There’s this scene in Happy Days. In the later years, when it was all falling apart, as great shows tend to do. (See: Steve Erkel cloning himself, the cast from Everybody Loves Raymond not being able to get a line out because of the audience cheering so loud when they would run on stage with a weird look, etc.) And Fonzie, The Fonz, inexplicably enters a water-skiing contest, and subsequently jumps over a shark. And that was the day people realized that the show had somehow faded into irrelevance.
It was a couple years ago, now. I was sitting in a meeting, as the 28-year-old wonder kid worship pastor at one of the fastest-growing churches in the city. All my life I had been praised for being advanced beyond my years, mature beyond my experience. So when I decided at eighteen years old that my life’s goal would be to serve God by being a vocational worship pastor, no one stopped me. Instead, they praised me for the spiritual wisdom seldom seen in someone my age. The problem was, someone should have stopped me. Someone should have looked at the lights, and the amplified guitar sounds pumping through the best venues in town, and the stages, and the subtle prestige only expounded by humility, and really everything we call ‘worship’, and talked to this eighteen-year-old kid in depth, asking him if this would still be his dream if the church were to change tomorrow, and his vocation of ‘worship pastor’ went back to playing an organ from a hymnal in the back, or starting the countdown for the congregational accapella chant. But no one stopped me. (Or at least if they tried…I didn’t listen whatsoever.) Because I was living the American church dream.
To be a rockstar, a CEO, or a famous personality, but it’s also a righteous endeavor because you’re ‘doing it for God?’ That’s a very enticing offer, especially for a young person like me who struggled with an inferiority complex. Looking back, I realize that I truly believed that my motives were pure. My heart was in the right place. But like so many people in history whose hearts were in the right place, I was also dead wrong.
So here I am, ten years later, watching a sermon from a famous pastor. One now marred in scandal, and one with whom I have been very vocal about disagreeing. And he was teaching on how Jesus is our prophet, priest, and king. Not necessarily a doctrine I have a problem with. And then I listened in horror, as Jesus Christ, the savior of the universe, was reduced to nothing more than a flow chart. Rather than the face value of being our guide, our intercessor, and our master, He was now just an example of whom to hire in your church. Three categories that really would have really stretched the imagination as a Biblical exposition; except that I had been taught them before…in the corporate world. But now we were bending Bible verses so that this flow chart had ‘Biblical’ authority.
To me, it was at best, logical fallacy, at worst, outright heresy. I spoke with people in person and with various peers later. I said I believed that when the Bible mentions Jesus as king, the subtext is that we should obey him, not that we should hire more administrators in our 501c3 church institutions. Interestingly enough, some told me that I really didn’t feel that way, but that I was just a ‘priest’ (i.e. “feeler”) who was just upset because the pastor preaching the sermon had used some word like ‘pissed’. And therein lies the problem. We’re concerned about piss. And we’re not concerned about twisting the words of the Bible.
After hearing that sermon, after months and years of questioning why we do what we do and how if we had really used the Bible as our basis we had ended up where we’re at, …… I made no decision whatsoever. This is where you’d think I would’ve felt as if we’d as a universal church jumped the shark. But you have to remember, that this was the only life I had ever known. I have friends and people who have lived as Christians far longer than I have, who agreed with this sermon. And the last time I said I disagreed with a nationally renowned pastor, I was berated, both in person and on this blog. So I’m sad to say, I walked out too afraid to, right then and there, say something is terribly wrong with the majority of how we as a western civilization run our churches, if this can pass for nationally recognized church doctrine and practices. Rather, it was as I went about the rest of my work day, that I realized that church aside…I personally had jumped the shark.
I looked at the rest of my schedule for the day, and it read fix lighting, test sound system, change out songs in church playlist, re-string guitar, buy new delay pedal, make new graphics for signage, edit intro video, and a hundred other things that bore little relevance to my love for God and what was over the last couple of years my newfound desire to actually worship Him…not put on a rock concert that subconsciously stroked my ego, but worship: react to…God. God. God. My life, ministry, and occupation, had slipped into irrelevance towards the things I wanted to do most and the things we humans desire deep within ourselves…selfishness, and the constant lust for power, prestige, and affirmation. And I had let those things, unbeknownst to me, take a hold in my life by burying myself in an institution that I had mistakenly confused for God Himself.
Remember God. Remember that church only exists for His purpose. Remember that pastors, even nationally renowned ones, are fallible human beings; a fact that becomes all too apparent after the scandals, but a fact from which we seem to never learn the next time. These, among other things, have renewed my faith in God over this past year…and hopefully caused me do a backflip back over the shark…or something like that. Has the church jumped the shark? Maybe not; but we’ve certainly put on the leather jacket and entered the water-skiing contest. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I fully believe that we have to stop making church into a god, we have to stop making servants and shepherds into rockstars, we have to stop making worship into a Coldplay show, and we have to start learning and obeying the Bible at face value rather than being “tossed to and fro by every new doctrine”, or in our case, every new podcast before it even has a chance to become doctrine. And this is coming from a guy who passionately lived those four follies, and finally took a step back towards just plain and simple…God.
P.S. For clarification purposes, I have no problem with new and original takes on Biblical doctrine, provided the following: 1) that the goal for the doctrine remains to be true to the Bible as opposed to being new and original for the sake of being new and original, for the sake of shock value, or for the sake of YouTube ratings, 2) that new doctrine be researched, tested, and peer-reviewed much like it is in the academic world, rather than being “insta-authority”, 3) that logic, reason, and common sense prevail and that people would actually be encouraged to question new ideas rather than being chastised for opposing a thought from a famous personality, 4) that corporation and psychological ideals we happen to like (i.e. Meyers-Briggs) not be re-purposed with a quick Bible reference underneath, and 5) that the doctrine remains expository…i.e. “What is the Bible saying?” as opposed to “I want to say this, and what verses can I find to back it up.”