I had lunch with a pastor today. He's a good man. Been through the ministry wringer in ways many of us haven't. Raised five good kids. Been married to the same woman for nearly 30 years. Without reproach in many ways.
He's tired and a bit disheartened. How do I compete with Wal-Mart, he asked. Wal-Mart is the hydra-headed churches in Warr Acres and Edmond. He's only a few blocks from the Warr Acres cult of personality. I don't use the word Wal-Mart loosely. The pastor (bishop) of the Edmond cult of personality uses it to refer to why he does business the way he does. Let's follow the metaphor, shall we. Why do people choose Wal-Mart? Quality? Uhm...no. Personal relationships? Nope. Sense of helping the community? Uh-uh. Best prices? Only on about 200 items. (But the advertising implies otherwise. Let that one sink in.) They choose Wal-Mart for the same reasons I do: it's quick, perceived to be inexpensive, and convenient.
There you have it folks. The underlying philosophy behind OKC's two hydra-headed megachurches: they're more like Wal-Mart than the church the pastor I lunched with today pastors. Americans aren't the brightest folks in the world. Wal-Mart claims to have great products. They package them well, advertise well, sell us a brand, and we go along with the lie that they have great products. So, take a bland message that doesn't begin to engage what Jesus taught; make it about some day-to-day subject with which most of us struggle...hmm...pick a topic...sexual purity; add a neat-o video introduction; steal an idea from pop culture (seX Files: get it?); stick a wrap-around mic on the pastor's face; put some "cutting edge" props on the stage; illustrate using graphics, titles, and the best technology available; provide the simple-minded with easy answers to difficult questions; and voila—you have megachurch America. Don't forget rock music and smoke.
Now I know this sounds elitist, judgmental, and a bunch of other bad things of me. But I don't care. The megachurch movement is destroying the church. Sound apocalyptic, eh? But I believe it. It's creating a generation of consumers who believe church should be cool, and not a damn one of them can define what cool is. I believe I've said this before, but if you're using a word with a tenuous definition to describe your church, get the hell out. It's teaching people that worship is entertainment and Christianity is consumer-oriented. God help us.
I'm feeling the pastor's discouragement. How does a good man or woman compete with Wal-Mart when Americans want Wal-Mart? Here's what I told him. Don't compete. Go out and get people who aren't spoiled, selfish, simple, and convinced that what they want is what matters in church. Go out and get the previously unconverted. Build a community that witnesses to the power of the Gospel and the reality of the kingdom of God. Be willing to be small. Don't be afraid of Wal-Mart. The masses will always go for Wal-Mart. Build the kingdom; don't build Wal-Mart. And don't be discouraged..the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed...