Monday, March 8, 2010

#127-The altar Hierarchy system

Okay, first off, this idea is completely not my own. A good friend has long held this idea, but he does not want to be cited in this article for fear of ramifications in his current cultural context. But the show must go on....

What we have above is a hierarchical chart that basically defines who is allowed to pray for who at the altar. The theory goes that there are clearly defined roles for each church patron on who they can allow to pray for them and who they can pray for. Within these rankings (which can allow  for promotion/demotion as necessary), the answer comes as to who is more spiritual than who and with that, a level of respect/contempt is associated with the appropriate level accordingly.

An expansion of the roles outlined in the picture above

The Pastor-This is pretty much self-explanatory. The only occasion by which the pastor (or bishop) may be prayed for is by the following population figures (the numbers in parenthesis denoting the amount of people necessary from said group that can then pray for the pastor):
                     -Elders/Leadership (2-3)
                      -The Pillars (3-5)
                     -The Steady bunch (4-6)
                    -The Youth Group as a whole
                     -The church as a whole
                     -The Emotional- (never...but it does happen on occasion and it's always Awkward)
                    -The Sinner (don't even think about it)
Further, the Pastor is the only one who it can be said that he may pray for anyone he likes. And when the pastor makes his way to pray for someone (most of the time it's the sinner and/or "the one going through a lot") a reaction by the one getting prayed for  is mandatory. If the reaction is apathetic, expect an attempt at an exorcism or the stretching of hands all over the congregation in the direction of the spiritual crisis.

The Leadership/Elders- Once again, pretty self-explanatory.  It must be said the roll of the leadership/elder is generally much more actively involved with the rest of the congregation than that of the pastor. 

The Pillars-They are the rocks of the church. While not bound by a formal title, the amount of respect they command is pretty much the same of that of the leader/elder. Outside of those above, do not think about praying for these pillars. Although pillars do tend to pray for each other (horizontally), and it is quite common to see one pillar "getting it" in regards to the Holy ghost, and to be supported by 1-2 fellow pillars encouraging the "getting it." After roughly 5-10 minutes of one pillar "getting it," the tables are occasionally turned where the one who "got it" turns to the prayer supporter and encourages them to "get it."

The Steady/but taken for granted- They are the ones who you don't have to worry about. They are consistent at church but they don't yet command the respect that the pillar commands in the years of reputation build up. Generally, they are not usually involved praying for others (save a best friend), but at the same time, most people let them have their space and go unprayed for. That is, until one of "the steady" start "getting it" and at such a point, the pillar/fellow steady brethren become encouragers. Unlike the "pillars" the "steady" person who starts to "Get it" rarely turns the table on the encourager. Also, it can be seen on occasion to find the "emotional" for the class below to be praying for them in usually  a spat of boldness/confusion/misinformation.

The Emotional/ "Going through a Lot"- While on the same level of respect on the hierarchy, the "Emotional" are not to be confused with those who are "Going through a lot." 

  • The emotional are the ones sobbing the loudest at a sad worship song and dancing the hardest at the first note of Eddie James' "Freedom". Further, it is "the emotional" who are the least respectful of the altar hierarchy system. At any given moment, the "emotional" can be seen praying for a church elder, pastor's wife, or a Sunday School Teacher. It is the "emotional" who are usually the ones running around with anointing oil of their own and  praying for the foreheads of any unsuspecting church member (usually complete with "head rocking" and speaking in tongues the volume of a Ramones concert. Essentially, despite being the second lowest level of authority in the altar hierarchy system, the "emotional" assume the role of the elder.
  • "The Going Through a Lot" is pretty self explanatory. This group consists of those who were recently found out to be living in some kind of God-forbidden sin (such as those who were kicked off the platform) and are now repentant. Also it is those who are going through some massive trial not for the faint of heart (death/divorce/dehydration, etc...). It is when one sees people from the "steady" grouping praying for a pillar quite passionately that it is safe to assume the former pillar has now assumed the role of "Going through a lot." It is at such an altar sight that the rumor mills begin churning as to why Bro. So-and-so was kicked off the platform or speculation that Sis. Courtney discovered her daughter coming out of a near-by movie theater and thus is weeping for her daughter's salvation. At such a point, Sis. Courtney demotes herself from "pillar" to "Going Through a lot" in hopes that the demotion will serve as a promotion of her rebellious daughter who is confined to the stage of sinner....
The Sinner-The Sinner is obviously at the bottom of the hierarchy. And for good reason, the sinner is up to no good. It is the sinner to whom most of the messages about “apostolic identity/holiness” are directed towards. They also write tend to write blogs about apostolics in a satirical manner. The sinner rarely finds him/herself at the altar, but when they do the participation is minimal.

But there is a dynamic about the sinner that makes them different from the rest. Just like the pastor can only be prayed for by a group of members of the lower classes, the same must be said of the sinner. To begin, the sinner can only be prayed for by either an elder/parent/pastor. The rest stay away in fear of the demoniac or in hopelessness. However, once  one of the “permitted” begin to pray for the sinner, the rest of the congregation will soon gang-pray the sinner to salvation.

The “Gang-Pray until breakthrough” is one of the weirdest rituals in our apostolic circle. Not only is there no bible for the practice, but there does not seem to be any spiritual utility to the act. Why must the congregation gather around the sinner? Can’t the same effectiveness of spiritual breakthrough happen with the congregation spread throughout the church? But yet these prayer barbarians gather around the sinner in hopes that the Lord may have His way. The strangest part is that the praying of a sinner does not seek for repentance from the sinner. For that is not good enough. Rather and quite sadly, the only thing the “gang-pray” will be satisfied with is when the sinner is either sobbing uncontrollably or is dancing ecstatically. Only when there is an act of visual emotion displayed do we know God has had his way with the sinner.



  1. As "The Lion King" is one of my favorite movies of all time (and 1/2 that I have cried in) I really enjoyed the analogy and I agree whole-heartedly.

  2. Just wondering how you expect people to respond to those praying?

  3. ROFL!!! I swear you make being Apostolic cool again lol. My favorite part was the last part about the "gang-pray". HILARIOUS! I used to hate when I went up for prayer and the prayer took a little longer than usual...and if i lifted my hands I would begin to hear people call on Jesus all the louder as if I was knocking on hells door, lol. But hey...thats our people and we gotta love em! Can't wait til the next one.

  4. Haha - Gang-pray. Adding it to the lexicon to be used as frequently as possible. #awesome


  5. To the anonymous about how I expect people to react...

    I do not expect anything.

    I would like the reaction though to be in love and kindness with meekness to boot.

    I know of far too many "fallen" ones who are too scared to pray at the altar in fear of the "gang-pray" and the sociological expectations and repurcussions therein.

    It's hard to be sincere with God when the gang-prayers are screaming in your ear demanding a visual response in prayer. The only way out of such a situation is not necessarily a change of heart, but rather through a physical embodiment of "getting it."

    The gang pray is a well intended but a terrible misstep in altar theology. The church hierarchy serves such a function all to well.

    Thank God I have found my prayer closet at home where I can get my repenting/shouting/worship on out of sight and mind of the prayer barbarians that long for the opportunity to see my worship become some kind of tribal dance. I just feel bad for those who only have the altar to find their change and transformation. Because with that altar comes a whole lot of unwanted attention

  6. I like the ideas presented...but...reaching back to a literary theory class from 4 or more years ago and connecting that with some Religion 233 material...isn't ritual very much a part of our psychological inner life existence and how we operate sociologically?...and didn't God make all of that?

    I mean there are rituals for everything bc they help make sense of things that we can't see.

    The rituals change over time and the new ones become just as defined as the old ones.

    Are you advocating that we replace current rituals with a new set or do away with ritual all together?

    I do agree there is some bad (reads judgemental) thinking and theology in the whole idea.

    Maybe the key is that we start referring to it as ritual vs the place of power and realize meaning comes from what's being stated on the inside rather than the actions we're making and the location...

    Got carried away and rambled as usual...ty adult ADHD...

  7. Love it!! I think we have all seen some close form of this pyramid played out in our churches.
    However, rules were made to be broken...

  8. Stanton,

    I do not deny the predetermined desire within us all for order amongst disorder. And yes, such a classification of dividing ourselves into class systems is a very strong remnant of our primitive selves hundred and thousands of years ago.

    My desire is not so much based in reality, but rather is one of ideology. The church of Corinth suffered greatly the sin of respecting members of the church based on their gifts and ministry (they put those who had the gift of tongues as the foremost gift with which we are to desire).

    We know very well that while classification systems are regretfully inevitable, I still think there needs to be a voice sung throughout our churches that reminds us that no pastor or profit is more anointed than the the layman.

    I want death to the top-down method authorized by Old Testament theology, and life to the egalitarianism that made 1st century Christianity so unique. But first and foremost, I completely understand this is an ideal and not realistic. But i can dream, can't i?

  9. Is there a like button? :) so true.

  10. *Sniff* Beautiful Joel *tear*

  11. A friend sent this to me in response to this and I thought it was worth posting - made me laugh:

    aaaaahahahahahahahaa I love it!!!!! They forgot one VERY important part of the pyramid - platform musicians... don't mess with them unless they are openly sobbing... and IF they ever leave an instrument to pray for anyone else it is a God moment and everyone cries and is moved.

  12. I am now considering the hierarchy model that i presented as a rough draft! Because the musicians definitely deserve their own level. I can't believe I forgot about them

  13. LOVE the pyramid and the Lion King parallels. I would like to suggest yet another layer to the pyramid, but I'm unsure whether they should come above or below the "sinner": "The backslider come back."

    Perhaps it would be easier to classify them as "going through a lot right now," but I think they deserve their own category, especially with regards to inciting gang-prayer.

    For example, if a regular old sinner makes his lowly way up to the altar, he usually remains untouched unless he starts emotionally responding. Then the gates fly open and the gang-prayers come in like a flood. But if a backslider come back so much as sets his foot back in the church, the gang-prayers exponentially step up their game. The backslider doesn't even have to go up to the altar. It's almost a given that as soon as the whistle blows for altar time, pew gang-prayer is on.

  14. I agree with Chantell--the backslider come back is one of the most emotional gang prayer sessions ever.
    On that note Sis Nona Freeman recounts a story of being sick with flu at church. After everyone prayed for her (pastor, elders,pillars) with no change, a backslider came to the altar and prayed for her. She was instantly healed.
    Death to the Hierarchy!

  15. Just throwing this out there...

    Could these "spiritual" class systems fall in line with social classes as well?

    Maybe a wealthy sinner gets moved to Pillar a bit quicker than a sinner of modest income?

  16. Ouch Stanton. Really?! Cause I mean nobody in church bases things off of money right? Touche though sir, that's a really good point.

    Joel, you should do a post on how fast and why (i.e. reasons and actions) that move people up and down the social ladder.

  17. STinking hilarious

  18. I completely agree - the Musicians Category is a must! Musicians get the pass from altar praying -- and OH what an upset it is when the preacher has the nerve to suggest we ALL pray -- WITHOUT MUSIC!!!!!

    Just take a peek and you may see some nervousness from the musicians as they may have never been faced with actually having to come to the altar and pray, not just proceed to the steps up to the platform! :) Now, I'm NOT saying that nervousness is because they don't know how to pray. It could be very well be because they are nervous that no one else will pray WITHOUT MUSIC... which may not be that far off.

    Hmm, another topic - Music as a Requirement for Altar Calls, because everyone knows we can't pray without it, not at church anyways :)

    PS Yes, I'm posting anonymous lest I get reamed by Nervous Musicians :)

  19. I feel we are on the verge of brilliance here people. I come home from work and more brilliant recommendations.

    First, Chantell, you are right on with the backslider gang-pray. My hat honestly goes off to the hunger of the backslider. Because they know that the moment they show up, they will get repetitive glances from the congregation as a whole, and then they are guaranteed to be gang-prayed through to a breakdown in tears...
    God bless them...

    Stanton, I thankfully have never noticed money playing a factor in the hierarchy model with in church. I am sure it is much more common in other churches, but for some reason I have been blessed to be part of a congregation that does not seem to make level evaluations based on wealth or poverty. I don't know why. I will have to research. Perhaps if I can make one correlation that I have witnessed, it is that the pillars of the church do seem to be richer in general than the members of the "steady" level. But I would be hesitant to argue causality here, because the pillars have indeed been in church longer, and also have had a steady income longer (being that it seems like the pillars came into the church either through heritage or in the late teens, mid 20's.)

    To the anonymous below Stanton, as for a more formal analysis of what causes promotions and demotions in the hierarchy, I do agree this is a topic to be explored. However, it seems like at such a point that I would actually have to think deeply to evaluate this process. And quite frankly, I have not thought deeply since I read R. L. Stein in 4th grade.

    And lastly, to the anonymous directly above...

    YES! and Yes again! I think the altar call without music deserves it's own topic. I can't tell you how many times I have found my heart skip a beat when the preacher would tell the musicians that he does not need them as they walk up to their instruments...The horror in their face is something ripe for reality television. And I always feel like a meanie 3rd grader when this happens, because in my mind I am imagining myself pointing at the musicians and the dread in their faces and saying "HA HA!" Because I know deep inside the only reason musicians are musicians is because they hate prayer....

    So naturally I am thinking that when the musicians are forced to altar call, "welcome to our world....Punks!"

    Anyways, I really want to do you topic of the altar call without music. But I would not dare do such a thing without crediting the source of this genius. SO if you wanted to be cited in the post, email me at

  20. You guys might be on to something. Although, I'm a musician and am of the opinion that without music altar calls would usually die. How often has the music saved it (the hallowed altar call that came into existence in the late 1800's - God help us if we don't have one - blasphemy!) and brought the spirit back after a terrible sermon?

    And how often do the preachers hype up the music so they can get a response when they've actually just screamed for 30 minutes without any real content? Something about that music and shout beat with the power chords can bring 'revival' back and conversely, that slow minor chord can bring the sobbing spiritual breakthrough to the depths of the 'holy of holies.' Without the 'minstrel' (joking) it'd just be awkward and people would leave realizing just how little was actually stated in the sermon. (Not always of course - for all of you getting upset because of the perceived generalization.)

    I for one would love to do without the hype that our "Pentecostal" culture has placed on music and 'worship' and focus on something a little more authentic. But it seems that when it gets a little too quiet or someone isn't saying something that we've got to fill that space, cause heaven forbid there should be a quiet moment in the middle of a service.

    And - I know it might seem odd to some of you - but we, musicians, singers, etc, would actually like to spend some time talking to the God that we spend so much of our time learning new songs for, honing our skills for, and sacrificing so much of our time for. And a break during altar call definitely wouldn't hurt.


  21. Ryan,

    My post to which I think you were referring to (the comment above yours), was done in jest. I know for a fact musicians pray. I just think it's the perception musicians get from time to time...

    And I honestly couldn't imagine an altar call without music. It's more than necessary. We don't like to admit it, but the Holy Ghost is actively involved with our emotions, and our emotions are determined a lot of the time by the music we are listening to/worshiping too. I partially speculate that we are not very creative in our prayers, so the lyrics within the song provide the avenue by which we pray, and the lyrics mixed with the emotional drive of the music, make for context that the Holy Ghost is right to flourish in.

  22. I'm jesting back bro - it's all good times here. I think this blog is inspired. lol.

    And I agree, emotions and music are tied together. I guess what I'd like to see is a reduction in the hype and for people to embrace the spiritual with authenticity and understanding - because when that happens - it's amazing.


  23. I know that for the past month or so I stopped playing the guitar and things got awkward. I really was just sitting there through most of the service almost as a spectator. It took me some time to get comfortable with actually lifting my hands again. Also let me point out that altar call is my favorite time to play music. It keeps me from the five minutes of prayer and fifteen minutes of standing around and waiting for the service to end. I'm so glad I go go back up on Sunday.

    (On a side note let me state that no, I was not told to sit down because of my satanic actions, it was my choice and I believe it helped me a lot)

  24. Joel- The money thing was just a thought. I too belong to a congregation that thankfully has avoided that trap.

    I am reading "Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement" by Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori and just today in chapter 8 they remarked that core believers tend to be socially/ economically mobile bc of the steady lifestyle (fewer vices).

    This is an incredibly well researched read for anyone interested in learning more about Pentecostalism around the world and how it's changing the entire spectrum of Christianity.

    Musicians always need special prayer...They have to deal with soundmen.

  25. Funny post. I just found your blog and found it entertaining and encouraging not everybody is "drinking the coolaide".

    A thing to note about the sinner at the bottom of the pyramid is that really should be all of us. We are all sinners saved by grace and none should be lifted up over the other because none are without sin.

    The Jesus concept of leadership is to serve, follow, be the least, so He can be great. Just some thoughts.

    Keep them coming.