Leadership’s Out of Ur blog recently recounted a story of a family with a child with cerebral palsy being asked to leave a worship service for being a distraction. The family went to “Elevation Church” in North Carolina. A local news station picked up the story and interviewed the mother, who spoke of the child’s desire to go to the Easter service, giving his own heartfelt “amen” after the conclusion of the music, and promptly being accosted by ushers and taken out of the “sanctuary.” The church responded to the news outlet, saying that they apologize for any misunderstanding (apparently the family misunderstood that they were not welcome), but that they are committed to providing a “distraction free environment” for their attendees.
The mother, being a better person than I, used the event as an opportunity to ask the church if she could start a ministry for disabled children, the church responded to her request by saying that they are about worship, not ministry! I would argue on a theological level this “church” can’t possibly be a church if they do no ministry, but that is for another day.
As I read through the lively feedback on the posting blog, I noticed one astute commenter had found that this same church was featured in an earlier article. The subject of the article was a publicity event where the pastor was going to preach for 24-hours strait. The highly publicized event coincided with the pastor’s releasing of his new book, and when pressed if the event was just to “pimp his book,” he said indeed it was!
The pastor in question is apparently known for trying really hard to be cool. His hair and attire change frequently, and his services are top-notch Christian entertainment. He is praised for being on the cutting edge like many other celebrity pastors out there. Few seem to be making the case that being thrown out of church may have a terrible impact upon the disabled child in the story, or that if this pastor is indeed responsible, he should have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the ocean (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2).
I have worked at and visited many “cool” churches and “happy” churches before. I have made many observation about them during my time there. The first is that they all claim to be outlandish in order to reach the unchurched, but in reality the vast majority of their members grew up in the church and want to be more like the world than attractive to people “of the world.” Case in point. When I worked in a restaurant in Alabama many of my coworkers went to the same massive, cool church. Most of them had grown up in stodgy old traditional churches and wanted something more “hip.” One day a friend of mine told me she was excited because for the first time in her life she was going to (that same) church. I was happy for her. She was the image of the prodigal daughter, a former stripper, but soon her enthusiasm for the church began to fade. I asked her why she wasn’t going to church anymore, and she told me how uncomfortable she was. “Why?” I asked her. She told me that the females in the church dressed “slutty” and it made her feel bad because she didn’t want to dress like that anymore but she also looked so out place fully clothed. I sent an email to someone I knew on their church staff. It read: “Congratulations, your church body has managed to make a stripper blush!” I was told I was too stuck in my ways. Yes, the liberal Californian who didn’t start going to church until he was 17 was too tied to old church traditions, that must be it. This interaction just reaffirmed something I always knew, cool churches do build a bridge to the world, but rather than the bridge allowing the world to come to the church, it provides a spiritually-dressed path for the church to retreat to the world. where the church girls could dress like strippers and the real strippers felt too awkward to attend.
A few weeks ago on my favorite podcast, the host’s long time girlfriend, and ex-stripper herself related a similar story from her previous weekend. A friend of hers had taken her to a cool church in LA, they sat right up front and when the service began, the former stripper said, mostly-naked young women danced in the air, suspended by ribbons and the men below gawked and drooled. She said the performance was followed by a Britney Spears look-a-like evangelist who proclaimed, “this is for the men, the conquerors of God!” After which she invited all the men in the church to rush the stage so she could lay hands on them. I wont go into details as what was reported next, but if accurate, I wish someone had an audio recording of the moans that filled the room bellowing from the groped men.
Church has become a show, that is why it needs naked girls on the stage and in the crowd, because that is what the crowds want. It can’t have disabled children in the crowd because people would be “turned off” and in order for these shows to be successful, everyone needs to be tuned in and turned on. This trend seems to be getting worse. In the quest for “cool” we are losing any witness we once had for the gospel. The world is seeing the church for what it is, and it doesn’t look pretty.
Just remember that at one time church wasn’t the place people went to be cool, it was the place people went to encounter God.