!!!

    • Who creates? Who empowers?

      The church?
      The individual, through pietistic self-formation?
      God? If so, by what means?

      • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

        Well, throughout the Gospels, becoming a disciple requires a conscious and volitional response to Jesus’ call, “Follow me.” And in the Great Commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to “make disciples.” To me, the clear implication is that whatever it takes to become or make (create?) disciples requires some element of human effort. That said, I think it’s clear that this isn’t something that can be done by human effort alone. Even the desire to follow Jesus comes from the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Spirit who makes that following possible. But, there’s also the volitional response and action from the disciple. I mean, I can certainly choose to ignore the Spirit in my life and do what I want to do. I can choose to be content with being immature in the Faith or I can choose to walk the difficult path of discipleship and spiritual formation/transformation, knowing that if I take the difficult path, the Lord will go with me and before me and empower me even during the times when it feels like he’s not. And this certainly ain’t something we can do by ourselves. For better or for worse, the New Testament and historical evidence is that we NEED other Christians if we’re really going to be “transformed, empowered disciples.” The church and the church’s leadership has a MAJOR responsibility as to the discipleship and formation of the flock as a whole as well as the individual sheep. Didn’t St. Paul say something about teachers and leaders of the Church having to give a greater account?

        I don’t think we ought to over-think this. We’ve got all sorts of examples in the NT and in church history that we can follow as to methodology for discipleship. I don’t think you can dichotomize (er, tri-chotomize) between whether God, the church, or the individual does this. That’s not an either/or/or issue. We need all three (God, the church and the individual) working together for discipleship and formation/transformation whether we’re talking about the formation/transformation of individuals or communities.

    • + 1 for the Double Rainbow reference.

    • Ironically, to me it means: ‘We weren’t discipling Christians who would stand up to us and tell us this foolishness had to stop. We advertized a proverbial feast and somehow the 95% of the people who came were those who wanted to just eat the food and watch the show, not wash the dishes or even take some of the food out to people who couldn’t get to the party’.

  26. From a Wesleyan perspective, I’m not so sure I have a problem with “an aggressive piety,” though perhaps a better statement Wesley would support would be “A methodical piety is an essential part of the answer to consumeristic religion.”

    Any leadership in spiritual formation has to include teaching/guidance/emphasis on outward practices, since nothing that we’re currently calling spiritual formation adds up to anything without them. But that doesn’t mean that the outward practices are the entirety of spiritual formation. Rather than dismissing the outward righteousness of the Pharisees, Wesley encouraged his Methodists to match it, then go beyond it by not neglecting the “weightier matters” of inward righteousness.

    Luiken & Carlson’s point about the tendency of spiritual formation to make people judgmental toward others who aren’t going along with it is one that I’ve heard before and is surely based on some painful experiences by the people who bring it up. But to make the point is to reduce spiritual formation to the outward practices, which we can never do. If all that a spiritual formation emphasis in a church means is that we’re “aggressively” encouraging habits of piety in our people, then absolutely, we’ll end up with some 21st-century Pharisees. But when the emphasis remains practicing the outward things in order to cultivate the inward friendship with God (then throw in some missional language to go with it), being judgmental toward others who aren’t practicing things the way we are won’t be a common occurrence.

    • David Cornwell says

      Daniel, I think you are correct about the need for spiritual formation of the right kind. If spiritual formation leads one to grow into a real life in Christ based on grace it is in the right direction. Unfortunately some some of Wesley’s followers come across with a judgemental attitude toward those who are deemed not to have arrived. In my opinion some of this is a result of a misapplication of Wesley’s teachings on sanctification and holiness. Some of it has also based on the attainability of a certain kind of “experience” that a few people claimed to have had.

      Some of the old camp meeting preachers were experts on the kind of preaching that was based on a spiritual elitism and guilt producing legalism. They were good preachers, theatrical and entertaining, but I’m not sure they were preaching a gospel of grace.

      I think some of this has changed since I was a student in the late 50’s and early 60’s, but there are still strains of it around.

      However I do think the right kind of spiritual formation should be emphasized and opportunities given in the local church.

  27. Thought Chaplain Mike’s comments at the end were dead on.

  28. I think one of the big problems with the church-as-show movement is that while it is based on trying to cater to what people want, it doesn’t actually accomplish this in an efficient manner.

    Let’s assume that people want great music and an easy to understand sermon, with the occasional community event (like an antique show or whatever).

    If I want great music I can buy it on iTunes, and it will greatly exceed anything that can be performed live. If I want great live music I can spend $50 and go to a concert, and again surpass the quality of the church presentation.

    If I want easy-to-understand teaching I can got to any of 4700 podcasts online and get that for free.

    And yet, to operate this big megachurch it takes a budget of tens of thousands of dollars a month, and in many cases far more. It just isn’t a model that can compete, except when you try to sell people on the concept that simply showing up in a church building to partake of all this stuff somehow is spiritually better than consuming it online. So, the church is forced to focus on marketing itself (in everything it does), and tends to leave out the rest of the Gospel. The focus is on getting people to consume, or on getting people to give but only in the context of volunteering for church programs.

    After having participated in that kind of spiritual life for a fair bit of time, I find the things that are most lacking in me are things that aren’t done within the walls of a church: things like genuinely caring for other people or helping them; things like seeking teaching that reaches me at the level I’m at and which isn’t lowest-common-denominator. I think what is needed are more “churches” that focus more on people being the church and less on coming to church. Probably the best way to start that is by ditching the cathedral, and perhaps the professional staff as well.

  29. One key point that is lost in the disussion of what happens when the pastor ‘makes a right turn,’ whether that be in the seeker or pietistic direction or implementing whatever program, is this:

    ” And He Himself gave some to be … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

    Another key point that someone made was about the inward vs. the outward focus of churcehs. We would all do well to remember Elton Trueblood’s focus on the ‘holy conjunction” e.g. having both an inward AND an outward focus.

  30. Quigley Horton says

    I see this strategy as pretty shrewd. It takes entertainment to grow a church to the level where the minister can live in style, but once you build up those kinds of numbers, you have to keep the customers from running off to something else more entertaining. So you do a “bait and switch” where now that they’re in the church, they’re told they’re going to participate in something even MORE spiritual (but not available from the other megachurches).

    (I feel that God has annointed my opinion, so if you don’t agree, you should feel ashamed of yourself for not being as spiritual as I am!)

  31. This has been a fascinating post. A lot of wisdom in CM’s last paragraphs.

    If spiritual formation and missional living, etc. are treated as the new product to replace entertainment, then the new model will fail as the old did. Entertainment can be provided from the outside in. Spiritual formation and missional living and discipleship are developed from the inside out. They take a completely different approach; they cannot be programmed or forced, only fostered and nurtured. That takes time and patience, sometimes years and years. Sometimes even decades. I wonder if evangelicalism has that kind of patience. I have a feeling it’s a big part of what it needs.

  32. I wish more churches were more focused on community outreach instead of how their building looks. Yes, churches need to have a building BUT it does not need to be a state-of-the-art facility. One with electricity, water, rooms for teaching & fellowship. Not much else is needed besides bodies to fill those rooms. Community outreach is SO important. How else are you going to get the word out? You can’t if all the focus is put toward pulling money in for a new, totally awesome building. Then your only worth your face-value and not for what should be filling your hearts.

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