Megachurch Pastor Tony Steward Reflects on How He Stopped Attending Church for Over a Year

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An apology – the original version of this post said that the Tony Stewart who wrote the article linked below was a pastor here in Tampa at the Citylife church. That was incorrect and it has been edited out of the post. My apology to Tony Stewart and my very best wishes and blessings toward his ministry here in Tampa with Citylife.

Yesterday Tony Stewart posted some reflections on how he hasn’t been attending church over the last year and some realizations he has had during that time. He says the reason he stopped going was because he no longer found any value in attending. He writes,

“If you were to ask why, the answer is simple; I’ve not attended because after working in churches for 10 years – two of which some would claim are the best in the country – I haven’t found any value in going.

I’m over the concerts and speeches and the contrived effort to call a gathering of 3,000 people a family. I’m over being encouraged to move even further into the life of a consumer living “my” faith individualistically because that’s the kind of faith that best scales with the organizations efficiency scores.

In 14 months outside the small world of big churches I’m aware of how little of real life they have any grasp on. Of how made up their appearances are, and how little they have to offer at the distance they chose to live life from everyone around them.”

He pretty well bashes megachurch pastors as a whole as a dishonest and disingenuous bunch who preach one thing but do another in their personal lives. Simply put he says he is looking instead for something real, some proximity to people who care and who value real, deep and meaningful connection rather than looking for flash, fanfare and fleeting moments of celebrity status.

All in all, I have some reservations about what he says in his article. I think it is easy to broadbrush any group of people and use the worst examples to characterize the whole. On the other hand, it reminds us small church folk that in some ways we are ahead of the curve (or just have a different set of issues!) in that we don’t have to worry about what the young people thought of the Christian rock band performance we tried to pull off last Sunday or any attempt to be trendy that just isn’t connecting. I am also glad that we don’t ascribe to the “pastor system” but rather to the elder system. We don’t have the front guy who calls the shots and runs the show. This article was a reminder that some things aren’t worth chasing, that the other side of the fence (looking into megachurch world from small church world) really isn’t always greener on the other side and that people are people. Those he criticizes have faults and failures and so do I and so does Tony Steward. We have to be graceful and honest. We have to have Spirit and truth. We have to know how to bring about change in ways that are Christ-like, engaging and productive.

I guess what bothers me most about his take is how he is depending on the spirituality of others for his own growth and maturity. I am not excusing sin here but the Israelites could have rejected Moses for being a murdered, David for being an adulterer, Abraham for being a liar…I mean how can you worship with David up there leading all this songs when you know all the stuff he did, right?…Tony says he stopped going because he couldn’t find value when Christians were assembling to worship God. I have been a part of some huge services with bands on the stage and I have been a part of services with a slow and draggy song leader where you just hoped you would survive the service…one thing I have learned in both extremes and everywhere in between is that often what I “get” out of a worship service really isn’t about anything more than us and God. It is too easy so let other people get in the way, so much so, that we start to feel disconnected from God due to our own displeasure in others in the room around us. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I wish Tony the best and hope that he finds his way through all of this to a deeper and more vibrant relationship with God than he has ever had before. I am praying for him in that regard and praying for myself too, that I can continue to ask myself tough questions, challenge myself in my areas of weakness and continue to draw closer to God, no matter what the circumstances.

3 Responses

  1. I have a difficult time listening to people who utilize first person plural in a pejorative, judgmental way. Daniel C. is fond of calling it “the pejorative we.” It’s lazy, often nocuous, and often inaccurate.

    Sorry, Mr. Stewart. I stopped listening right there.

    1. lol

      I think WE all utilize it too much, Matthew. (g) Especially we preachers. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that ALL preachers EVERYwhere do it. (g)

      It’s a kind of verbal tick that needs to go away. When I see it used judgmentally, I stop reading/listening because I tend to assume that the writer hasn’t done a lot of actual internal reflection on the subject.

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