Skip to comments.Palinís people: The rise of Rick Warren and the mega-church Bible Belt.
Posted on 07/25/2010 11:49:46 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
"Everybody sing ee-oo," declaims the clean-cut thirtysomething at the front of the vast auditorium. Ten thousand Californian voices respond. Over a backing of soaring power chords, the soloist launches into an ecstatic, 1980s-style anthem: "If you're alive and you've been redeemed,/Rise and sing, rise and sing."
Pastor Rick Warren, America's most important religious leader since Billy Graham, emerges from the wings, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, a trimmed CEO beard and a little more weight than his doctor might recommend. When he speaks, his words are as warm as the Orange County sunshine: the homily is a practical one, advising fathers to pay their children more attention. On gigantic television screens, Jesus on the cross tells John to look after His mother when he dies.
This talent for presenting simple biblical lessons for a suburban age is behind The Purpose-Driven Life, Warren's book detailing his 40-day plan for "Christian living in the 21st century", which is on the shelf of almost every evangelical household in the US. It has become one of the bestselling non-fiction hardbacks in American history, turning the pastor into a sort of spiritual Oprah, with trademarked books and podcasts and appearances at Wal-Mart. Warren's face has been on the cover of Time; and he was chosen to offer the prayers at Barack Obama's inauguration.
Warren set up Saddleback Church in 1980, selecting the location - Lake Forest, a suburb of McMansions and shopping malls - for its transient but growing population. That first Easter Sunday, 200 attended; Saddleback has since grown into a sprawling, 120-acre campus with an average weekend attendance of 22,000. Once, the stereotype of evangelicals as Southern, rural and poor might have been true. Now, they are far more likely to be college-educated, upwardly mobile professionals.
Sixty miles south of Los Angeles, Saddleback is one of the mega-churches (those with at least 2,000 congregants) that make up the stretch between LA and San Diego known as the "southern Californian Bible Belt". In its grounds, information booths carry maps directing visitors to several white marquees that offer different styles of worship; there are burbling crystal fountains and a baptismal pool that looks like it belongs in an upmarket spa. The teenagers' area, meanwhile, is deliberately scuffed-looking. It contains a big wall display on Aids in Africa - the issue over which Warren has had his greatest impact on evangelicals.
Aids has largely either been ignored by American evangelical churches or treated as a punishment from God. Warren's views are closely aligned with those of the conventional religious right in many areas - in 2004, he said that stem-cell research was "non-negotiable" and compared abortion to a "holocaust".
Yet, a year earlier, he had attended a church conference in South Africa with his wife, Kay. She was recovering from cancer and was keen to adopt a big cause. "So we went out to this little village and found this tent church," he has said. "It had 50 adults and 25 kids orphaned by Aids." He has since joined the Bono/Bill Gates philanthropy club, despatching 7,500 volunteers from Saddleback to developing countries. "I'll work with anyone to stop Aids - Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist," he says. "That really makes the fundamentalists mad."
When I visit his office at Saddleback, David Chrzan, Warren's chief of staff, says that the media are looking to appoint Warren as the fundamentalist-in-chief. "But Rick would say outright that he's not the leader of the religious right. He doesn't want to be," Chrzan says. "The bottom line is that everyone needs a saviour - Republican, Democrat or Tea Partier.
Over the past two or three decades, the church became so associated with the Republicans. Now, people are saying: 'Hey, we are for the church - we are not just two-issue people interested in homosexuality and abortion.'" In a 2005 survey of evangelical pastors, 51 per cent said that their congregation was predominantly conservative. By 2008, depressed by Bush's unpopularity in his final years, that figure had fallen to 33 per cent.
There is little evidence that evangelicals are any less agitated about abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage. But since the recession, moral issues have dropped down the priority list. At Saddleback, too much government, not too little, is blamed for California's disastrous financial state. "Government got greedy," a pastor in Ray-Bans and a leather jacket tells me, "and started taxing business too much."
Most members seem to whistle the old tunes of the right even as they display new-found concern for Africa's dispossessed. Like the Tea Partiers, they are as dismissive of many long-serving Republicans as they are of Democrats and echo the call for "fresh blood" in Washington. "If Palin becomes a viable candidate, they might see her as one of their own - an evangelical person who might get to the White House," warns Scott Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
So progressives who predict the defanging of the Christian right should remember that we have been here before. Ten years ago, a former heavy drinker who had found Jesus ran for the presidency, promising a compassionate and consensual brand of evangelical politics.
We all know what happened next.
Is this commie on the Journ-O-List list?
As to the article, I thought it was strange. Palin was in the title but was only mentioned by name *once*. It’s a hit piece, and rather behind the times.
The long-term trend is not towards large “mega-churches” but away from them. There are three current changes that are taking place.
1. The majority of small and mid-size churches, at least 80%, are declining.
2. Large churches are growing somewhat, but it is more due to slick services and marketing and is being funded by heavy reliance on debt.
3. The house movement is growing exponentially, and is mostly unseen. People drawn to house churches are looking for a sense of belonging and community, what they have not found in either their lives or in traditional “building” churches.
I am called to start a church. I used to dream of having a large church. I now realize that a church isn’t a building; it’s the people. And it wouldn’t have been mine to “have” - the church belongs to Jesus. And large churches don’t help build fellowship, they are ego-builders for the staff. So I’ve tossed every plan I had for a big building, and I’m even considering not having a building at all.
My advice to mega-churches: Get very serious about training your people. A church that is a true teaching church will survive the downsizing trend that is coming. Many churches will remain shallow, and will close their doors.
IIRC, she’s Assembly of God, not an Evangelical. Cowboy Churches are a huge trend down here in the South, especially in Texas, but not limited to it.
Have you looked at metal buildings? They seem less expensive but sturdier than “conventional” stick built. Modular buildings are another option.
Such churches teach a supranational Christianity; that Christ is above all nations and thus Christianity can’t be branded to any particular Earthly constitutional construct.
I think they understand this country, but they’ll argue that Christ’s mission has a higher priority than country. Warren’s church is said to be veering dangerously close to a “social justice” type of ministry, yet he still angers folks left and right. As long as he does that, he may be doing something right.
Warren stopped being relevant when he used himself as a tool for Obama....
The last church will look like the first church. It will meet in homes, be based in the Hebrew Biblical truths and have the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling clean holy vessels, so that the same power which killed Ananias and Sapphira, will be evident in this remnant church. That is the direction the Father is leading towards.
A wee bit of truth here...
The media and the left lumped all blacks individuals into a faceless group and appointed Jesse Jackson, the Black Caucus, etc, their mouthpiece. Now no conservative black voice will be tolerated. Any racial news will be framed by the NAACP and nobody else.
The media and the left lumped all women into a group and appointed the feminazis their mouthpiece. For years no conservative female voice would be heeded. All issues of gender were then framed by the feminists.
The media and the left lumped all muslim Americans into a group and appointed CAIR as the sole mouthpiece of muslims. Now no one but radical islamists who've learned to be politically savvy can be heard. When any islamic terrorist makes the news, CAIR is ALWAYS called in to discuss the issue, and it gets the job exclusively. No other muslims need apply.
The same goes for "Hispanics" , a group manufactured from a diverse field of individuals some citizens, some legal immigrants waiting for citizenship or seeking work, and some illegal, whose voices are all drowned out and replaced by the only voice the media will recognize- illegal immigrant advocates.
The media now seems to want to lump all Christians into this megachurch so the voice of American Christianity will be heard exclusively from Warren. No others need apply!
The only things Warren is doing right are selling books, and feeding his congregation spiritual cotton candy. I despise him and those like him. Joel Osteen comes to mind.
Oh I didn’t say I totally support him; the title of his Book...”The Purpose Driven Life” strikes me cold. A better book for him to have written might have had as its title, “The Christ Yoked Life”( as in “my yoke is easy, my burden is light”)
Assembly of God members are evangelical in their outlook and focus. And some of AOG churches are huge almost megachurch in their member ship as well.
So, this is how lefties across the pond see Mr. Warren, and by association American evangelical Christians, and of course those nasty “fundamentalists”. Interesting. They really have no clue.
A lot of big churches are going to small group services during the week that replace the functions of sunday school and the smaller social functions that sunday schools can provide. The churches are large enough that folks get lost in a crowd so they want to provide “a connection” so that needs can be met on an individual level.
The leaders of these groups get some training and are commissioned by the pastor and deacons and are “overseen” to make sure individual groups don’t go off on tangents and be undone by unorthodox teaching. Sometimes the church pastor has a message he is working on and he’ll suggest to the ‘cell leaders” passages of scripture to be studied prior to the “big message” onSunday when all the members gather.
This I think is what will be the model when big buildings and overt public worship starts to get attacked and taxed out of existence. Pastors and deacons will still have jobs to do in keeping the “smaller groups” together...like the apostles and the lesser disciples and later called teachers who would visit the early house churches to teach and to deal with spiritual issues that would arise in these churches.(The epistles give testimony to this). You had a “church” of some big city in the early days, but this church had many house groups spread out in the city obstensibly to mitigate the effects of persecution. There would be occaisional big gatherings and a visiting apostle or teacher would come to expound on the gospel as the spirit leads. The latest Letter or epistle might also be read and shared amongst all the groups in that city.
Churches need not have big imposing structures to be viable, they can be somewhat amorphous with the leadership being flexible in their operations. Will there be expressions of Holy Spirit power of the same strength as what was evident in the early church? The early church apostles had that power but not everyone who was saved had the Holy Spirit express himself thru one in that way. Individuals had specific gifts they were given, but not all healed, not all taught, not all prophesied. Many spoke and prayed in tongues but Paul had to warn them not to do so in a way that would bring confusion, but to keep it private unless there were translators who could translate what was being uttered. Above all, Paul preached Love, without which tongues and teachings would be nothing but “crashing cymbals”. I think if these “new churches” concentrate on love of God and Love of neighbor, the rest of what God will do to empower these churches will follow like “a mighty rushing wind” or a “still small voice”.
I have learned that if God chooses you to build a fellowship and someone else comes in with their own agenda, don't play Mr. Nice Guy. As I said I could write a book on what I learned.
Sarah would do well to stay away from Rick Warren, imho.
“a church isnt a building; its the people”
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