In April of 2005 while I was in Crete, NB, I came across a Saturday night Bible Study class at the United Methodist Church. They were using a book called "Real Followers" written by Rev. Michael Slaughter of the Gimhamsburg Church (United Methodist) in Tipp City, Ohio. I was given a book to take along. I found it so inspirational that I want to share a few thoughts from it with some personal observations thrown in.
At the present time, there are three waves of Christianity in America. The "first wave" is "Replication". Most of the denominations found in this country were imported from those that were in Europe. People carried their beliefs and practices with them when they came to this country. Each denomination has a basic "cookie cutter" style of doing things and is this style is copied from one town to another without much change. There are approximately 400,000 Protestant (non-Catholic) churches in this country. At least 85% of these churches are either dying out or have a dramatic drop in attendance. Through personal experience, I found out that in most of these churches the median age was over 55 years old.
The "second wave" is "Proclamation". In this wave, churches create an experience that is close to being a concert or sports event. It is a "feel-good event". Mega-churches fall into this category. They are being led by very charismatic persons. People attending these churches have a mentality that if they latch onto the coat-tails of these charismatic leaders they will be whisked along to either prosperity (the more you give to the ministry the more the L-RD will give you in the way of better jobs, fancier cars, etc) or fame. "Proclamation" churches have technical rehearsals the day before the service so that everything is timed down to the second. The experiences can be similar to being at a Billy Graham revival or sitting in at a Robert Schuller's Hour of Power service.
Please, I repeat please, do not be misconstrued by feeling that I am saying anything against Billy Graham or Robert Schuller. I have gotten several comments in the ministry website guestbook saying this. I am not and I do not really have anything against how they operate their ministries. What I am saying is the fact (whether it is my own opinion solely and be judged in that manner), that too many church services are becoming like big Broadway productions.
Services are becoming more and more like stage shows. Here is an example of what I am talking about. Many years ago, I was in San Jose, CA taking care of a friend's apartment (who had been recently killed in a car accident) while their family was deciding to do with the belongings. I went around to some of the local churches on a Sunday to see if I could meet with the pastors to introduce myself and see if I might be able to get an appointment with them later in the week. I remember there was one minister who almost cursed me out when I talked to him before the service started. They were going through a rehearsal to make sure everything was timed down to the second. I didn't go back to that minister to see if I could get an appointment with him.
Several years ago, I stayed with a pastor friend of mine in the Orlando, FL area. I went with him to his church (he was not the pastor of the church since he switched to being an evangelist). I was very amazed at all of the things they crammed into the service. There was a praise band with a mini orchestra, a full choir, hand puppets show for the kids, a skit with actors who were church members, several movie presentations on the huge screen (when this screen was down which was most of the service the only cross displayed in the church was covered up),and the minister did a stand-up service not behind the pulpit (there wasn't one anyway) with a complete Power-point presentation on what the sermon was about.
So much time and effort goes into the presentation and not into the message. At least 15% of the Protestant churches could be considered to fit into this category. People who attend these churches usually leave after three years because it is very hard to keep this "emotional or religious high" going Sunday after Sunday. They need that weekly filling up of their religious cup each Sunday.
A lot of the people who fit into this wave, they hold onto the fact that Christianity is more "virtual" instead of actual. It exists more in effect but not in fact. Spirituality is more of one found in a cafeteria. There is a picking and choosing of beliefs. Generally, the MESSIAH is kept on a leash. With "virtual" Christianity, the L-RD is usually found in three different types (Weekend (Sunday morning), Rabbit's Foot, and Master Magician). People who serve a "Weekend G-D" present a behavior in church that doesn't coincide to the behavior that they exhibit the rest of the week. A "Rabbit's Foot G-D" primary concern is the financial wellbeing of the believers. These are "prosperity churches". Believers are told if they give x-number of dollars to the ministry, there is a guarantee that the L-RD will give back to the believers either a double-fold or triple-fold amount. With people who serve a "Master Magician G-D" there is a wanting to either experience or see a supernatural miracle.
The "third wave" (and I feel the most important) is "Demonstration". This type of "Christianity" is more practical and hands-on. Community is one of the church's primary values. They are not interested in big numbers in membership. Most often the ministers with churches in this wave have to have a second career to support their families. This wave is not tied down to a building. It is 'an anywhere and anytime connection'. It is more democratic and one-on-one. These churches provide "social ministries". The remaining 5% of the Protestant churches seem to fall into this category.
If some says that they are a "Real Follower" of the MESSIAH, they have made the realization that they have basically given up everything to follow HIM. This doesn't mean that you have to give up every possession and become a pauper or grab a bicycle and ride around the country like I have been doing the past 14+ years. It means that you have to be willing to use whatever the L-RD has given you (your life, your family, your house, your possessions) to the betterment of the community. There has to be a mindset to be one as being a servant. You need to be willing to put yourself into the L-RD's box instead of placing the L-RD into your own box of wants and needs. If you say that you are a "Real Follower" of the L-RD, you have to be completely willing to exchange your ambitions, dreams, and wish lists for HIS. The L-RD was an active example of "Action". HE cared, comforted, counseled, cried, cured, fed, led, taught, etc. "Real Followers" are not afraid of "going against the flow" of modern-day society. "Real Followers" are never going to be in the majority. They will always be in the minority.
"Real Followers" are willing to see others with the eyes of the MESSIAH. They have the desire to encourage others to live out their lives using the full potential of gifts that have been bestowed upon them. Being a "Real Follower", love becomes a real passion. If you are serious about being a "Real Follower" and you have two coats, you'll be completely willing to give one of those coats to somebody who has none.
A true "Spirit Directed" person gears their whole lifestyle and focus towards the purpose of G-D. The first followers of the MESSIAH were willing to do whatever it took to hear from G-D no matter how long it took. Following the MESSIAH is a 'right here, right now' issue, and it demands a decisive and immediate response. Being able to live a simple and a focused life are key essentials in being a "Spirit Directed" person.
Being a "Real Follower", there should be a great need to take the L-RD into the streets. They should never refuse to give up. There should also be a desire to act on faith. Americans really don't trust G-D to meet their needs since they have credit cards. "Real Followers" are Spirit-Led and not success driven.
Well, my prayer is you after reading this page that you become a "Real Follower" yourself. Take care in Y'SHUA the MESSIAH.