ANNA KEITH DOES IT AGAIN: THE AFTERMATH: STORIES FROM FORMER WATERMARK CHURCH MEMBERS

 

autumn trees canopy view
Autumn Canopy

The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging. Jhumpa Lahiri


In my years of blogging, I have been contacted by some folks who wanted to tell me what happened to them at Watermark Church in Dallas. At the time, none of them wanted to come forward which I understand. Many of them claimed to fear blowback from their pastor. As the years have progressed, I can see why they worried about this. Watermark is a Hotel California which appears to enact church discipline at the drop of a hat. I have been told about small groups which ask for members to disclose their finances so the whole group can decide whether they are giving enough to the Lord’s work. I have been told by others that their group told them not to accept a new job because it wasn’t “the Lord’s will.”

Some former attendees said that they felt they were in a cult. We discussed how to get out of membership contracts. For those Watermark folks reading this, you can get out of your commitment at anytime since church membership is seen as a voluntary organization by the US government. One can always dissolve such ties but it must be done so that the church understands that the member will seek legal counsel if they will not let the member leave.

Here is link to describe the process involved. No matter what they say, you can resign even if you are undergoing church discipline.

I was so excited when Anna was able to get some people to discuss their experiences publicly. She has given me permission to post part of her article here. Then, follow the link to read the rest of her excellent descriptions of the visible problems at Watermark.


THE AFTERMATH: STORIES FROM FORMER WATERMARK CHURCH MEMBERS

I received some emails from former Watermark Church members who wanted to tell their stories, but were hesitant to share too much online, for fear of repercussions, or as I refer to it, ‘fair game’. I covered this in my previous post, ‘When Is a Church Member ‘Fair Game‘, referencing a case of church discipline that Watermark carried out publicly against one of its members.

I assured those who wanted to speak out with their stories that I would not identify them or use any details in my post that could be used to identify them. It’s extremely worrisome that they feel they have to hide and be afraid of what Watermark Church may say or do in response to them telling the truth about their abuse. We are talking about a CHURCH here, not the mafia. It shocks me how much fear this church has put inside of the people who dared leave it.

Before I get into the first story, I want to lay some groundwork to help my readers understand how the structure of ‘community groups’ at Watermark Church works. My daughter occasionally attends their weekly singles service, ‘The Porch’, which she enjoys. She has never seriously considered getting involved with the church beyond that, but has expressed to me that it is quite difficult to actually get connected at Watermark Church because everything is centered around MEMBERSHIP and COMMUNITY GROUPS and you can’t have one without the other. If you aren’t a covenant member at Watermark Church, you can’t join a community group, and that it where all the getting involved starts.

MEMBERSHIP AT WATERMARK CHURCH

Watermark Church’s membership process first requires that you sign the membership covenant, which oddly enough, you can do online. Once you’ve signed your life over to them, you must either form your own community group or go through the process of being placed in one. This process is called ‘Community Formation‘ (formerly GroupLink).

Watermark Church does not believe that single ladies & gentlemen should be in coed community groups. That is only for the married folk. Another requirement for membership is that you find an area in which to serve in the church.

Below are screenshots of their membership covenant. To the unsuspecting eye, everything contained in this document may seem legitimate or customary as far as church membership goes. However, if you have any experience with these covenants or have heard stories of people who have dealt with a church where they signed one of these and there was a point of contention or disagreement, you know that these are LEGALLY binding agreements and can be used against you (re: current The Village Church lawsuit  & the Karen Hinkley story.)

IT’S NOT JUST YOUR REGULAR SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS….

When I was 17, I started attending church regularly with my boyfriend (now husband) in high school, and we would go to Sunday School. It was a class before the main church service where people around the same age as you sat in a room, listened to a bible lesson, maybe interacted a bit, shared prayer requests, took up a small offering, held hands and said a closing prayer. Sure, we made friends with our peers in the class and had fun at summer camp, and it all developed out of normal human interaction. You made friends with whoever you wanted to and you shared what you felt like sharing. This was the same concept as we moved on to adult Sunday school.

According to Watermark Church, I guess we weren’t doing it right…

Community groups are the epicenter of Watermark Church. It’s how relationships are formed and accountability is established – or that’s what they want you to think. In these community groups you are enmeshing your entire life into the church. ‘Being your authentic self in community with others‘ is the goal, they say. What does being your ‘authentic self’ really mean, in the context of community groups? Confession, of course!  One of the ‘core values’ of the community groups is Live Authentically‘, which they define as “being completely honest with one another…this means giving others permission to know the real you by sharing authentically.”  This includes sharing your sins, struggles, along with your entire life story, potentially to a room full of complete strangers. It also means sharing your entire financial portfolio and giving away the freedom to make any life decisions apart from the community group.

At this link, you will find lots of information about how their community groups operate.

HOW LEAH REMINI’S SHOW HELPED THIS FORMER WATERMARK MEMBER LEAVE THE CHURCH

When I received the email from *Susan (pseudonym), a former Watermark Church member, she wrote, “I am not the only former ‘Watermarker’ out there who is nervous to speak up about this organization, because I refuse to call them a church.

Susan felt it was ironic that I had made a comparison between Scientology and Watermark Church, because she said those same comparisons helped her realize that she was not in a healthy church. I asked Susan if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for this post, which she was happy to do. I have edited some of her answers for content and length.

Continue Reading at Anna’s blog here.

 


Comments

ANNA KEITH DOES IT AGAIN: THE AFTERMATH: STORIES FROM FORMER WATERMARK CHURCH MEMBERS — 130 Comments

  1. “It also means sharing your entire financial portfolio and giving away the freedom to make any life decisions apart from the community group.”

    And of course, the church and its “leaders” post every scintilla of financials, their personal lives, and decision making for everyone to see, right? Right?

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  2. I don’t usually comment on church names, but somebody should have watermarked ‘Watermark Church’ with DRAFT and changed it before printing out the signs because it is the worst.

    Also this church sounds exhausting.

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  3. “Men and women were designed to come together, not be friends (that is quite literally from a message by Jonathan JP Pokluda who was the executive pastor of the Dallas campus and heads The Porch for the young singles.”

    From the blog post, ugh.

    This community group formation sounds super weird. There seems to be no…flow? IDK. And as I said, as an occasional introvert it sounds super exhausting to me. I like to tip toe into things.

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  4. One of the ‘core values’ of the community groups is ‘Live Authentically‘, which they define as “being completely honest with one another…this means giving others permission to know the real you by sharing authentically.” This includes sharing your sins, struggles, along with your entire life story, potentially to a room full of complete strangers. It also means sharing your entire financial portfolio and giving away the freedom to make any life decisions apart from the community group.

    JUST LIKE SCIENTOLOGY AUDITING LOGS!

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  5. HUG,

    I love the person talking about not having anything exciting to share, because they just go to work, do whatever, go home, etc. Rinse and repeat. I know i have ‘seasons’ where I would have nothing exciting to say ha!

    (nobody at church makes me share anything thank goodness, although I’ve had one on one talks with people…)

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  6. Susan’s answers to questions number three and four, combined with Watermarks’ view of obedience and community remind me of Nazi Germany’s Gestapo and party organization. Being a self taught student on that regime, the paramilitary set up of the Nazi Party, the group leader was responsible for so many members, and a couple small groups came under a leader, and on up. Both the Party and the Gestapo collated information coming from the bottom up. The Gestapo actually kept index cards on people just from people ratting each other out trying to save their own skin.

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  7. Lea: HUG,
    I love the person talking about not having anything exciting to share, because they just go to work, do whatever, go home, etc. Rinse and repeat.

    Unfortunately, like Testimony Nights, everyone else has itchy ears for the Real JUICY Stuff.

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing this. It is so helpful. Good churches are hard to find. My daughter is living in the Dallas area and has visited Watermark Church a few times. I’ll definitely tell her to stay away.

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  9. “Men and women were designed to come together, not be friends (that is quite literally from a message by Jonathan JP Pokluda who was the executive pastor of the Dallas campus and heads The Porch for the young singles.”
    This is so crazy. Singles need to have coed Bible studies and small groups together. I am pretty sure that JP guy has some personal issues. He sounds like Billy Crystal’s character in Harry Met Sally who said men and women can’t be friends because they are always thinking about ……. I will tell you having visited the place that the people are really nice and the music is great. Todd said something really stupid one Sunday from the pulpit and we were out of there.

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  10. Oh my goodness, this Community Groups thing is like the groups my former church had. I went to the initial meeting, was assigned to a table with other single women, and was supposed to spill my guts to these strangers. I had to choke back tears I was so uncomfortable. When I got a phone call after that about meeting again, I told the person this wasn’t for me.

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  11. In the screen shots from Watermark, under Leadership Oversight, in the reference to Acts 20:28 they say, “If there is no membership, for whom will the Elders give an account?”

    This is a massive misapplication of this verse.

    Are they finding new believers, i.e., baby Christians, carnal Christians to join their church?

    What is it that they do to give an impression that they are the only true church?

    If they’re telling people, prospective Christians, to be accounted for, recognized, etc, you have to do it here…

    I’m not a cult expert, aficionado. What’s the trick?

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  12. JDV:
    “It also means sharing your entire financial portfolio and giving away the freedom to make any life decisions apart from the community group.”

    And of course, the church and its “leaders” post every scintilla of financials, their personal lives, and decision making for everyone to see, right? Right?

    Hahaha, silly minions.

    We at the top of this pyramid scheme have matured beyond the need for that.

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  13. Brian: In the screen shots from Watermark, under Leadership Oversight, in the reference to Acts 20:28 they say, “If there is no membership, for whom will the Elders give an account?”
    This is a massive misapplication of this verse.
    Are they finding new believers, i.e., baby Christians, carnal Christians to join their church?
    What is it that they do to give an impression that they are the only true church?
    If they’re telling people, prospective Christians, to be accounted for, recognized, etc, you have to do it here…
    I’m not a cult expert, aficionado. What’s the trick?

    I’ll never forget the local sports arena opening a high-end restaurant which eventually closed, likely due to the people going there already spending a pretty penny to get into the arena and watch a game as the main entertainment of the evening. What struck me for the short time it was open was that they had a velvet rope and someone who looked ready to turn you away — only there was no line of customers.

    That scenario came to mind when reading this: “If there is no membership, for whom will the Elders give an account?” I see way too many people showing up from who knows where, proclaiming themselves “leaders”, and then shopping for sheep to shear on their say-so. Extra-Biblical autocratic measures often are instituted with little to no accountability and oversight — cuz they say they’re leaders from God and ‘the local church/storehouse’– complete with proof-texts which are wrested to underscore the grip on power and finances. The “if you don’t sign our manmade pledge and whatever we deem proper to put in it, how can we do what the Bible says we must?” approach has that potential.

    Rather than actually being servants, so many are tinpot dictators inviting people into a relationship of submission to them personally and as a group. Culty and dangerous to the max, but hardly raising an eyebrow in many circles with people not knowing better and seeing their spiritual life as a place where change and submission are needed. It can practically invite an environment for cycles of abuse on multiple levels.

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  14. JDV: they had a velvet rope and someone who looked ready to turn you away — only there was no line of customers.

    Imagine that person as St. Peter. The way things are going, will anybody want to go to heaven?

    (Full disclosure: I don’t believe that people are literally turned away at the gates of heaven. I do worry about the worst within Christianity giving Christianity a horrible name.)

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  15. HUG: “Unfortunately, like Testimony Nights, everyone else has itchy ears for the Real JUICY Stuff.”

    In 5 years, i’ve had like, one really juicy thing and no way I would have shared that in a group of randomly chosen people.

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  16. A open question to TWW readers:
    Why are people so willing to submit to authoritarian church leaders? Does not the NT, and especially JC’s teachings go directly against authoritarian religious leaders??

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  17. You mention how to get out of a membership contract,what I want to know is how to keep your picture from being used in p.r.? A previous church we attended is having a 25 year”this is who we are and came from” I noticed some folks that left on their website. I PERSONALLY don’t anyone to know that I was involved in their church and was so foolish when I was young.

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  18. In Other News:

    For reasons that will not be immediately obvious, I have produced a small JavaScript program that generates random, pronounceable names in the style of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

    They’re not totally random; there are 14,136 possible combinations as I’ve implemented it. Some of them really could be Hitch-Hiker characters. Here are some good ones:

     Gloop Toidlenoun
     Woat Zaidlewig
     Thub Dooblelop
     Pal Frobleflaish

    IHTIH

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  19. Jeffrey Chalmers: A open question to TWW readers:
    Why are people so willing to submit to authoritarian church leaders? Does not the NT, and especially JC’s teachings go directly against authoritarian religious leaders??

    In terms of personality, there are those who perceive a sense of security in following rather than working on their own sense of self and/or belief. During my pastoral years I was keenly aware of those who wanted me to tell them what to do, say, think, act, believe, etc. My role was not to authoritatively tell them anything, but to nurture them towards their own self-discovery.
    Thus, a key issue is how leaders relate to seekers: either tell them what they “need” to know or to support them as they seek.

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  20. Jeffrey Chalmers: Why are people so willing to submit to authoritarian church leaders? Does not the NT, and especially JC’s teachings go directly against authoritarian religious leaders??

    I agree with Luckyforward that some people feel security in being followers.

    I also think a lot of Christians like be tied up in cults of personality and believing that “God is really doing something here”. I’ve definitely known a number of Christians that equated a Christian celebrity pastor and large church numbers with God’s anointing. Some of those believed in the pastors we now know are abusers and predators. Some of that stems from our social media and celebrity Western culture and some because those pastors are charismatic and good talkers (even if they don’t write what they say).

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  21. Jeffrey Chalmers: Why are people so willing to submit to authoritarian church leaders? Does not the NT, and especially JC’s teachings go directly against authoritarian religious leaders??

    As harsh as this might sound, I have a theory, too: A lot of people are just too lazy to do the heavy-lifting required to find out what the Bible really says, and are all too willing to allow someone else interpret it for them. We should not depend on the church to teach us. According to John 16, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit! When I teach Sunday School, I always encourage students to find out for themselves what the Scripture says about a matter. However, most people are unwilling to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” and would rather prefer to have someone else spoon-feed them what they want to know–even to the point of willingly subjecting themselves to a church’s “authority” in order to get it.

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  22. Headless Unicorn Guy,

    I only want the ones with Star Destroyers added to them.
    Random, sorry. But that’s how I see those prints these days.

    ishy: I agree with Luckyforward that some people feel security in being followers.

    I also think a lot of Christians like be tied up in cults of personality and believing that “God is really doing something here”. I’ve definitely known a number of Christians that equated a Christian celebrity pastor and large church numbers with God’s anointing. Some of those believed in the pastors we now know are abusers and predators. Some of that stems from our social media and celebrity Western culture and some because those pastors are charismatic and good talkers (even if they don’t write what they say).

    I can see this, and have seen this. Sad, but true.

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  23. Jeffrey Chalmers: Why are people so willing to submit to authoritarian church leaders? Does not the NT, and especially JC’s teachings go directly against authoritarian religious leaders??

    I’m going to guess you know how they twist scriptures to justify their so-called ‘ruling’ over the masses. So you have the possibility of ignorance causing naive, humble, trusting believers to do whatever they are told. This is perpetrated by using threats, fearmongering, and every other mind control trick in the book. How does any abuser get victims to ‘willingly’ submit repeatedly? It is not genuine willingness, but a cruel, deliberate use of predatory methods to intimidate, frighten and manipulate people who do not understand how such methods are being used against them.

    I realize some find this offensive, but I cannot help but perceive organized religion as little more than a vast mind control operation. The true Body of Christ is made up of organic, voluntary relationships built on love and trust. This is not, on the whole, what we see in the so-called institutional ‘Church’.

    No doubt there are, and have always been exceptions to the rule, but when you are built with a false blueprint you cannot expect to get the proper results. Anytime you have an enforced hierarchy and forced ‘authority’ you are in an institution built with the wrong blueprint. I am thankful that through the years God has raised up true servants to buck the trend and actually serve; but it seems that breed has pretty much become died out as Church became a money-making business.

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  24. Mandavilla: You mention how to get out of a membership contract,what I want to know is how to keep your picture from being used in p.r.? A previous church we attended is having a 25 year”this is who we are and came from” I noticed some folks that left on their website. I PERSONALLY don’t anyone to know that I was involved in their church and was so foolish when I was young.

    That is a really good question. I noticed the same thing when I visited the website of our former church. All but one of the people pictured have since left the church, and some of them are my family. I was stunned to see they were still using such old pictures.

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  25. Just Observation:

    Protestants and Baptist, not including the Anglican church (due to their break away from Catholicism wasn’t part of the Reformation), try to shy away from too much or any hierarchy.

    The mega churches and these false Christian cults cling to hierarchy. They are recreating what the Protestant Reformation ran away from.

    Question:

    Because Watermark looks just like a mega church on the surface, some Christians are easy “marks” for Watermark (pun intended).

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  26. Mandavilla,

    Did you give consent for their use in the past? Were they indoor or outdoor. Was there a sign in their building notifying you photography took place inside the building? If they were outside photos in a public area, you might be out of luck.

    I apologize for not completing the thought. That’s all I can remember from my photography days.

    Also, what are your state laws on this.

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  27. JDV,

    “Rather than actually being servants, so many are tinpot dictators inviting people into a relationship of submission to them personally and as a group. Culty and dangerous to the max, but hardly raising an eyebrow in many circles with people not knowing better and seeing their spiritual life as a place where change and submission are needed. It can practically invite an environment for cycles of abuse on multiple levels.”
    ++++++++++++++++++

    but it’s fun. in the way that going to a movie theater to watch an adequately entertaining movie is fun. feels like a special occasion, & you get to be around people in an upbeat environment.

    just sitting amongst people in an upbeat environment without actually talking to them or making eye contact can meet a social need.

    and since it’s about God, you feel like you really did something good on a cosmic scale. chances are you earned some God-points to benefit your life here and in the hereafter. and probably enough God-point to tip the scales in your favor for the coming week.

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  28. Brian: hierarchy

    Methodists, Lutherans, and a lot of smaller or unaffiliated churches have bishops, founding prophets, et al. I think what matters is not whether there is a top-down hierarchy or congregational governance, but how it is used. Either approach can be used in an authoritarian way. Either approach can be used to admit sunlight.

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  29. Friend: Either approach can be used in an authoritarian way.

    Yes. I think that’s absolutely true. Not that one might not be better than the other, but it’s in the spirit of the thing. Hierarchy can be used to fix problems too.

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  30. Brian: The mega churches and these false Christian cults cling to hierarchy. They are recreating what the Protestant Reformation ran away from.

    “NO POPERY!” = “Now I Get To Be Pope. BURN THE HERETICS!!!!!”

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  31. TS00: I realize some find this offensive, but I cannot help but perceive organized religion as little more than a vast mind control operation. The true Body of Christ is made up of organic, voluntary relationships built on love and trust. This is not, on the whole, what we see in the so-called institutional ‘Church’.

    Not offended at all and here’s why:

    I don’t believe ‘church’ and how we do ‘church’ was always this way.

    It’s only been over the last 40-45 years that ‘church’ (some expressions of ‘church’, not all) has become a ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ in people’s lives.

    I grew up in the Southeastern corner of Wisconsin and was raised Lutheran before the world had moved on. There was also a sizeable Jewish population that observed Shabbat starting at sundown on Fridays, as well as Roman Catholics who attended Mass on Sundays.

    Back then, Church and Synagogue had their own separate spheres of influence, very little if any overlap with daily life during the rest of the week.
    You (generic you) went and did your thing at the appointed times and that was that.

    There was no time or incentive to want to meddle in or micro manage people’s lives in a religious sense.

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  32. Friend: Either approach can be used in an authoritarian way. Either approach can be used to admit sunlight.

    Lea: Yes. I think that’s absolutely true. Not that one might not be better than the other, but it’s in the spirit of the thing. Hierarchy can be used to fix problems too.

    Exactly. How it’s used is important. I went from a Baptist (SBC) polity to an Anglican (ACNA) polity. I like the checks and balances, locally, between Clergy and Vestry, and the fact that a bishop can put a check on a wayward priest. Granted, clericalism is a problem as well, just ask the Catholic church.

    But the measures have to be there to create checks and balances. If it isn’t…well…
    Throws hands around.

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  33. Muff Potter,

    This urge to micromanage come from the realization there was a financial outcome to it? I’m not picking on Catholics here, it’s just a visual reference, you (the generic you), if you have a goal to start a church, success isn’t when the church building has the same square footage as the Basilica in Rome.

    Just had another odd thought, the younger generations, age 40 and under, attended concerts in huge stadiums. Would that have any impact on drawing the younger lost souls?

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  34. Jeffrey Chalmers,

    If it was always obvious, I don’t think so many people would get caught up in it. I think it is like the proverbial frog in boiling water; the heat is so gradually turned up that the frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

    I think part of it is leaders playing on people’s deep desires for community. Speaking personally, we were really drawn to the community group model in our last two (bad) churches we attended, because it seemed like ready-made community. (In retrospect, I am marinating on whether this is really effective.) But then community groups become a way of keeping tabs, pressuring people, and crossing boundaries. But then you may actually form real friendships, and it becomes hard to leave because those friendships may or may not follow when you leave. So, it’s complicated.

    I think part of it is also a pride issue. People (including myself at one point) get drawn in by charismatic speakers and think they’ve found the next best thing in Christianity and that anything less would be “settling.” And that they’re too smart to be caught up in anything cult-like.

    So when hints of authoritarianism start to show up, they get overlooked because (a) it would mean leaving behind a community that you’ve invested countless hours in, (b) the sermons and music are so “good” or “gospel-centered” or whatever, and (c) I can’t be that naive, can I?

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  35. Brian: This urge to micromanage come from the realization there was a financial outcome to it?

    Just had another odd thought, the younger generations, age 40 and under, attended concerts in huge stadiums. Would that have any impact on drawing the younger lost sou

    Think bigger–I went to Passion conference, which was the size of these stadium concerts. Good ole’ JPipes was there speaking. He sold a ton a books, too!

    Mass published books, conferences, weekly TV sermons, church curriculum, church management consultants, sermon sales, concerts, individual speaking engagements, speaking at other churches, financial management (a la Guidestone), Youtube ads, professorships, donations…..

    The churches themselves are only a small microcosm of the industry of evangelicalism.

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  36. ishy: Passion conference

    Without the annual Passion conferences, there might not be a New Calvinist movement. This is where many of the new reformers got their first taste of aberrant faith and the excitement of rebellion against mainline Christianity. Matt Chandler credits John Piper’s talk at a Passion conference to turning his head … and look where that got us!

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  37. Root 66: When I teach Sunday School, I always encourage students to find out for themselves what the Scripture says about a matter. However, most people are unwilling to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” and would rather prefer to have someone else spoon-feed them what they want to know–even to the point of willingly subjecting themselves to a church’s “authority” in order to get it.

    At which point, they flunk an essential test of faith: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

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  38. ishy: The churches themselves are only a small microcosm of the industry of evangelicalism.

    I can vouch for that.
    Out here in the Pacific Southwest Bible belt, it’s standard procedure.
    You might be quite a draw to your mega-church, but ultimately, success is measured by how well you do on the speaking and conference circuit, radio, and how many book deals you can wangle.
    Greg Laurie of the ‘Harvest Crusades’ fame would be a prime example.
    Only an a-lister in those circles gets invited to a White House banquet and soiree.

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  39. Brian: Do some of those that graduate the NeoCal seminaries, upon graduation, enter a theological “arms race”, even if it means competing against fellow graduates?

    I am certain they do, for many of them aim for celebrity status, not ministering to people. Even among the New Cals, there’s this desire to be “more” than others, and theology is certainly a way to do that. That’s probably where 9 Marks had it’s motivation. John Piper is a great example of that, with his “God is more glorified…” mantras.

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  40. Max,
    There in lies one of the main causes of the topic for which this blog is focused… pew peons following like sheep instead of demanding that their leaders follow the teachings of JC and the NT.

    For example, I was shocked when I started reading these blogs how many churches did not publish and vote on their budgets. The churches I have associated with always did, and I would be associated with one that did not. One of many “tests” pew peons can do to see if their church leadership is accountable and true servants.

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  41. ishy: many of them aim for celebrity status, not ministering to people

    “Ministering to people” is not a characteristic of SBC’s New Calvinist pastors at church plants in my area. They don’t mingle with church members, don’t know most of their names, don’t visit them in their homes, don’t pray with them in hospitals and nursing homes, don’t preach funerals, don’t preach ‘the’ Gospel. Yet, they have plenty of time to tweet their lives away in local coffee shops. These “lead pastors” don’t tend to the field as they ought, which remains white unto harvest when they leave the community to climb the ladder to a bigger church elsewhere. They have celebrity, accolade and mega on their minds – that’s their “ministry” goal.

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  42. ishy: I am certain they do, for many of them aim for celebrity status, not ministering to people. Even among the New Cals, there’s this desire to be “more” than others, and theology is certainly a way to do that.

    One-Upmanship games.
    “If I can’t be more Theologically Correct than Thou, WHO DO I GOT TO BE BETTER THAN?”

    Though I think with Evanescent Grace, the Sons of Calvin are also desperate to PROVE that they are the Predestined Elect. (“ME, NOT Thee!”) Once this PROOF was “material blessings”, AKA becoming filthy stinking rich. Now it’s having the most Perfectly-Parsed, Utterly Correct, Truly Reformed Theology Theology Theology.

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  43. ishy: John Piper is a great example of that, with his “God is more glorified…” mantras.

    The Pious Piper is just trying to out-flatter everyone else. The more he Glorifies God, the more God is flattered and the more God makes Piper his Court Favorite. Flattery, Flattery, Flattery.

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  44. Headless Unicorn Guy: Though I think with Evanescent Grace, the Sons of Calvin are also desperate to PROVE that they are the Predestined Elect.

    Yes, I think this is true, too. Though I still don’t understand how they throw out everything in the Bible about humility and compassion and still think it’s only about right belief. Though, I admit the ones I’ve known tended to avoid the Bible at all and only took their instruction from New Calvinist “theologians”.

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  45. Brian: Love bombing?

    It’s a cult tactic of showering a new person with attention and “love” to coerce them into joining. It’s why cults tend to be successful at recruiting people who are lonely or have social voids.

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  46. Brian: Jeffrey Chalmers,

    One of the Deacons/Elders at my church quoted a figure of 94% people that attend a mega church do so because they want to remain anonymous.

    It has also been my experience that some persons want to attend a megachurch just to be able to brag about the size of their church, all that is going on there, etc.

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  47. Luckyforward: It has also been my experience that some persons want to attend a megachurch just to be able to brag about the size of their church

    It’s the sports mentality of Americans. They want their team to have the biggest stadium and the largest crowd. Church as entertainment always draws mega interest.

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  48. Brian: Is there a particular age range targeted by the cults like Watermark?

    Most megas don’t just target age, but want young, married families. I suppose younger Christians are more malleable. Families tend to be more stable financially, and children often mean $$. I’m not as familiar with Watermark, but I know they present themselves as targeting that demographic.

    There are churches that are exceptions to that. I used to visit one that targeted the middle-aged traditional crowd. Lots and lots of money in that church, so not sure the megas targeting the younger couples had the most effective strategy by their own standards. I went to school with a pastor who worked there, and he invited me to lunches that were $100 a plate. Liberty actually had an alumni luncheon there I was also invited to that ended up being a fundraiser.

    In general, though, most megas do not want singles or the elderly. I know one very well-known mega that tried to target singles and quickly switched to young marrieds. A lot of singles in that church were fairly well-off, but I think the church rejecting them was more about not being able to bring in a whole group of family members than individual contributions.

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  49. Brian: 94% people that attend a mega church do so because they want to remain anonymous

    Yep, come in, sit down, enjoy the show … nothing required … nothing expected, but your money … no personal ministry to do, no spiritual gifts necessary. Worshiping the God of Entertainment is so easy and relaxing … come as you are, leave as you are.

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  50. ishy,

    Would it be fair to say, not just mega churches but some medium and small size, not target the following groups:

    The elderly poor, the disabled poor, single mothers, the poor, people on the street, people just off the street, people just out of prison on parole, people attending AA and NA?

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  51. Brian,

    Better refine the question: the mega churches, pretty much targeting yuppies. Are some of the medium and small doing the same? Ishy, your response to my comment triggered a thought/experience I can’t remember at the moment.

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  52. Brian: the mega churches, pretty much targeting yuppies. Are some of the medium and small doing the same?

    I’m sure there are some. There’s a lot of smaller churches who want to be megas, but I know of churches that do things just because that’s what they think they should be doing or because they are modeling themselves after a church like Willow Creek.

    It works in reverse, though, because the church I used to go to is having trouble shifting to be more open to those under age 65. And there are some people in that church who are dead-set against doing anything to attract younger people.

    Brian: Would it be fair to say, not just mega churches but some medium and small size, not target the following groups:

    The elderly poor, the disabled poor, single mothers, the poor, people on the street, people just off the street, people just out of prison on parole, people attending AA and NA?

    It disheartens me immensely, but yes. This is one reason I have had trouble joining any church lately. Even the churches that claim to be about the disenfranchised aren’t…

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  53. Once I was young and strong and had lots of disposable income,everyone wanted me,church,society, friends and family. Then I became old with a noticeable limp ,and a bank account that we are trying to refill before the winter of our life approaches. Believe me only a few want you then,Thanks be to GOD that he still wants me ,and in some ways I would still choose the circumstances I am in to learn that one profound truth.I drink of a well never leaves me or runs dry.

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  54. Mandavilla: Thanks be to GOD that he still wants me ,and in some ways I would still choose the circumstances I am in to learn that one profound truth.I drink of a well never leaves me or runs dry.

    That’s why I struggle with the idea of church in general. Most churches are more about church than God.

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  55. Brian:
    Is Watermark the church where drove to a place, waiting 30 minutes to park, to watch a live streamed sermon?

    It has multiple sites, so unless you go to the main campus in Dallas, likely that’s what you will experience. Gateway and Fellowship do the same thing.

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  56. Brian: Better refine the question: the mega churches, pretty much targeting yuppies.

    That’s a big yup.
    Young 30 something to 40 something yuppies with disposable income.
    It happened in my town after the gentrification of a once charming semi-rural area that was once known as the lemon capital of the world.

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  57. Sounds like that last church I attended that turned me off from churches since. We had to join a community group and they encouraged us to spill their guts–men to men and women to women even married ones. If you didn’t share a sin, they prodded you to say something. The men were hung up on lust and porn and the women on being pure an obedient. Gag. After another woman pretty much said my profession–freelance writing–is sinful, I never went back. BTW, I always made up something really simple and stupid for a sin confession like “I just can’t trust God to take care of me in really bad storms.” My husband managed to lawyer his way out of saying anything in men’s group because he had reason to believe these men used the confessions to … er … blackmail people into joining the church. But the pastors were hung up on how they weren’t perfect people. They just expected it out of the congregation.

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  58. Brian: The elderly poor, the disabled poor, single mothers, the poor, people on the street, people just off the street, people just out of prison on parole, people attending AA and NA?

    I’ve thought about this for a long, long time. In the town where I go to church, the desired members are those who can blend in. I know people who suffer horribly, but you’d never see it in church because they manage to put on some OK clothes and sit quietly. If you stick around our town long enough, you will see these same churchgoers walking into AA, Al-Anon, etc. Some have been to prison, or have family members there. Many have suffered from illness, bereavement, poverty, violence.

    So I think our town’s congregations expect something like stoicism, but that’s not all bad. When I have been suffering, I too have put on some OK clothes and managed to sit quietly. This feels like dignity to me, and maybe protective camouflage. Life is hard. You never know what the person sitting next to you has gone through.

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  59. Brian:
    Wild Honey,

    Love bombing?

    Yup. The HBC plant we attended always threw “you are loved” somewhere in the service (I think after the closing prayer, but don’t remember for sure) and at the end of the weekly videos that got emailed out. After our previous church experience, where we left feeling very unloved, this felt wonderful. But it turned out that we were only loved as long as we toed the party line.

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  60. Wild Honey: The HBC plant we attended always threw “you are loved” somewhere in the service … But it turned out that we were only loved as long as we toed the party line.

    Love is not the first word that pops to mind when describing New Calvinist churches. Those in my area are tribal, exclusive, cliquish. Jesus said you will know my disciples by their love … New Calvinists by and large flunk the love test, but score high on arrogance.

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  61. Max,

    All too often
    “They’ll know we are Christians
    ‘Cause we’re Smug, ’cause we’re Smug,
    Yes, they’ll know we are Christians
    ‘Cause we’re Smug…”

    Can’t remember the reference, but one guy being interviewed on Christan media said his purpose in life was “to go up to those with Holy Hand Grenades in their pockets and pull the pins”.

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  62. ishy: It works in reverse, though, because the church I used to go to is having trouble shifting to be more open to those under age 65. And there are some people in that church who are dead-set against doing anything to attract younger people.

    That’s how local SF litfandom entered its current death spiral. They actively discouraged younger parents with kids from their local cons and clubs. (“You should have thought of that before you started breeding.”) Result — the main local litcon gets smaller and greyer every year, and a major topic of conversation is whose funerals you went to since the last con.

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  63. ishy: Yes, I think this is true, too. Though I still don’t understand how they throw out everything in the Bible about humility and compassion and still think it’s only about right belief.

    When you have that Get Out of Hell Free Card signed off by God before the creation of the world, you can be as Arrogant as you want. What’s God gonna do to you? You’re His Predestined Elect!

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  64. Headless Unicorn Guy: Though I think with Evanescent Grace, the Sons of Calvin are also desperate to PROVE that they are the Predestined Elect. (“ME, NOT Thee!”) Once this PROOF was “material blessings”, AKA becoming filthy stinking rich. Now it’s having the most Perfectly-Parsed, Utterly Correct, Truly Reformed Theology Theology Theology.

    So true. Our entire corrupt corporate capitalism derives from the doctrines of Calvinism, which allowed believers to turn from the voluntary communalism of the early new ekklesia and justify ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Hey, if God loves some more than others, who am I to question him? Aren’t I just lucky that I was chosen to be a winner?

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  65. TS00: Hey, if God loves some more than others, who am I to question him? Aren’t I just lucky that I was chosen to be a winner?

    The leaders only believe that about themselves. But of course, they have the right from God to do whatever it takes to make sure their members are elect…

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  66. Brian:
    Jeffrey Chalmers,

    One of the Deacons/Elders at my church quoted a figure of 94% people that attend a mega church do so because they want to remain anonymous.

    I would question this statistic and how it was even achieved and what was it’s purpose. I don’t think people necessarily want to stay ‘anonymous’. They may not want to be in a church with 50 people that is in everyone’s business, though and if someone complained that people ‘want to stay anonymous’ I would be thinking that person wanted to be in *my* business.

    I like a somewhat larger church (not a 10k church but 1-2) because there are more people, which means more people you might get along with, have similarities with. It generally means more services, more groups, etc. People with kids find other kids the same ages. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    I think a lot of people like to knock larger churches just *because* and that’s not right either. Find something that suits you. There is not one right way.

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  67. ishy: Lots and lots of money in that church, so not sure the megas targeting the younger couples had the most effective strategy by their own standards.

    Older people tend to give more money, more consistently, so I agree with you in questioning the strategy. But I would think they’ve studied it, maybe they’ve decided a bit of money from a lot of people is better. Or maybe none of these people went to business school and are trying to operate a business despite that, so don’t always do wise cost benefit analysis.

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  68. ishy: Even the churches that claim to be about the disenfranchised aren’t…

    We have an affiliated tiny church that targets the very poor, homeless, housing insecure, but it is sort of a niche thing? To a certain extent you have to go where they are, at least speaking of the homeless, and your local tony church is not going to be in that neighborhood.

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  69. Lea: We have an affiliated tiny church that targets the very poor, homeless, housing insecure, but it is sort of a niche thing? To a certain extent you have to go where they are, at least speaking of the homeless, and your local tony church is not going to be in that neighborhood.

    I know there are some out there, but they are really hard to find. It frustrates me that other churches advertise they are, but are really doing the bare minimum or have the same 5 people running all those ministries. Or, like the New Cal church here, they have a food pantry, which is great, but then they constantly preach on how evil anyone outside their church is and try to discipline people for hanging out with “evil outsiders”. That church is probably an exception, though, as the food pantry was started before the takeover, and I expect the food pantry may not last, because why would you help the “worthless” unelect.

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  70. Lea: Older people tend to give more money, more consistently, so I agree with you in questioning the strategy.

    Older people also tend to cut the neglectful churches out of their wills. When it comes time to bury Gramps, his children will not be making a generous freewill offering in exchange for the funeral.

    I expect my church to value me through thick and thin.

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  71. ishy: I know there are some out there, but they are really hard to find.

    Yes, and I wouldn’t know about this except we directly support them, i know the people involved, i’m on that committee, etc…

    It’s not really a counter to your point at all. But these kind of churches are not going to be the rich mega with a lot of advertising in the best part of town that all your friends go to. Most likely. I love hearing about this particular one (that I mentioned) though. They have different takes on bible stories, and they do different kinds of support for each other (even potlucks!).

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  72. Brian: Lea,

    Start out with a church van.

    We have a van, but it’s mostly used for bring in older and/or disabled members.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer though. I actually think putting a church where people are is a better one, at least in this particular circumstance. (and actually iirc the small church I was talking about uses the basement of a different denominations downtown location)

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  73. Lea,

    I live in a small city, so we’re not much of a mega magnet anyway. There is a mega satellite here, but like I’ve said before, I don’t see the point of going somewhere to watch a famous pastor on a video feed when I can watch him in my pajamas at home on their website. And as far as I can tell, they don’t do anything in the community except donate to outside ministries.

    There’s a lot of small churches here, unlike when I lived in Atlanta where it was lots of giant megas. But most of them have elderly congregations that are very set in their ways, even the ones that are in more progressive denominations. I kinda feel like I went from one extreme to another…

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  74. TS00: So true. Our entire corrupt corporate capitalism derives from the doctrines of Calvinism, which allowed believers to turn from the voluntary communalism of the early new ekklesia and justify ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

    I disagree.

    I don’t think that CCC (corrupt corporate capitalism) can be laid at the feet of any particular religion.

    I think that the pursuit of wealth and more wealth has its roots in the hungry human heart, it’s never enough, I want more.

    I will concede however that Calvinism tends to “grease the rails” so to speak.

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  75. Muff/Tsoo.

    I don’t think it’s rooted in religion, but in the human heart. The bible rants about greed many times. It’s not new, and it’s not tied to any particular denomination, imo.

    I do get a little tired of *every* sin being laid at the feet of calvin lol. There is nothing new under the sun and there are flaws in every system.

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  76. Lea,

    Being disabled myself, your church’s use of the van to pick up the elderly and disabled is most welcomed. I would rather get the ride to church rather than have someone from the church visit my home. I’m looking for the fellowship also.

    An elderly woman I know told me that she attended a church for 25 years. When she could no longer drive, she asked her church if she could find a ride from somebody within the church. They couldn’t find anyone to give her a ride.

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  77. Brian:
    My elderly friend also mentioned she missed singing hymns.

    I love hymns! I am very sad that no one would pick up your friend.

    One of the things that I think churches need to do is be *thoughtful* about these things. It helps to have people who can speak to different needs of different members, and for someone to truly think about the best way to meet them.

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  78. Lea: One of the things that I think churches need to do is be *thoughtful* about these things.

    I’ve noticed a lot of churches with these kinds of needs don’t even bother to ask members if they can help. There might very well be people who can help and just don’t know about it.

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  79. ishy,

    My last church was in a small town, but they were not the only church. They ran a food pantry. You could e-mail your request into the food pantry. Then a time was set up to go in. It was for the entire community, not just church members. They even asked for donations of baby formula and diapers.

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  80. Brian: You’re seminary trained, correct? Even as a female, as an evangelist couldn’t you start a ministry targeted at the disenfranchised?

    I actually did for several years until recently. It was like pulling teeth to get anyone to help, much less enough to do much good. I worked with a larger organization that also had a number of serious issues that they refused to meet with us to resolve.

    I am not attending a specific church at this time, though I do visit. All of that was part of the reason I got so burned out on church in general. I do things on my own now.

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  81. ishy,

    At the church that I’m attending now, one of the elders was part of a worship team at a megachurch. He said that it got to the point where he felt the people were watching them worship Him. He thought that the people, not the worship team, should be worshipping Him. So he helped start the church where I’m at now. It’s only a year and a half to two years old now.

    And I finally remembered what it was that I wanted to ask you: with the megachurches and cults like Watermark targeting specific age, income, and marital status groups, was it impacting the witnessing and interacting with…(the groups I mentioned earlier).
    And your answer was spot on. 🙂

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  82. ishy: I’ve noticed a lot of churches with these kinds of needs don’t even bother to ask members if they can help. There might very well be people who can help and just don’t know about it.

    That’s probably true. You need someone or a committee or something to take point in organization. It is *work* though, and if people are too lazy (or overloaded) to bother it won’t get done.

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  83. Brian: At the church that I’m attending now, one of the elders was part of a worship team at a megachurch. He said that it got to the point where he felt the people were watching them worship Him.

    Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel about church. It’s not just the former-SBC-now-a-cult churches, but most people who call themselves Christians that I’ve known in my 30 years of being a Christian.

    Granted, there are a lot of people I know now who are just trying to make ends meet and doing everything they can to get by. I get that. But there’s a whole lot of Christians I’ve known who go to church to check some box on their weekly checklist, but have no interest in participating in anything that doesn’t involve them eating free food. And it’s pervasive.

    I feel like I’ve burned out on church because it’s empty and offers almost nothing–not even God. The services are either so routine that everyone is bored and reading on their phones or designed to make you feel temporary happy feelings but there’s nothing to take away when it’s over. I’ve met some lovely people who will go out of their way for others, but they end up taken for granted in doing things for the church that really don’t have much impact on anyone or they end up left with very little and no one who would be around to help them.

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  84. Brian,

    My volunteers came through a single church, but we were on a team with other churches. So not sure it applies in that situation. Most of the volunteers I had were great, and expressed a lot of enthusiasm about the ministry, but very few people were actually willing at all to even give it a try for one day. I got the impression the other churches were having very similar issues, though everyone I met from them were wonderful.

    In the end, trying to keep enough people to fill the slots along with the huge problems behind the scenes at the organization were too much for me. Several of the volunteers ended up seeing some of that organizational drama personally and agreed it was not wise to continue.

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  85. Any Calvinist that thinks being elect is a get out of hell free card allowing them to live anyway they want does not even begin to understand Calvinism at all. (I am not a Calvinist–please note!)

    Under that system of thought they should be constantly watching their own behavior and worrying like crazy over each and every fall into sin or misbehavior, since they do NOT believe in the preservation of the saints. (That is dispensational free grace once saved always saved.) Rather, Calvinism teaches the perseverance of the saints, so if they are failing to persevere they might be showing they are not elect and might need to repent more do more try harder. THAT is Calvinistic perseverance. Always examining your works to figure out if you are elect or not.

    Of course some less than Calvinistic reformed and Lutherans in general are more focused on God’s mercy and grace. Not “performing” for an audience of One but coming to that One for mercy.

    But both the true Arminian and the real Calvinist have to constantly check their spiritual state. One to make sure they are still saved and the other to see if they were ever saved at all.

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  86. Mandavilla,

    Once my spouse and I were young and strong, just starting a career of service overseas. Everyone asked us to speak because we were young and good looking. Now we are old and wrinkled. Supporting churches which tend toward or openly teach calvinism, complimentariansim,and having the best preaching & worship bands in town no longer ask us to speak anymore. Meanwhile the small country churches still love and welcome us.

    Like you Mandavilla, I value seeing God work through our increasing frailties as I age. He does not look at our outward appearance but at the heart.

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  87. ishy,

    “That’s why I struggle with the idea of church in general. Most churches are more about church than God.”
    +++++++++++++

    indeed.

    a religion that worships not God but church and christianity itself — the products, processes, ideas, & people.

    evangelicalism is so commercial, shallow, & full of itself… i think it’s much more the culprit than other forms of christianity.

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  88. linda: Under that system of thought they should be constantly watching their own behavior and worrying like crazy over each and every fall into sin or misbehavior…

    Like every surviving Massachusetts Puritan journal.
    All navel-gazing sin-sniffing, all the time.

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  89. Lea: I like a somewhat larger church (not a 10k church but 1-2) because there are more people, which means more people you might get along with, have similarities with. It generally means more services, more groups, etc. People with kids find other kids the same ages. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    There’s probably an optimum size for a church congregation.
    Go seriously over or under and you have problems.

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  90. HUG:
    Maybe there is an optimal size. Or maybe people need or want different sizes for a variety of reasons and I think that’s ok.

    I do agree once you go over a certain size it’s probably suboptimal. A good rule of thumb is if you feel the need to franchise with a tv show, but maybe that just me being a snob about that because it makes no sense to me. Keep it in the building, people!

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  91. Friend,

    It took a bit for your comment to sink in to my thick skull.

    Some people in need can let pride block them from asking for help, myself included in there.

    Sometimes it out of fear of not being understood. So you might not see those in need in your church.

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  92. Ishy,

    Have you ever thought about starting a church? You are seminary trained, know some of the pitfalls that churches fall into, and based on your comments have a great heart. No one could question your being the pastor since you would be the founding pastor. You could call it Wartburg Bible Church.

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