- (Photo: Nora Feller Photography)
Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard is done with the dark auditoriums, smoke machines, emotional hype and the dry professional preachers.
"Simple and easy" are the two key words he's going by as he builds his new church, he told The Christian Post.
St. James Church is only eight weeks old but has already grown to about 350 people, according to The Gazette. Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, moved the church out of his barn to a room at Pikes Peak Center this past Sunday.
If he could though, he would have kept the church at his barn next to his home. But his homeowners insurance company wouldn't cover it.
He just wants to keep it simple, he said.
"I'm just old and tired," the 54-year-old pastor said Monday. "I've had all the rejection I can stand in a lifetime. I've had all the judgment."
Just before founding St. James, Haggard suffered through more than three years of shame and embarrassment following a sex and drugs scandal involving a former male prostitute. Formerly, Haggard led New Life Church, which he grew into a prominent megachurch before resigning four years ago.
St. James is a far cry from New Life which has all the trimmings of a megachurch, including stage lights, a state-of-the-art sound system, a full worship band and the technology to make sermons available on its website. St. James' worship band currently consists of one acoustic guitar player and the church doesn't have a website yet.
He enjoys the different styles of worship and the diverse personalities of various churches, including New Life and the famous Hillsong Church in Australia. But he said he is just past that age where he doesn't want "banging" and "electric guitars screaming at me." He was 28 when he founded New Life.
There are lots of people who want to volunteer to sing and play other instruments at St. James, but Haggard doesn't know what to do with them yet.
"I don't want the worship leader to try to move me. I want to worship in simplicity and with ease," he said.
His preaching style, however, hasn't changed. He has always been a verse-by-verse Bible teacher, he said, noting that he's been going through the New Testament book of James.
The emphasis of his sermons at St. James has been love. It's an emphasis that the New Testament has, he said.
Jesus said the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself, Haggard explained. Apostle Paul said if you don't have love you're only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. And Apostle John said God is love.
With all the emphasis on grace and love, though, there was concern among the religious leaders then that the message would encourage sin. It was a criticism directed both at Paul and Jesus.
"Paul had to defend himself from those who said his teaching would cause sin to increase, and Jesus was criticized for spending too much time with sinners. If others criticize us the same way we are in good company," Haggard said.
He further noted, "Love was the motivation for the coming of Christ. It's impossible to be too loving."
In practical terms, the way Haggard defines love to his congregation is: living for someone else's good.
And attendees get the chance to immediately put that into practice.
During offering times, attendees walk around and give money to each other. And those who receive it can't "second give," or try to give to someone else the money they received. They have to pocket it, say thank you and talk to the giver.
"I just tell people when you come into the service, look and see people because I believe we live in a generation where people's hearts are becoming hard, they’re getting calloused and they're becoming cruel.
"I believe God tells us that we need to grow in love, and so we have people give offerings to one another so that they learn to give to one another and receive."
The unusual offering practice has helped individuals who were struggling financially. Haggard recalled one young woman who was working, living with her parents and trying to go to college. She needed $500 and without others previously knowing of her situation, she ended up receiving the money.
"It has been absolutely supernatural," Haggard said of the offering time. "It's increased my faith in God's sovereignty as I've watched it."
The church also collects tithes. Rather than let a select few determine where the money should be directed, the church has one of the tithers choose where a portion of the money should go. This past Sunday, a man chose to have some of the money sent to a close friend who was having health problems on the East Coast and some given to a St. James attendee, according to The Gazette.
"When we recognize that we're poor and needy, we're more dependent upon God. When we recognize that we're poor and needy, we're dependent on one another," he said, recalling his sermon on James 1:9-11 from Sunday. "The text is speaking specifically about finances but I broadened it to also mean poor in spirit. I wanted to emphasize our need for God and for one another."