Freelance Parishioners?

A synagogue in Alabama, faced with a dwindling jewish population, is paying families to relocate to their synagogue.  Financed by a $1 million dollar gift, they are offering up to $50,000 to each family that moves to the synagogues area and pledges to be active in the synagogue.  (hat tip: Marginal Revolution)

  Worried about what the future might hold, congregation member Larry Blumberg put up money to begin a program to attract as many as 20 new Jewish families. The group, funded primarily by his family, took out ads in Jewish newspapers and got a boost when The Associated Press published a story about the program last fall.
  About 400 families have since applied for the relocation project, and 60 of those were qualified after initial screening. Finalists go through a vetting process that includes written references — including one from their rabbi — home visits, checks for criminal and financial problems, and interviews.
Read on for comparisons to Christian church growth strategies and musings on the future job description of "Freelance Parishioner."

I want to be clear that this is not a form of evangelism of "paying people to come to church."  Judaism is not an evangelical religion on the same plane as Christianity, and the families moving are already established in the Jewish community.  So this is more like re-distribution of synagogue members to help a struggling synagogue.

We may point and say "this is ludicrous!" but think about how many ways Christian churches re-distribute parishioners to form new faith communities.

  • Seeding a new worship service: I remember when we were starting a new evening worship service at a UM church and they got pledges from morning worshippers to move to the new worship service and "seed" it for one year.  We even did a "sending forth" service to them, as it felt like they were leaving our worship service to join another.  After the year was up, some of them came back to the morning worship, but most stayed in the new viable worship service.
  • New church plants: these operate on the same way as the above, but in a more permanent solution.  a church decides to split off parish members to seed a new faith community.
  • Megachurch Tentacles Multi-site plants: megachurches will create a new faith community in another town that is affiliated with the parent church.  We discussed this phenomenon in the Wal-Mart Churches blog post.
For the synagogue, the offer is $50,000 per family and much gratitude.  For the church, the offer is a leading role in a new faith community...and much gratitude.  Really, are they any different?

It makes me wonder, given the fluidity of church membership and the breaking down of denominational ties, if there's an emerging market for freelance parishioners who will help churches of similar idealogical flair to seed new worship services and pledge their support for a year or two.  While the jewish families are moving for the long haul, and new worship services are short-term plants until they get established, could churches eventually move to "hiring" seed members of new faith communities until they get on their feet?  And is that wrong?



Saturday Snark



Intellectual Elitism or Responsibility?

Hacking Christianity was featured at the Wesley Report regarding our recent post on "Seminary Education is Dangerous for Pulpits." The Wesley Report feature focused on hints of intellectual elitism that seminary students "typically" have, and exhibited HX's post as endemic of this disease of elitism and bible-snobbery.

I enjoyed the post and the pointed commentary (and several twitters of "you intellectual elitist!" from Blake).  My post seems to be characterized  like a scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon and a Harvard elite are dueling over education in a bar (video):

Will Hunting: Look, don't try to pass yourself off as some kind of an intellect at the expense of my friend just to impress these girls. The sad thing is, in about 50 years you might start doin' some thinkin' on your own and by then you'll realize there are only two certainties in life. One, don't do that. Two -- you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda' picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
Harvard Boy: Maybe. But I will have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive through on our way to a skiing trip.
Read on to see how Shane and I find common ground in defiance to biblical certainty.

To me, this is exactly how Shane's post characterizes the tension in the church between seminary-educated clergy and laity.
  • Intellectual elites think they know the right answer because they got the education....but the people in the pew can know just as much as they have, especially these days with the internets.
  • Intellectual elites say that a piece of paper (a degree) means they are better than the people in the pew.....but as Shane's post indicates, that won't get any pull in most parishes.
Funny thing is....that I'm actually with Shane on this, and I said so in my first paragraph. There I was, a laity, sitting in a pew, wondering why the pastor was glossing over theological and biblical subtleties.  I said so in the first paragraph, and yet then I get characterized as part of intellectual elitism.  Reading Shane's post, it seems it all hinges on the opening paragraph where I there was a failure in my post to articulate that there are differing levels of agreement among scholars, to which Shane jumps on and challenges my certainty.  I can agree with that and accept his comment.

What I do not accept is that this is intellectual elitism.  In fact, the post was against intellectual elites who say that people are below acknowledging the debate over biblical topics and authorship! That's what frustrated me in the pews is that the preacher consistently glossed over important biblical debates! What the truth or fact is is irrelevant...but it is fundamentally dishonest to think laity should not participate in the debate over topics.  This is not about intellectual elitism, it is about intellectual responsibility to be honest about the debate!

I have an intellectual responsibility to be honest with my parish.  For instance, during the Scripture readings, I say "the author of John's Gospel writes in the third chapter..."  Did I say that John the Apostle wrote it?  Did I say that a community of faith who struggled with Jesus' message and compiled a vision of Christ drastically different than the Synoptics wrote it?  Did I claim either with 100% certainty and thus intellectual snobbery?  I don't think so.  By phrasing it this way I give honor to the debate while also not being mired into it.  It's easy to do...why don't we do it?

I have an intellectual responsibility to be honest with my parish.  For instance, I will say when I hit a difficult passage that "I'm looking at it with my own lens."  Adam Hamilton does the same thing in his sermon on Homosexuality where he talks about comparing biblical texts with "the lens of Jesus." John Wesley did something similar where he compared biblical texts with "the character of God."  By acknowledging I am using my own theology of the bible, then I invite others to use their own theologies.  It's easy to do, why are we afraid of losing authority if we do it?

While Shane and I have taken some shots at each other in honest difference of opinion, at the end of the day, Shane and I have the same frustration and it is not intellectual snobbery, rather, it is unquestioned biblical certainty.  And my beef is that clergy of all levels of theological education gloss over debate and preach interpretations that are presented as fact.  Maybe because of the myriad of reasons that Josh outlined in a comment on the original post, I don't know.  But it is frustrating and elicited the original post not as a holding up of intellectualism, but as a rallying cry against it.  Sheesh!

The Wesley Report piece has it right: preachers are not the sole guardians of knowledge for our parishes.  Like Good Will Hunting, most of our knowledge can be gotten in the public library or on Wikipedia (well...most) or by attending a few lectures.  Clergy need to adapt from dispensers of knowledge to embodiers of how to interpret, live, and breath the texts.  And if we can't embody the debate, if we gloss over debate and accept the status quo, then we will frustrate laity like Shane who know otherwise.

Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and all comments are cherished!


Seminary Education is Dangerous for Pulpits?

I was a religion major in undergrad, and thus ever since the late 90's, I've wondered why why the stuff I learned in religion school is rarely reflected in the pulpit?  Are preachers scared to tell the congregation that the Apostle John didn't write the Gospel of John?  Or that Ash Wednesday originated as a pagan holiday?  Or that believing God has a purpose for you is determinism and not really under the rubric of Wesleyan freedom?

While musing on this censorship of biblical scholarship, I ran across Jessica Hagy, who posted the following as a simple condemnation of censorship (hat tip: Friendly Atheist):

It makes me wonder if this is that simple.

  • The preacher (or Sunday School teacher) doesn't impart 80% of her/his knowledge because it is dangerous and "faith-shattering" to know all this stuff without a framework (ie. control).
  • The children (and learning adults) in the pews feel it is more dangerous to not know and thus be dependent on the pastor to interpret things for them (anyone remember the Reformation?).
What a simple illustration that depicts a tension I noticed as a student and now try to overcome as a preacher myself!



"You make God sound like an opportunistic virus"

Last week I contributed to a "Finances and Faith" piece in the local paper on how parishes are reacting to the economic crisis. I think all the churches in the piece did well talking about how church finances are struggling but we continue to offer the same message of hope and liberation. However, during the interview, I did not respond well to a question along the lines of "are you encouraged by higher attendance?" These are people's lives who are being fractured, broken people coming to the doors...even if there are more of them, why should I get excited about it? It's nothing to take advantage of or be encouraged by.

Thankfully, we have the Colbert Report to back me up. Colbert nails how I've seen some churches marketing and "taking advantage" of the economic situation. I think this is a good clip on how churches need reflection on how we react to the economic crisis. Watch the clip, but here's the exchange at 4:40:

Fr. Martin: "When people feel more vulnerable, like in times of recession and poverty, their defenses are lowered so it is easier for God to break through."
S. Colbert: "You make God sound like an opportunistic virus."
Fr. Martin: "It's more that we keep God at bay. We have our defenses. When they are not there any more, it's easier for God to break in...It's not that God is any more present, it's that we are more open."

Thoughts? Is there a level of unintentional preying on uncertainties by churches close to you, like a virus? Or are we preaching the same message as before: that God is present, God is faithful, and God will walk with us through this mess?


The Tubes are Diverse and Crowded

Conversation in the digital age:

(hat tip: Kem Meyer's twitter)


Progressive Church: Radical or Rational? [2of4]

If you remember from yesterday's post, Nate Silver of 538 differentiated between two kinds of progressives. Check out the graph here, then come back.  ((waits)) Welcome back!  So, as you can see, there's two broad paintbrush strokes of progressivism divided into rationals who strive toward incremental change and radicals who strive toward significant upheavals.

We are tempted to go piecemeal and point out line by line how this may be faulty or accurate.  But for this second of four series, let's focus on why this is important: it helps people cease "us v. them" mentalities as it forces us to stop naming "other" groups as one unit.  In this situation, people who do not consider themselves to be "progressive" can look at the list and better understand the variety of progressives there are.  A commentor on the original post elaborates:

Excellent thoughts, Nate, and would suggest that your list of traits differentiating 'rational progressives' from 'radical progressives' has an even more pragmatic use: Conservatives have used the broad brush stroke of what you've defined as 'radical progressive' to define ALL liberals and ALL progressives, as well as pretty much EVERYONE who is not them!
I would also say the same thing for people who consider themselves to be liberal/progressive: they also often paint conservatives as all one brush stroke!  So being able to show a continuum between two different "sides" can show that there are tensions in both sides also.

If you look at the graph, you will see the tension, as Pastor Dan states, is between idealists and pragmatists.  I think the basic tension in any label is between those who envision the goals of their cause and hold others to those goals, and those who would compromise for a piece of the goal or a subgoal.

The Church, then, is rarely a single unit, but is a place where the conflict of ideas takes place: liberal, conservative, progressive in idealist, pragmatic, and mixed forms.  There will be those who will not let go of the dream at all costs, and those who will allow concessions for the greater whole.  There are times when being pragmatic and allowing the slow drip of progressivism is the way to go...and there are times when progressives cannot back down on the fundamentals.  And there are times to realize that even progressive churches are conservative when we hit touchy areas where the wounds are still raw...

Even in churches that have become more and more echo-chambers, there is a great diversity between those who are willing to bend and those who are in it all-in.  I think that malleability v. unyielding tension is present in any church regardless of how homogeneous they may self-identify.

Thoughts or comments?  This post would be much better if I had a "diversity of conservatism" chart as well so it doesn't feel so one-sided.  Anyone who knows of one, leave it in the comments!


Progressive Churches: Rational or Radical? [1of4]

A few days ago, wicked smart guy Nate Silver on 538 (a statistics and polling site for the 2008 election) has wandered into philosophy as he distinguishes between two different forms of progressivism: rational progressives who favor incremental change through reform, and radical progressives who favor the swifter change of revolution.  Check it out:

While I take issue with some of the dichotomies and stereotypes in general, this serves as a helpful building block for discussion.  Of course Silver is talking about progressive philosophies primarily in politics, but I can see parallels in churches too.

So, time for a mini-series!  I will be talking about it for the rest of this week, so whether you want to better see which type of progressive you are, or are looking to not categorize your progressive friends into one big pot...check back this week!

But in the meantime, initial thoughts on this chart?  What sticks, and what stinks?  Post in the comments or on Google Friend Connect at the bottom of the page!


Ask HX: Are Hacks like Trojan Horses?

In an email conversation, a reader pointed me towards Mark Batterson, who writes about technology being a trojan horse that allows the Gospel to reach new people and get past their defenses that cause people to run and scream when anything "religious" comes their way.  From Mark:

Here's a thought: technology is a Trojan Horse.

Blogs and podcasts are Trojan horses that get behind the impregnable defense mechanisms that keep people out of church. Why? Because they are non-threatening. Blog visitors can remain "anonymous" as long as they want to or need to. Podcast listeners can download and check us out while they work out or hang out or commute to work.
My emailer asked if Mark and I were onto two sides of the same coin with my hacks which attempt to open up the Christian system on one side and Mark's idea of Trojan horses slipping past defenses on another.

Great question.  I would have to read more stuff about where Mark is going with Trojan horses, but they are remarkably similar.  The difference is nitpicky...we are simply writing from two different systems.

ChurchMarketingSucks defines what Mark means by Trojan Horse:
Trojan horse (n.)
Etymology: The idea appears to have originated with Mark Batterson and has been communicated by him on numerous occasions.
Definition: A method used to bypass the innate and learned defenses of individuals, specifically in regards to their tendency to use defense mechanisms when faced by the local church.
Examples: Servant evangelism, more comfortable locations for services, use of familiar technology or creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Thus, Mark's focus is on beating through the defenses of prejudgments that see church as boring, unhip, and a bit scary to interact with. The tool (be it technology or a book) allows Mark to circumvent those prejudgments to get the message across.  By "conquering" the prejudgment, a Trojan allows Christianity to be seen in a new way.

In comparison, hacks (as explored here on HX) are changes in the makeup of Christian systems.  They are focused not on others' perceptions but on how Christianity as a system becomes more open and accessible.  I feel like hacks are less about marketing and more about systemic change, one action or event at a time.

For instance, lets look at the Bible Illuminated from both these perspectives.

  • From Mark's perspective, it is a Trojan Horse.  It takes an object that people would usually not pick up (a bible) and turns it into a magazine which people would pick up.  People's prejudgments are circumvented and they are exposed to the Gospel in a way they wouldn't have normally.
  • From HX's perspective, it is a bible.hack.  It takes a part of the system (a bible) and pairs it with contemporary form (magazine) and content (internet phenomena of mash-ups).  Bibles, which have been relegated to hardbound books or ridiculous biblezines, is found in a new form which transforms what Christians AND non-Christians alike think about the Bible.  

Ultimately, I think we are both saying the same thing, but using different metaphors.  Mark uses a military analogy, whereas I use a nerd analogy.  I think the nitpicky difference is that trojan horses are focused on non-Christians, while hacks are focused on the Christian system itself.  By opening the Christian system, both disenfranchised Christians and non-theists can see Christianity in a new light...and it doesn't take a gimmick or marketing technique to do it!  They are both components of the same whole and both useful to radically hack Christianity.

So, dear anonymous reader, there's your answer.  Thoughts from the peanut gallery?


20 Oklahoma Reps object to Clergy Prayer

Wow, this is a short take, but since we talked about Rick Warren's invocation a bit, let's hit a bit closer to my hometown.  On the opening day of the new years' legislature, a UCC pastor gave the invocation .  And invocations are always recorded in the minutes.

But someone objected to it being recorded and placed in the official record.  Why?  Because the pastor is gay and referenced his partner in the prayer preface.  And since someone objected, it was put to a vote as to whether the prayer should be included in the minutes.  And this is where it gets both shameful and comical:
Twenty legislators, including Rep. Kern voted against recording the prayer. Sixty-seven voted in favor. And get this: as many as seventeen fled the room so they could be counted as absent.
Seriously, what kind of "hate the sin, love the sinner" is that?  Are 20 people really scared enough of catching gay that they would vote to strike a clergy's words from the minutes?


EDIT: Here's Rev. Jones' prayer.  THE BLASPHEMY!!!


Connection Drive

So, it's entirely possible, however unlikely, that you like this website.  And if so, there's a 30% chance that you would want to keep up with it and make it part of your daily or weekly routine.

If that's the case, and you want to join the conversation, here's some ways to connect with the HX community:
So there you go!  There's some new ways for you to connect with the HX community!

(hat tip to Pomomusings and Andrew Conard for also running connection drives and inspiring me!)


Godtube is now Tangle

A few days ago, Godtube, the Christian Youtube site with a high level of censorship for family-friendly content, posted that they would be changing their name:

And now we know what it is!  Godtube is now

I find it either (a) suspicious or (b) inspiring when Christian ministries remove God, Church, or Christ from their names.  I agree with the decision behind the change as the CEO guy talks about "church is beyond the four walls" and such...that's the sort of attitude we try to forment here at HX.

But I can't help but wonder if this is a purely marketing decision to remove the religious terms from the name and thus expand the base for reach.

I guess my concern is the "gotchya!" approach of so many Christian ministries...they put up the secular front and then after the person gets interested or clicks the link...GOTCHYA, it's a Christian thing!  I'm not pointing fingers away from me: my mad props given to the Bible Illuminated is exactly this kind of "gotchya!" approach that I thought was effective.  But there's a difference between starting a ministry as subversive, and turning an in-your-face ministry into a "gotchya" one.



A lot of my Friends are Samaritans...

A funny take on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Warning: some language and white anglo-saxon Jesus...if that offends you!

(hat tip: Philosophy over Coffee)


Gruesome Graph

This graph is scary beyond belief.  To interpret, the blue is the 1990 recession, the red is the 2001 recession...and the green is the past 13 months.

See more here.

If your church isn't talking about job losses, then you are out of touch with your community.  Period

Wake up and start talking about it.


Hoping your church visit is better than this...

Wow. o_0

(hat tip: Blind Beggar)


Liveblog: Homosexuality sermon at Church of the Resurrection

It's not everyday that a mega-church talks about gay issues. Below the fold is my liveblog (well, offline-liveblog) that I wrote while watching Adam Hamilton preach on Homosexuality as part of his church's When Christians Get It Wrong series. 

The series deals with a why young adults do not identify with Christianity, and to self-reflect and see if there are places where Christians get it wrong.  92% of young people surveyed said their #1 image of Christians is "anti-gay" according to George Barna, author of "UnChristian." While Adam repeatedly says this sermon isn't about letting childish ways dictate the church, but rather to let them hold us accountable to when we lose touch and possibly lose our way.  Indeed, if the stats are true and 5% of the population is gay, then 5% of his 16,000 member church is 800 people.  That's a huge number of people to care for!

Hence the sermon.  It's awesome, watch it.  Then check out the liveblog below the fold.

NOTE: The following is not an accurate rendition of Adam Hamilton's sermon as an artistic whole: the following are summaries, and possibly bad summaries.  Any critique or challenge that follows are not the judgment of one Methodist minister on another or attempts to interfere with another's ministry.  They are just reflections.

Why is Adam talking about this topic?  The world has changed.

  • When Adam was younger he said that people who said they were gay would be seen as having a mental disorder.  Thought it was a non-issue and he "didn't know any of them."  He just accepted it and didn't have to wrestle with it.  
  • But today, youth know gay friends and know them.  They are protective of their friends and have bad feelings when churches bash their friends. 
My Response: Familiarity breeds affection.  By an ever-more-inclusive culture coming forth, Christians have to discern which are society's permissiveness, and which are ways how God is calling us to grow in our outreach and inclusiveness.

The Debate about homosexuality is about how we read and interpret scripture. 
"This book is not a simple book.  To read the book oversimplistically is to do it a great injustice."
All Christians pick and choose which scriptures to follow.
  • Can't eat pork because it is unclean
  • Capital punishment for working on the Sabbath.
  • 401ks and retirement plans are storing up treasures on earth.
  • Women are to keep silent in the church.
  • Women's dress is to be plain.

Best line: Jesus says if your eyes or hands sin, cut them out.
"if you are a biblical literalist, please hold up your stubs for us."
Adam found many images of God which are difficult to reconcile.
  • In OT, God says to burn priests' daughters who are prostitutes...but Jesus sat with prostitutes.
  • 1 Samuel, God says to wipe out all the people: women and children too.  Did God really tell Saul that even the babies needed to die because of something their ancestors did?  But Jesus was forgiving on the cross.
My Response: This is an effective summary of the ways how we all interpret scripture and we don't follow the practices that are "clearly" contextual.  Thus a literalistic reading of Scripture is not only folly, it is not practiced.

Did God change or did human understandings of God change?
  • "Word of God" in the bible rarely means written word, but is used in reference to speech or the Holy Spirit or Jesus teaching.
  • Methodists believe the authors were not scribes who transcribed, but wrote through human beings who brought with them their own presuppositions and historical contexts. 
  • Adam sees Jesus as the word is the clearest Word of God we can receive.
  • Read everything through the lens of Jesus
  • "Don't simplify the bible into a weapon which hurts people, but to recognize its complexity."
  • Saul would have understood Warrior Gods that Jesus would probably not have recognized.
My Response: I would further push that the words of Jesus were also recorded by men and may also have been contextualized.  However, given that words or statements stick out like splinters in my mind, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.*  
*Except John's Gospel.
Additionally, Adam augments Wesley's lens and actually narrows it.  Wesley considered problematic passages against what he considered to be "The Character of God" which is more holistic than "The Lens of Jesus."  There's certainly theological girth to being a "red-letter Christian" and let Jesus' words trump the Scripture, but God seems bigger than that to me.

Primary Scripture is Peter in Joppa (Acts 10) with the sheet with animals that are unclean. 
  • That law is no longer enforced for Peter.
  • Paul figured out the entire law was a guide but not BOUND by the law.
  • Everything changed!  You are here today on a Sunday, not a Saturday, uncircumcized, eating bacon for breakfast because everything changed!
  • What do you think the Sadducees thought of Peter when he came back? 
  • Peter knew that God was doing something new.
My Response: Adam makes a great distinction between the law as BINDING and the law as GUIDING.  Since the law was no longer enforcable on Peter, he could eat unclean things and preach to the uncircumcized.  However, Peter could not throw it out, because it continued to guide him.

What Questions are best asked of the anti-gay passages?  Adam asks regarding these passages:
  • Leviticus 18&20, "does that accurately capture the heart and will of God for all times, or does that capture how people thought 3200 years ago."
  • Romans 1:26-27, "was Paul talking about Jewish understanding of natural and homosexual prostitution, or was he telling us that our children and grandchildren are considered shameful in the eyes of God?"
  • "Did Moses accurately capture the heart of God towards your gay children?" and in 4-5 other passages......or does God see our children differently than that?
RESPONSE: Adam is walking the tricky line between which scriptures do we contextualize and which scriptures do we universalize?  Are we contextualizing out of convenience?  Or are we truly listening to God offer us new instruction coming down on sheets with pigs on them* 
*metaphorically...if its literally, I would listen, man!

Why is this Pastor talking about this?  Why should straight Christians care?

  • Adam admits that complementary male-female IS the biblical norm.  But 5% of human beings don't fit the pattern. What are we to do with them?
  • Adam talks about how own experiences with queer people.  Names multiple young people who are remarkable and are gay.  
"The ones I really got to know were LITERALLY your children.  I baptized them, anointed them as children...This is one of your kids."
  • Adam asks "What are you gonna do with 5% of the church...I don't fully understand everything...But these are real people.
RESPONSE: Truly it is experience which changes our minds!

Closing: Jesus put people before rules.  (Jesus and the Syrophenician woman)
  • Isaac, Jacob, Moses met their spouses at wells: all virgins and perfect, probably.
  • But Jesus asks a multiple-married and co-habitating woman who is considered unclean for a drink.  And that is appalling.  They talk and she goes back to her town to tell them about Jesus.
  • So where in John 4 does Jesus talk about the rules about marriage FIRST before offering her living water?  Nowhere.
  • And this broken, sinning "unclean" woman becomes the first evangelist to her people.
  • Adam invite us to be those kind of Christians that love people first.  
And apparently, not a lot left!

Thoughts?  Rev. J has a few comments here to peruse as well.


Walmart Church Devours Small Churches

I was reading an article on a rural tiny church that now reaches 2000 people in a multi-site context...when a commentor struck a chord in my brain. 

I am all for the church growing through evangelism, but it sounds to me like [Brave New Church] is drawing less from the unchurched and more from people leaving another church to be a part of it. Of course, if they are getting saved through the ministry of BNC, that's great (and also a sad indication of the weakness of other congregations in terms of real evangelism). However, I wonder about whether there is a kind of "Wal-Mart effect" in small communities of having one large church with whom the smaller churches simply cannot compare programatically, etc.
Huh.  That's an interesting way to put it.  I have images of an Imperial Wal-Mart church coming in and offering a slick, packaged experience that sucks in all the fence-sitters in the town's churches. 

It has to be true: we see the phenomenon as mom-and-pop stores lose out to big-box stores, and local bookstores (ran by Meg Ryan, of course) lose out to Fox Books Borders.  In a consumeristic culture such as ours, is there any wonder that it could definitely be a part of the Church?

Of course, just because the Wal-Mart Church is happening doesn't answer the question if it is right.

In an interview with Ed Young back in 2006, he is asked this very thing: "Is there a danger of "Wal-Marting" nearby competing churches into oblivion"and Ed replies that "That mentality is like ants fighting over which one is going to eat the elephant."  But a contemporary at the time had much more to say:
Our country is full of consumeristic expectations which drives our “customer is always right,” “get it in a half an hour,” “have it your way” mentality...If you are inclined to see the church as a place to get your felt-needs met, then this model might work well for you since you can get the programs you want, in the amount of time you desire, with a well choreographed staff. Parking ministry, singles ministry, college-age, high-school, and youth groups galore might be exactly what you’re looking for.  
Hey, there's enough fish in the sea, right?  We should celebrate one church's success and be thankful that people are getting filled, right?  On one level, yes.  But on another level, like small stores that slowly are ran outta business no matter how amazing they are, churches could try to match Wal-Mart Churches toe to toe and end up getting burned and losing their mission and identity:
I say all of this because I am concerned that those churches which are trying to go deep with the gospel and see emotional/racial/social/and economic wounds healed, may feel the need to keep up with a monster like [the Wal-Mart Church] moving into their neighborhood.

Setting aside whether multi-site churches are too uniform and homogenous to truly get at the deep issues, what do you think about this concept of well-funded and method tried-and-true churches becoming multi-site and radically transforming rural communities?
  • Is this awesome in that it brings in new people and turns stagnant communities into viable places for ministry, churning out new or renewed followers of Christ in their communities?
  • Is this bogus in that it sucks away marginal members of small congregations who still fund or support the church and thus make it harder for them to remain in ministry in their particular niches, which the multi-site congregation may not pay attention to?
Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and we welcome all comments!

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Can we fill this gap?

As churches everywhere struggle over how to maintain ministry (either by firing staff or by cutting programs), the global Church as Peacemaker needs to realize a sobering statistic that may call for further sacrifice on our parts: missions to third-world countries

The scariest statistic to come down the economic pike in recent months? Not the ILO's prediction of 51 million unemployed worldwide in 2009. Not China's estimate of 20 million migrant workers in that country having lost their jobs. Not the projections of first quarter U.S. economic contraction passing the Fourth Quarter's 3.8 percent contraction at a trot. It's the Institute for International Finance's estimate that net private sector capital flows into the emerging world will fall in 2009 to one fifth their 2007 levels. That's, right, an 80 percent reduction in private sector cash into a group of fragile countries for whom such cash is the peace-keeper, the hope-giver.

Oh my.  Often it is the financial incentives that businesses offer that keep nations from fighting.  Without this capital, violence is surely to increase. 

Can the Church's missions and money possibly fill this gap and save thousands (if not millions) of lives? If so, why aren't we doing it?  Suddenly my church budget seems petty in the face of such a giant problem.



Can Your Jesus Love Porn Stars?

An important theological question to ask yourself is: "Are there people your Jesus shouldn't be in the midst of?"  Can your Jesus hang out with gangsters?   Can your Jesus be seen in a gay bar?  Would Jesus eat with Sarah, that wretch?

On the one hand, there's Ephesians 5, where Paul says that we are not to be "partakers" with sinners, and we are to have "no fellowship" with them.  But on the other hand, in Luke 7, Jesus has the equivalent of a lap dance from a harlot (yes, look it up).  So where is the line between condemning culture to show Christ's values, and mimicking culture to show Christ's love?

For those that want to bring the Good News, there are mission fields overseas and in the slums...and there are mission fields in glitzy Las Vegas where missionaries to the sex industry are starting a church plant.

XXXChurch is starting the process of starting StripChurch, a portable church (sans organist and pews) that will offer services (stop it, worship services) at sex expos and conventions.  XXXChurch has been doing this a long time, offering witness and free water to people (see articles here and a video on their website here), but this is their first foray into an actual worship presence in the midst of a sex expo.

While I applaud their mission, I'm hopeful that they move away from the trinket and tasteless missionary tactics they've used previously.  Printing bibles that say "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" is the right theology, but seems more like a trinket than a serious conversation-starter.  Driving around in the PornMobile and using a backdrop like Wally the Weiner (NSFW maybe) are gimmicky ways to witness to a fleshy culture.  Maybe since they are in the mission field they know the tactics better than me, but from an armchair perspective they seem to be more shock-value than conversation starters.

50 years ago Richard Niebuhr published Christ and Culture distinguishing the various ways how Christ and culture interact: Does Christ condemn culture, does Christ transform culture, does Christ mimick culture?  For the detractors of this ministry who correctly identify XXXChurch as "Christ of Culture" (thus mimicking culture to make Jesus contextual) I would say that Christ was often called "guilty by association" and I think he can take it.

What do you think? 
  • Is a mission to porn stars outside the realm of missions?  
  • Should missionaries embody and emulate the culture to the point of bible trinkets and edgy vans and inflatable sculptures? 
  • Can one really worship God on the floor of a convention hall?
And finally: "Are there people your Jesus shouldn't be in the midst of?

Discuss.  Welcome to our visitors and we welcome your comments!

(hat tip: Alan Hirsh)


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