Or, Why I was Right About the Megachurch
I have never joined a megachurch. I have attended a couple several times. I have eight family members that have joined one. Of those eight only one still attends. Of the seven that left, three attended long enough to make their departure ‘interesting’ – more on that below.
My personal experience consists of attending regularly, but never joining, a large Baptist church in the 90s. It was what I define as a phase two megachurch, it was still Baptist and it required a pastor with a strong and attractive personality to grow large. Even though it was an early stage megachurch, I could not buy-in and join it, it was off to me. They had gone in deep for the Purpose Driven dribble. (my ever-comical nephew termed this place the Repentagon because of the shape of the large building they constructed)
I attended the megachurch that most of my family joined when I was home on leave from the Army. It was in those visits and in observing and conversing with my family that had joined that I began to have deep suspicions. Lastly, in an effort to find a church in the town I retired to my wife and I visited the local megachurch a few times – until the parking lot incident that made my suspicions click in my head. That is my experience.
I attend a small, quiet church – that is my style, but that is not why I write against the megachurch movement.
Why do I write about the megachurch? I saw first hand the experiences of my eight family members, how it affected their relationships with others and their sense of self and self-esteem. I had a shouting match one evening with one of them that screamed literal heresy at me, something they had come to hold as truth from the megachurch. I have seen the leaders of both the churches my family attended (and attends in one case) manipulate family dynamics, create divisions (parent wounds*) and use the power of position the church provides for personal benefit.
*Focusing on parent wounds creates divisions in families and demonstrates that the small-group, church, and the leaders are capable of helping where parents have failed – trust your leaders! It is a tool to exert control over kids. One particularly egregious, and perhaps nefarious megachurch pastor used parent wounds to attack preachers with dead Christian mentors, subtle deeds not creeds attack (another megachurch tendency).
Basically, it all smelled wrong to me the first time I walked in, but a lot of my family was there so I was open-minded; but I researched, questioned and observed. I watched their sermons online from afar, looked at what was going on in other megachurches and observed the changes in my family. Each time one of them left, I debriefed them extensively. The story they all told after leaving was vastly different than the narrative they portrayed while there.
Around 2011 or 2012 I sat with a friend of mine, an Army Chaplain and a Baptist pastor and asked him if I should be concerned with what I was seeing. I love my brother, I mean him no harm in this but he was absolutely wrong in his response to me. He suggested that the Christian church goes through a great change every 500 years and this seeker-sensitive megachurch stuff was alright. I did not know at the time, perhaps he did not know, that 500-year idea came from a heretic named Phyllis Tickle and the Emergent Church. Brother if you are reading this you were wrong, perhaps you were deceived like so many others have been.
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.Mathew 24
It is not my contention that all of the megachurches are evil and all pastors heretics. I do not argue that organized, denominational Christianity was not in a mess of its own making before this phenomenon began. I would not argue that the old way got things right.
I do contend, not just because I have witnessed it in some folks I love, but because I have looked around at the facts enough to now state as fact that the megachurch is more dangerous than any boring old baptist church from the 1980s ever could have or would have been. One was filled with apathy, the other perhaps increasing levels of apostasy.
Mine is not an argument about worship style nor music. I prefer one style but that is not my argument.
My argument is not about a conspiracy to take over the church. Not in the sense of an organized effort that reaches down into each and every megachurch. It is true there is a definite line from bad philosophy, to bad ideology, to people like Peter Drucker and the creation of a methodology that could be replicated franchise-style in the creation of megachurches**. However, because one can trace the bad ideas to their source is not the same as an organized conspiracy, do not confuse my argument for the former.
Conspiracies are not necessary, evil exists, and evil has been able to coordinate and combine its efforts. Deception is the primary weapon of evil. I am convinced the megachurch model Peter Drucker codified and has been replicated across America is dangerous, far more dangerous than the apathy it was created to replace.
If you argue that my observation, my dataset is too limited and all independent megachurches are different and ‘independent’. I would ask you this. How did all those independent churches just spontaneously generate in the late 1990s and 2000s and yet have so much in common if they do not share some core methodology and techniques for formation? They claim to be relevant, different and cool, but there are some stunning similarities.
Their ‘starting out’ story is a little less original and less authentic than is oft-repeated.
And, certainly, not all have slipped into outright apostasy or heresy, but some big names among them certainly have and that is undeniable. Those big names came from the same methodological mold as the others, all from Druker’s model. All churches have some error, and megachurches should be no different – but; Sovereign Grace Church, Bethel, Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick and more than I care to name (all tied to the Leadership Network) seem to add evidence that pastors with too much control and not enough accountability are dangerous.
Surrendering to the community is dangerous. Reviving a rebranded form of shepherding (something recognized as apostasy years ago) is dangerous. Focusing on the emotion of religion instead of a deep understanding of theology is dangerous. Forcing loyalty through oaths, (membership covenants) that say you will follow the leaders of the Church and not speak out against the vision of the leaders is dangerous. Placing ‘service’ at the level of Justification, as a part of salvation, is a revival of the works heresy, a variation of Pelagianism – instead of, well Grace alone. Preaching from a weak translation of the Bible that is best used as a supplemental study guide. Preachers that work themselves into every sermon, because, relevant. Topically preaching ‘relevant’ stuff. The introduction of strange, and biblically absent words into all conversations (intentional, relational, authentic, etc.) – all dangerous and troubling.
All the phase three megachurches out there may not have slipped as far into heresy as Bethel, but they all do the things I just described.
I mentioned above that of my seven family members that left a megachurch, three had attended long enough to be invested deeply. When they left I observed a strange sort of fear and shame. For instance, they became physically and observably scared when in the presence, even if just in the same restaurant, with a member of the church. I discuss all of that in more detail in my associated posts, however, this realization and observation was enough to make me know that some of the other things I suspected were correct from the start.
When I combine the social control and manipulation techniques I have observed, with the heresy I have observed (justification by works, instead by Grace alone) and combine that with the publically available facts that lay out the map of the ideas that gave birth to this whole thing – my initial suspicions ten or so years ago make a lot of sense.
Something is rotten in Denmark!
- The Megachurch Defined
- The Problem With the Megachurch (PDF here)
- The Megachurch Explained
- Sex Abuse in the Megachurch
- Courageous Calvinism
Finally, if you are interested in how the philosophers that Drucker read came about their absurd ideas, look here The Rise of Absurdity in Western Philosophical and Political Views, follow a bad idea upstream long enough and you discover its source.
** I want to be super clear that I am not implying, nor do I believe most of the folks that have used the “Drucker Megachurch Franchise” template had ill intentions. Most of the folks that started these churches were GEN Xers, and we GEN Xers grew into adulthood with a lot of distrust of the things that were around us. Those of us that grew up in church saw a stale, ineffective church. We knew the Sunday talk and the weekly walk of many people.
I grew up in a very typical place that describes that. I was raised in Powedersville, near Greenville SC. As typical of the Southern Baptist Bible belt as you can get. I saw all the things that likely frustrated those that followed the Drucker plan.
I also do not believe the folks working in these churches as underling leaders have ill intentions, or at least they did not start out that way. There is however something corrupting when you place an ordinary man in a position of extreme power over others, young impressionable folks, and give him a soap-box to repeat the myth of himself that develops from that power. I have witnessed such people abuse their power in subtle ways.
These people did not mean evil, not all of them do overt evil and there are good things that derive from these churches. Most have zero understanding of the flawed philosophy that this movement came from and many of the underling leaders and junior pastors are not even formally trained in theology to equip them to recognize error.
On the whole, it was all a mistake, it has morphed into something very dangerous and it is, in my observed opinion, the single greatest existential threat to organized Christianity in America.
When you think of visiting one of these places, keep looking, find a Bible-believing place without all the communitarian trappings, apostasy and error.