Monday, June 21, 2010

Making Rounds: Pathways My first "Mega-Church" experience!

Alright so I showed up to Pathways Church on Sunday Morning at 9:00am. I didn't exactly know what to expect other than maybe a mega-church experience. Their website: is quite vague in description as to what exactly happens when you get there.

I was planning on going to both services except that all three of their services: Saturday, Sunday 9am and Sunday 10:30am are all exactly the same.

When I got there I was surprised that visitors get preferred parking. I didn't really like the idea but I figured I would get the raw experience and take advantage of all the "amenities".

When I walked in after being greeted by 2 members in yellow shirts at the door handing out the weeks bulletin, I found myself lost almost immediately. I don't know if that is due to my paradigm of a "typical" church and service or if the blame could be placed on the organization's efforts in trying "too hard". But never-the-less, I wanted to give them a chance.

To my left was a long reception desk and to my right was a Cafe of sorts that I think was handing out water and perhaps a light breakfast. I didn't approach the cafe simply out of lack of curiosity. I got the picture and I was fine with it.

So I walked up to the reception desk where there were more volunteers with yellow shirts on and noticed a sign that said, "Guest Central". I figured, "Well, I'm a guest so I guess thats where I'll start." I walked up to the counter and told them I was a guest and waited to see what happened.

Immediately I was presented with a guest card and asked if I would like a tour. They were instantly curious about whether or not I had a family and presenting me with all the different amenities they had that would be of interest to me. I couldn't help but recognize the sales tactics that were being employed by the staff to sell me a membership. Many of these tactics I remember reading in employee manuals while working at places like West Business Services and in other sales jobs I'd had. I smirked and decided to just go with the flow.

Of course since I have 2 little ones they were instantly compelled to show me the elaborate nursery and daycare they have setup. It was almost like a separate business all on it's own with registration forms and a computer database system with volunteers to watch and teach the kids while Mom and Dad enjoy the worship service in the main auditorium. When I say elaborate I mean it's almost an entire wing of the gigantic building. Right away I was curious as to how much this must cost to maintain on a weekly or monthly basis.

As we continued on, my tour guide seemed at a loss as to where to take me next. She had mentioned a grades 1-6 area in the basement so I was curious as to how that was set up. When we got down there it was obvious it was setup exactly like the main auditorium (stage and all) but on a smaller scale. I assume it was a way to get the kids used to this type of worship so as to understand how to behave themselves when moving on to the adult worship service. She showed me the classrooms in the hallway in the basement that seemed somewhat unemployed with the exception of the game-room that was in use by two children at the moment. There were 3 or 4 televisions with video game systems hooked up to them as well as some arcade games. I commented that it must be exciting for kids to come with that kind of motivation. She assured me they didn't try to emphasize those things at all. I thought to myself, "I bet. It probably wouldn't look very good.if they did."

As we walked back through to return upstairs I ran into an old friend of mine Nathan Fietzer who was one of the youth volunteers and was talking to some of the children there. When I greeted him I lost my tour guide and after talking shortly with him decided to venture out on my own.

When I returned upstairs I walked down a hall that had rooms labeled for the different classes that were being held for different people in multiple situations (i.e. Married, Single, Recovery, etc.) even some general study groups. I believe they are holding a study in the Letter to the Hebrews. Or it was a class to learn about the Hebrew people. I wasn't sure. :-p

But anyway I made my way back to the main entrance and the auditorium and decided to find myself a seat. It was expressed to me that they have over 1400-1500 members. I can't imagine trying to get to know that many people all at once but I hope they weren't trying to impress me with their large membership. I guess it's a paradigm thing.

So I found my seat and soon the music began and it seems the volunteers(yellow shirts) were all up on stage leading in song along with the band. There were three screens projecting the lyrics as well as those who were on the stage performing. I kind of enjoyed it. It was a nice idea all in all if this were viewed as a place for Christians to get together and worship God and socialize and fellowship. I even thought to myself, "Maybe I wouldn't mind bringing the family here once in a while and maybe even get involved."

A lesson everyone should learn when visiting churches like Pathways is to not let the glitz and glamor suck you into thinking it is something it's not. (I think that makes sense). As the service went on and I filled out my guest card and looked through the bulletin. I was excited to hear the lesson for the day. There was a small skit mimicking the "Mac vs. PC" Apple commercials in honor of Father's day that was clever but a little too deep of a topic to be summed up in quick-witted banter between two generalized characters attempting to represent a father and son in modern day America.

After that I was thinking, "Okay! On to the lesson." I was really hoping for one of those really inspiring talks that you see on You know the ones. But instead what I got for the next 15-20 minutes was a run down of EVERY single program currently in progress and a ceremony for the 30+ teens who raised $70k+ to take a missions trip to Ireland. I couldn't help but feel a little jealous. I would love to go overseas to experience life in Europe for a while. But whatever. I wasn't sure why this wasn't paid for by the church since it was being presented as an evangelical missions trip. But anyway.

At that point it was time for the collection. Of all the positive feelings I had about this place and what they were trying to accomplish, it was all ruined in the next few moments. The "Senior Pastor" Brad Liebe, went from the gentle, loving, heart of God pastor and turned into, LEGALIST CENTRAL! It was almost like he was angry about it. Pulling no uncertain punches, he declared, "YOU MUST GIVE YOUR TITHE. YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR FIRST 10% TO GOD! THESE PROGRAMS MUST BE PAID FOR! WE CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT IT AND YOU WILL BE RICHLY BLESSED IN RETURN! If you look in your bulletin this week you will see what Malachi 3:10 says printed there right above our contribution goals." or something very similar to that. I wasn't recording it but I know they were.

So in shock at the sudden harshness coming from the stage in front of me, I looked in my bulletin to see what he was speaking about and realized why he was so adamant about the "tithe". It seems their WEEKLY budget for running this "church" is...are you ready...$25,000.00! WEEKLY! I couldn't believe it. "WOW!" I thought to myself. It seems they haven't been making their goals though. Last weeks contribution was only $17,443.75. I guess there might be some reasons for that.

1. Not everyone is giving their 10%
2. Everyone is giving their 10% but their memberships income isn't such that this amount would cover this much or...
3. People who would otherwise be able to make extra contributions (more than 10%) are not compelled to do so because the request being made is only 10%.

I guess there is something to be said about making it a "free-will" offering.

There was a plea to contribute more money. And it was requested that any extra money donated be earmarked by the ones donating. It was also pointed out however that this was not to be construed to be part of your 10% that is "commanded" by God.

It was really disappointing actually. I had to ask myself why are they so dogmatic about the contribution and not about anything else? What makes the money so important? And why use Malachi 3:10 to compel any Christian to do anything. I thought we were Christians...not Jews. But I digress...again.

It seems on top of their weekly budget of 25k they also have a monthly missions budget of 7000 smackers and an ongoing project called Project Cornerstone with a 2-year goal of $1.2 million buckaroos! With financial expectations like that it's no wonder they ride their members for cash.

So anyway, after the 15 minute sales pitch to it's members and a collection of funds for the "tithe" for the week we finally got to it. The sermon/lecture/homily. Now I don't know what happened here. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe it was a paradigm issue. Or maybe I just wasn't smart enough to get it. But, I have NO CLUE as to what Mr. Liebe was trying to say. I'm not sure there was one coherent thought process that came out of his lips for the next half hour. I was trying my best to follow along but in his efforts to continue along the same study of Luke 8 and also tie it into father's day as well as keeping it entertaining and an effort to personalize the lesson, I think he forgot to string his thoughts together cohesively so that others could get something out of it. Without going into GREAT detail about the experience, lets just say, it was some thing left to be desired...again. To be fair, I do understand that every one who preaches in this type of venue, is allowed an off day and this may simply be the case. I was assured by my friend who actually suggested I visit and who knows Mr. Liebe personally, that this is more than likely the case.

Unfortunately, however,  this left a bad taste in my mouth.  My final impression was that these people have a great opportunity to provide a place for Christians to get together and worship and grow and learn and be immersed in the Lord. It is too bad though that they come across as an organization whose goal is simply to drain this community of every last extra cent they have under the guise of religion and even more disappointingly under the name of Christ. I guess if it was treated more like a YMCA or admitted to being an organization for Christians instead of a Church, I'll be honest, I might have considered a membership myself. But never-the-less. Sadly, disappointing.

On the plus side. Since it was Father's day, I was given a token for a free Ice cream...err...frozen custard at Culver's. WOOHOO. Hey why not just pay people to come to church? I've heard that somewhere before. hmmm....


Edit: As you can see in the comments below there has been a firestorm of malcontent with Brad Liebe on issues unrelated to this post. As of April 7, 2013 it appears Mr. Liebe has resigned been fired due to adultery with his sister-in-law. I hope Pathways can recover and move on. I still recommend the book "So you don't want to go to church anymore?" By" Wayne Jacobsen ( as it deals with a similar issue in the book.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Making Rounds: Appleton coC and Victory Baptist.

So I've decided to check out the different churches in the area. Not to become a member of any of these organizations but simply to evaluate and get a true perspective on the way others in the community practice their faith. I will be visiting only Christian churches. This excludes Unitarian Universalists and Mormons. I will be checking out their websites if available and listing their times of service followed by a review of my impressions.

Appleton church of Christ

I actually started this past week. I went back to visit my friends over at the Appleton church of Christ on Newberry Street on Sunday Morning. I attended both the 9:30am Bible Study as well as the 10:30am Worship Service. It was really good to see many of the faces I have come to know and love over the last 10 years. There will always be a special place in my heart for those folks there at Newberry St. Especially the preacher Whit Sasser. Heck, I named my kid after him. (His first name is James and my son's middle name is James.)

More info can be found at:


My review of this congregation would be slightly skewed because I know them all so well and they know me as well. I don't feel I can properly gauge the experience on a relative scale since I would have to be a total stranger for there to be an understanding from my current perspective. I will say this however, that when I first appeared there over 10 years ago I was greeted very well by many if not all of the members. They were very kind and very heart-felt. A group that genuinely cared about being hospitable and making strangers feel welcome.

As far as anything else is concerned I dare not say since, like i said before, 10 years of experience at this congregation leaves me with a bias that would not be fair to the other congregations in which I will be attending and writing reviews about. First impressions, unfortunately, in my case, are lost.

Victory Baptist

For the evening service I attended the Victory Baptist church on Richmond St. Since they don't have a website, here is a link to as much info as I have:

Their evening service time is at 6:00pm. I am not positive on the morning services.


I actually grew up in a Baptist church which is why I decided to "check them out" first. When I walked into this quaint little building I wasn't quite sure what to expect. When I had driven by earlier that day, I figured there couldn't be more than 20 or so members in this congregation. Indeed, it was a small congregation of about 4-5 families. the only young members were the members children and it seems it has been this way for some time.

Now, I must admit. I am quite familiar with the core Baptist Doctrines, so I had a little bit of a "heads up" before walking in the door. When I walked in of course it was right before services were ready to start so I assumed I would have to rush to my seat and try not to hold up the service.

I was greeted by the evangelist of the group, one Mr. Ken Griesbach. Much to my surprise he took some time to get to know me a little bit. Albeit, with a small amount of confusion. I got the impression that this congregation doesn't get too many visitors from the area. The atmosphere was a little uneasy as I observed the strange looks on some of the members faces and the children's blank stares of curiosity.

Of course the first question on Mr. Griesbach's mind was, "Are you saved?" To which I happily responded, "Yes!" This was a little weird for me since it's not often one asks me this question. I told him that I had grown up in a Baptist church but didn't have the heart to tell him that I lost count of the number of times I was "saved". But to ease his conscience I told him, and later on, another one of the member's that, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." For some reason, I wondered at that moment..."How do they know I'm not lying?" Of course I wasn't lying, but how would they know?

Well, services started and there were many songs that were sung with the guidance of a single slightly out of tune piano. I tried to recall the days of my youth as a Baptist growing up but it was tough since the church I grew up in only used a guitar. Played by "Pastor Mark" every Sunday. I knew quite a few of the songs they sang and we got to one of my all time favorites, "Jesus Loves Me". I always enjoy watching the kids sing that song. Sometimes I think of how innocent they are, liking the song for it's simplicity and not necessarily for it's message. As an adult it makes me appreciate the song all the more. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! There is a GIGANTIC message there and speaks to so many fundamental tenants of our Christian faith.

As the service continued after the songs, a collection was made but the Lord's supper was not served. I found that particularly interesting. I was actually looking  forward to witnessing how this is practiced at this particular congregation.

I always find it humorous when small congregations still insist on "passing the plate" for their contribution. Especially at evening services. If you watch you might actually see someone put something in there that wasn't present that morning or perhaps they believe they must give every time they gather together. Who knows? I still find it funny though because the guy holding the collection plate kinda looks around aimlessly knowing full well that out of the maybe 10 people in the congregation that have money to give either already gave or are too young and don't have any income. But I digress.

The sermon was unfortunately something left to be desired. Without going into a huge discourse about why I can't stand the 1611 KJV of the Bible, I will just say that for most of the sermon I was kicking myself for not having brought my Bible. I understood what the preacher was trying to get at though with the lesson.  It was a discourse on Genesis 30 and the slick business decision by Jacob to take the spotted and speckled sheep and then breeding the spots and speckles out of the sheep thereby showing how smart the Isrealites were, having the basic understandings of genetics. A good lesson all in all.

Of course no wonderful Baptist "homily" can be let go without at least one paragraph on Pre-millinialism. So he told a story of a news reporter asking an old friend of his when Jesus would again re-appear. Slickly quoting Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."

I remembered that so I could fulfill his request that if anyone had questions they could ask after services. So I approached him after some fellowshipping with a couple other members who did their best to sell me a membership. :) I asked Mr. Griesbach what exactly the Apostle Paul was referring to when he said in:

Romans 16:25-27 "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest , and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen." KJV (emph.added)


Colossians 1:23 "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard , and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;" KJV (emph. added)

He readily admitted that throughout history there have been times that Christianity had been preached to the whole world but gave no explanation as to why Christ did not return at that time. I just smiled and said "Okay." He seemed interested in talking about the Christians role in our government but bordered on tossing out the validity of scripture when I brought up Romans 13. I was quite surprised at this. But I didn't want to argue. So I changed the subject. He asked me about my family and wondered if we would be seeing each other again and I told him "Perhaps."

One other thing of note was that during a conversation with one of the other members, it was decided by him that it was important that I know that there are churches "out there" that believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. WHAT!!!! lol. :D I told him, "And you're okay with that, right?" I then stopped paying attention when he went on with the calvinist cookbook, eventually moving on to my conversation with Mr. Griesbach.

Overall, I would say these are genuinely nice people but I can see it getting ugly if anyone were to disagree with them. Heck, I am not sure one would gain any respect if you studied from any other Bible than the 1611 Authorized KJV.

One question I would LOVE to have asked and just didn't get the chance would be why they don't worship with Grace Baptist a few blocks down the road since they also are an independant Baptist Congregation. Maybe that is where I will visit next Sunday.

Have a wonderful day folks!