Friday, October 01, 2010

Breakdown of a Megachurch Viral Video



What is it that makes the megachurch click? There are so many answers, and since the megachurch phenomenon is relatively diverse, no one can point to any one thing. In a scant few cases, they offer theological certainty to a relativized world. In others, they offer entertainment and a commitment-free faith. In others, they offer a "power of positive thinking" sort of message that resonates with folks beaten down by the sin of the world. In far too many, they offer a "name it and claim it" empowerment to people who feel alienated from their government, culture and even currency.

But a recent viral video highlighted one more reason megachurches have become (at least for now) the pinnacle of the American Church experience: they notice, appreciate, and celebrate the suburban lifestyle and the middle class grind that most Americans experience 6 days a week.

Megachurches notice and highlight what traditional, liturgical churches seem to ignore (but in fact do not). They know what middle class America watches on TV, so they build sermon series around MMA, superhero movies, or sitcoms. They know how middle class America spends their money and free time, so they pay special attention to pop culture, mortgage troubles and hobbies like yard work. They know that for most folks in the suburbs, raising children is a priority and life-consuming task. So they preach and teach about parenting not in grandiose or holy terms, but in carpooling and homework language.

The paradigm shift is nothing short of epic: the "traditional" role of worship and liturgy was to bring the laborer, parent and sinner into a place of transcendence, to offer a "foretaste of the feast to come." The nave took years if not generations to build, the sermons were contextual but "high" enough to speak to a transcendent God. The music was not base pop music, but as close to angelic as we can imagine and the height of western culture for centuries.

In sum, church elevated the senses of man and thus spoke to a transcendent God. Now, it is the exact opposite. The transcendence of God is lost and the daily life of man is celebrated. Church not only has lost transcendent aesthetics (granted, those are impossible to strictly define, but rock music is not it), it rarely mentions Jesus Christ or God's history of salvation. In other words, base teaching and preaching has followed base aesthetics.

Maybe the church ignored the daily life of its people and the megachurch is essentially payback. Or maybe the megachurch is exploiting a creeping narcissism among the American middle class. Either way, the celebration and appreciation of the middle class lifestyle has to be one of the primary reasons the megachurch appeals to suburban middle class.

They should think twice about this approach. The entire gospel is on the line when this kind of pandering takes place in the Church. It delegitimizes those of us that hold fast to transcendent traditions and it forces the church into a marketplace it has no business being in. It openly creates competition between congregations because they take credit for being the Church when they are not.

Perhaps nothing epitomizes this more than the above viral video. The video is a simple celebration of suburban fatherhood, seen by about 5 million people on YouTube and a product of the Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. I can relate to it. I have a daughter. I have an SUV. I spent lots of time doing yardwork. I don't buy gas station sunglasses, however; I find the far better deal is the dollar store.

But what is missing? The gospel! There is no mention of God, Jesus, the cross, or even a shameless plug for their own congregation. (Isn't Sunday worship, even at a megachurch, part of "the dad life"? I guess not.) Why should this video kick off a sermon series at a church? Wouldn't it be more appropriate at a PTA meeting or sports team parents get together?

And then there are the rather "trivial" problems of the church highlighting the secular calendar (Father's Day) while ignoring the liturgical calendar (say, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost), and middle age white guys appropriating gangsta rap to achieve postmodern street cred. I know, I know, I'm just an old fuddy duddy. Ten years ago, those might have been the only complaints about this video. Now, they just deserve an afterthought.

In sum, I suppose I would ask these questions, with my own biased answers shamelessly provided: what is the mission and purpose of this congregation, or the Church at large? (To proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.) Does this video help in that? (No.) Of all the videos that could have been made, why one that celebrates this lifestyle? (People want to be recognized for the time, energy and sacrifice that goes into creating a successful middle class life.) Is this a dangerous video? (No, but it distorts the religious "marketplace" in favor of congregations willing to pander to the inherent narcissism of the sinner. That puts those of us willing to proclaim Christ and him crucified at a disadvantage.)

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