Thursday, 13 February 2014

Mega-churches' mega-promises.

"Let's plan as if the sky is the limit and then work out how we are going to get the funds." Pastor Kong Hee (PKH) wrote in an email in 2005 to an American producer in a bid to launch his wife's music career and the Crossover Project.
Here’s my thought on the email and let me start with a series of questions.
Can one consider that part of the email a faith statement? And if so, is it deemed as a faith statement because PKH believes big? And he believes big because his god is big? And his god is big
 because his church is big? Too simplistic? Or, is planning "as if the sky is the limit" and then believing that it will all be delivered on a silver platter a kind of blank-cheque faith that makes it all too good to be true?
You see, if faith is the substance of things hope for and the assurance of things yet to materialize as Hebrews tells us, then is PKH's email the modern manifesto of faith? What would become of faith if all
 believers took the same approach and wait for their big spiritual windfall to come true?
Now to be fair to PHK, he wrote that email without specifically referring to it as a faith statement. But if we were to understand his background, that is, as a megachurch pastor who preaches mountain-casting faith over the pulpit, it wouldn't be too farfetched to make that connection between his faith believing and his email
 statement right? I mean he must have in mind the power of faith as a bridge between what is to him "the sky is the limit" and the funds to eventually pay for all of it right?
Still, if you think about it, isn't there more to faith than that? Could there be a risk of making that statement a self-serving twist of what faith really is? If so, doesn't that just make God our genie in the bottle? How can we then exercise faith and not fall into the trap of
 making God our cosmic Butler or our always-gleeful Santa Clause?
I think the problem with faith is not so much of unmet needs but mismatched expectations (and I will not be plumbing into the scriptures on the other many reasons for unanswered prayers). Our needs are of course endless (or wants?). And not every one of them will be met in the way we want them to be met. This is where we have to exercise personal discernment. When we make faith statements like the one PKH makes, it is not uncommon to encounter a mismatch between what the
 petitioner wants and what God has planned. In other words, what we expect from God may not be what he had planned for us.
It is easy, even convenient, to say that anything related to evangelism or discipleship falls within His plan. But in the context of a church, growth is an exercise in corporate spiritual discernment. And it is sometimes as tough as hell to discern what is the divinely guided direction for the body of Christ in this secular culture of quick-fixes, instant
 gratification, shock-and-awe showmanship, quantity-validates-quality mentality and in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world slippery slope. History has in fact shown that not all of what a leader had planned for church growth converged with that of God's plans. This divergence is wedged even deeper when the church measures its growth against a worldly benchmark of congregational enormity, material prosperity and cult of personality.
Faith I find is sometimes a convenient scapegoat in one's
ambitious pursuit of church growth. Somehow, when the church reaches a certain size and popularity, faith gets hijacked by the over-presumptuous vision of the church. And because the vision is usually pretentiously promoted to be that of God's, it is hard to tell at what point the Church leadership has crossed-over from walking within His will to galloping at one's self-driven plans (pun unintended).
At such time, it usually takes
 much greater faith to have faith in the church's vision. But this will not stop the church from going through with its plans because it is easier to swim with the flow than to swim against it. The ugly truth is this, a contrarian, a whistle blower and a naysayer are either always openly despised or discreetly ostracized. Alas, by this stage, the once novel position has become the default position and this is also where the church collectively goes on auto-pilot.

I think the pull of the crowd is the nemesis of clarity in thought. Leaders and their followers get so caught up in their own piranhas' feasting frenzy that the blood of their pride, greed and ambition clouds the muddy cultural waters they swim in. Personally I am wary of two things: the indissoluble cult of personality and the delusional mob of conformity. Together, they are a force to reckon with and reckoned with with much blood spitting aggravation. The prodigious effort to turn the church around is often as futile as trying to catch a piano thrown from a skyscraper before it crashes to the ground; you in turn endanger yourself in the process.
So, going back to faith in a megachurch setting, my hope is that people in leadership positions would take stock of their conduct once in a while. Faith has to be self-reflective or self-introspective. If there is an enemy of faith worth our time and attention, it would have to be misdirected doubt. By this, I
mean doubts directed at everyone else except ourselves. Sometimes we have to question our motive or intention. The interrogative spotlight has to be on ourselves. We have to be opened to the possibility that we may be wrong or that the ongoing self-promoting project midstream may well be going downstream. It is only through this self-examining process, carried out with deliberate rigor and self-prosecutorial vigor, that there is any hope of leaving a sliver of light for God's spirit to 
turn the raging tides around.
Finally, and this is difficult to write, faith has limits. I am of course familiar with mountain-casting faith here. But if such be exercised with impunity (without limits), then one can expect a leveled and barren landscape in due course. I find this excruciatingly obvious and yet I cannot dismiss this agitating need to explain myself nevertheless. Here goes (and I refuse to dedicate more than one paragraph to it).

Faith is a law-breaker. It is supernatural intervention of our natural world and its natural laws. It is therefore a rule-offender. In a world of faith, the growth of cancer is halted. Ageing is reversed. The meteorological dynamics of wind, clouds and atmospheric pressure are inverted. Gravity takes a backseat. And nature as a whole is turned on its head. This is another way of saying that a miracle has happened. And a miracle is something that defies 
the rules of science (and even freewill). As much as that is said, I would like to qualify that this has to be an exception to the rule, that is, mountain-casting faith cannot be the rule while mountain-stubborn ones are the exception. This is obvious because if the laws of nature are violated on a regular basis, that is, rain stops midway, hospitals emptied every Fridays, wayward husbands suddenly break off with their mistresses, and misfortunes becomes good fortunes overnight, then this 
would all result in a miracle-churning willy-wonker world of unbridled pandemonium. Enough said? (there you have one long paragraph).
So, as faith has limits, and such limits have to do with the mismatch of expectations (that is, God has other plans for us), the petitioner, especially those in leadership, should always act with circumspect. This is a roundabout way of saying that the exercise of faith has to be preceded by a time of self
-examination. And this is also where such statements like "Let's plan as if the sky is the limit and then work out how we are going to get the funds" runs perilously close to being self-fulfilling rather than God-fulfilling. And when we rest on our own strength instead of God's to realize our own prayer, we replace the divine providence of the Grantor for the worldly confidence of the grantee and thus risk losing our way somewhere in the wilderness of self-adulation. Cheerz.

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