Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mega-Church Experience

The church search -- one of my least favorite things about moving.

Yesterday, we visited Cornerstone Church, the 20,000-member mega-church here in San Antonio pastored by John Hagee.  Now, I don't know a lot about Hagee, other than he's a well-known conservative pastor with a television ministry that reaches world-wide and who stirs up a lot of controversy on occasion.  I googled him Saturday night and, of course, found a lot of criticism of his lifestyle and teaching and so forth, but I really tried to go with an open mind.  After all, my eldest daughter is going this fall to Cornerstone Christian School, founded by Hagee, so I probably should know something about the man and his church.

So, some observations:

- The music was pretty fabulous.  I mean, just look at the picture of this choir!  It was like an old-fashioned southern revival.  Not all of it was the style of music I'd prefer -- a couple numbers were like the caricature of a cheesy TV preacher's worship service.  But much of it was big and bold and great.  And the congregation sang with enthusiasm, also.

- But then, this congregation would be enthusiastic no matter what, I imagine.  It was a rather charismatic group -- lots of hands in the air, amen-ing and hallelujah-ing.  A new experience for my daughters.

- And I will say, this was perhaps the most racially integrated congregation I've ever been in.  And THAT was an awesome thing.

- I didn't notice this until Hagee started preaching, but there were two men standing on the floor on either side of him facing the congregation the whole time.  Security guards.  Wow.  So, has Hagee said stuff that makes him worry for his personal safety when he's up in public like this?  Have they just had issues with that big of a crowd and they learned they need people there prepared to handle the unexpected?  I'd love to hear the story behind that.

- I couldn't argue against much of anything Hagee said during the service (although he toed awfully close to the Prosperity Gospel line at one point).  In fact, his sermon was an amen-worthy flat-out gospel presentation, for the most part.  But his manner . . . I couldn't help but think that I should have had my two actors who played the character of Evangelist in my productions of "Pilgrim's Progress" watch videos of him for inspiration.  The epitome of over-the-top cheesy TV evangelist style.  Content: fine.  Delivery: not for me.

- He had an invitation at the end (of course) and about a hundred people came forward.  And this is where I got troubled, strangely enough.  Everyone else in the building was amen-ing and hallelujah-ing over the crowd gathered at the front.  I was praying, Lord, please let these decisions all be sincere.  I'm so conscious anymore of how people can be emotionally manipulated into saying the right words, raising their hand, getting dunked in the baptismal tank (they have a baptismal service there every Sunday night and these people were being invited to come back for that) . . . and in the end, it was all just lip-service.  These people think they just signed on for some fire insurance to save them from hell and now they can go back to their lives as usual.  I pray to God that wasn't what was happening in this crowd.  Unfortunately, I'm pessimistic about this stuff anymore.

All in all, an experience I'm glad we had.  But I don't anticipate making this my church family.

However, when their Christmas pageant rolls around in December, I am there.

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