I love Jesus with all my heart and I love worshipping him. I don’t care if it’s in a church building, in a living room, or out in public. Worshipping God is high on my list of favorites. I’ve led worship in all those places many hundreds of times, including out in the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin where we bring food, clothes, and preach the good news. I really miss it since we’ve not been able to do it during COVID. I’ve been tempted to reject science and prudence and go anyway, but then I remember what Jesus said to Satan who tempted him to jump off the Temple’s pinnacle: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”
Worshipping with music cleanses the emotional pallet and lifts us up to the heavenly realm. I don’t worship worship or the music of worship. That is, I’m not in love with worship (or its music), but am deeply in love with the God I worship.
Southern Californian worship leader Sean Feucht has been “on tour” doing large outdoor worship gatherings around the country in the last few months. His crowds are predominantly mask-less and standing in New York subway car proximity to one another.
He bills the events differently in each city, usually as a push back against state laws forbidding Christians from attending in-person indoor worship services during COVID-19 or as what he calls, “Riots to Revival” in cities that are in the midst of racial justice protests.
In my opinion, in both cases the approach is irresponsible, inconsiderate, and impertinent. Taking over the spaces where people are crying out for justice to sing loud happy songs of victory where there is no social victory (not yet), seems dismissive to me. Solomon knew this, “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound” (Proverbs 25:20).
Feucht, preaches a nationalistic “gospel” conflating his idea of politics, which is unashamedly hyper-nationalistic, with worshipping God. Raise the flag and pass the communion wafers! Since God is on his side, and decidedly not the side of whoever is on the other side, they turn up the music to drown out their painful cries for justice.
In my view, this is no way to bring peace or project the good news of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. Worship is meant to be the ultimate expression of humility before God. There is no room for pride or performance in it. It seems to me that Feucht’s version of worship is a performance fueled by swagger and superiority, and is neither “in spirit” or “in truth.” (John 4:23)
No, I don’t know for certain what is in his heart, but Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them.” The aftertaste his fruit leaves in my mouth is bitter. No stranger to worship events, Hillsong UNITED’s Joel Houston calls Feucht’s approach, “offensive.”
It feels like he and his followers are thumbing their noses at good sense, science, and the actual needs of each community on which they descend as outsiders. How is that an expression of the blessed attitudes listed in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted”?
I’ve observed ministries with a vision to “bring the Kingdom of God” to cities not their own, to confront its demons, and convert the lost. Thankfully the word “crusade” is no longer used for such ventures. That said, some of these (not all) outreach efforts feel more like a hostile invasion than a mission of love.
Mightn’t it have been more effective if Feucht and his team went to Portland or Minneapolis or Las Vegas or D.C. ahead of time and asked the people on the ground in those cities what their needs were? How can we serve alongside you? What are you already doing to advance the Kingdom here? How can we serve you and your community?
Even Jesus asked for water from a local before going into Samaritan territory to share the news of his Kingdom. Oh, and that local was a foreigner, a member of a cult, a woman who went through men like a tornado.
Many ministries not unlike Feucht’s barge in when not invited and presume to know what’s best for a community and the best way to tell them what’s best for them. They’re like “missionaries” who attempt to Americanize rather than Christianize the countries where they land. A Seattle pastor wrote after one of “worship protests”: “I’m connected to 200+ pastors and to my knowledge he reached out to none of us. Cruising into a city you have ZERO investment in and causing a scene is not helpful to those of us who are committed to long-haul Gospel work.”
All that said, Feucht’s most obvious and criminally dangerous violation of the way of Jesus is his disregard for the health and safety of his followers and the citizens of the cities they leave in their wake. If they want to prove their great faith, why not stage a worship concert on the precipice of the Grand Canyon or at the base of an active volcano?
Even Rolling Stone magazine published an article about Feucht’s feats called, “Jesus Christ, Superspreader.“
If their worship harms people it’s not God they’re worshipping. Jesus came to heal the sick, not make them sicker!
The very least Feucht and his crew could do is require social distancing and masks. But he boasts about God being on their side and eschews sensible safety measures.
A young pastor asked an older mentor for advice on how to launch out in the ministry. The sagely man of God boiled his counsel down to one sentence: “Don’t do anything stupid!” I wish Feucht and friends had someone in their lives to say the same.
Jesus summarized our purpose to loving God and our neighbor. So how can Feucht claim to worship God at the expense of his neighbor’s health? It’s not just the audience themselves. Many of them are young and healthy. They might contract an asymptomatic case of COVID but spread it around the city to others more vulnerable. My son, his wife, and child live in Nashville, which is one of the places Feucht gathered a huge crowd of maskless worshippers. Now they have to be even more careful than they’ve already been for months!
Speaking of Feucht’s Nashville gig, a local pastor tweeted: “Nashville area Pastor here @seanfeucht. That our city was concerned about crowds gathering does not mean the city governments in the area are resisting the church. They’re not. You do not speak for the Church here & your post slanders our civic leaders.”
Most agree that the protests that turn violent and damage property are morally indefensible, not to mention against the law. I propose that what Feucht and his team are doing is equally culpable. They don’t burn buildings down and shoot at people, but they disregard public health requirements and may well spread a deadly disease in communities across the nation.
Someone with some clout and a relationship with him needs to do a Nathan (David’s prophet friend) on him. This isn’t about politics, but biblical Christianity where someone goes alone to rebuke a brother. If he isn’t receptive, he brings another. And if it still doesn’t register, they tell it to the Church (Matthew 18).
In the meantime, if Feucht comes to your city, I urge you stay home and worship God with all your heart in your living room.