Thursday, May 30, 2013
Megachurch and the poor
If anyone knows how to ride out a scandal, it’s the Catholic Church; after all they’ve been at it longer than anyone else. This is not to diminish the remarkable contribution of Roman Catholics to both the history and current mission of the Church. But perhaps evangelicals could learn a few things from both Catholic successes and failures in this area.
The latest criticism to be leveled at Rome is that it doesn’t really care about the poor. It’s an odd accusation given the Roman Catholic Church has possibly done more for the poor than any organization in history. Still, no one can deny that the Roman Catholic Church likes gold-gilded furniture (almost as much as classic Bond villain Auric Goldfinger and the folks at Trinity Broadcasting Network). The Catholic eye for opulence has sparked this popular meme:
...the average priest receives only $20k per year in takehome pay. “And if you’re the Pope, not only does your salary suck, but you don’t get it until you’re dead. Popes get one gold, silver and copper coin for each year of service placed on their coffin. Blessed John Paul II received about $141 dollars.”
Also unlike the leaders of the Catholic Church, pastors of megachurches have not taken a vow of poverty. A recent survey found that the average senior pastor of a megachurch takes home $147,000 before benefits. The research also found that the average megachurch is suburban, with a budget over $5 million, and employs more than 50 full-time staff.
So, I’ll throw the question back at you. Given our culture’s growing sensitivity to economic injustice, including among younger evangelicals, how would you respond to accusations of hypocrisy against megachurches with costly facilities?I have long thought that what megachurches are are excuses to employ large numbers of people. Of course, they are not ornate, that's simply because the money goes to payroll. (It's funny though how much money and payroll it takes to maintain a good European cathedral well. - but then those employees have to work with their - shutter - hands).
Here's the key question to my mind. Jethani talks about great churches being built to serve the community; I want to approach that from a slightly different angle. Many great old churches I have been in have evoked me. They have elevated my thought - even when empty. Yes, some are distractingly ornate, others ostentatious, but still there are some that I walk into and the beauty reminds me of God. I walk into a megachurch, never been in one where I had a contrary experience, and all I think about is the mundane - how many people does it seat, how many speakers in the sound system, etc. Also, in the heartland, I have driven past many an empty shell of a megachurch facility. The ones that failed, or heaven forbid got bigger. There is no community wide effort to preserve and maintain this megachurch. Many is the old church that still stands as a testament to God if not a house of worship. I betting old megachurches will rot of be turned into strip malls. So who serves the community?
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