On the day that I turned 21, I got in my car and drove strait to Beverages & More, the upscalish liquor emporium up the street from my house. As a slid my bottle of banana-flavored schnapps the checker apologetically looked at my bearded face and asked to see my ID. It was the first and last time I was ever carded. I think about that moment every time I drive past the store, now renamed along with the rest of the chain as BevMo. Granted, the new name is much easier to say, but other than convenience of pronunciation there was nothing to warrant such a re-branding. The store is exactly the same on the inside, right down to the color scheme. That’s fine by me and I will bet that most people who shop there don’t even remember the original name.
Churches love re-branding. The current “missional” churches claim to focus on going out into the world and being relevant to non-church folks. Just like the “seeker-sensitive” churches did that they replaced and now eschew. I can’t feel bad for the seeker churches either, because they simply did it to the churches we just call “traditional” now, with the source of all ecclesiastical tradition dating back to the ancient days of the mid-1950’s. LarkNews.com recently posted the best piece of satire on the subject I have read. I wish I knew who the author was so that I could give him credit, it may be Joel Kilpatrick, who holds the rights to the site. Here it is, a report on a new “edgy” church.
Edgy church breaks old rules, insists on new ones
ROCHESTER, Minn. — At The Circle, a young, innovative church which meets in a renovated bus depot, there is no pulpit, platform or pastor, as such. The congregation rejects the labels “Christian” and “congregation,” preferring “followers of Jesus” and “friendship community.”
There are no ushers, but rather “helpers.”
There is no worship team, but rather “God artists.”
And woe to anyone who affixes traditional church labels to any of it.
“God’s doing a new thing here,” says Mitch Townsend, the leader of the church. He shuns the “pastor” label and insists people call him, “Hey, man,” or simply “Dude.” If someone slips and calls him “pastor,” he bristles and gently rebukes them.
“We got rid of all those old labels,” he says. “There’s no going back.”
At the church office, which they never call a church office but rather “the Hub,” secretaries, or “community action facilitators” as they are called here, tap-tap on computers (which they still call computers) and take calls.
When a visitor slips up and refers to The Circle’s “sanctuary,” Dude Townsend cuts him short.
“Listen, it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a meeting place, a gathering place,” he says, flushing red.
“Sorry, pastor,” the visitor says.
“Not pastor,” says Townsend. “Dude, or friend. Or just hey, Mitch.”
“Sorry, Dude Mitch,” the visitor says uncomfortably, and slinks away. Mitch quickly goes to him and hugs him.
“We’re all about love and freedom here,” he says. “I know it’s hard to get used to.”
At a Sunday morning “gathering,” as services must be called, people sit in chairs arranged in circle around a “focal point” (not a platform) and listen to the team of God-artists play instruments and sing “songs of adoration and devotion to the Creator,” as opposed to praise and worship music. The gathered “posse of Jesus followers” is free to sing along and to express themselves in any way that seems “real and authentic.”
“We strive to be genuine here,” says non-pastor “Hey, Jim” Richards, who in another setting might be called an associate pastor. “It’s about being who you are, not fitting into a pre-determined box.”
Before Dude Mitch’s personal sharing time (which markedly resembles a sermon), one visitor raises her hand and says, “Is there going to be an altar call? Because I really want to give my life to Jesus today.”
Dude Mitch answers quickly, “We don’t have altar calls here; we have ‘God moments’ or ‘Creator re-connects.’ And we don’t say ‘give your life to Jesus,’ but you may begin a lifelong love relationship with the Creator-Friend, if you like. But please wait until we are done with sharing time.”
After the service, “new friends” join in the “kick-back hall” for refreshments and conversation with the Dudes and other Hub personnel. They may also join a mid-week “hang-out crew” of 10-12 people which meets in a home, and which is steadfastly not referred to as a “small group.”
“Anyone who wants a break from normal, rigid church life is welcome at The Circle,” says Townsend.
The following is quoted from an essay by Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College titled “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus,” published today on The Huffington Post:
Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.
Dr. Zuckerman bases his claims about the beliefs of American Evangelicals on data from a recent Pew Forum Poll on the beliefs of the Tea Party and the connection between White Evangelicals and the Tea Party. I have left out everything but this stark contrast he draws between the teachings of Jesus and the beliefs of Evangelicals. Much of the rest of the essay seems more hyperbolic than it needed to be to deliver its point.
Most Christians will denounce Zuckerman as an anti-Christian crusader without doing any research on the man; I know nothing of his personal life and will therefore not judge him. What I do know is that Christians like Ron Sider (among many others) have been pointing out for years the same disparity between we believe and what our Teacher taught us. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscious is a must read if you really want to know what they guy in the pew next to you believes.
Of course, many will argue that this is not an accurate depiction of Evangelicals, and of course no one is saying that it is all Evangelicals, but it seems to ring true. At least in my experience, and Sider’s, and polls, and numerous other studies.
At the very least it begs the question: Why do the people who proclaim to the world that they are the closest to the Holy Scriptures, think and live so far from it?
So that happened. While my blog’s traffic patterns have been fairly predicable, one post really sent the numbers through the roof. About two weeks ago, I didn’t write what was on my mind, I wrote about what was on my heart. I wrote about the pain, frustration, and brokenness I had been feeling. I wrote about the disapointment I had experienced with the church in recent months. Never did I imagine it would struck a chord with so many people. Within a few hours of posting, I noticed a couple friends on Facebook actually reposted the link, and I got many responses in the form of private messages on Facebook. People began sharing their stories with me about when they were hurt by the church, and a seeming solidarity of experience began to emerge. Not too surprisingly, if I sorted responses by religious affiliation. I got dozens of responses by former churchgoers, including many messages of support. I got exactly two responses from “church” people. Actually one of those was from an old friend living in Europe, so I’m not positive how active she is in church, although her husband is in a theological post-grad program.
My analysis of the reaction was reaffirmation of my disappointment in the church. While the vast majority of my audience is made up of church people, the vast majority of support came from the considerably smaller pool of unchurched people. Obviously this topic struck a chord with my unchurched friends. I may be wrong, but there seems to be a therapeutic value to sharing our stories.
So what I will ask you is to share your story. Send it to me via Facebook or send it to this blog via comment. If you want to be anonymous, that’s fine. But please share your stories. I have heard so many that parallel the experiences written about in the Bible, that I want study the relationship and hopefully one day produce something that will help people just like you who have been burned by the church, religious people, or anything else associated with God. Please send me your story!
I have a lot of awkward memories from early in my entry to the Christian world. When I was about 18, my Christian friends invited me to the Harvest Crusade. If you are not familiar with the event, it is basically a three day concert of top Christian bands interspersed with short sermons, all leading up to a big evangelistic sermon and invitation to come on down and become a Christian, all this in the grandeur that is Angels Stadium. Pastor Greg Laurie has been doing this for years and I hear that it is growing to different venues across the country.
I went because a bunch of girls I thought were cute invited me, and it was a free concert (I’m sure these were the two pillars that brought many a young man to the event). All I really remember from the event was being bored out of my skull. Band after band came to the stage, but all their music sounded the same to me. There were different genres of music represented, but top 40-style pop and contemporary country dominated the set. All of it seemed bland.
Now I’ve never been a fan of Christian music. I wasn’t raised amongst Christians, hence I was never pressured to disavow secular (Satan’s) music. I do have pretty diverse tastes, ranging from classic rock to indie pop to gangsta rap. Christian music never crossed my radar, except when a friend would inform me that the CD I was listening to was actually a former Christian band gone mainstream, such as Lifehouse and P.O.D.
Generally speaking, and I know people will be offended by my opinion, Christian music tends to be shallower lyrically and less masterful instrumentally than the rock I grew up on. When I began going to church around that period in my life, I was told that I should listen to Christian music because it was more pleasing to God. I don’t know if Christian music is more pleasing to him, but it’s definitely not to me. I really did try to like it, but by the end of the evening, I just wanted to get out of their as fast as I could. Even during the evangelistic sermon at the end, I could not concentrate because of how bored I had become. All the friends I was with were swooning.
After a few years of reflection, I have become more convinced that inviting me to that event for evangelistic purposes was a bad idea. One question keeps ringing in my mind:
Why take secular kids to a Christian concert?
Iron Maiden is coming to town soon, and I’d like to go, but I will probably not take along any of my church friends. I just know they will hate it, and that’s fine. Cultural Christians don’t have to like the same music I do; I will not force my secular tastes upon them. So why do we as Christians expect secular people to conform to “Christian” tastes? Forget about the “should” of the issue, and just answer me this? Do Christians really think it is effective evangelism to take secular people to a Christian concert? I’ve heard plenty of stories from southern preachers about good church kids becoming Satanists because they heard an Alice Cooper record, but do you really think it works in reverse?
In retrospect, I really do believe that taking non-Christians to overtly Christian entertainment events is just dumb. The non-Christian just won’t get it. They probably won’t like the music and the message will just seem strange.
I wonder if such events like stadium crusades are good investments of Christian resources, or just an excuse for Christian kids to get a “free” concert. Why bring people into Christian culture instead of following Jesus’ model and going into their culture?
Am I totally off base here?