You probably have heard by now that over 20 years have passed since your arrival there. I imagine that you are surprised at how fast time passes here when you are there in that undying realm. Does anyone remember you here, you might ask? Well, the truth is, yes and no. Yes, a few old codgers are still here that might recollect who you were, but unfortunately the vast majority of people have never heard of you. And the history books are already getting rewritten. I wanted to explain the situation, so I may as well be upfront about what's going on. So don't take this too hard. No, the majority have no clue that you even existed.
To put it simply, you are being erased — well, if not entirely expunged from the historical record, you've been reduced to a very small footnote.
I know that you trust me to be an honest friend, and I'll try to explain as best I can. But first I need to lay some ground work. I have to keep this short and brief, especially since I only have a limited amount of vellum to use, and the stuff is not easy to find, and it is hard to make (first, you have to start raising calves, and the process is messy).
Lately, things have changed, a whole lot, even within my lifetime. It's been remarkable to watch these Giga-Churches. It is not "Mega" anymore. Things have gone to a whole new level. I mean, Lonnie, they are big, really big now. It isn't like the old days that you might remember long ago. Everything is spread across multiple campuses. That is what they call them. People drive long miles to one of these campuses just to watch the celebrity pastor preach on a big screen, and then they drive all those miles home. And now it's not uncommon for most of the people in a church to never get within ten miles of the pastor, let alone within ten feet. But that's what everybody wants it to be now. How would I describe it? Well, the primary goals are success and bigness. The bigger the better. But more than that — try to imagine this — it is all entrepreneurial now. It is like a huge business corporation. The congregations are the customers. The pastor is the CEO, and the central celebrity around whom everything orbits. And the pastors all want to imitate each other's success. The key to it all is, what I would call, the Five Priorities of Giga-Church. These are what everyone follows now. I'll list them here:
- Excellency of Intellect
- Ingenuity of Human Governance
- Celebration of Reputation
- Worship of Success
- Money and lots of it
So let's think about it from their perspective, starting with Priority #1. You have to admit, Lonnie, that intellectually speaking, you didn't have very much going for you. Sure you were given an amazing gift for evangelism, but your sermons were pretty simple, and your speech wasn't especially lofty. You didn't write out intricate sermon notes. But you knew where the power was coming from. Nonetheless, people nowadays don't respect anointing anymore. They would rather have educated sophistication, fancy websites, whiz-bang apps for their smartphones, and a steady stream of clever and well-marketed books. You already know that the one book you tried to put together never got off the ground. You had all these notes, and tapes you recorded, and whatnot, but you couldn't organize them well enough to condense it down to something readable; and though you could preach as well as you needed, writing stuff out just wasn't in you to do. And afterwards your friend you know sat on it all, for almost 20 years. The small bit of good news is that some of it finally got published. The bad news, I guess, is that very few people care anymore.
Which brings me to Priority #2. You have to got to admit you were always terribly disorganized and mercurial, whereas Giga-Churches need solid, predictable, and stable people who can organize and plan, and especially people who can get the sheep to line up with the governing program, so to speak, and follow the script. And, Lonnie, it will truly amaze you how far human organization can go when it's driven hard enough from the top leadership. Of course, you know that you just didn't fit in with the usual churchy way of doing things. You were simply awful at trying to be a standard "youth pastor." You couldn't counsel worth a bean, just couldn't toe the line, and you were too willing to take chances, break the rules, and do things out of the ordinary or controversial. You did exorcisms on demon possessed people. But what is worse, you spoke in tongues, out loud. And really, those are not very respectable things to do in Giga-Church, which brings me to my next point.
Okay, here comes the hard stuff. That's Priority #3, Lonnie. Reputation is the really big thing now. To get anywhere in Giga-Church, you have to have reputation before anything else. Reputation is all that anyone respects anymore. Reputation trumps grace every time. And if you are a celebrity, the more éclat the better. Here I am sure you understand what I am driving at. You really botched up your reputation. I mean, for example, your marriage fell apart, and you slipped up and fell back into the old sinful ways. The sad part is that it no longer matters now how repentant you might have been, nor how much grace happened to you. Once your reputation was shot, you were forever tainted, and therefore the leadership will always run away from you like you had leprosy. That's just the way it is with Giga-Church priorities. Nobody, especially in the leadership, wants his name associated with flawed and broken people, which as you know is what you were.
Priority #4 is what everyone hankers after today. Why do you suppose that everyone wants to imitate Giga-Church? Pastors wants the Giga-Church logo hanging on the outside of their church building, or behind the pulpit, because they want the sachet that it confers, because it smells of fame and success and respectability. To be blunt — and I know you don't mind me being honest — going by all these priorities I have mentioned, you were a colossal failure, Lonnie, at least that is how they look at things. And in their minds, no one can argue with success, because bigness and success prove that they are right and that they have the winning game plan. Who can argue with that?
Damnatio Memoriae. You have been repudiated in the most sincere way possible.
It's called oblivion, Lonnie — your memory has been damned, even if you weren't.
As for money, Priority #5, well, Lonnie, you never had any. Need I say more? Money is what counts today, and Giga-Churches need huge amounts of it. And indeed, when there is lots of it, you would be astonished at how much can be accomplished with money. Who needs the power of God where there is money that can fill in instead? (You know I am being ironic.) Yes, those huge, spread out campuses cost. That is why the publishing and music companies and other ventures are needed to bring in the added revenues. On the other hand, you got along fine preaching in pretty modest venues, say on a street corner, or on a pier at the beach, or later in Africa or Mexico, for example. But Giga-Churches work only in bigness, and high-profile settings and big ballpark stadiums, and enormous coliseums, and television broadcasts, and huge concerts, and gigantic conferences, and slick websites, and huge staffs, and so on. None of this extravaganza comes cheap. You, on the other hand, during your time here had to do some dumpster diving to get by when things were tight, or use food stamps. But no one will ever know this, because history is getting rewritten. And before you know it, even that much might get twisted around into you being some kind of lazy bum. That's the way it is. That's how it works. History can be pliable.
I know that, being where you are now, you are probably not that bothered about it all. I have to say that I hate what is being done to your name, even if they really can't do anything to you now. But I guess that history got re-written in their minds first, years ago, and they can no longer tell the difference anymore. That is why they're so very sincere, Lonnie, but as far as they are concerned, you may as well have never lived. You should never have been born, because when it comes to Giga-Church priorities, you were a completely unnecessary person, a non-entity who never mattered or never happened. You were the just guy that never made the grade, a footnote that deserves to be forgotten. Anyhow, Lonnie, I have to cut this letter short because I am nearly at the end of this vellum I am writing on, and it will take some time to make more. The stuff is practically impossible to find. My letter is brief, and maybe I didn't explain some things very well. You'll probably have questions and want me to clarify some point or issue I have mentioned. Don't hesitate to write back. I'll be patient.
Here on Earth.