Sunday, November 23, 2008

Strange Story Proves False

A friend recently forwarded me a story about a megachurch pastor who sold the church's facilities and gave the money to missions. This story is going around various blogs--he got his from emergent. Here's part of it:

From the Associated Press –

Hiam Shatir may look like your average pastor, but he’s not acting like one. In a nation filled with expensive mega-church buildings popping up, Hiam instead chose to sell his mega-church, Crestview Community Church, and attempt to live into what he says is the call to “be the church.” And although many doubt him, Hiam just knew it was the right move to make.

“We just felt it was the right thing to do,” said Hiam, a businessman turned pastor, from his converted basement where he now administrates the church. “We couldn’t put our foot on the problem. People were sitting in the pews and not doing anything. They would come and sit and leave. And we began to ask if this is the Gospel.”

Crestview was known for its amazing stage productions, heartfelt contemporary worship, and relevant sermon topics often based on current events and pop culture. It quickly grew in numbers—adding two satellite “video campuses” and a recently launched online church campus—and was cited as one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. “Having someone validate what we were doing like that was really cool at first. We were really good at creating the ‘Wow’ factor that would have them wanting more,” Hiam says in reflection. “But I would go home exhausted and consistently wonder what difference we were making. I didn’t like that. And I just reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”

In what many would consider a stunning move for a 8,000-member mega-church, Hiam and the board of elders chose to sell their recently developed $12 million dollar campus to a local technology company, which is now planning to convert the sanctuary into a manufacturing facility. “Selling the building was easier than we thought,” one elder stated.

So what made this ultra-successful pastor of one of the city’s largest suburban communities take such a radical step? Hiam shared that it was faith. “One day I walked into the main sanctuary, and it was empty. It was this huge building that we were paying a mortgage on and it was dark. I just had this sense of wonder if this is really what Jesus would do. Would he have created this building? And then when the economy took a downturn, paying the mortgage became our primary concern. But everyone was hurting. We had to let people go from their jobs. All of a sudden paying the bills became our primary motivation.”

Hiam shared that his messages became motivated by how much those people could give to the church rather than the Gospel. And then a moment of clarity hit me. “I was standing there on a Sunday and, right in the middle of my sermon, I just stopped. I looked around and just realized that, if we let go of this burden, everything would change. It was at that time I started to really question our intentions. At the same time, some really good people asked if we were living ‘missionally.’ Were we really releasing people to minister to their neighbor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.”

Hiam began to doubt his own faith and purpose. “It was a dark time. More than once I told my wife I wanted to quit and go back to business,” Hiam said. “I felt like I was losing my soul. But the board of elders stuck with me, and they began to ask how we could begin to use money to solve real needs when we saw them. We suddenly realized we had the power to release people to be ‘missional.’”

Hiam wrestled with the decision over a six-month period. He knew that letting go of the building meant doing things in a completely different way. “The show would be gone, and, in some ways, that was hard for my ego to let go. It essentially meant trusting God to work in the people and not being everything to everybody. It was like we had new glasses on. We quickly realized that, before, a small majority of people were doing almost everything. They were burned out and completely exhausted. Now everyone has responsibility and purpose. So many people came to me, thanking me,” Hiam said.

When the building was sold, many felt lost in the transition. “We immediately lost about 30% of the people who attended our church,” Hiam shared. That number roughly translates to almost a thousand people. “Everyone called me and told me they just wanted a place to go on Sunday. They didn’t want to go out into the world. People’s primary concern was the loss of our children’s program.”

In talking with several families that had left, one woman expressed what has become a common refrain of ex-Crestview members, “Who will teach our children about Jesus? We just felt we needed a good children’s program and didn’t want to lose that.”

Life for Hiam and the church is now more complex but, he says, more rewarding. To accommodate the lack of facilities, Hiam took the radical step and converted his basement into an administration center. “We slimmed down everything and focused on following Jesus into mission. We asked what it would mean to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We now meet once a month for a large gathering and meal, and put all of our focus on meeting in homes. It meant really getting serious about discipleship and putting our trust into the hands of our gifted leaders.”

My View
I wrote my buddy back and pointed out this story isn't as cool as some people think:
Well, I think you can see the problems - nothing for kids now, which is questionable. Also, that he had the church based on entertainment and doing nothing before the sale. So the real problem with this church wasn't that they owned a building, but that they had never built in biblical values for ministry and self-giving love, and had a big do-nothing congregation of takers.

His solution was to blow it up, which was, in my opinion, a negative and destructive solution. It wasn't his people's fault that they were apathetic, self-centered, and ignorant. That was his fault, and his board's. Instead of re-tooling the church and bringing in real Christian living, body life, and ministry mindedness, they just blew it up. Those people had given money for the facilities, and I can imagine them feeling messed over when he just got rid of it.

So, in a word, I'm not impressed. I think the whole story is one of poor leadership and lack of biblical convictions as to what the church should be. Then, realizing what they had was wrong, they didn't take responsibility for the mess and fix it (which would have been very difficult and taken years), they just went with a superficial solution of blaming the problem on the facility.
Only after wasting all this time did I realize the whole story never happened! At the bottom is a note that the story is just "satire" intended to stimulate thought. I wasn't happy to discover that, but it does highlight how one kind of superficial thinking (the entertainment-based model of megachurch) may be replaced with another kind of superficial thinking (kill all buildings, and we'll be fine). Building real biblical convictions re. the church is a lot more difficult than either of these foolish alternatives.


Randall Neighbour said...

You could not be more right in your comments about the fictitious megachurch.

Pity more of them don't sell out and shut down, just to arrest the spiritualized entertainment.

It might just drive some of the members to actually turn over a new leaf and become a producer vs. a consumer.

Kristopher Robison said...

I wonder to what extent this story reflects the anti-establishment biases of the emergent church?

Dennis said...

I know the emergent people all share major disappointment with the established church. That's about the only thing every single one of them have in common. But I don't know if the guy who wrote this is emergent.

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