I hate megachurches probably about as much as Cain hated Abel for similar reasons. I’ve got sacrifice envy. How is it fair that those megachurches are experiencing 300+% annual growth when I’m working my butt off and reading my Bible and journaling constantly and trying to follow the Spirit’s lead and fasting every freaking Monday and our church’s worship attendance is down 15-20% in the year since I arrived. Don’t say “It’s not about you,” because I know that. But God for whatever reason likes their lambs better than He likes our grain. And if I were in a field with a megachurch pastor with nobody else around, I wouldn’t kill him but I might throw a rock in his general direction (if it was a she I wouldn’t).
Ever since I became a Methodist, I’ve hopped from one struggling church to another. Part of the reason I put myself in the associate pastor pool after seminary was because I figured that churches that could afford associate pastors wouldn’t be struggling. I know this is a really lame thing to admit. Well I was wrong anyhow. Nothing makes me more furious than going to megachurch websites and seeing that for each of my 6 job responsibilities they have a full-time pastor with an administrative assistant. How do they get so much freaking money?!!!
I wish I could stop asking what are they doing right that we’re doing wrong.What makes people who go to their churches pick church over soccer instead of picking soccer over church like the people on our membership rolls? Is it because they have self-serving, middle-class worshiping theology? Is it because they’re more evangelical than we are which means they actually believe in what they’re doing rather than being mildly embarrassed by it? Is it because their preachers aren’t Garrison Keillor corny? Or is it really all about their fog machines and pyrotechnics? I wonder if it boils down to the fact that people want to feel like winners so they join a winning team. Of course the horrifying thought I have is that God might actually be using the megachurches to accomplish His will.
I want to believe that megachurches are just an expression of the worst kind of American bourgeois spiritual consumerism and the people who go there are mindless sheep. But then I go to their websites and it turns out that they have hundreds of small group Bible studies meeting each week which makes me wonder if small groups really were the engine that actually grew them and not just a bunch of hype and glossy advertising campaigns that my church can’t afford.
It kills me when their pastors’ bios make them sound like decent people who aren’t plastic, when there’s nothing cryptically Calvinist-sounding in their statement of beliefs, when they have women who are pastors and not just preschool directors, and especially when their senior pastor has a degree from the same seminary I went to. And then I check out their sermon videos and the pastor’s rambling on for 45 minutes (Why are thousands of people so willing to sit through that? Don’t their kids whine about being hungry or needing to use the bathroom? I get in trouble for going more than 12 minutes). And some of their sermons actually sound intellectually stimulating and they throw around names like Karl Barth and Henri Nouwen (I refuse to name-drop; maybe I should start doing it).
When the Bible talks about Cain and Abel’s sacrifice, it says that God “gazed with favor” upon Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s (the Hebrew word is sha-ah, not that you care but just so that you know I looked it up). Oftentimes preachers try to moralize the rejection of Cain’s sacrifice which is completely asinine because it has no support in the text. Of course Calvinists delightedly hold this up as an example of God’s preordained blessing and cursing since that’s apparently something to celebrate.
Anyhow here’s my baseless theory. I wonder if Cain’s sacrifice just didn’t catch fire but Abel’s did. Assuming there’s some actual historical event that’s the source of this legend, that would be the basis an observer would have for saying God favored one sacrifice over the other. Maybe fat burns better than wheat. Makes sense to me! In any case, Cain’s sin comes after the sacrifice; it’s not somehow part of it. And God actually tries to comfort Cain afterwards. I feel like it’s the same voice God uses to approach me: “Why are you angry and why is your countenance fallen? If you do good will you not be accepted? But if you don’t watch out sin is lurking at our door. You must not let it master you!” But God, what if I’m trying to do good and follow you and I’m NOT accepted?!!!
Maybe I’m not supposed to judge myself or judge the megachurch pastors for their success. Maybe its not because they’re right or because they’ve sold out either. Maybe their sacrifice is just catching fire while mine isn’t and the takeaway message isn’t for me to pick apart what they’re doing cynically or desperately look for something to emulate but to focus on the struggle to which I’ve been called, love my people the best I can, and listen for God’s guidance.
Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog piece that encouraged me about her yearning for an uncool church to be a part of. I definitely think there’s something charming and more authentic about not being in an environment of worldly success. I can actually talk to people who are hurting and not rush them along. My favorite part of my worship service is the last song when I dance with about 5-6 preschoolers in the aisle. If we ever do get big, I’m going to be adamant that nobody try to stop those kids from dancing in the aisles. There’s no way to watch that and not feel touched by the Holy Spirit. I wish more people were there to see it. I wish I didn’t care how many people were there to see it. I just don’t want anybody at my church to lose their jobs. If that weren’t a factor, I would have more peace, or so I tell myself.
I hope that God has mercy on our simple offering of wheat. I’ve had it said to me and I’ve said it to other people that God doesn’t expect success, only faithful obedience. I’m trying to learn how to believe that. Heal me of my envy, Lord. Help me to stop hating on Abel.