09 June 2015

Proof That Church Is All About Looking Good

Last Sunday, a couple of friends (atheists) and I went to the largest church in Colorado. It's been so long since we've been to church that we wanted to see if anything changed and maybe even chat with a few people about their walk with the Lord. My friends weren't used to the size and production, but it was nothing new to me. It's a system that draws thousands easily (if your church got in soon enough).

Popular store in downtown Montgomery, AL

As we were leaving, we decided to stop at the information desk to ask about getting involved in a small group (yes, we were serious ~;-) My buddy Chad even got information on how to lead one. Anyway, during our talk, the guy behind the desk said something that got my attention. As he was showing us the church website, I asked him a question about how long he had been with the church. There was something he said that got my attention. He mentioned, "I've worked my way up to part-time staff."

You see, I've attended a lot of churches. I've been involved in church all my life and there really isn't anything that much different from one to the other. Some play music, and some don't. Some sprinkle, and others dunk. Some wear robes, and others wear tattoos.

I grew up in an Assembly of God (Pentecostal) church, but when I started college, I soon met a ton of Baptists sprinkled with a few Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics and others from different denominations. This made me curious. I wanted to know why these other believers, who obviously were in denominations not quite as good as mine, were so cool and loving. So I set out to visit as many denominations as I could.

As I started to get more involved in churches (you know, like teaching Sunday School, leading Bible studies, leading small groups, leading worship, starting churches, doing missions, working the parking lot, setting up chairs, playing in the orchestra, collecting the offering, running sound, etc.), I started to see a trend. I quickly learned that with more responsibility came more rules. When you serve in church, the more people you are responsible for, the more rules you have to follow in order to keep your role. Basically, you have to make a commitment and live your life as righteously as possible. Your fruit has to show that you indeed know the Lord. How do you do that? By obeying God's commands.

But the rules don't stop there. As you climb the church ladder, you realize that there are many other rules you have to follow that aren't specifically stated in the Bible. The pastor and his staff create an entirely different set of commands you must obey. If you don't do a good job of doing what you're told, then you could easily risk losing your position, and even worse, getting kicked out of church altogether. For example, when I was attending Church of the Highlands, I learned that the full-time staff had more stringent rules to follow than the volunteers.

There was one example I remember well. You couldn't ride in a car with someone of the opposite sex. I mean, you could ride with them, but you have to have at least one other person in the car (total of 3). Now, let's look at why this is the case.

We all know that adultery is pretty much one of the worst sins you can commit. It affects everybody. This is what the car rule is all about. Even if both parties are completely innocent of wrong-doing, there is a risk that someone else could see the two together and then rumors start flying.  It's best to play it safe and have someone else ride in the car with you (a third wheel). Want to do lunch with your coworker? Find a tag-a-long buddy.

The car rule was heavily enforced and anyone who broke it would be reprimanded and dealt with swiftly. It's one of those rules you don't play with.

Let me give another example. You know that choir or praise team you see on stage? All those people are volunteers except the worship leader (he/she's usually full-time). These incredibly talented vocalists aren't exempt when it comes to obeying an entirely different set of rules other than the Bible.

To be honest, it's known that anyone on stage is somewhat of a rockstar. The bigger the stage, the more the rockstar status. The more that person becomes an "authority". As we put people on display, the more their life or message gains validity and they become the example to follow. In church, this means people look up to you and expect a certain level of Godliness. You're on display for all to see and you better show the world you know how to do it right.

When I used to sing in the front-line at Destiny Christian Center, one of the things I couldn't do was drink alcohol in public. When I first started singing, I was just a typical choir member. The choir had less rules to follow because they're not as visible on stage. In the choir, the only thing you really had to do was come to practice and show up on time. However, being on the praise team (or front-line) meant you had to do a little more. Not only did you have to wear something cute and less revealing, but you were more visible, and you know what that means - more rules. Therefore, alcohol in the privacy of your own home was the only way you could drink. However, this wasn't an issue for me. To this day, I still haven't had a drop of alcohol (Pharisee status).

Pro tip: The reason it's called "front-line" is not just because you're singing in front of the stage, but you're also doing battle. Similar to the Marines, you are first to fight the evil spirits that show up for service that day. Hey, if it worked for King Jehoshaphat 3000 years ago, then it surely would work today (2 Chr 20:1-23).

Here's one last example. Everyone knows how good I am at following rules, but even I failed at times.

I was leading a small group that was becoming very successful (meaning it was growing in numbers). However, as the small group season was coming to an end, I was pulled aside by the pastors and told that I needed to sit out for the summer. I was devastated. I was so shocked to hear this. It came out of left field. So, what happened?

At this time, I was in my mid-thirties and one of the girls that I was seeing went to the same church. She came over to my house one night and we slept together. You know, we made out and did the whole heavy petting thing. But honestly, that's all that happened. We literally slept together. Of course, we did the responsible thing and kept the minimal amount of clothes on (I was still a virgin). But later she found out that I wasn't interested. And, of course, "hell hath no fury..." When I was being scolded, the pastor told me she had come to him personally and said, "If someone like Dathan is a leader in this church, I want nothing to do with it!" I'm unsure if this is really what went down, but it's what I was told. Anyway, I was bad boy. I made the church look bad and for that I needed to be fixed. I was stripped of my leadership position so I could think about what I had done.

The leaders of the church can't risk you looking like a sinner. You have to be squeaky clean. They know that you're not perfect, but they can't risk you messing things up too badly. What if that girl went on to tell all her friends, and her friends said something, and so on (because you know she did). The leadership can't risk this sort of thing. You are representing the church and everyone a part of it.

The pastor and his precious organization cannot risk you doing something stupid to make them look bad. They worked hard to get where they are today and they're not about to let some dumb@ss mess it up. They can't afford you losing self-control. What you do and what you say is a direct representation of Christ, but more importantly, the church.

The truth is that the more rules you obey, the more righteous you are. Christians say that when God "changes" your heart, you become a new person. This means you become a good rule follower; you become a good worker; you do good works and your fruit shows.

It's all about working hard and looking good. It's always been this way. Still don't believe me, then what happens when someone who is full-time staff commits adultery or some other "big" sin.

That's right. They're gone.

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