In 2013 I was looking for a church I could attend when my husband was working on Sundays, which he frequently did. We were also part of a Messianic community, but I did not feel comfortable attending service there without him. That’s another story — an unusual one. I’ll talk about that in another post…
So, I watched a program from this church on our local TV station. The pastor wore an open necked shirt, tails hanging out, and jeans. Must be a relaxed atmosphere, I thought. He spoke about having a meaningful, personal relationship with Jesus. Can’t go wrong with that, I thought. We’ll call him Bob.
So I prayed about going to a service. There was, in fact, a campus nearby. In Edina, where I had once lived. So it all seemed to make sense. But the answer I received in prayer was to ‘go there and stand and wait.’ That did not make sense. It was also, however, quite doable.
And so I did. I discovered that they had very good coffee and donut holes that you could enjoy prior to the service. You could even take coffee into the service. Most there were fairly young and trendy. Some looked like the old-schoolers. I was comfortable with that. Most were friendly, but in a practiced manner. Greeters and all.
The early part of the service was very loud. Rock praise music. My earplugs went in. Loud trance beat. Not good for small children, I thought. The sermon was streamed from another location. The pastor again was cute and friendly. He said a lot of positive things. There were a couple of Bible verses tucked away in there. It was a feel-good service. I later learned this was a ‘religious experience.’
The campus pastor was a large man with an even larger voice. Australian. Super friendly. But there was also a darkness about him. Something intangible. I did not introduce myself. Just observed. We’ll call him Rick.
I was not comfortable, but also not entirely uncomfortable. And so, I decided to return. After a few weeks, I decided to check out their new member series. Four weeks. One of the other potential new members was a bass player, so I thought that was a good sign. During one of the meetings, we talked about tithing. I mentioned a sermon of this pastor that I had seen on TV about ‘tithing until we are audited’. When I brought that up, the group leader looked at me as if I were crazy, or had missed something. A tiny red flag. I later learned that they expect you to give not only your tithe, but well over and above your tithe — to them. No, you don’t have to. I asked about that. You can split your tithe as long as you do tithe. But that is the hope, that you will give it all to them and more.
I attended a few events for those who hope to become small group leaders. They encourage you to open up your home to them. They served a delicious dinner too at these events. I thought I might get to know people that way and tell them about the Zauberflote. I realized I was being tracked by one of the assistant pastors by that time, who complimented me on attending the group leader dinner, which he did not attend. Something felt off.
I then found, to my surprise, that a couple who had been in the initiation sessions seeming to present themselves as new members were, in fact, core members of the congregation. I had been wondering if we were being evaluated in some way during those sessions, and that was the clincher. I did not move forward with membership.
This was originally an Assemblies of God church. A pretty solid denomination, I thought. By this time, I had become sufficiently puzzled to email the Minneapolis AAG headquarters with my concerns. I was, in effect, patted on the head. On that same day I sent the email, I found out later, the lead pastor, Bob, was having a heart attack. He did recover. Odd coincidence, I thought.
I don’t recall when Rick first mentioned that Brian Houston was his childhood friend. I knew nothing of this person, but decided to find out. Houston is the leader of Hillsong Church, with a complicated and puzzling family history. Some consider Hillsong a cult.
In another conversation Rick spoke of the ‘lifers’ — those who give abundantly to the church and apparently can be trusted, as they are sent ahead to the new campuses they are starting — or converting from existing, ageing AAG churches. These are the ones who also get to travel for free around to the various churches and organizations they minister in various parts of the globe.
Of course, I thought it would be lovely for the church to hear the Zauberflote, so I thought perhaps a door might be opening when I sat next to the wife of the music leader at a dinner. “What do you do?” she politely asked. “I teach, and I am a classically trained flute player.” She put her face close to mine. “Do you read music?” she asked. I rolled my eyes. “I would love to recommend you as a Sunday greeter!” she said with enthusiasm. Great, I thought. Dead-ended.
By that time I also attended a Holy Spirit retreat. This took place during the Minnesota Orchestra lockout of the players. I spoke to the assistant pastor who was the table leader about how the Zauberflote is a gift of the Holy Spirit and and how I felt a connection between the MO lockout of the Zauberflote by a cadre of players and the current player lockout. “We don’t want people running away from you,” he said, “we want them running to Jesus Christ.” I did not know what to say to that. Before long, this pastor was transferred to a different campus, and eventually left the ministry to become a counselor.
And so, in the middle of all this, with doors seeming to be shut everywhere, I recalled what my original understanding had been….to go there and stand and wait. The governing powers had met me at the door. I just hadn’t realized it yet…
*M4B=Mozart 4 Believers