OK, I have a feeling that getting into this is going to cop me similar flack to what I got from daring to critique Charles Stanley many moons ago. And if it does that is OK but if you are going to flip out on me, at least do me a favour and read what I actually write!
The church I am part of took two buses to the Vector Arena on the weekend to attend Greg Laurie: Auckland Harvest. I had initially been resistant to getting involved, but at an initial interest meeting they sold it to me on the basis of their own financial commitment (the harvest guys were putting in plenty of their own cash), the commitment to follow up (they clearly put a lot of effort into turning converts into disciples), and to church unity (they laid the whole thing about churches working togther on thick). I also saw this as a good opportunity of the sort that we can't usually offer our people for evangelism, inviting people to a church event is one thing but free tickets to the Vector Arena is another.
The first item of the evening was a film trailer of Greg Laurie's life. I began to get a sinking feeling. This was one of the things I was afraid of, celebrity hype. Sure enough this trailer left us in no doubt that Greg was a really great guy, great enough that they'd already made a film about him and he wasn't even dead yet.
Then the Katinas came on, the first of four bands. They were great, their second song in particular was actually truly uplifting, they were joyful and funky. After three songs they were off.
Now I wasn't taking notes so I may get the order of things wrong, but one of the things we were told was that no particlar auckland church was going to get highlighted at this event so you can imagine my dissapointment when both Life Church and C3 Church were singled out by having their pastors on stage to pray and to get a shout out to their congregations. Maybe these churches had done more for the event, they probably had but I felt this was a let down, there were many other churches who had put a lot of work in to this event proportional to their size and I felt this contradicted what we had been assured of earlier.
Then came Phil Joel, he is a Kiwi artist and did a great rendition of the national anthem, although didn't get the words on the screen and didn't do it in Maori, but it was a a good moment anyway. After Phil we had three songs from Martin Smith of Delerious fame, who cracked me up by summoning up a mosh pit in the space that was supposed to be for all the converts to come forward to later. But he is a seasoned performer and lovely nutty charismatic. He reminded me of my younger days going to Delirious concerts in Blighty. Then we had Jeremy Camp who only arrived due to miraculous ciircumstances but didn't go into detail about what they were, only that he only just got here. Jeremy Camp has big muscles, I say that because I found it very distracting every time he lifted his arms in praise his pendulous triceps would hang off his arms and it made me wonder how much time he spent weight lifting. He has a great voice and I realised I knew most of his songs from the radio. He finished with a song about taking up the cross and counting the cost - I thought that was interesting because that was the exact opposite of the message I was expecting to get from Greg.
Greg's talk came next. He had been hyped up so much "great communicator", "really knows how to connect with kiwis" that I was expecting something super flash. Really, he was nothing of the sort, very much in the tradition of Billy Graham his message was very simple and not at all flash. In fact his jokes and anecdotes, with which he liberally peppered his talk were all deeply old and tried and true preachers jokes, like the one about the burglar and the parrot who says "Jesus is watching you." His relating to kiwis was pretty simple too, he made one joke about the different words Americans and Kiwis have for things, one joke about sheep and one reference to earthquakes. It is hardly probing deep into our national psyche, but it was enough becaue people did love it. No one seemed to mind that he used the word "irregardless" or referred to "CS Lewis the author of the Narnia Movies" or still insists on calling evangelistic events "crusades" (all things that would destroy your credibility in my eyes if I were a seeker).
He was preaching on John 3 and Nicodemus' encouter with Jesus. Point 1. Nicodemus was rich and religious, he should have been happy but he wasn't - people who are rich are not happy. 2. Nicodemas came to Jesus by night because he was afriad of what his friends might think - don't let peer pressure put you off following Jesus (this was where the sheep joke came, I'm sure you can work it out). 3. Jesus told Nicodemas he had to be born again - everyone wants to be transformed but only Jesus can give us the transformation we really want. I actually found the talk quite hard to follow, although the illustrations and things were simple all the jokes and anecdotes made it hard to keep track of the point he was making and the scripture was all but lost. then without passing go he went straight to the "roman road" "here is how you get saved" type of thing and told everyone to do it now cos they might die and then the Katinas came back and played this really nice altar call song and like 15% of the arena crowd (10,000) came forward to commit or recommit themselves to Christ.
It was quite impressive, although they couldn't actually cope with the number that went forward and the same thing happened the next night which meant that a number of people who tried to go forward wre not counselled and had that moment of commitment spoiled by being turned away by a steward. Not having a contingency for that level of resonse and not being flexible enough to at least be ready the next night for it to happen again was another dissapointment.
On balance though, it was a good night. the people who came with me were encouraged and many were moved. As an evangelism tool it did seem to move a number of people who have been sitting on the fence to step up and commit to Christ. However I don't feel the gospel was well explained or that anyone was allowed to obey the call of Jeremy Camp (and Jesus) to count the cost. It has also been valuable for me to discover some of those in our church with a heart for evangelism. In the future though I would rather put our efforts into something local and less celebrity driven.
Let me know what you think.