Not too long ago I had a dream. I sat in a large auditorium filled with people. Lights, smoke and bubbles flashed around the screen at the front of the room. It was nearly impossible to see the words on the screen at the front and even harder to hear the words over the loud music blasting from the speakers set up all throughout the room. I was distracted. I couldn’t focus. I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning and it felt like a rock concert on a Saturday night.
I looked around me, but no one seemed bothered by it. People clapped, cheered and whooped, but not many people were singing. I felt like a stranger in a strange crowd. My soul was weary, but it couldn’t be refreshed. My heart longed to worship but how could I when I wasn’t sure to whom or to what they were worshipping? I felt lost as I tried to navigate through an experience as cloudy as the fabricated fog filling the room.
As people filled out into the sunny streets after the meeting, they got into their cars and drove away. No one really stopped to talk to one another, to check in with each other, to pray with one another. They just left. I felt so burdened then, and I feel still feel burdened now. Sometimes, church is broken.
Today I watched the docuseries on Discovery+, Hillsong Megachurch Exposed. I sat staring at the screen when it was finished. There are so many layers to this documentary, and so many things to process. I won’t expose the content so much as to ruin it for those who want to watch it for themselves. But my grieving heart needs to say a few things.
Firstly, if you’re not a Christian and you’ve watched this documentary, please know that this is not the behavior that most Christ followers strive for. While we are all sinners in need of a Saviour, and many of us have done regrettable actions in our past, most Christians understand our need to be less like the world and more like Jesus. Authentic Christians will strive to change their lifestyles, turn away from sinful behaviours, and live differently from the way the world lives.
Romans 12:2 says “don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)
Transforming into a new person takes time, and is a conscious effort. And it also means being aware of your own sinfulness – which leads me to my next point…
I was struck by the misuse of the word “failure” in place of sin. Documents outlining the cover ups of certain individual’s indiscretions were labeled as failures and it made me wonder if that’s where the church is broken the most. Typically, failures are measured by which something or someone cannot perform its required functions within specified performance requirements. This would be a word better suited for a computer system or perhaps someone who is writing an exam, not someone who has stepped out on his wife or covered up sexual abuse. Using a word like this removes the seriousness of the situation.
It is becoming more evident that this megachurch culture in North America and beyond is downplaying the gravity of sin by removing the word from its vocabulary and replacing it with alternatives like: mistake, failure, and confused. As if somehow changing the lingo will make sin more palatable.
Using words like this ensures in the middle of it all, things are getting muddy. Important truths are being buried. Convicting scriptures passed over for the more popular, upbeat feel good ones. The church is slipping away from Christ likeness little by little, and becoming more and more in tune with the world. Forgetting that God hates sin and that we are all being held accountable for it.
But how can we understand sin and accountability if we don’t understand the gospel and our need for a Saviour?
I was saddened by the “experience” factor that Hillsong had figured out to an almost scientific level to make people want to come to a service to “experience” God. To enjoy the music, to have a fun time. This feels broken, too.
Churches shouldn’t be about catering to the masses. We aren’t here to be entertained. The music and lights shouldn’t be what draws a crowd. It should be the simple message of salvation and grace, which often gets lost in the driving need to provide an experience.
I wonder if it is exactly this driving need for entertainment in churches that is the root cause for some of these popular (now un-)Christians like Joshua Harris and Marty Samson renouncing their faith. Perhaps they didn’t know what it was to begin with.
The world needs Jesus. But how will they find Him if the “experience” is only surface deep?
One thing that was used several times throughout the documentary was this quote from journalist Elle Hardy. “They really believe they need to conquer the earth to make heaven on earth.” Again, this feels broken too. This is not our job.
Isaiah 65:17 says, “for behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Also in Isaiah 66:2, “for as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.” (Also in Revelation 21:1-5 and 2 Peter 3:10-13).
The only One who can create heaven on earth is the same One that created them both in the first place. As Psalm 8: 3-4 says, “when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
Who are we to do anything for our own gain in His name?
Ultimately, the church can be broken – but this doesn’t happen only in megachurches. The church is made up of human beings who fall short of the glory of God, whose sinfulness can harm the work they are doing, all while causing hurt and division in the process. But the church can also be healthy – made up of human beings who are honest and repentant of their sinfulness, who love the Lord and each other deeply, who genuinely care about teaching the word of God and reaching out to those who are lost.
Truthfully, we all need Jesus. We need to earnestly pray for the global church, that God’s word would be known throughout the entire world. We need to pray that all of God’s people would do the will of God with love, humility and purity. We need to pray that God’s word would be the ultimate authority of truth in all churches around the world. We need to pray now more than ever before, because the enemy is seeking to destroy the church and documentaries like this one will make it seem like he’s succeeding.
So pray. Love. Reach out to others in His name. Preach the gospel to yourself and to your friends. Follow Christ who is the only One who can restore the brokenness.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10