So I guess there are really two conversations Stephen and I are having.
The first is the relationship between God, the Church, and human expression. That’s the creation, incarnation & expression stuff. And sortof the communion & contemplation stuff. The icons, the non-icons, worship, the new icons, etc.
The second is the consideration of how media churches misuse often misuse creativity and expression and reveal a certain amount of ignorance of the first converation, and how use of the arts is going to be instrumental as churches transition to reaching postmoderns.
The second one is what I’m about to talk about.
“If there is a God, he’s not at Willow Creek.”
says my friend who shall remain nameless.
This friend has a degree in Technical Theatre from an evangelical christian college. Willow has the largest stage in north america, and a tech team that numbers in the hundreds. They have a real need for people like my friend, folks with classes in bible & lighting design under their belt. Yet the very fact that they have a large production department is what turns him off. He has no idea about the missionaries that the WCA supports, or the soup kitchens they provide. Just that they have a food court, a big stage, and a waterfall.
Mega churches were built by and for modernist, baby boomer americans to reach other modernist boomer americans. Church was reinvented to adress the negative experiences that boomers had had with their churches: amateur quality, and suffocating, awkwardly small worship services. Church was recast as more like a spectator event. Something to be watched, and something to learn at. Meeting in movie theatres, having rock n roll bands, using radio hits, incorporating skits, and theming the messages into multiweek topical series all greatly impoved church from many boomers’s perspective. And what happened? They grew. and grew. and grew. Commensurate with their growth, churches added staff: counseling staff, teaching staff, administration, and PRODUCTION staff. With a strong commitment to excellence, and a desire to make worship services run smoothly. Cues were organized by committee, and called by a producer, video staff was hired, some churches hired their rock bands, others hired their scriptwriters. Church became more and more like a broadway show. Or more acurately, like a weekly tv show. Content was created every 7 days, and debuted before a live audience. Edutainment in the vain of National Geographic, Bravo, or ESPN became a stylistic goal.
Much of this story is exciting to me. Churches were run more professionally, services ran well, worship bands were well-rehearsed. Preachers started dividing their duties so that the teaching pastor could have more time to write a better sermon. Church staffs grew to the point where they could have better working conditions: days off, paid vacation, & rotating duties. All this is really wonderful, I think.
Some question the validity of having large churches, but there is historic precedent in Pentecost, and in the early church it self. The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is reported to have had over 3000 worshipers, and a choir of several hundred in the days of torches and priests….surely they had a liturgy coordinator. Just keeping the torches lit on time would be it’s own job, I’m sure.