I put off writing this post for several months because it documents a difficult experience and decision, but here goes…
I returned to the Lord in 2014 after a very long and very dumb prodigal “season.” My wife and I then attended a small, Southern Baptist Convention church in close proximity to us, but we left after one year because the young pastor made it increasingly clear that he was very favorably-inclined towards ecumenism with Roman Catholicism.
I then drew up a short-list of possible church homes. Finding a solid Christian church up here in Western New York isn’t easy. The vast majority of churches are either Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant, all of which are apostate. There are a number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, but we are cessationists in regards to the apostolic sign gifts. There’s also a number of fundamentalist churches, but they weren’t an option after our 1983-1991 experience at an IFB church. That left only a few non-denominational church options.
On a Sunday in November 2015, we drove to the first non-denominational church on our short-list, which was ten miles from our home. Services were held in the auditorium of a public middle school. It was actually one of two satellite campuses, with the main church campus being ten miles away in the city of Rochester. Each of the three (eventually four) locations had it’s own pre-sermon “worship” (song and singing) portion, but the sermon was a digital feed from the main church to big screens at the satellites. Hmm. That was different. But we enjoyed it. The preaching (more like a lecture) was actually quite good.
So we settled in at N********* Church, but were disappointed six-months later when the senior pastor announced he was leaving for a new career with a pastor-placement consulting firm. A new pastor was then selected from a list of candidates. One of his most desirable qualities, we were all told, was his young age (30).*
We attended N********* Church every Sunday for the next three-and-a-half years, but were increasingly conflicted. There were things about the church that we didn’t particularly care for, but we told ourselves no church is perfect. Then COVID-19 hit in mid-March. We began watching live-streaming of our church’s Sunday morning services, but around the same time my wife and I also began listening to 25-minute segments from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons nightly throughout the week (See here. There’s also an app for smart phones). Well, in listening to MLJ’s sermons it became painfully apparent that we had compromised way too much by attending N********* Church and we resolved we wouldn’t go back. As the pandemic lingers, we continue with our daily sermon podcasts from MLJ and others (but definitely NOT from N********* Church).
Let’s now get into some sad specifics. This mega-church followed the Warren-Drucker-Hybels seeker-growth model which included the following characteristics:
- The auditorium was darkened like a movie theater to accentuate the “rock concert” light show experience during the “worship” portion of the service. The worship band played Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) exclusively and the volume was quite loud. The singing of the congregation was completely drowned out by the amplified singing of the worship leaders and by the electric instruments. Songs popularized by apostate Hillsong and Bethel were occasionally featured.
- As an essential part of its seeker-growth model, the pastor avoided deep topics in his sermons. Doctrine was skimmed over and church history was absolutely avoided. The previous pastor did refer to the Reformation and the Five Solas, but those topics were never to be heard of again after he left. Presentations by heterodox teacher, Francis Chan, were available from “RightNow Media” as part of the church’s online resources (see photo above). We participated in a “small group” for about eighteen months, where the church’s shallow teaching was also manifest. A couple of our group’s members used Joyce Meyer devotionals for their daily “scripture” readings.
- Every facet of every church service was geared towards an 18-49 age group including the rockin’ worship portion of the service and the numerous videos and handouts. Members over the age of 50 were glaringly excluded from presentations. I strongly suspected that the main reason the previous pastor left was because he had just turned 50 and felt he had come to the end of his rope with the church’s self-imposed focus on young adults. We’re in our mid-60s and already felt out of place, so it’s impossible to imagine a believer in their 70s or 80s attending this “hipster” mega-church. It wasn’t a welcoming atmosphere for older believers to put it mildly.
- The previous pastor mandated that he and all of the staff follow a very casual dress code. Polo shirts and khakis were not an option. Jeans and flannel shirts were the uniform de rigueur. Not a huge deal, but the new pastor gradually took the “casual look” to a radical, Steven Furtick-like level, wearing skin-tight, skinny jeans with requisite holes in the knees along with a trendy, swag haircut. I frankly was embarrassed by his skin-tight jeans and, excuse my bluntness, his unavoidable “man bulge.” It’s beyond disconcerting that I must use “pastor” and “man bulge” in the same paragraph. After taking a guest to a church service one Sunday, the first thing out of his mouth when we got back into the car was, “Man, that pastor has some TIGHT jeans!”
There you have it folks, all of our reasons for leaving this last church. We had compromised way too much by staying as long as we did.
*I’m certainly not averse to 30-year-old pastors, but this church specifically chose a young, “hipster” candidate to fit its Millennials-focused, seeker model.