Back in the day a haunted house was verboten for the righteous, instead we participated in Judgement House… For the un initiated this was a similar tour where a group of people would be herded through a series of Sunday School rooms where a story would unfold, following a minimum of two characters who would inevitably die in some kind of a car wreck, gang shooting, tragic accident, or whatever the church budget could afford to stage out in the parking lot. Then you would follow the characters to judgement followed by a jaunt to Hell with the unsaved one, and a quick pop through Heaven, before being ushered into the counseling room to be urged into making a decision for Christ. Like most evangelical redresses of secular culture it was usually a poor man’s excuse for the real McCoy, but churches would dutifully bus their congregations and youth groups to these things and a few are still eking along every fall.
I bring this up because I have an idea for an equally heavy handed and melodramatic experience that would chill every true Calvinist down to their very bones. It is the Haunted House of Worship. Join me as a draw for your mind the images of horror that is the journey of the modern worship team leader through his Sunday routine.
Scene One. Takes place where the tour group meets Steve. He has the typical blond “smokin hot wife” and is busy selecting his look for worship today. He tells Bambi (the afore mentioned smokin hot one) that God is most glorified in him when he is most satisfied in his trendy look. what is ultimately chosen can best be described as lumberjack chic, some discussion is had of spiked hair before a trilby is jauntily tossed on and Steve is out the door.
Scene Two. Is the rehearsal space for the band and praise team. It used to be a choir room, but a decaying pile of hymnals under stacks of used Starbucks paper cups, diet coke cans, and Fiji water bottles quickly disabuses anyone of that notion. The band resembles a group that not only grew a little too old to be hanging around a skate park, but was actively encouraged to leave and never come back. The bass player especially. The praise team is carefully selected to have one of every ethnicity so no one in the audience can feel unrepresented or left out by not seeing someone who looks like them. Naturally they are all distantly retaliated to Adonis. Steve and Bambi enter announcing their arrival, “I’m here people! With my wife, who is smokin hot.” The band launches into a ramp up and Steve wails on his fashionably worn guitar. Everyone practices their worshipful sounding “OOOOOOOooooooooo’s” and “Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh’s” with accompanying holy hands lifted at the right moments. There is a brief pause while Steve gives some instruction to the women about how to look up toward the ceiling with joy at just the right moment in the songs to convey a worshipful stance. The black guy is told to get his act together and stop dancing in place like an Irishman. Steve says they are gonna slay em and walks out muttering something about checking the scarves tied to the mic stands in the worship center.
Scene Three. Steve is standing in the church coffee shop holding his Starbucks cup which occasionally he tops off from his diet coke can. The counter tip jar is suspiciously close to him. Steve is in deep conversation with a random congregant who looks a little trapped. “Yeah man, like I am so glad the olds lost the worship wars and those things are just done. Cause I mean no one wants to sing long downer songs, it’s a lot to learn. I mean it’s like whatever boomer Chris Tomlin has arrived, he managed to salvage some of that, but most of it is dead and I am glad. There is just no room in one of those things for a guitar solo and people need to know that we have professionals on stage.” While Steve soliloquizes a woman places her Bible on the high top next to Steve so she can tend to a child in a stroller. Without breaking a beat Steve opens the Bible, signs it, and slides it back across the table to the woman saying “Bless you.” He then slams back the rest of his Diet Ameri-cola, declares, “Lets do this!” and strides out.
Scene Four. Steve bumps into Pastor Stephen (Yes I know the name is redundant we can’t all be Spielberg here!). Pastor Stephen asks Steve for a moment to discuss the worship service, Steve deflates a little, he knows where this is going. “Can you lead the congregation in a hymn today?” Steve winces visibly, he begins to stammer something about four chords, but Pastor Stephen continues, that since since he is preaching on Isaiah 53:10-12 perhaps Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended? would be more consistent with having the congregation reflect on the text. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just have the pianist play, and get people to use the hymnal in the back of the pews. You can just lead them right?” The color drains from Steves face, he begins to agitatedly speak about the flow of a worship service, you can’t just throw any old song in there. You have to start with a bang, wake em up. Then move to the song that is emotional to soften the people for the double whammy of a ballad. Which has with many spiritual improvisations and incredible vocal range so they can marvel at the creation of God in Steve’s abilities. That then has to build to a massive climax so simple, and repetitive that the audience will sing for the first time in the service, because they know this bit, but it doesn’t matter because everything is so passionate and loud on stage you can’t hear them. And God is so pleased by this performance that it is just so obvious as to why they do the same thing week after week! Pastor Stephen listens to this impassioned speech patiently, and then places a hand on Steve’s shoulder, “I think you can sing one hymn, and it will be good for you.”
Scene Five. The Sanctuary. The cross in the back is mostly covered by an enormous screen, the top peaking out and the bottom hanging below about a foot. The lights dim and smoke begins to poor from the edges of the platform. The band begins an intro and Steve rocks his way to the center of the stage showered in laser beams. He belts out a solo chorus about how good God is to him, at the chorus words appear giving the congregation permission to join in. To remind them when Steve is to be the focus the lights on the praise team dim so these people can hardly be seen. After the first song Bambi leads the audience in something called a confession but is not pulled form any discernible Christian creed, rather it is an amalgamation of flowy, spiritual sounding affirmations that would give John MacArthur an aneurysm. But frankly, Bambi nails it. She looks super enraptured and her breathy tones make it seem like Psalms about as well as country music sounds like Shakespeare. Then Steve improvises a sermonette and a prayer… In it he references his meditations this week, his daddy god Jesus, his smokin hot wife, and inexplicably: “some of you nerds who watch Star Trek know exactly what I am talking about!” this ends in him wanting to personally pray corporately over the congregation. Before musically working his way into the next song. Three songs later Steve announces the audience sufficiently rocked to Heaven and back and they should wave hi while Pastor Stephen comes up to follow that awesomeness. Pastor Stephen ascends the steps as the lights rise. He takes the music stand from in front of the bass player, who can’t read music anyway, as his pulpit. He sighs, then begins, “Steve, I think before we take some time in the word we need to be reminded of the Lordship of Christ over all. It would be appropriate to humble ourselves before the Lord. Would you come up and lead us in hymn 183 Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?” Visibly shaken Steve walks up the steps, Pastor Stephen hands him a hymnal. Steve begins to tremble the lights turn red, he collapses, everything goes black.
Scene Six. The audience has not been moved, their guide has told them to remain. As the red lights return it is obvious that this is no longer the sanctuary, but Hell, and Steve is the Devil. Seated on his throne of guitar necks (the prop guy is a big fan of Game of Thrones and the Elders are considering Church discipline) he laughs maniacally. “Thank you friends, for coming, to my worship service. You see now, not only is the trick easy, but is fun as well. By getting you human vermin to buy the lie that Church is all about you, your tastes, your secular culture that must simply be redeemed, you have made it about me. Christ effectively was moved aside to simply be an emotional fulfillment, and I was put into is place at the center of our attention. When you attempted to raise your hands to him you did so to me, when you danced for him it was, in reality for me. And then you stood there, looking about wondering how your churches, your lives looked so very similar to the culture around you. It has been truly said you humans can not serve two masters, you will love one or hate the other. And you have abhorred HIM, his justice, his purity, his glory, instead you have served, nay loved me….
At this point the audience is ushered into one of two counseling rooms. One is for parishioners where after a short questionnaire they are either given a nice copy Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymnal to bless their current music minister with or given a blank petition form to get signatures to fire their Steve like minister. Any Pastors are sent to the other where they given the same questionnaire and either given the hymnal or counseled with to fire their Steve, preferably without severance pay.
So there it is. I don’t see how it is any cheesier than the Judgement Houses of my youth. It is perhaps a bit more therapeutic to myself.