(I love the church. Deeply. But I also believe we need to be alert to keep the church from being influenced by the culture. This is a warning.)
A few years ago, a person close to me applied for a head worship position over a large church ministry. He was asked to send in a video of himself performing worship songs before a camera. There was no interview. No character check. No statement of beliefs. The panel of judges approved the performance. He was hired.
The American Idol Church
The lights dim. A camera zooms from a cable high above the crowd in an elaborate sweeping pan of the stage. All at once, a boom erupts from the speakers and streaks of light shoot out and flicker back and forth in a dazzling array of blinding color. A roar rises from the crowd.
“Welcome to American Idol Pastor Search, ” the speakers boom. “The number one most popular pastor program of all time. One of our lucky contestants today will receive a church.”
Hollers and screams. “Introducing… Contestant #1!”
A man dressed in stylish tight jeans, skinny tie, and dark, thick-rimmed glasses saunters across the stage.
“Jesus is the power inside you,” he begins, scanning the crowd. A few ah’s.
“He was a man. And now he is much more.” Claps.
He gains momentum. “He is the incarnation of all that is good. He is God. He is love. Heaven is the home of his love.” He sweeps his hand to draw in the other side of the stadium.
“Heaven is not a place, not a final destination, but a condition. It is here now in you, holding you…”
The crowd hangs on every word, breathless.
“If you only let it be… everything in your world.”
Wild applause. A judge stands.
“Man, I dig what you did there. You got style. Those are tough topics to grapple with, but you really nailed it. I gotta admit. You kinda blew my mind there, man. Good for you!”
The beautiful judge next to him chimes in, “You really touched me. I thought you gave it a lot of feeling. Some of what you said went over my head. Actually, all of it did. But it sounded nice.”
A slightly odd-looking gent sighs, leans his head to one side, and says in a strange accent, “Look, I thought this was crap.” A few boo’s.
“And I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to say…” A few catcalls from the crowd.
“…I liked your presentation. I think you can reach a big audience with this nonsense.”
Light applause and a few hoots. All of a sudden, the lights dim.
“Introducing…Contestant #2!” the speakers announce.
Bam. Electronic music. Dazzling lights shoot out across the stage. A silhouette of a man struts into the spotlight. He’s simply but smartly dressed. His beaming smile warms the crowd. They are instantly at ease.
“God loves you. You may have been told God doesn’t like what you do, that he might not even like you, but let me tell you, God loves you.”
A few claps. “You know, when I was a boy, I used to sit around with my grandpa on the porch and listen to stories. He’d wow me with tales of harvests gone bad and jumping off barn roofs into chicken coups because harvests gone bad. But that was pappy.”
A hush falls over the stadium.
“Sometimes life makes you want to jump off the barn roof into the chicken coup. And let me tell you, when you do, all that happens is you end up covered in chicken poop.”
The crowd laughs.
“You know, church is like that. You haven’t been around God’s church much if you haven’t landed in some chicken doo-doo.”
A few more laughs.
“Just the other day, I was saying to my wife if y’all really knew me…” he cocks his head with a crafty smile, “there’s no way you’d let me in the front door.”
A knowing wave of chuckles. He has them.
He bursts out with a huge smile. “But follow God and give me an opportunity, and I’ll show you the way to his chicken coup. Just don’t push me off the roof!”
The crowd erupts into laughter. “And don’t ask my wife!” He winks and shouts over the crowd, oozing charm. “God is good!” Peals of applause and hooting.
The judge with the accent nods, “You know what I think?” He looks at the audience behind him.
“I think you might have a winner here.” The crowd roars. “I mean, we have one more contestant, so we’ll see.” He turns to the others. “What do you think?”
“Yeah, absolutely man,” his associate responds. “I think I could listen to you all day. You’ve got a gift. You can make people laugh and then get real serious. You held this crowd in the palm of your hand, man. We could probably stop the show right now and make you the pastor. You’re going to be very, very hard to beat.”
The female judge faces Contestant #2. “Don’t ever change.” Screams come from the crowd. “Don’t ever change — you’re perfect, and if you win I’ll come visit your church.”
Boom. Music and lights. And then, almost out of place amidst the pomp, a man with ordinary clothes — a tee and jeans — and nothing at all remarkable about him that you would be drawn to him, walks slowly into view.
The music stops. The crowd goes silent. The moment seems suspended in mid-air as though for an eternity.
He opens his mouth and begins, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
There isn’t a sound from the crowd.
“And this is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”
His face is lit like a fire and his eyes flash.
A silence hangs over the crowd. The people appear deep in thought.
Then the first judge breaks it. “Huh. I don’t know man. That kinda fell flat for me. I gotta admit, I just wasn’t feeling it.” He shrugs. “Sorry.”
His beautiful associate pipes in. “Yeah, it was good, but I think you could’ve put more into your performance. You have to give more of an effort to win the crowd.” She turns to the final judge.
“I don’t know how you got this far,” he chides. “There is some steep competition here, and I just have to be honest — you aren’t on that level.”
The speakers come in with perfect timing. “Now it’s time for you, the viewers, to vote. Intellectual Contestant #1, Home-spun #2, or Mystery Contestant #3. Today you decide which man will lead his very own new church. Text, call, or log in now to vote!”
A moment later, the lights flash and the theme music kicks in. The crowd waits in anticipation. A buzz fills the audience. The judges tap their desks nervously.
“And the winner is…
The stadium erupts. The judges leap to their feet. The entire crowd rises as one in ecstatic ovation.
The judges nod confidently at each another. Above the jubilation, someone is heard calling out to the winner,
“You are the one. You will lead us…”