Simple Steps to becoming a Green Church

For those of you who read my last environmentally-focused post "Paint your church roof white to save the earth and prevent the apocalypse, sorry Jesus" here's perhaps an easier one to chew on before you go climbing up on the church with a bucket of white paint.

Simple Steps to becoming a Green Church

  • Increasing energy efficiency
  • Conserving water
  • Reducing waste
  • Greening times of fellowship
  • Making creation care a core value of the church
Do it.  Everyone else is doing it.

(can you tell it's the end of the month and I don't want September's post count to be lower than Augusts? Glad you noticed that too!)


The Long Tail of Ministry Revisited

One of my main evangelism quotes is "don't do it.  Do discipleship instead.  And so by doing discipleship, we evangelize."  Thus by focusing on how to make the current members better Disciples, they will attract new people.  By doing so, the mission fields are not the chaotic world, but the smaller more-manageable circles of relationships that you are already a part of.  This is called the Long Tail of Ministry: the aggregate of the circles of relationships your current membership already swims in...has an equal amount of opportunity as shouting from the rooftops and standing on soapboxes at the mall.

A few months back in the "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia" series, in part 2 we talked about the "Long Tail of Ministry."  Missed it?  Wonder what the heck that is?  Read the link, but essentially I'll let another site explain the long tail effectively.

the Long Tail theory suggests that the dramatically lower distribution costs for media (such as music and movies) enabled by the internet has the potential to reshape the demand curve for media...Anderson argues that the internet's ability to serve niches cost-effectively increases the demand for items further down the "tail" of the demand curve, making the aggregate demand for the tail comparable to that for the head.
We talked about how focusing on the long tail of ministry (those smaller groups in your church) can revolutionize the church like it revolutionized the internet industry.  Great, right?  Well, then this is a follow-up.  Here's two points worth mentioning.

(1) Harvard released a study questioning investments in the long tail businesses.  While the article questions the long tail's validity based on empirical data, it also offers recommendations and suggestions to businesses.  In there, there's a recommendation to businesses that translates directly into supporting the long tail of ministry [bold emphasis mine]:
When producing niche goods for the tail end of the distribution, keep costs as low as possible. Your odds of success aren’t favorable here either, and they will probably become less so.  The extremely low demand for the large array of products in the tail means that simply recovering the costs of producing them will be challenging. Given that obscure products tend to be appreciated less than hits, it will be very difficult to earn any kind of price premium for them.
So a lesson here to keep churches from completely upending and turning their world upside down is to reasonably support the long tail.  Taking money and volunteers away from a structured Sunday School to support an unstructured movie club is probably not the best idea.  (This serves as a extension of the previous blog post on the Long Tail of Ministry).

(2) In a blog post response to the response to this column, the Harvard article author Anita Elberse presents another aspect of the Long Tail to consider:
[the Long Tail inventor] Anderson again makes the argument that online markets exhibit a long tail. I agree with that assessment, and have not claimed the opposite. However, I argue the data reveal two other important patterns. First, the tail is long but extremely flat—and, as online retailers expand their assortments, increasingly so. Second, compared with heavy users, light users have a disproportionately strong preference for the more popular offerings, while both groups appreciate hit products more than they like those in the tail.
Light users have a preference for more popular programs...this is true for the church, isn't it?  Well, statistically-true anyway...a paper by the GBOD (Lazy Christians = Low-Hanging Fruit) shows that "the fastest growing churches depend on the least involved, least motivated, and least engaged Christian believers.”  If you have the biggest and baddest Sunday School around, if your worship service has Amy Grant doing square dances, and if your soup kitchen feeds half of Philadelphia...then you might have the most shallow Christians in your ranks.  If that is your goal, you are well on your way.

But if you want niche Christians, if you want to reach those on the margins, then it won't be via a massive overhaul of sunday school, but it might be by the many small groups in your community and congregation.  By encouraging personal relationships and small groups, then you will engage the long tail of ministry while leaving the CEOs and Sunday Christians to the Christendom retailers.

So, in other words, if you are a smaller church in the midst of ChristoGiantChurches...don't play the same game.  Don't try for the same shallow pool.  Teach your members to talk while holding their spiritual breath, sink deeply into the relationship circles that are already at the margins, and by God's grace you'll bring fresh water, bread, wine, and breath to those who are in your midst already.


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Order, Chaos, and Jesus

What does the Joker and Luke Skywalker have in common?  They both oppose order: be it rational order in Gotham City, or the Empire's New Order.

But don't take my word for it. When two blogs that I follow type up very similar posts, I have to wonder if they are reading each other (actually, I know they do).

But check out these quick hits because anytime theology, Batman, and Star Wars are in the same post, you know it's gonna be good.

Blake HugginsThe Joker was/is right .  He writes about the Joker quote while he was in the hospital room with Two-Face.  But he had this tidbit which caused me to think a bit:

[W]e had all been conditioned to go along with “the plan,” even if, as The Joker notes, the plan is horrifying. The plan was indeed horrifying, but most everyone went right along with it because the establishment said so and had, in effect, manufactured the consent of the masses beforehand. 
It seems to me that unless this hegemony of thought is somehow subverted, not necessarily by complete chaos, but by intentional anarchic acts of liberative resistance and inquiry, the established Order will continue to see that everything goes according to plan.
Jonathan Brink: Order v. Chaos .  He writes about Darth Vader's plan to bring Order to the Galaxy, which Luke rejects and parallels it to the existence of Dictators and evil men in a world that God brought "order" to in Creation:
[W]e’re left with the same question Darth Vader presents to Luke. “Join me and we can bring order to this planet.” Taking these men down seems right. But in doing so, we’re left with the question of which side we’re joining. Is control and order really the answer? Is force really the most restorative pathway?
Because once I join the effort to control, I then approve of its measure. If I approve of the killing of these people, to remove what seems like the chaos of the universe, I approve of the removal of me the moment I create chaos. And that line of order becomes entirely subjective on any side. It can be moved at any time based upon whim and circumstance, or as the men above choose. And what eventually occurs is a culture based in fear, not freedom. The order that was supposed to happen occurs, if only for a select group of people. As long as we’re on the good side, we’re safe. But step over the line and we’re at risk.
Done reading?  Good.  Thoughts?

  1. Think about religion and politics abuses like these idiot pastors.  By amassing political power into the church, they risk prescribing Christian behavior instead of embracing our human freedom to choose it.  And that's a failure of the church even if it results in outlawed "unChristian" behavior.
  2. Think about church growth.  By systematically encouraging church growth through marketing principles with an "ends justify the means" paradigm, we risk Order overturning the chaotic relationships that often result in Christian discipleship.  
  3. Think about pastors and church leaders.  Do you regard them as prophetic in every word they say?  I have to wrestle with and challenge even my closest of prophetic friends, because I won't let them sell me a plan that I'm not with.  
  4. Think about Jesus.  Better yet, read what both these bloggers write about Jesus and Order.  
Blake : maybe Jesus has more in common with the Joker than we are willing to admit. Indeed, perhaps Jesus goes even further than the Joker by actually taking on the violence of the established Order and unmasking it for what it is — and the best part is that he, unlike the Joker, refuses to play by the rules of the Order, that is, by participating in violence. Thus, Jesus is the ultimate villian of the established Order.
Jonathan : I keep thinking of the moments Jesus is standing in front of Herod and dying on the cross. He could have assumed control and brought order to the world. But to do so would be to go against love. Instead he established a world based in chaos that allows people to harm each other. But more importantly, he provides the ability to transcend that chaos through love by the power of His Spirit. It’s a culture based in the exact opposite, in freedom not in fear.

I've got a lot to think about.  I don't really have a well-thought-out plan of how to respond to these excellent (and geeky) posts.  Do you?
Type the rest of your post here


To those idiot pastors tomorrow...

To those pastors tomorrow who are violating the prohibition of endorsing pastors from the pulpit (they are endorsing John McCain...see Question of the Day: Political Endorsements)....

...I give you this quote from James Madison and Thomas Jefferson:

Participants in the pulpit initiative also are wrong on their history. From the founding it has been clear that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the architects of our notions of religious liberty, intended to prohibit the state from dictating the content of religious convictions. Thus this preamble to the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, which Jefferson drafted in 1777: "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness ... that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money [through taxation] for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness ..."

That sounds a lot like the spirit of the current tax code, which makes funds available from our collective purse for pursuit of the common good, though not political advantage. Jefferson confirmed that distinction in an exchange of letters with Sister Marie Therese Farjon, mother superior of the Ursuline convent of St. Xavier in New Orleans in March 1804, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase. The nuns, who operated an orphanage and school for foundlings, were concerned that the United States, whose jurisdiction they were now under, might not recognize France's gifts of property to support their work.

Jefferson replied with a statement of the government's support for the church's charitable role. "Whatever diversity ... may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable object of your institution cannot be indifferent to any ... [and] cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under."

They were a shrewd, as well as eloquent, bunch, the founders; we ignore them at our peril.

And a nightmare scenario:
Let's imagine that the Alliance Defense Fund and its clerical clients were to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn the Johnson amendment's ban on political endorsements from the pulpit. At that point, what would prevent wealthy ideologues from making tax-exempt contributions to sympathetic pastors' churches for the express purpose of engaging in partisan electioneering? For that matter, what would prevent ambitious pastors from soliciting just such contributions and then using them to bind like-minded ministers into powerful political machines?


Is Christianity just about salvation?

Via thinkchristian (who found it on GLocal Christianity), here's a short 4-minute video by a very articulate atheist about the soteriology of Christianity. He seems to posit a very black/white version of Christianity that focuses on the salvation of Christ and the eternal punishment of hell.  Check it out:

Central to his points is that "let's agree to disagree" is antithetical to the Gospel. 

1:25: I have heard Christians that have the view that "everyone is entitled to their own belief" which is not a bad position to have...but if you believe that what they believe is going to earn them a place in eternal suffering, then there's a problem with that, in that you are allowing them to be tortured for eternity, but are not willing to save them from that. It's very awkward. If you really believe that people who are not Christians are going to hell, and if you don't take that seriously, then you might be compromising your own belief system.
The video is clearly used by an evangelical organization to encourage correct belief and evangelism. 

What do you think about it?  
  • Is "let's agree to disagree" antithetical to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Is the building burning and we should "save" everyone?
  • Or is the Gospel more than Jesus-believers go to heaven and non-Christians go to hell?
  • Third option (at least) salvation through Christ more about an assurance that his path to God works than it is a certainty that all other paths do not?


Evil is an Abstract [video]

My senior paper in undergrad was on the psychological effects of a belief in a personified evil (Satan and Demons) compared to seeing evil as a non-personalized force.  That was 6 years ago, and I'm sure by my own standards now it was pretty terrible.

But I'm always interested in the discussion, so imagine my delight when this very concept made it into a deleted scene from the oh-so-insulting-Kevin-Smith-movie Dogma (found via videosift).  Check it out.

For those of you that find Dogma too offensive, remember that art reflects on the artist, and Smith said that it was a parallel to his own faith for that alone, it is worth watching.

Nevertheless, here's an edited transcript of the concept as portrayed in Dogma.

Azrael: Did you know that hell was once nothing more than the absence of God.  And if you've ever been in his presence, then you'd realize that is punishment enough.  But then your kind came along, and made it so much worse...
Evil is an abstract.  It is a human construct...Why?
Because it is beyond your abilities to simply make personal recompense for the sins you commit.  No.  You choose rather to create a psychodrama and dwell in a foundless belief that God cannot forgive your grievous offenses.
So you bring your guilt and your inner decay with you to hell, where the horrid imaginations of so many gluttons for punishment gave birth to this sickness...and in doing so, they transformed the cold and solitude to pain and misery.
So let's talk about this "evil is an abstract" concept.  What do you think?
  • Have you had experiences with a personified evil?  
  • Or is Evil, to you, a less personal force which nonetheless involves persons?

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Daily Read 09/23/2008

  • tags: no_tag

    • Microsoft should issue a software upgrade to every computer running Microsoft Windows worldwide. The upgrade would adjust the machine's energy-saving settings for maximum efficiency. Of course, this upgrade would have to allow critical systems to opt out. Nobody wants air traffic control computers to suddenly go into deep hibernation. But correcting for critical systems should be very simple for a company that churns out millions of lines of code every year.
  • tags: no_tag

    • Vonnegut's notes can be used for sermon preparation too, I'm sure. - post by umjeremy
    • Some writing advice by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on the subject of short stories, from Bagombo Snuff Box:

      1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

      2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

      3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

      4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

  • tags: no_tag

    • From Archbishop Oscar Romero - post by umjeremy
    • "It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.  The kingdom is not only beyond our effoerts, it is even beyond our vision.  We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord's work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that should be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession makes us perfect; no pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes fully the church's mission.  No set of goals and objective includes everything.  This is who we are. We plant the seeds that some day will grow.  We water seeds that were already planted, knowing that they hold future promis.  We lay foundations that will need much further development.  We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.  We cannot do everything and, realizing that, there is a sense of liberation in our very being.   This enables us to do something and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is the difference between the master builder and the laborer.  We are laborers, not master builders, ministers, not the Messiah.  We are prophets of a future that is not our own."
  • tags: no_tag

    • From Colbert's Religionizer. Hilarious interfaith jabs abound! - post by umjeremy
    • Christianity:

      Sweet! More Bible!

      Warning: Stigmata not covered by HMO.

      Pro: Salvation. Con: N/A

      Jesus died for your sins, so you kind of owe him.

      You’re now only 60% likely to burn in Hell.

      Start planning your Rapture party now!

      Admit it: it feels good to be right.

      Jesus is now officially your co-pilot.

      Feeling guilty? Get used to it.

      Walking on the beach just got a whole lot easier.

Read more... in the news!

I don't know if you saw this on your television, but the blog Hacking Christianity made it into a special-interest piece and a foreign-language newscast! Pretty awesome!

I can't embed them, so follow the links (and no, Blake, none of these are rickrolls)

- Special Interest Piece interviewing cats

- Non-English Broadcast on the crowds awaiting a new blog post

Let me know if you see more of these in your area.


Napolean Dynamite loves Technology

Just so everyone knows...

Technology Song - Napoleon Dynamite


John Wesley Quote for Breakfast

Found on another Methoblog (Richard Hall) today, a quote from John Wesley on the cycles of temptation that christian systems must face.

“Does it not seem (and yet this cannot be) that Christianity, true scriptural Christianity, has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! and riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. Now, if there be no way to prevent this, Christianity is inconsistent with itself, and, of consequence, cannot stand, cannot continue long among any people; since, wherever it generally prevails, it saps its own foundation.”
Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity, John Wesley, 1789
To me, this is justification for hacking Christianity.  When Christianity becomes inconsistent, when the system is faulty, then it is up to the edge to call the center back to accountability to the God who calls us to right relationships.  Be it prosperity-gospel suburban churches or poor urban churches, there's always ways to be called back to Christ.

I'm not sure that I'm completely with Mr. Wesley...humans are faulty and this is not always preventable by any ordinary means.  But, like Wesley, I believe in a God who forgives.  Whenever Christianity loses its way and dilutes the Jesus story in the waters of capitalism, sexism, and violence, then we can ask forgiveness and find our way back to our foundations.  If you can forgive your church and yourself, then you can hack Christianity too.

And along the way, we've got to remove the structures and the traditions which put us down that road in the first place.  And that's what we're doing here at

(edit...I accidentally published instead of scheduled this post.  so it went out this evening instead of for Breakfast.  But oh well, maybe you like pancakes at night like I do!)


Flash Mobbing the Gospel

One of the most interesting phenomenons of the internet culture is instantaneous communication and the ability to form groups rapidly and easily. We covered this phenomenon in "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia."  Read more there.

By far the most youtube-friendly of the new developments via this ability is flash-mobs.  They are disconnected groups of people who get together and do weird things like the following.

First, a frozen crowd in a terminal:

Read on for ponderings of how this type of street theatre could become a useful tool for churches.

Second, remember "Where's Waldo?" Find the ninjas in the crowd!

Finally, the famous improv group does a the food court of a mall.

There are all sorts of useful ways to use a flash-mob, a group of disconnected strangers, to do potentially subversive things like this.

  • Get people to all bring themselves to the park for a quick sermon/praise songs get-together.  Disperses before you get taken out for a noise ordinance.
  • Get people to protest a new MacDonalds contribution to the obesity epidemic by having everyone get together wearing fat suits and get stuck in the front door (yes, I'm creative).
  • Arrange for a random barbeque on a parishioner's lawn all of the sudden (hopefully one with good humor).
I don't's a Saturday night.  Knock yourself out.  What ways could this phenomenon be harnessed by a tech-savvy church?

Discuss and add your ideas below!


Women Pastors are Pornographic

An action.hack is something concrete you can do to encourage an open Christian system or subvert a closed Christian system.  Read on for the hack!

I will give $1* to every reader that goes to their local LifeWay Christian Bookstore and asks for the current issue of the Gospel Today magazine.

I bet I know where you will find it.  It will be behind the sales desk, next to the porn. Well, if they sold porn at LifeWay Christian. But it will feel the same way.

Why? Because LifeWay had the magazine pulled from the shelves. You can now only get it by asking a clerk.  Why?

That's right.  Because one of the more popular Christian magazines does a story on women pastors, it is SCANDALOUS and must not be sold in the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated LifeWay Christian Bookstores.  The spokesperson simply said "It is contrary to what we believe."  Fine.

However, that doesn't mean I can't take my own action about the magazine.  And you can too.  I would encourage you to compensate for this theological error by buying the issue (Sept/Oct 2008).  Tell Gospel Today to not back down in the face of economic pressure.  You can buy the issue from Borders, LifeWay, and Wal-Mart, or many other retailers in your area.

I would personally encourage you to go and buy this issue.  Make it the best-selling issue of Gospel Today ever.  And tell the company that you support women in the pulpit and they should do more stories like it.  And you will be hacking Christianity along with everyone else to open up the system one more centimeter for equality in the pulpit.

So post below in the comments and let us know how the interactions at LifeWay Christian Bookstores go!  I'll be very interested!

* = if you know me in real life, you know that I actually never pay up.  But buy the issue anyway to stand against spiritual misogyny (or however you define it).


World's Scariest Model Train Wrecks [video]

Sorry to be out of touch. I'm a pastor and sometimes those worlds are ridiculously busy. You'll see more of me now that I'm back in my rhythm.

In compensation, here's a terrifying video: The World's Scariest Model Train Wrecks.

Is it art? Or is it scale-model sadism? I report, you decide.


Paint your church roof white to save the earth and prevent the apocalypse, sorry Jesus.

For Churches, caring for creation is more and more becoming mainstream and acceptable regardless of whether you think global warming is humans' fault or cows' fault. But the changes necessary are so expensive and complex, how can churches realistically deal with global warming and creation care?

Well, creation care is easier than you might think. All you have to do is paint your church roof white.

According to a recent study, roofs are an important material to look at and consider how to make it more environmentally-friendly.

Hashem Akbari, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley lab, just released a study showing that the average American 1,000-square-foot white roof could offset 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to his data, roofs constitute 20 to 25 percent of urban surfaces, while pavement is about 40 percent. Therefore, if all of those surfaces were switched to a reflective material (or color) in the 100 largest urban areas in America, his calculations show, this would offset 44 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide. That's more than all countries emit in a single year. Further, that's worth about $1.1 trillion at current carbon trading rates.
So even if you can't afford solar panels for your creation-friendly church, here's something you can do instead.  It's a simple (but not too ridiculously expensive) hack!


Fun with Gas [video]

Now THIS is hilarious. Adam Savage from Mythbusters gives a 40 second lesson on why helium gas messes with your voice...and the opposite gas that turns you into SATAN.

No, don't try this at home, young hackers.

Would love to preach a sermon like that.


Question of the Day: Political Endorsements

Based on John the Methodists' insightful (or just amusing...insightfully amusing, if you will) Questions of the Day (here's the last one), here's one for Hacking Christianity readers:

Should Clergy be able to endorse Politicians from the Pulpit?

Context: Apparently about 36 clergy from 20 states, spurred on by the conservative Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), will endorse John McCain from the pulpit on Sunday, September 28th. They do so to challenge the constitutionality of the IRS rules that prohibit churches from endorsing candidates, else they will lose their tax exempt status. (read more here)

What do you think? Should clergy be able to endorse politicians from the pulpit? Even if we take away the tax exempt element, should churches be able to endorse political campaigns and politicians?


The Wrong Palin [video]

Seriously, this is a non-political Monday.  I promise.  But this is just too funny.  Michael Palin (no, not that one, the one from Monty Python) for President.

And no, I don't agree with the final line of "anyone is qualified to be President." The video montage is just humorous!


Non-political quote for Breakfast

Here's a quote that I would like to be seen in a HackingChristianity view, not in the political view it represents.  This is a challenge, but the point being made is beyond partisanship, even though it is pointed at a particular party.

Ready?  This is Oliver Willis commenting on the lack of racial diversity at the Republican National Convention.

If your message is targeted to one monoculture, and your noise machine largely run by that monoculture, you have no way of knowing how out of touch you are. Most Republican pols and conservatives simply have no true gauge for when they’re speaking in an exclusionary manner...The Republicans, even more than in the past, have decided to get their monochromatic base motivated to the exclusion of everyone else.
This speaks directly of the echo-chamber that we talk about here.  When our news media is customized to reflect our monoculture, when our neighborhoods are chosen to reflect our monoculture, and when our gatherings speak only to those who share our culture, then how will we know that the world is changing?  And more dangerously, if by hearing the same culture reflected back at us, we may become more radical and thus more hostile to the world around us.

For us to be relevant in an ever-changing world, it's time to move out of our comfort zones and into areas where we don't agree with everyone.  Because if not, we may end up looking like a homogenous Christian society that has burned every bridge around us and just wants to be left alone.


Churchy Humor for Breakfast


But for the church nerds out there, it must be read.

The following is a church history song done to the tune of
Supercalafragalisticexpialadocius from Mary Poppins.  I've seen an attribution to Dan ldzikowski as the author, but I have no idea if that is true.

Chorus: Um diddle diddle um diddle ay
Um diddle diddle urn diddle ay

Superchristological and Homoousiosis
Even thought the sound of them is something quite atrocious
You can always count on them to anathemize your Gnosis
Superchristological and Homoousiosis

Now Origen and Arius were quite a clever pair.
Immutable divinity made Logos out of air.
But then one day Saint Nicholas gave Arius a slap,
and told them if they can't recant, they ought to shut their trap!

One Prosopon, two Ousia are in one Hypostasis.
At Chalcedon this formula gave our faith its basis.
You can argue that you don't know what this really means,
But don't you go and try to say there's a "Physis' in between!

Now freedom and autonomy are something to be praised,
But when it comes to human sin, these words must be rephrased,
For Pelagius was too confident that we could work it out–
And Augustine said “massa damnata” is what it's all about.

Heresies are arguments that you might find attractive,
But just remember in this case the Church is quite reactive.
So play it safe and memorize these words we sing together,
'Cause in the end you'll find, my friend, that we may live forever.

....yeah. Enjoy.

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I kissed a girl...and went to hell [bad.hack]

A bad.hack (read more about it here) is a manipulation of a Christian system either using illicit means to achieve an end, or achieving goals that leave the system worse off and less open than before. Read on for the hack!

Church signs are a favorite pastime of mine. Back in college we were to go on a church sign scavenger hunt, which was pretty easy in Oklahoma City! I enjoyed how churches do pop-culture twists or wordplays (this church is prayer-conditioned) to condolences to Packers fans (God will never leave you for the Jets). In fact, one of my favorite blogs is called "crummy church signs" which collects the bad and snarky ones. Check it out.

But in multiple places on the net, this sign is getting some attention:

(thanks to Matt Algren for the better picture)

Read on for more and how when we use limited space to condemn people, we forget to include the love of Christ.

In case you can't read it, the sign says: "I kissed a girl and I liked it...then I went to hell"

The reference is the song "I kissed a girl and liked it" by a female singer Katy Perry. It is obviously referencing some church's belief that gay behavior is sinful. While it is in the same genre of pop-culture intersections that the church signs attempt to achieve, I'm pretty sure this is a bad.hack.

Sure, it is the church's privilege to put whatever they want on a church sign, but I don't see how this fits with their expressed mission.  If we plug their vision statement into Wordle, here's what we get (click to enlarge)
If the biggest words in their mission are "People" "Want" and "Love", then how is this church sign expressing the love that people want?

As Church Marketing Sucks comments:
Dave Allison, pastor of Havens Corners, thinks the sign is a "loving warning to teens." He told The Columbus Dispatch that "The Scriptures tell us that you should not do what the song tells you to do. The Scriptures are not ambiguous on this issue."

It appears that Dave is forgetting that the Scriptures are also not ambiguous on how you're supposed to treat people. Last time I checked, there were more references in the Bible on how to love your neighbor than on how not to love them.
While the church sign has been replaced, one person who emailed in to complain got a response from the pastor.
I wanted to let you know that the sign has been changed. After
prayerful deliberation over whether or not to change it, it seemed
like there were too many questions over what the sign even meant.
Those who were unfamiliar with the song were at a loss to understand
even if they agreed. Also, some of you wrote thoughtful e-mails
rightly pointing out that the message and our church could easily be
misunderstood. There was no room on the sign to talk about love and
forgiveness, simply the consequence.

Pastor Dave
I think the church has learned a valuable lesson which we can learn too.

  • In what missions and ministries is your church too focused on condemnation to have room for sharing the love of Christ?
  • In the choices of how you present the "face" of the church, is it mostly focused on condemnation or riling against society rather than reaching out to it?
Church signs are often the only thing I know about a church. The letter to the editor, the coaching attitude of a parishioner, the sermons found on the internet...are all often the only thing people know about a church.

  • In what ways are preaching the consequences (or condemnation) defining your church more than that they seek to share the love of Christ?
Thoughts? Welcome to our visitors!


Cell Phones in Church [video]

I think I'm gonna start out the new school year of worship next sunday with this clip.


Wow, my blogs in the clouds...

This is just too cool. The static picture doesn't do it justice; if you are reading this in a feedreader, go to my blog homepage to see it in animated action. 

Seriously, do it now to see an animated one of these:

Wow.  I mean, wow.  I like it. 

Now I just need to optimize it because it slows down Chrome a bit, and FireFox a lot, and Safari hates it.

Thanks to Amanda from BloggerBuster...this is awesome!


Welcome UM Reporter readers!

Hello, an abridged version of my "What the Chuch can Learn from Wikipedia" series has appeared in the September 5th edition of the United Methodist Reporter.

To that end...welcome to the first-time readers!  Here's some resources for you:

About the Blog
  • I'm a United Methodist pastor and I blog about ministry, technology, and internet-age group theory.  The "about" page is here:
Read the Full Series On Wikipedia
  • Got something to say?  Find the page you are interested in, and scroll to the bottom.  There's a place for you to comment!  Feel free to try it out on this thread if you like!  
  • If you find something that makes you angry or passionate, please read the following before posting!
Important Note
  • I need to give credit where credit is due.  While I reference Clay Shirky's book in the article and build on his work in original ways, the term "half-life of knowledge" is his.  While I turned it into the "half-life of discipleship" and feel confident that the rest of the article is acceptable, I wanted to ensure that Shirky got credit for that particular term.  Read his book, it is amazing:

Welcome to our visitors!  You can consider this an open thread, and comment on anything and anywhere here!


Upcoming Gas.hack?

I've gotten several readers asking my opinion on the "Free Gas" phenomenon where churches offer gas cards or supplement the cost of gas for a day as evangelism tactics.  Two responses.

  1. YES, very interested in this gimmick, and I've got a lot to say about it.
  2. BUT I'm swamped at the moment with church stuff and thus it's on the backburner.
I've been tinkering with a response piece to this since....well, the blogger date says 7/22, so maybe I should bust it out soon.
In the meantime, here's some links to chew on.  UMPortal beat me to the punch months ago, so read their article there
- It Keeps Getting Better
Also it's now on CNN and on Reuters as churches try out this evangelism strategy. Feel free to read these links then respond.
- Bless You and Here's some Gas
- Sex, blood, and gasoline

So check out those articles and consider this an open thread to discuss them. 
  • What are people's responses to churches offering free gas or gas cards or even supplementing the gas prices for a few hours?


Mirror, Mirror in the Pew

Some interesting research has shown that mirrors tend to suppress prejudice.

People exhibit less prejudice when they're in the presence of a mirror, Dutch researchers have shown. Carina Wiekens and Diederik Stapel said this effect occurs because mirrors make us more aware of our public appearance, and therefore remind us of the need to fall in line with social norms.
The researchers concluded: "Our results suggest that when both private and public selves are activated [by the mirror] they do not cancel each other out when it concerns their input for normative behaviour. Rather, public concerns "win" and people show more appropriate, norm-driven behaviour."
Very interesting!  I wonder what would happen if we put these in the church: would people tone down their rhetoric?  Would committees be happy and sunshiney with puppy dogs?  Would it tell us which church is the fairest of them all?

Another blogger noted that this phenomenon has been shown in other ways as well:
This appears to be just one aspect of a more general phenomenon: It seems that people monitor themselves more closely when they can see themselves in the mirror. For example, there are studies which show that overweight people eat less when a mirror is placed in front of them.
Interesting research.  The key effect of mirrors is this: Mirrors make us feel watched. And while that may sound creepy, the psychological effect can be that we are more aware of our own actions and presentation of Christ in our daily lives.  Opposite of vanity, mirrors can make us more aware of our own discipleship.

It started me thinking of places where mirrors could be helpful in a church.
  • On the stairs leading to the pulpit, reminding the preacher that their face is representing Christ at this moment.
  • On the wall of a committee meeting room, reminding people that what they say behind closed doors is still a reflection on them.
  • In the pews, allowing people to watch themselves to see how they incorporate the lesson (or put on their mascara).
The last one was facetious, as I think mirrors in the pews would exacerbate individualism and vanity to unhealthy levels.  But the implications of making people feel "watched" and becoming more self-aware are interesting.  I'll have to think on this a bit.

What do you think? 
  • Would mirrors in a worship space cause people to think more reflectively about themselves and about society?  
  • Or are mirrors and efforts to have people feel "watched" unhealthy?


Slowly Untangling the Church Web

While perusing the economic blogs I read, I happened across this notion of the economy and proposed solutions.  It had a metaphor that I think is helpful for those of us who are looking to change the church structure (to "hack" it):

Have you ever tried to undo a bunch of tangled wires or cords? If you don’t pull on the right wires in the right order, the mess becomes worse. If you pull too hard, the whole thing can break. But if your first pulls are good ones, the untangling becomes easier with each move.
That’s like our economy’s situation today. If we expect too much too quickly, we’ll make matters worse. But there is a way out of the mess, and it lies in our hands.
Be careful, and start pulling.
I think it is a helpful image for churches as well.  While we may read the writings here at and exclaim "I want that to happen at my church NOW!" the truth is that changes take place slowly.  We have to pick and choose which threads to start pulling to untangle church bureaucracy and lay the groundwork for a bottom-up mission model.

However, even if we pull out all the threads, we should never remove the church structure completely; the goal is not ecclesial anarchy.  A commenter on the above conversation exclaimed:
I dislike the analogy. The goal in untangling a knot is to take a complex, highly coupled system, and separate it into individual linear components. But a healthy economy is a complex, highly coupled system, perhaps even moreso than than an unhealthy one. The knottiness of the economy may make prescribing solutions for helping a troubled one difficult or even intractable, but the knottiness itself is not the the problem.
Indeed, the involvement of people and bureaucracy is part and parcel to any effective church.  The goal is not church anarchy; it is streamlining and ensuring the "knottiness" of the church structure is affirming and helpful.  Knots are fine.  Roadblocks are fine.  Burdens are fine.  But only so far as they encourage people to work together, not unite the people to work against the system.

So go and be a knotty church! (bad bad pun!)


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