‘Basic Instinct’ writer’s conversion & church shopping

Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the screenplay for “Basic Instinct” and other dark and sex-charged thrillers, has become a Christian in something much like a road to Damascus experience. Again, God breaks into the most unlikely of lives. We should praise God, along with the angels in Heaven.

There is another part of his story that deserves discussion. Eszterhas then looked for a church. Though brought up Catholic, he did not want to go back to that church, due to its pedophilic scandals. But going to a megachurch sent him back. He craved liturgy and the Body and Blood of Christ:

When Mr. Eszterhas visited a nondenominational megachurch, he heard a sensational sermon. But he felt empty afterward, missing Holy Communion and the Catholic liturgy.

“It may have been a church full of pedophiles and criminals covering up other criminals’ sins … it may have been a church riddled with hypocrisy, deceit, and corruption … but our megachurch experience taught us that we were captive Catholics,” he wrote.

Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings.

“The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It’s almost a feeling of a kind of high.”

He said that living in the heartland, he sees how much Hollywood producers are out of touch with most Americans.

“I find it mind boggling that with nearly 70 percent of Americans describing themselves as Christians, and witnessing the success of The Passion of The Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, that Hollywood still doesn’t do the kinds of faith-based and family-value entertainment that people are desperate to see,” Mr. Eszterhas said.

Would that he would have stumbled into a confessional Lutheran church! One can be both evangelical AND sacramental; Biblical AND liturgical.

But set that aside. I’d like to pose a question that has long puzzled me. The reasons given as to why churches should adopt contemporary worship and follow all of the church growth methodology generally have to do with evangelism. But how effective are they really evangelistically? Especially in appealing to the hard cases–long-time cynical, intellectually sophisticated, artistically sensitive non-believers like Mr. Eszterhas.

Praise songs, for example, tend to presuppose a level of intimacy with God that non-believers, by definition, simply don’t have. And the practice of keeping everything so simple and downplaying complex theology, in the name of appealing to the common man, can have little to say to the kind of person who asks hard questions and yearns for hard answers.

Isn’t it true that hard-core non-believers mock the megachurch kind of worship? Isn’t it true that the megachurches appeal mostly to people who are already Christians?

I think the “emerging church” is trying to reach people like Mr. Eszterhas, but I suspect he would find the ersatz liturgy, the self-conscious appeal to be being young, and the doctrinal fluidity of such churches bewildering.

Of course where ever the Gospel is so much as mentioned, God can create faith. I’m sure the megachurches have their converts. But it is the megachurch theorists that stress how technique can win people. By their own terms, isn’t there an important place for more historic Christianity and a richer, more substantial and sacramental worship, in reaching at least some people?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce

    A good example of a former pagan who found faith in the richness of Lutheran liturgical practice is Lutheran Lucciola (http://lutheranlucciola.blogspot.com/), a former “Old European” pagan living in San Francisco.

    This problem you describe of finding a suitable church, and of churches trying to be suitable for those who “ask hard questions and yearn for hard answers” is complicated and treacherous. We ask too much of our church, in many fleshly ways. We ought to be delighted that it be a place where we can simply be fed on the spoken and visible Word of God, but no. We need it to supply us with vibrant friendships, to comply with our extensive social needs. We demand ownership. Can you imagine?

    I confess that I cringe a bit at the Eszterhas story. One delights that he has had this wonderful mysterious conversion, but knowing that now he will–what can I say? He’ll have to go through that long, disappointing season of finding out that the church in America (at least) is peopled by an awkward, often misguided, ill-informed laity. He may find that most Christians he meets are not at all interesting, or interested in the treasures of the faith. He has already had to ask that question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” At this early point in his life of faith, he already confesses that he is “captive”.

    I feel a bit guilty when I describe my fellow believers in such terms as uninteresting, or as being too wrapped up in the social aspects of church. Maybe I’ve lived in the Midwest too long, eh?

  • Bruce

    A good example of a former pagan who found faith in the richness of Lutheran liturgical practice is Lutheran Lucciola (http://lutheranlucciola.blogspot.com/), a former “Old European” pagan living in San Francisco.

    This problem you describe of finding a suitable church, and of churches trying to be suitable for those who “ask hard questions and yearn for hard answers” is complicated and treacherous. We ask too much of our church, in many fleshly ways. We ought to be delighted that it be a place where we can simply be fed on the spoken and visible Word of God, but no. We need it to supply us with vibrant friendships, to comply with our extensive social needs. We demand ownership. Can you imagine?

    I confess that I cringe a bit at the Eszterhas story. One delights that he has had this wonderful mysterious conversion, but knowing that now he will–what can I say? He’ll have to go through that long, disappointing season of finding out that the church in America (at least) is peopled by an awkward, often misguided, ill-informed laity. He may find that most Christians he meets are not at all interesting, or interested in the treasures of the faith. He has already had to ask that question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” At this early point in his life of faith, he already confesses that he is “captive”.

    I feel a bit guilty when I describe my fellow believers in such terms as uninteresting, or as being too wrapped up in the social aspects of church. Maybe I’ve lived in the Midwest too long, eh?

  • Mark

    Why do people go to megachurches? I had woman in my Lutheran parish who was a Baptist. She was acceptd into membership before I became pastor and obviously no Lutheran catechesis occured. She did not like what I was preaching regarding Holy Baptism. We had quite a few discussions. One day I related to her that my Father once talking with me about Church and he stated that he found that going to Holy Communion was more important that Sunday School…if that choice was presented. Our Baptist member said, for me Sunday school was so much more important than ‘going to church’. She was even a Sunday school teacher at my Lutheran church and then it hit me like a ton of bricks: it’s in Sunday School…and other small intimate groups, cell groups, etc…that one is emotionally and ‘prayerfully’ supported in order to ‘make your decision for Christ’. Why do people go to megachurches…it’s in the small groups which I think honecomb their congregations. And then they all converge on the ‘praise service’ which is really a pep rally. But it is in those spiritual support groups that ‘my faith’ can be REALLY felt and in a rootless society, this is seen as consummate good.

    I know this reflection is anecdotal. But does it ring true?

  • Mark

    Why do people go to megachurches? I had woman in my Lutheran parish who was a Baptist. She was acceptd into membership before I became pastor and obviously no Lutheran catechesis occured. She did not like what I was preaching regarding Holy Baptism. We had quite a few discussions. One day I related to her that my Father once talking with me about Church and he stated that he found that going to Holy Communion was more important that Sunday School…if that choice was presented. Our Baptist member said, for me Sunday school was so much more important than ‘going to church’. She was even a Sunday school teacher at my Lutheran church and then it hit me like a ton of bricks: it’s in Sunday School…and other small intimate groups, cell groups, etc…that one is emotionally and ‘prayerfully’ supported in order to ‘make your decision for Christ’. Why do people go to megachurches…it’s in the small groups which I think honecomb their congregations. And then they all converge on the ‘praise service’ which is really a pep rally. But it is in those spiritual support groups that ‘my faith’ can be REALLY felt and in a rootless society, this is seen as consummate good.

    I know this reflection is anecdotal. But does it ring true?

  • Nemo

    So Mark, is the megachurch too big or too small?

  • Nemo

    So Mark, is the megachurch too big or too small?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think the truth about evangelism is that it takes time. I think small to midsize churches to it better than mega churches. You bring the people in, you introduce them to theology with Catechesis, and you incorporate them into the family. Turning out a crowd with very little follow up if any during the week by parishioners, and or the pastor will not effectively incorporate a person into the church. I dare say if you are worshiping 3 to 4,000 on a Sunday the pastor won’t have much time to visit with the visitors. And those numbers make it near impossible to have a sacramental life in the church. Not that it couldn’t be done, but it would be extremely difficult, and it have to be a come one come all approach.
    The churches life is centered in the Gospel and the sacraments. The two go hand in hand and cannot be divorced from each other. Holy Communion provides a focus for the Divine Service. But this focus is lost in too many “contemporary” services. Alas, it is lost in too many confessional Lutheran Churches also, when it isn’t offered every Sunday. But to surround it with the trappings of the world, in a pep rally type service, would also demean the importance of this Holy gift.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think the truth about evangelism is that it takes time. I think small to midsize churches to it better than mega churches. You bring the people in, you introduce them to theology with Catechesis, and you incorporate them into the family. Turning out a crowd with very little follow up if any during the week by parishioners, and or the pastor will not effectively incorporate a person into the church. I dare say if you are worshiping 3 to 4,000 on a Sunday the pastor won’t have much time to visit with the visitors. And those numbers make it near impossible to have a sacramental life in the church. Not that it couldn’t be done, but it would be extremely difficult, and it have to be a come one come all approach.
    The churches life is centered in the Gospel and the sacraments. The two go hand in hand and cannot be divorced from each other. Holy Communion provides a focus for the Divine Service. But this focus is lost in too many “contemporary” services. Alas, it is lost in too many confessional Lutheran Churches also, when it isn’t offered every Sunday. But to surround it with the trappings of the world, in a pep rally type service, would also demean the importance of this Holy gift.

  • Booklover

    “Isn’t it true that the megachurches appeal mostly to people who are already Christians?”

    In my area, this appears to be true. Small congregations are dying while the local megachurches keep building on. It seems Christians go there to escape accountability, to feel free. If there is a conflict or, heaven forbid, a split in one’s small church, it is almost a breath of fresh air to arrive in a new place with a sea of faces where one is not held accountable.

    In our local megachurch, the pastor said we couldn’t sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of my friend because “the people wouldn’t know it.” (!!!!!!!)

    And no, I have never seen a sacramental service in these megachurches though I’ve been there a few times.

    In the case of Mr. Eszterhas, I don’t believe one can take his childhood Catholicism lightly. It’s part of his Christian story–it’s in his bones. Lutheranism is in my bones because I was raised in it, and it’s part of my Christian story; even though many believe that I didn’t “become” a Christian until I “made a decision” and am now attend a Baptist church. Hogwash. (I married Baptist.)

    I think it’s also ludicrous to lambaste Catholicism solely because of the pedophile scandal. *Every* church is riddled with sin. There are people in every denomination who beat their wives, sleep with their next door neighbor, charge exhorbitant rates at their business, etc. If a church says it has no sin, it is probably the worst. Reference the pharisees.

  • Booklover

    “Isn’t it true that the megachurches appeal mostly to people who are already Christians?”

    In my area, this appears to be true. Small congregations are dying while the local megachurches keep building on. It seems Christians go there to escape accountability, to feel free. If there is a conflict or, heaven forbid, a split in one’s small church, it is almost a breath of fresh air to arrive in a new place with a sea of faces where one is not held accountable.

    In our local megachurch, the pastor said we couldn’t sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of my friend because “the people wouldn’t know it.” (!!!!!!!)

    And no, I have never seen a sacramental service in these megachurches though I’ve been there a few times.

    In the case of Mr. Eszterhas, I don’t believe one can take his childhood Catholicism lightly. It’s part of his Christian story–it’s in his bones. Lutheranism is in my bones because I was raised in it, and it’s part of my Christian story; even though many believe that I didn’t “become” a Christian until I “made a decision” and am now attend a Baptist church. Hogwash. (I married Baptist.)

    I think it’s also ludicrous to lambaste Catholicism solely because of the pedophile scandal. *Every* church is riddled with sin. There are people in every denomination who beat their wives, sleep with their next door neighbor, charge exhorbitant rates at their business, etc. If a church says it has no sin, it is probably the worst. Reference the pharisees.

  • Mark

    Is a megachurch too big or too small? Yes. I agree with what Bror E. says above. I think the problem in evangelism is not trying to make for bigger churches (which is an peculiar American predilection of ‘super-sizing’), but more smaller ones centered on Word and Sacrament in the communion of saints. I think it was an eastern Orthodox writer who speaks about the pastor being a spiritual father and that about 100-200 is about right. Then I have thought that if a congregation were to go beyond that number on a Sunday, form a new congregation. The only reason for huge churches is to offer more programs and so the congregation is centered on the program, not the Promise. As a pastor, I have fielded a few times, what are your program questions…and an Orthodox priest friend said to me, when I told him I felt uncomfortable in even answering the question: “You should have said, Jesus Christ.” It was Herman Sasse who wrote, Our Lord said, where 2 or 3 are gathered in My Name…not 2 or 3 million.

  • Mark

    Is a megachurch too big or too small? Yes. I agree with what Bror E. says above. I think the problem in evangelism is not trying to make for bigger churches (which is an peculiar American predilection of ‘super-sizing’), but more smaller ones centered on Word and Sacrament in the communion of saints. I think it was an eastern Orthodox writer who speaks about the pastor being a spiritual father and that about 100-200 is about right. Then I have thought that if a congregation were to go beyond that number on a Sunday, form a new congregation. The only reason for huge churches is to offer more programs and so the congregation is centered on the program, not the Promise. As a pastor, I have fielded a few times, what are your program questions…and an Orthodox priest friend said to me, when I told him I felt uncomfortable in even answering the question: “You should have said, Jesus Christ.” It was Herman Sasse who wrote, Our Lord said, where 2 or 3 are gathered in My Name…not 2 or 3 million.

  • Don S

    There is a lot of generalizing going on here, and I am not sure it is really edifying to the Body. How are you defining “megachurch”? Is it simply a numbers thing? I live in a land of many churches having in excess of 1,000 congregants. They are very, very different from one another, and there is no way I could generalize about them, or universally condemn them, as many of you are doing. We have an LCMS church across the street from our church that exceeds 1,000 weekly worshippers and just completed a new building project. Is it a “megachurch”? Should it be split? Should it be condemned just because it is large? Perhaps intrusive local governments which resist church building projects are actually acting in our best interests?

    There are also many smaller churches which have incorporated contemporary worship music. Why are they better than the so-called “megachurches”? And if a megachurch is so bad, then maybe we should reconsider our universal condemnation of house churches from our earlier thread. We are kind of squeezing folks into a single style of church and worship from both ends, aren’t we? Just based on size, and without regard to the merits of each local church, considered individually?

    Eszterhas found the “megachurch” he attended did not suit him, because he had grown up Catholic and considered that liturgy and the Sacraments as offered in the Catholic church to be important to him. That’s fine, and I’m glad he is where God wants him to worship. But does that mean the “megachurch” was necessarily a bad church? Or just wrong for him? Two things I have noticed about larger churches: 1) a lot of lapsed Christians, who decide, once they have children, that they need to get back to church, start out in a larger church. Sometimes they stay there, sometimes they feel like they “outgrow” that church and move on to a smaller one as they mature in the faith. In either event, that larger church seems to have met a need at that moment in their journey back into the faith. 2) Good large churches typically have a vibrant small groups ministry, so that they essentially comprise a plurality of small local churches sitting under a single teacher on Sunday morning. I’m not sure why that would necessarily be bad or unbiblical.

    My family does not attend a “megachurch”, because we don’t feel comfortable in that setting. We prefer our small local church (we are in So. Cal., so 600 is small :) ) But I would very much hesitate to universally condemn all large churches without discriminating among them and without necessarily knowing what I was talking about, as many here seem to be doing.

  • Don S

    There is a lot of generalizing going on here, and I am not sure it is really edifying to the Body. How are you defining “megachurch”? Is it simply a numbers thing? I live in a land of many churches having in excess of 1,000 congregants. They are very, very different from one another, and there is no way I could generalize about them, or universally condemn them, as many of you are doing. We have an LCMS church across the street from our church that exceeds 1,000 weekly worshippers and just completed a new building project. Is it a “megachurch”? Should it be split? Should it be condemned just because it is large? Perhaps intrusive local governments which resist church building projects are actually acting in our best interests?

    There are also many smaller churches which have incorporated contemporary worship music. Why are they better than the so-called “megachurches”? And if a megachurch is so bad, then maybe we should reconsider our universal condemnation of house churches from our earlier thread. We are kind of squeezing folks into a single style of church and worship from both ends, aren’t we? Just based on size, and without regard to the merits of each local church, considered individually?

    Eszterhas found the “megachurch” he attended did not suit him, because he had grown up Catholic and considered that liturgy and the Sacraments as offered in the Catholic church to be important to him. That’s fine, and I’m glad he is where God wants him to worship. But does that mean the “megachurch” was necessarily a bad church? Or just wrong for him? Two things I have noticed about larger churches: 1) a lot of lapsed Christians, who decide, once they have children, that they need to get back to church, start out in a larger church. Sometimes they stay there, sometimes they feel like they “outgrow” that church and move on to a smaller one as they mature in the faith. In either event, that larger church seems to have met a need at that moment in their journey back into the faith. 2) Good large churches typically have a vibrant small groups ministry, so that they essentially comprise a plurality of small local churches sitting under a single teacher on Sunday morning. I’m not sure why that would necessarily be bad or unbiblical.

    My family does not attend a “megachurch”, because we don’t feel comfortable in that setting. We prefer our small local church (we are in So. Cal., so 600 is small :) ) But I would very much hesitate to universally condemn all large churches without discriminating among them and without necessarily knowing what I was talking about, as many here seem to be doing.

  • Don S

    To respond specifically to folks who seem to think 100-200 congregants is about right — that may work in the midwest or other places where land is cheap, or where the church building has been there for 150 years. It doesn’t work so well in high cost areas like So. Cal. 75 or so families is an insufficient financial base to swing the acquisition and building out of a suitable church property. A dense population in a high cost area is going to naturally result in larger local churches.

  • Don S

    To respond specifically to folks who seem to think 100-200 congregants is about right — that may work in the midwest or other places where land is cheap, or where the church building has been there for 150 years. It doesn’t work so well in high cost areas like So. Cal. 75 or so families is an insufficient financial base to swing the acquisition and building out of a suitable church property. A dense population in a high cost area is going to naturally result in larger local churches.

  • Nemo

    Don, you beat me to it. I guess I’m not the only one with that reaction.

    Thank you Mark and Bror for your explanations, but I’m not sure I phrased my question properly. Bror’s problem (and Booklover’s), is that there is no follow up and no accountability during the week. Where this is true, it is certainly grounds for concern. What I can’t figure out is why, after pointing out the above pitfall, you then don’t like the “small intimate groups, cell groups, etc.” Is that not the accountability that you argue is otherwise missing?

    After seeing several discussions about the “megachurch” here, it seems (to an outsider) that the Lutheran objection can be boiled down to the fact that they are different than you. You don’t miss many opportunities to point this out. It doesn’t matter what they do, you don’t like it. You don’t like the church because it is too big and you don’t like their small group meetings because they’re too small. You don’t like their songs because you think they are not appealing to outsiders, and you don’t like their service because you think it is trying to attract outsiders. You insist on personal growth for the members who aren’t growing, and condemn the “self-feeders” for their personal discipleship.

    Can these churches do nothing right in your eyes? Might they not warrant a little encouragement once in a while? Are they not also part of the universal church? After all, it is not as if the Lutheran churches are immune to many the same problems. (According to the LCMS website, for example, one pastor who frequently posts on this blog has less than 50% of his members showing up on the average Sunday, and another has less than 30%. The churches I grew up in are at 57%, 34%, and 65%–and this is calculating from a membership base of confirmed, not baptized members. If baptized members are included, the percentages drop.)

    Now, you may (and probably at times do) have legitimate concerns about these churches. However, your method of conveying those corrections is not working. Rather, to this non-Lutheran, it looks an awful lot like “Thank you Lord that we are not like that megachruch over there…” and I don’t think that is the persona you went to present.

  • Nemo

    Don, you beat me to it. I guess I’m not the only one with that reaction.

    Thank you Mark and Bror for your explanations, but I’m not sure I phrased my question properly. Bror’s problem (and Booklover’s), is that there is no follow up and no accountability during the week. Where this is true, it is certainly grounds for concern. What I can’t figure out is why, after pointing out the above pitfall, you then don’t like the “small intimate groups, cell groups, etc.” Is that not the accountability that you argue is otherwise missing?

    After seeing several discussions about the “megachurch” here, it seems (to an outsider) that the Lutheran objection can be boiled down to the fact that they are different than you. You don’t miss many opportunities to point this out. It doesn’t matter what they do, you don’t like it. You don’t like the church because it is too big and you don’t like their small group meetings because they’re too small. You don’t like their songs because you think they are not appealing to outsiders, and you don’t like their service because you think it is trying to attract outsiders. You insist on personal growth for the members who aren’t growing, and condemn the “self-feeders” for their personal discipleship.

    Can these churches do nothing right in your eyes? Might they not warrant a little encouragement once in a while? Are they not also part of the universal church? After all, it is not as if the Lutheran churches are immune to many the same problems. (According to the LCMS website, for example, one pastor who frequently posts on this blog has less than 50% of his members showing up on the average Sunday, and another has less than 30%. The churches I grew up in are at 57%, 34%, and 65%–and this is calculating from a membership base of confirmed, not baptized members. If baptized members are included, the percentages drop.)

    Now, you may (and probably at times do) have legitimate concerns about these churches. However, your method of conveying those corrections is not working. Rather, to this non-Lutheran, it looks an awful lot like “Thank you Lord that we are not like that megachruch over there…” and I don’t think that is the persona you went to present.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Don S,
    The financial side of things is truly a problem, and sometimes necessitates a larger congregation. I’ll agree with you there. I try not to get specific on numbers, though I will at times. My dad used to pastor churches of over a thousand, and was able to do so quite well. He also was able to start new congregations, by accessing core people from those congregations to be the nucleus.
    I do think however, that the pastoral care that can be offered declines either when the church is too small to afford a pastor, or too large for the pastor to be able to get around to everyone. Of course, on the upside the pastor gets paid more in a larger congregation.
    Small groups, cell groups, etc, are hardly viable alternatives for good pastoral care. Sorry, I’ve been there, most of the time it is blind leading blind. God instituted the pastoral office for a reason. When I’m in the hospital I want a pastor to show up with the sacrament. That is extremely different than my friend with a Hallmark card.
    Also a Pastor has more duties to the flock than a sermon on Sunday morning.
    I do find it funny that you consider 600 to be a small congregation. Where I am 200 is considered large.
    I do however know of congregations much smaller than 600 that have been able to make a good go of it even in your neck of the woods.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Don S,
    The financial side of things is truly a problem, and sometimes necessitates a larger congregation. I’ll agree with you there. I try not to get specific on numbers, though I will at times. My dad used to pastor churches of over a thousand, and was able to do so quite well. He also was able to start new congregations, by accessing core people from those congregations to be the nucleus.
    I do think however, that the pastoral care that can be offered declines either when the church is too small to afford a pastor, or too large for the pastor to be able to get around to everyone. Of course, on the upside the pastor gets paid more in a larger congregation.
    Small groups, cell groups, etc, are hardly viable alternatives for good pastoral care. Sorry, I’ve been there, most of the time it is blind leading blind. God instituted the pastoral office for a reason. When I’m in the hospital I want a pastor to show up with the sacrament. That is extremely different than my friend with a Hallmark card.
    Also a Pastor has more duties to the flock than a sermon on Sunday morning.
    I do find it funny that you consider 600 to be a small congregation. Where I am 200 is considered large.
    I do however know of congregations much smaller than 600 that have been able to make a good go of it even in your neck of the woods.

  • Don S

    Bror:

    You make some very valid points.

    No doubt you are correct about some small group programs in some churches. I have seen them as well. There are churches that will take any warm body that is willing to “do ministry” and throw them into service without training or accountability. This is true whether it is children’s ministry or small group ministry, or some other kind of ministry. Very unfortunate. Of course, this is true in both small and large churches.

    However, I have observed many other churches which have a very carefully managed small group ministry. There is a postoral team in charge of the ministry, and they are very careful to recruit and extensively train lay leadership for the small groups. There is continued regular training and regular and extensive accountability for the lay group leaders. Not only does this kind of approach result in meaningful small group leadership, it provides an opportunity for lay leaders to develop their spiritual gifts, and often results in them going on to formal spiritual training and full time ministry.

    I sense that much of your objection to megachurches is that they are non-Lutheran. Fair enough, but that objection is probably not one based on church size, but rather style and focus of worship. As I mentioned in my earlier post, there is an LCMS Lutheran megachurch adjacent to our church. They have a pastoral staff sufficiently large to visit sick congregants, administer the sacraments, etc. So, would you object to that?

    In southern California, churches with small congregations (say, 200) are typically long-established (having obtained their building before real estate got expensive) or just starting up. The vibrant new churches quickly grow to a sufficient congregational size where they can afford a building. Other small new churches either die off or get a lot smaller and become a house church. The concept of setting up and tearing down your church in a school facility every week gets old in a hurry. For an established church that didn’t get its building back in the 1960′s or 1970′s, a congregation of 600 is definitely small in this neck of the woods.

  • Don S

    Bror:

    You make some very valid points.

    No doubt you are correct about some small group programs in some churches. I have seen them as well. There are churches that will take any warm body that is willing to “do ministry” and throw them into service without training or accountability. This is true whether it is children’s ministry or small group ministry, or some other kind of ministry. Very unfortunate. Of course, this is true in both small and large churches.

    However, I have observed many other churches which have a very carefully managed small group ministry. There is a postoral team in charge of the ministry, and they are very careful to recruit and extensively train lay leadership for the small groups. There is continued regular training and regular and extensive accountability for the lay group leaders. Not only does this kind of approach result in meaningful small group leadership, it provides an opportunity for lay leaders to develop their spiritual gifts, and often results in them going on to formal spiritual training and full time ministry.

    I sense that much of your objection to megachurches is that they are non-Lutheran. Fair enough, but that objection is probably not one based on church size, but rather style and focus of worship. As I mentioned in my earlier post, there is an LCMS Lutheran megachurch adjacent to our church. They have a pastoral staff sufficiently large to visit sick congregants, administer the sacraments, etc. So, would you object to that?

    In southern California, churches with small congregations (say, 200) are typically long-established (having obtained their building before real estate got expensive) or just starting up. The vibrant new churches quickly grow to a sufficient congregational size where they can afford a building. Other small new churches either die off or get a lot smaller and become a house church. The concept of setting up and tearing down your church in a school facility every week gets old in a hurry. For an established church that didn’t get its building back in the 1960′s or 1970′s, a congregation of 600 is definitely small in this neck of the woods.

  • Don S

    Obviously, “postoral” should be “pastoral” in my previous post.

  • Don S

    Obviously, “postoral” should be “pastoral” in my previous post.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Don S,
    The fact that it is not Lutheran is just another gripe I have with them. And I do know the LCMS has “Mega Churches.” I don’t know the size of the one next to you. However with many of them, I wonder how Lutheran they are.
    Worship is central to the Church, the sacraments are central to worship. Pastors administer the sacraments, that is there job, not a that of a lay leader. So you can have your Bible study if you want. I don’t object to them. But it is not Church. Valuable yes. But not Church, not the Divine Service. And it is this Divine Service that is central to the life of a Christian. Furthermore, a lay leader is a lay leader, and not a pastor. The Pastor has a unique job, and unique training, unique responsibilities to God and to the flock. These should not be handed over to lay leaders. They have not been charged with them, the pastor has. It is irresponsible to unload your pastoral duties on a lay leader no matter how well trained. It is also unfair to those lay leaders. People should not expect from them those things expected of a pastor.
    Here in Utah, the lay leadership concept is rampant. The Mormon Church supposedly doesn’t have paid clergy, but I wouldn’t mind Pres. Monson’s expense account… Theological deviance aside, the one thing I have noticed about the “bishops”, as the lay leaders like to call themselves here, is that they are not able, no matter how well trained to give pastoral care, of the type I am able too. Why? Time. The Church pays me to be their pastor, so that I can study for the Bible Study, the Sermons, so that I have time to go visit people in the Hospital and don’t have to worry about when I need to get back and punch the clock, I can visit with the grieving and plan a funeral at 1:00 in the afternoon, rather than waiting till nine at night, when the grieving would rather be asleep. And after all that I still have time for my own family. (and a blog post here and there.) It just isn’t right that after they pay me to do these things, I would throw it on the shoulders of a lay leader, who is already bogged down with work, family, and the football league.
    There are other problems with the small group mentality we Lutherans bequeathed to the world through Philip Spener. Now I have to go wash my hands out with soap for typing his name. But that is maybe a topic for another time, and another place. Sufficient for now is to reiterate that small groups are not a sufficient replacement for proper pastoral care. I as a pastor would feel dirty for handing it over to that. I as a pastor am somewhat offended at the idea also. But my ego will get over it.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Don S,
    The fact that it is not Lutheran is just another gripe I have with them. And I do know the LCMS has “Mega Churches.” I don’t know the size of the one next to you. However with many of them, I wonder how Lutheran they are.
    Worship is central to the Church, the sacraments are central to worship. Pastors administer the sacraments, that is there job, not a that of a lay leader. So you can have your Bible study if you want. I don’t object to them. But it is not Church. Valuable yes. But not Church, not the Divine Service. And it is this Divine Service that is central to the life of a Christian. Furthermore, a lay leader is a lay leader, and not a pastor. The Pastor has a unique job, and unique training, unique responsibilities to God and to the flock. These should not be handed over to lay leaders. They have not been charged with them, the pastor has. It is irresponsible to unload your pastoral duties on a lay leader no matter how well trained. It is also unfair to those lay leaders. People should not expect from them those things expected of a pastor.
    Here in Utah, the lay leadership concept is rampant. The Mormon Church supposedly doesn’t have paid clergy, but I wouldn’t mind Pres. Monson’s expense account… Theological deviance aside, the one thing I have noticed about the “bishops”, as the lay leaders like to call themselves here, is that they are not able, no matter how well trained to give pastoral care, of the type I am able too. Why? Time. The Church pays me to be their pastor, so that I can study for the Bible Study, the Sermons, so that I have time to go visit people in the Hospital and don’t have to worry about when I need to get back and punch the clock, I can visit with the grieving and plan a funeral at 1:00 in the afternoon, rather than waiting till nine at night, when the grieving would rather be asleep. And after all that I still have time for my own family. (and a blog post here and there.) It just isn’t right that after they pay me to do these things, I would throw it on the shoulders of a lay leader, who is already bogged down with work, family, and the football league.
    There are other problems with the small group mentality we Lutherans bequeathed to the world through Philip Spener. Now I have to go wash my hands out with soap for typing his name. But that is maybe a topic for another time, and another place. Sufficient for now is to reiterate that small groups are not a sufficient replacement for proper pastoral care. I as a pastor would feel dirty for handing it over to that. I as a pastor am somewhat offended at the idea also. But my ego will get over it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As much as I also enjoy the old and liturgical, I’m not sure I agree with all the arguments here.

    First of all, there seems to be the argument that Eszterhas is a good representative of all or many non-believers. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. He was raised Catholic, after all, so is it that surprising that he finds himself returning — if after quite a separation — to the faith he was raised in? But might not other non-believers feel just as pulled to “contemporary” services? I don’t think it would be hard to find anecdotes to that end. Not that either anecdote should be the basis for worship style.

    “Praise songs, for example, tend to presuppose a level of intimacy with God that non-believers, by definition, simply don’t have.” True, but then doesn’t Holy Communion presuppose an even greater level of intimacy? Is that a problem for non-believers as well? (I would argue it isn’t.)

    “Isn’t it true that hard-core non-believers mock the megachurch kind of worship?” Yes, but isn’t it also true that hard-core non-believers mock liturgical worship like that found in Catholic (and, if they’ve actually come in contact with them, Lutheran) churches? Do we care what the mockers say?

    I certainly won’t agree with any “megachurch” or “contemporary worship” types that their way is the only right way to do things, but nor would I agree with those who say the same thing about traditional, liturgical worship. I think we can reach people in both ways — and likely not the same group of people. Why not be all things to all people, as long as Jesus (and his teaching in the Bible) is central?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As much as I also enjoy the old and liturgical, I’m not sure I agree with all the arguments here.

    First of all, there seems to be the argument that Eszterhas is a good representative of all or many non-believers. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. He was raised Catholic, after all, so is it that surprising that he finds himself returning — if after quite a separation — to the faith he was raised in? But might not other non-believers feel just as pulled to “contemporary” services? I don’t think it would be hard to find anecdotes to that end. Not that either anecdote should be the basis for worship style.

    “Praise songs, for example, tend to presuppose a level of intimacy with God that non-believers, by definition, simply don’t have.” True, but then doesn’t Holy Communion presuppose an even greater level of intimacy? Is that a problem for non-believers as well? (I would argue it isn’t.)

    “Isn’t it true that hard-core non-believers mock the megachurch kind of worship?” Yes, but isn’t it also true that hard-core non-believers mock liturgical worship like that found in Catholic (and, if they’ve actually come in contact with them, Lutheran) churches? Do we care what the mockers say?

    I certainly won’t agree with any “megachurch” or “contemporary worship” types that their way is the only right way to do things, but nor would I agree with those who say the same thing about traditional, liturgical worship. I think we can reach people in both ways — and likely not the same group of people. Why not be all things to all people, as long as Jesus (and his teaching in the Bible) is central?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Why not be all things to all people, as long as Jesus (and his teaching in the Bible) is central?
    And therein lies the rub.
    Let’s say, as long as the gospel of Jesus is central. As long as the work Christ has done and the promise He has fulfilled is central.
    Making Jesus and His teaching central could mean idolizing the sermon on the mount or social justice or even miracles. Jesus taught one thing, really, that saves, and that is that He is the way, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him, and that following Him into causes, actions, or emotional roller-coasters does nothing to further save us or to cement the salvation he won.
    If we’re compelled to sing about how much we love Jesus, or to praise His awesomeness, we’d better have some notion as to what makes Him awesome or lovable.
    Likewise, we’d better have a strong idea as to who we are and why we follow Him–that, without Him, we are lost in sin no matter how many services we attend and how high we lift our hands in praise, or how loudly we sing and old Kyrie.
    We praise the One who lifted us out of sin and death, not from our dull and humdrum liturgy or grandfather’s tired old law and gospel sermons.
    We are to be given the medicine of immortality; not trade it in for self-administered doses of–well, something else entirely, once it’s been made more palatable for our fickle tastes.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Why not be all things to all people, as long as Jesus (and his teaching in the Bible) is central?
    And therein lies the rub.
    Let’s say, as long as the gospel of Jesus is central. As long as the work Christ has done and the promise He has fulfilled is central.
    Making Jesus and His teaching central could mean idolizing the sermon on the mount or social justice or even miracles. Jesus taught one thing, really, that saves, and that is that He is the way, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him, and that following Him into causes, actions, or emotional roller-coasters does nothing to further save us or to cement the salvation he won.
    If we’re compelled to sing about how much we love Jesus, or to praise His awesomeness, we’d better have some notion as to what makes Him awesome or lovable.
    Likewise, we’d better have a strong idea as to who we are and why we follow Him–that, without Him, we are lost in sin no matter how many services we attend and how high we lift our hands in praise, or how loudly we sing and old Kyrie.
    We praise the One who lifted us out of sin and death, not from our dull and humdrum liturgy or grandfather’s tired old law and gospel sermons.
    We are to be given the medicine of immortality; not trade it in for self-administered doses of–well, something else entirely, once it’s been made more palatable for our fickle tastes.

  • Booklover

    I confess that I have had some harsh words for some megachurches and for some churches which use revival tactics to convert “already-Christians.”

    I do believe that there are true Christians in all denominations. I offer this prayer from China which is found in Phyllis Tickle’s *Divine Hours* prayer book:

    “Help each one of us, gracious Father, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the Church may never have cause to say to any one of us, This is my body, broken by you.”

  • Booklover

    I confess that I have had some harsh words for some megachurches and for some churches which use revival tactics to convert “already-Christians.”

    I do believe that there are true Christians in all denominations. I offer this prayer from China which is found in Phyllis Tickle’s *Divine Hours* prayer book:

    “Help each one of us, gracious Father, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the Church may never have cause to say to any one of us, This is my body, broken by you.”


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