Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Next Church Movement

The contemporary American church is all about trends. That all modern America is about, so it isn't any surprise that the Church mimics or reflects the society that it inhabits. For years, the trend has been toward seeker-sensitive churches. Bigger. Better. Lavish production numbers. Professional musicians. There is one church that has a Starbucks and a rock climbing wall in its sanctuary.

They attempt to re-create the outside world in their little bubble of a church, creating yet another Christian ghetto. This is definitely true with large mega churches that have the space and resources to offer everything from schools to vacations to shopping on site or in affiliated spaces. Don't think this problem is limited to only the super mega churches. The neighborhood church in Podunk is just as susceptible to the Christian ghetto. You know - the only people you hang out with are people from your church.

I'm sure contemporary churches started with new churches with young pastors trying to reach out to the more media savvy suburbanites they were surrounded by. Probably burnt out on the hymns they sang growing up, they designed the musical portions of their services to be more like concerts, singing pop songs (that sometimes are about as deep as a Petri dish). Sermons fell more into the self-help category rather than meaty spiritual topics for one to chew on all week through prayer and study. Is it really necessary to have all the message points begin with a "P" or wrap everything up into kicky little catch phrases? They made Christianity easy and accessible to the masses.

They reduced church to a formula that lasted no more than 60 minutes so you can get in, get out and get on with your day. Church shouldn't be a chore. It shouldn't be something on your to-do list, either... checking it off in the same way you check off cutting the lawn or ironing clothes.

I am not saying that the contemporary church or those that are seeker-oriented are bad. They have a purpose. All hellfire and brimstone doesn't do much to reach out to the person that was burned by a so-called Christian as a teenager. I know - I was one. In 1993 after I returned from Russia, I was pretty distant from God. The day I got back, my mom gave me a letter she received while I was gone telling me about a mission trip at the church for next year. I was so excited and thought "YAY! That is such a God thing! I just got back.. I love Russia. Perfect!" I show up at the meeting and some old coot at the door told me I couldn't come in because I was too young. I walked out of that church and can count on one hand the number of times I went back. I became incredibly hostile to Christians for years. It was 7 years later that I returned to God because I found a church that just gave love to anyone... so unlike anything else I came across previously. It was at one of these seeker-oriented churches that I re-built my relationship with God.

Anyway, Christians should NOT be working to make people feel guilty about what they have done because we have all sinned and fallen short. The emphasis on God's grace and love for us is needed. The problem lies in that the pendulum swung too far the other way, turning God into some sort of divine hippy that is all about peace and love where there is no punishment. And as I mentioned before, many of these churches are Christian ghettos. They do not reach out to the community past their own property line or membership rolls.

(Sidebar: I wish I could remember where I read this but a long time ago, I read a snippet about a man involved with a ministry that had received some criticism about who they were trying to reach. He said that he believed in making a end-run to the gates of hell to get people out. That stuck with me. In all honesty, I certainly don't live that way. While I may be a Christian, I am still trying to figure out how God wants to use me. Sometimes I feel as though I am not being effective at all... that I am being safe. Then I am reminded that I don't have the same calling as others... that what I do is no less important and what they do is no more important when we all have the same common goal.)

In the last couple of years, there has been a small revolt brewing. Again, it starts with younger Christians. They grew up in the contemporary churches of their parents. They probably became frustrated because, thanks to the internet and a massive number of channels on cable, they saw the injustice in the world and wanted to do something about it. They felt their spirituality was only surface deep. This has lead to the New Monasticism and a resurgence of creative ministry and outreach programs like XXXchurch.com.

For those of you not aware, the New Monasticism is a movement where a small community of believers buys a house in a poor urban neighborhood and fixes it up to live there. From that base, they grow their own food and reach out to the community around them in places like Philadelphia. They bought the house across the street from their property. It took some time, but they finally got the OK from the city. When they got in there, they had to go through the roof to start cleaning it out because it was so full of trash and drug paraphernalia. Once it was cleaned out, they turned it into a place where prostitutes could stay. They are connected to a local church, so it isn't a para-church organization. They firmly believe that Christians are to serve together.

This is a reactionary driven movement. They see what is going on in the world around them and seek to do something about it.

Again, there is a possibility that this will swing to its opposite extreme where the organization is so focused on being hip and cool that any opportunity to minister and reach out to someone will be lost. Where is the line of where you look so much like the world that non-believers don't see a distinction between how they live their lives and how a Christian lives theirs? There are times when I can honestly say that I don't see a difference - even in my own life.

Stop it with the Emo haircuts and hip, cool, smart-person looking glasses, OK? You are not a hipster. Suit coats paired with hoodies was never a good fashion statement. I don't know why someone thought it was cool, but it's just stupid. Don't pretend to be one.

While I am at it, stop trying to make me feel guilty about what I am or am not doing for the
Kingdom of God. Guilt and shame are not of God. They should not be tools in the Christian's arsenal. I don't have your calling. God gave me different talents and abilities. He put me in a different place. We all can't be toes. There have to be fingers, hip joints, ribs, and spleens. All of these work together for the glory of God as we are the BODY of Christ. Just because socks work on the feet doesn't mean they will work on elbows. God put me in a place where I work with the young people who will be the movers and shakers. Who are you to say that my kindness and love to/for them is any less effective for the Kingdom than serving with Meals on Wheels?

So, some of the criticism is warranted. I would definitely agree that there is an element to the American church that is fat and lazy, but painting it with such a broad brush is dangerous. I'm sure what they are trying to do is spur people to action - to live out their faith as we are commanded to do - but I think they sound more whiny than inspiring.