My New Church

2002 / 3102 words

Part 1: Tongue Firmly in Cheek
Part 2: My Old Church
Part 3: My New Church


Part 1: Tongue Firmly in Cheek

My message to the evangelical church: don’t change. You’ve got it right.

This revelation came to me while I was walking through Walmart this afternoon.

In case you’re not keen on these things, Walmart is number one on the Fortune 500, with revenues of over two-hundred nineteen thousand million dollars. That’s 220 billion, if you round up to the nearest billion.

Church, why bother emulating Willow Creek, Cavalry Chapel or Saddleback when you have the ultimate example of a perfect, well-oiled, successful evangelical machine right in your own neighborhoods? Don’t mess around. Check out these winning techniques that your favorite and most successful churches do or should share with the most successful business/consumption machine in the world.

One-stop shopping

There is one important rule you need to get in your head: Once they’re in your store/church, keep them in your store/church. This means that you need to get things into your store/church that consumers would might otherwise have to go somewhere else to experience/consume. Your church may have a bookstore and a food court. Maybe even a Starbucks.1 But really we need to look again to Mr. Walton, setting our sights high–does your church yet have a hair salon? An optometry center? A portrait studio? If today’s church is to truly reach people with God’s Word and protect them from the evils of the World, we need to be providing these services. Don’t let the World steal these souls simply because they have no other option but to go elsewhere for their affordable family services!

Clear demographic research

What is Walmart’s objective? Sell shit. What kind of people do you find in Walmart? Consumers. We, as the church, need to do more due diligence on our most promising demographic. Did Walmart get to be number one only selling to upper-middle class white people with short hair and khakis? I don’t think so. Money doesn’t only come from people with deep pockets, church! Let’s get these people saved and tithing!

Exciting and meaningful clichés and rituals

Church, you are trying too hard sometimes. This whole praise and worship thing? Yeah. Again, let’s take a lesson from our champions of successful corporate culture:

The Walmart Cheer

Give me a W!
Give me an A!
Give me an L!
Give me a Squiggly!
Give me an M!
Give me an A!
Give me an R!
Give me a T!
What’s that spell?
Walmart!
Who’s number one?
The Customer! Always!

Let’s see how very easily this could be used to enhance your own organization’s culture:

Give me a J!
Give me a Squiggly!
Give me an C!
What’s that spell?
J-C!
Who’s number one?
The Customer! Always!

Come on Rick Founds, get crackin’.

Meaningless rules and doctrine

Oh, wait, we’ve got that.

A strong central leader

Church, do not bend to those who might think a non-hierarchical, decentralized leadership structure is good for the church! They are communists! Americans need to be led!

Be sure to choose your leader carefully using the following criteria:

A strong central and infallible text

Oh, wait, we’ve got that.

Seven points is the best, as it corresponds with the number of perfection

And don’t forget to request a Walmart in your neighborhood so that you can shop with greater ease and convenience and learn how to build a proper church.


Part 2: My Old Church

Salvation vs. seeking

I was at a “Christian” concert the other night and afterward, there was the obligatory “saved” speech.

Know for sure where you’ll go when you die?

None of the students in the room looked at all interested. In fact, the guy doing it was almost apologetic about the whole ordeal.

Just real quick…

We really do live in a Christian culture. Within the broader Christian culture is the evangelical culture. And that culture is inbreeding.

Children of this culture

Have seen the hypocrisy of a church that emphasizes the one-time salvation event but then continues with the rest of their lives in an unspiritual manner.

Are confused by a moralistic viewpoint that overlooks greed, dishonesty, and injustice.

Are wondering if being upper-middle-class, Republican, conservative, and conformist is all part of the package.

Why are they feeling conflicted about certain parts of Christianity and not about others? Why are they relating so much to the artists? Why do you have to tack on this false thing to the end of a great spiritual experience?

Those outside of the culture

A: have already heard it in one way or another and have just as propositionally made up their mind on the side of not believing in Christ

or B: are simply down-and-out, economically, socially. It’s easy to accept Christ as your “personal Lord and Savior” when your life is fine and you’ve already got it figured out. How much difference will He make anyway? You also actually have time for existential crisis because all your other needs are met already. This group needs the gospel of love. Eternal salvation will happen for them in the form of a little day-to-day salvation from their circumstances.

And those of us caught watching it all

In general, we see the battle between dark and evil as not necessarily over at “the prayer.” It’s a bit more complex than that, and so the emphasis on that is lessened. It’s more of a continuum. What would I have told those kids that night? “You want to know about salvation, about eternity? You are doing it tonight. If you thought a little less about yourself and a little bit more about God tonight, then you are doing it. You are working out salvation. It won’t end. It never really began. This is it. Keep living.”

The way I explain it, there are two kinds of people, those seeking after God and those not. There are just as many people seeking after God outside of the church, or even traditional religion, as there are in the church or religion. There are as many people not seeking after God in your pews every week—tithing, leading bible studies, singing worship songs—as there are outside of the church.

I want to be associated with those seeking.

Those not seeking

Consume media.
They consume marketing.
They consume brand.
They consume what Starbucks tells them.
They consume what’s on the radio.

And because they’re good Christians: They consume what the preacher tells them on Sunday morning.
They consume what the Christian book store, music industry, publishing industry, etc. tell them to.

They say: Feed me.
Just tell me.
Don’t make me think.
I produce so I can better consume.
I live so I can live better.

Seekers

Consume culture.
You consume words.
You consume thoughts.
You consume ideas.
You consume beauty.
Stories.

And you spit out meaning.
You form new culture.
Additional words.
Entire shifts in thought.
The geneses of ideas.
The stuff of beauty.
Your own stories.

You say: Teach me.
I create because I must.
Because I seek.
I live.

The bible vs. faith

Many people believe the bible to be either infallible, the foundation of our faith, or at least the word of God or “the truth.” I too held this view at one time. However, the bible is even more important and more powerful to me now that it doesn’t have to be any of those things!

The scriptures started out as an oral history that at some point was written down. Logically, there are many levels of error between that oral history and what we read today. Instead of fearing this possibility or explaining it away, for me, the scriptures are more valid now because they are awash in the human condition—that human condition of transcendence and existential crisis that marks real lives in search of a real God.

The Bible itself teaches faith; but the church, in its own teachings about the bible, teaches anti-faith—that faith is a belief in the bible as the complete revelation of God and the working out of faith as one’s ability to read and understand those words. Faith is at once much more and much less than that.

The Bible is first and foremost the story of redemption. It’s not a textbook. It doesn’t tell me that 1+1=2, that prayer and bible reading make a good Christian. It barely tells me how I even get redeemed! When Jesus did spend the time to just talk, it was mostly about social issues and getting by day to day while we’re here. Every time someone pressed him on the “heaven issue,” he gave them a different answer. Can you believe the nerve?

Your faith, if it is to be true, cannot rest on anything. Faith is not a thing that needs backing up—that would violate its own essence. Faith is a stand-alone system. It either exists or it doesn’t. I don’t have faith that 2+2=4 or that H2O is water; I was taught that. I was told that. I have faith that I will go to heaven and be with Jesus when I die. The bible didn’t tell me that. It hinted at it; Jesus said some hopeful things; but in the end, I haven’t been there. I can’t prove it. It’s faith.

Organization vs. organism

Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship. Then it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, then it went to Rome and became an institution, and then it went to Europe and became a government. Finally it came to America where we made it an enterprise.

– Richard Halverson

People in the church talk about it being this abstract thing, a nebulous group of people, a loose network of believers in similar things. But it’s never really happened.

Because people need organization. People need structure. People need governance. And the idea of government has seeped from our civil structure down into our social structures, the church included, and finally into our families.

If you take even the briefest glimpse back into the early history of the church you will find that you are practicing a Roman, state-controlled religion.

Go back one step from there and you find loose groups of believers so ramshackle that Paul had to write sometimes deriding letters to try and keep them in line.

One step further back and you just have a bunch of people getting together over dinner, with very little networking besides a couple of crazy apostles traveling through the region every year or so.

One step even further back and you have a rebellious social movement that has to hide out to keep from getting arrested and killed.

One step farther back and you have a cult of personality. A personality with no marketing, no technology, doing nothing beyond living his own life and teaching a very small group of friends along the way. 20 or so people and no one else in the whole world.

No money. No fundraising. No full-time ministry support network. Certainly no bookstore full of advice, truth versions, and doctrine. No positions. No hierarchy.

That church was a nebulous group; and even when Paul began putting their practice into more concrete terms, they were still that. He did not write to a group with strong doctrine, structure, or hierarchy, except for what they inherited from the the religion they were rejecting.

He actually was writing about the same issues we face now if we choose to pursue church outside of a modern, Roman model. Outside of hierarchy, money, and groupthink.

The church at its start was a seditious, rebellious group of activists and outcasts. Eventually, it recruited enough outcasts to make a problem. Rome ultimately assimilated it. Assimilation meant control.

And control they did, until now, when the authority, hierarchy, and structure of the institutional church is seen as biblical and from God.

Finally

Rome left us the idea of man as God.
America is leaving us the idea of brand as God.
The church is leaving us the idea of man’s God-brand as God.

All bow down and worship the new technology pastor’s well-funded multi-media cutting-edge super-cool world-renown projection of God on the wall. Once you get your Starbucks in the lobby why don’t you meet with one of our counselors up front here?


Part 3: My New Church

I’m writing this with my eyes still moist. A song has brought me to tears. I just had church. See, my new church has nothing to do with the church-as-we-know-it, or the Bible, or worship services. It has a little to do with community, and worship, but most likely not in the way you are used to framing those things. My new church has to do with artists, and by way of those artists, the art that they create. There is no way I can quantify or qualify my church enough to even get you to understand it; and in that sense this is a very frustrating piece to write.

For you to understand the moment I just had, the one that left my eyes wet and my heart soaring and my soul full of hope, you would have had to know an artist the same way I have, allow his music to soak into your soul the way it has into mine, come from the same place of lucid loneliness and longing that I am coming from. This worship, this experience of God, can never be replicated, not even for myself. I’ll see this artist perform this song and I will listen to this song many more times in the future, and those times will be pointers to this moment; but this moment cannot be duplicated, or even properly described to you. These moments in particular come at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected settings. This is my new worship.

This artist of whom I speak is part of a large community of artists who work from their hearts, struggling to express their passions in a world that just swallows what big media businesses feed it. This community expresses itself through smaller communities in neighborhoods, cities, and regions throughout the world. The internet helps locals keep track of events, or when someone is coming through, but on a whole this community is incredibly difficult to track down or, again—like the art it creates—quantify or qualify. This is my new community.

Many of us existing within the fuzzy gray scope of this community create. Once you find a thread through this body of work, it quickly becomes a somewhat overwhelming amount to consume. Enough so that you would never have to consume from the corporate culture makers and branders. There is so much amazing writing, music, paintings, digital works, sculpture, poetry, theatre, performance pieces, and other integrations being made by people that merely exist within our rat race economy—whether supported by their art or not (usually not)—so that they can pursue this passion which speaks deeper and spurs further than money or manufactured culture could ever dream of. This is my new text.

This is an unusually well educated community. Not just artists in the “normal” sense, but creative people in general. People who have thrown out their TV. People who have done away with their car. People who read more than I could ever imagine of. People who are continually educating themselves. People who do not take in anything without context—the context of their own lives and all of the interconnected lives that make up their world. People who don’t dumb it down for me but challenge me to smart up to their, sometimes difficult, perspective on things. This is my new learning.

This is a group that is more concerned than ever about the interconnectedness of our world. The fact that what we buy today to wear or eat could negatively impact people we will never see or even know about. The fact that there are many more people trying to deceive us for the sake of their own greed than there are people trying to show the truth about what’s really happening in the world. The fact that all things can be described from the paradigm of integrations and networks, and that if we say that something doesn’t concern us or effect us, then we are simply ignorant of the connections within that network. The fact that this is a vastly different world than that expressed in, for example, the Bible, and that this world, and its redemption, may take a lot longer to understand, and require a lot more context, than an hour’s lecture can provide. A group that is helping each other through new, and sometimes seemingly bizarre, connections within that network, to grow, learn, change, help, love. This is my new discipleship.

And everyday I see God, and the values he has expressed to me through Jesus; and not just Jesus but his whole history, our whole history, and the history we continue to make. I see him expressed by the people not trying to express him and I see, sadly, his love quenched by the very people trying to explicitly communicate “Christianity.” I see a community, I see generations, not at all “lost” or “in sin,” in no need of being evangelized or “brought the gospel.” I see a people seeking after him with all their heart, running into him daily, learning more about his person and his values all the time.

This is my new church.


  1. Come to think of it, only cool people who can afford $7.95 cups of coffee should be invited into the Kingdom! How else will it be built?