Founding church members forced out
Pastor says people feel more welcomed with the changes he’s made
Many others had left long before this incident, but the spiritual head of the church, Pastor Mo Seneca, says the congregation continues to grow amidst the challenges.
“One Sunday morning I preached in an Hawaiian printed colorful shirt and a pair of shorts,” he said. “I know a few people were upset with me about that, but change is always something difficult to adjust to.
“It was part of my vacation series,” he said. “There are some of the elderly members of the church who weren’t happy, but I will talk to them and try to get them to understand my purpose in a loving manner.”
Seneca says he knows that he’s upsetting traditions at the church, but the congregation has shown continual growth over the years because people feel more welcomed there and are coming to Christ just the way they are - and that’s okay by him.
“I hate religion,” he said. “I grew up in a religious environment and it made no difference in my life.”
Seneca says it may seem like he has had the perfect life, but he wasn’t happy until the day he found God.
“I was a college football player and I was studying to become a doctor, but I wasn’t happy,” he said. “Every night I would lay down in my bed and cry until one day God entered my life and everything changed from that moment forward.”
But some of the elderly founding members, who have been at the church since a time when services were held in a tent outside, believe the modern changes at the church have gone way too far.
“A lot of the elderly in the church are leaving,” Shelby Dufrene, a lifelong member of the church, said. “Some of us feel like we’re being forced out with all of these new changes.”
It’s no exaggeration. Church elders believe Seneca is following the teachings of Dr. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Mega-Church of Orange County in California. Warren’s guidelines for transforming a traditional church into a more contemporary one have come under fire lately by some concerned Assembly of God leaders.
“There’s a new religion being promoted,” Alvin Meyer, a 52-year member of the church, said. “The teachings of Dr. Rick Warren, in my opinion, have been slowly implemented over time. In other words, these changes just didn’t start overnight. They’ve occurred gradually over the years.”
According to information obtained from Southwest Radio Ministries in Oklahoma, in the past 10 years a large percentage of churches in America and in other countries have changed from a traditional New Testament church to a more contemporary Purpose Driven model.
“The first thing we noticed is that the music changed,” Dufrene said. “All of the hymnals were removed and the style of music is more upbeat and contemporary. The traditional hymns that we normally would sing are gone.”
The change in music from traditional hymns to Christian rock was the first indication that the church was going contemporary, even at the risk of losing elderly or lifelong members.
“The drums and bass guitar are now overpowering all of the music in the church,” Meyers said. “I had to wear earmuffs because the music is so loud.”
There are also several other signs that the church is being converted to this new Purpose Driven format.
First Assembly’s décor has been changed, dressing down to casual and informal attire is encouraged, the pulpit has been removed and there is more of an emphasis on fun and parties for the younger members of the church.
“It’s definitely causal attire,” Dufrene said. “I’ve seen members come in there wearing caps on their heads. It’s definitely a form of disrespect of the church, in my opinion.”
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