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 Tangle.com. 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
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