Evangelicals disdain the church calendar and continue to develop liturgies and practices on the run. Since bigger is deemed better there is seemingly no end to the development of larger events costing more and more money.
A case in point is the old-fashioned Christmas pageant. There was a time, not too long ago, when these were small in-house things that most churches did with and for their children. Everyone loved them and the kids got to become really involved in the Advent worship. Now they have become major extravaganzas in a growing number of mega-churches. The First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale has $1.3 million in their budget for their Christmas pageant. The program includes exploding fireworks, women dressed as angels flying about to herald the birth of Jesus, and real camels making their way to the nativity scene along with three kings. As one writer put it "Broadway meets Christmas" at First Baptist. Hundreds of men, women and children dress up as ancient residents of Jerusalem and dance, skip and sing their way down the aisles. There is even simulated snow, a horse-pulled sleigh and a kick-line of dancers with a jazzed-up version of "Joy to the World." What on earth most of this has to do with the incarnation and birth of Jesus I guess I’ll never understand.
First Baptist is not alone. Elevation Church in Indian Trail, North Carolina, and nearby New Birth Church, are combining their respective rock and gospel traditions for a massive Christmas worship experience in a Charlotte arena. The two congregations have hired a production company to bring in state-of-the-art sound and lighting. They’ll project blended images on three different video screens. Said one spokesperson, "It’ll feel like a rock concert in there."
Do not misunderstand me about my response to these developments. I am not opposed to targeting younger audiences with outreach events that are culturally savvy. I do question the vast expenditures of such money for these events and I really do wonder if we have reduced church and worship to this, not to the great events that make up the cycle of the Christian year. Christmas, so far as I understand it, is not primarily about making a splash in the community but about the Church celebrating one of her two greatest historical events with incredible joy.
Most of these churches even have worship and media pastors. And these "pastors" have become huge in the day-to-day lives of these congregations. Funny thing is most younger non-believers, and most serious younger Christians, are far too culturally turned-off to this stuff to take it seriously. One media pastor said, "You have to be able to present something that rivals Cirque du Soleil or The Office." Really? If this is true then very few churches will ever be able to compete. (This is really all about competition for the market-share in many instances.)
In Forth Lauderdale senior pastor Larry Thompson says the pageant is really about God’s relationship with his people. Thompson is listed as the "executive producer" of their pageant. (No school I know prepares students to be "executive producers" so don’t be surprised if this makes the curriculum of some evangelical schools very soon. You do have to keep up with the times and schools need students so I fully expect this to happen. It is a vicious circle in the end.)
Again, being contemporary, in the very best sense, is not the issue for me. It is the massive expenditure of money, the entire focus of multitudes of church people on this pageant since July, and the complete lack of understanding why the Church gathers to worship God during Advent. If every one of these churches were to focus on becoming missional communities, real places where non-Christians were respected and embraced incarnationally 365 days a year, then these big deals would be seen as a waste of money and effort. But it makes too much sense to think this way, a way that is both simpler and much closer to what we see in the Book of Acts.
I make only one prediction in the light of these ramped-up extravaganzas this year: We will see more and more of this and thus more and more money will be spent for this kind of emphasis so long as people and Christian leaders fail to understand the missional nature of the Christian community itself. Mission is not a program that we do. It is a life we live together! These churches demonstrate that they simply do not understand either this or the nature and purpose of biblical/historical worship. Anyone agree with me when I say that we still desperately need modern reformation now more than ever?