24 November, 2005

No More Church for 'Them'

Karl emailed some of us this post by Ryan Bolger and I thought here might be a great place to discuss it. Ryan argues that it is pointless to create "relevant" churches or church services because the reality is that they simply will not be. Church is weird. Lets face it. He goes on to argue (and I totally agree with this) that,

"What Christians need to do is create meaningful worship through bringing their very own lives to God. Worship must reflect the culture of the community that is currently part of the church, not replicate current worship CDs, nor 1980s soft rock, nor 18th century hymns. Instead of mimicking other church cultures, the community collectively brings their own idiosyncratic ways of life to God, whatever they may be."
I have been thinking the same thing recently. Not only should the structure/form of the church emerge out of those in it, but the worship too should come from those involved. Thus we don't rely on the newest worship songs out there (nor the oldest ones) to facilitate our worship but we bring the ways we worship God to the community (which indeed may be those worship songs but I hope there are many more ways also), creating a unique expression of worship. Unique in the sense that it emanates from the gifts God has given specifically to us to return to him.

Bolger continues by pointing out that evangelism is not brining people to church, but is being missional, going to the 'them,' presenting Christ in everyday life and not in our evangelical sub-culture.

Bolger goes on to note that by focusing on the Church services as the core of what church is simply perpetuates the the mythical secular/sacred divide, it perpetuates the laity/clergy split (implying that only those paid for ministry do it), and it perpetuates a producer/consumer faith.

Bolger finishes up by presenting some alternatives.

This post was great, in my mind, at distinguishing the main differences between the seeker sensitive models of church and the emerging/organic model we are finding ourselves in conversation with. In other words, it helps explain why the picture below is a bit confusing.

(I found this pic. over at
Andrew's Blog)



knnuki said...

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last week or so since sending to all of you [not to self:be careful what you send to Matt, or it's likely to end up on the Journey blog site!]. It is so important to think beyond the totalitarian regime that is church-as-services. Where the heck did we ever come up with a church service anyway? If people were interested in services, they'd be going already, since there are plenty of them out there to attend. But more and more, these services are not being attended.

Unless, of course, you happened to watch Priest Idol on channel four the other night: a British show in which an ambitious priest from the US is brought in to revive the flagging fortunes of a dying catholic church somewhere in the UK. He hires a marketing company, goes door to door in the neighbourhood passing out lightbulbs (church "lite"!) and attracts 200 folks to an upbeat service.

Okay, so some might come to a service. Once. But then there's the problem of how exactly to engage people with Jesus. Why not start with engagement with people - and Jesus - and see what goes from there?

Anonymous said...

Hey Karl, sorry if I posted this against your wishes. Not my intention. But ya, probably a good idea to add a note - "Matt please don't blog this" if you have a reason for it not to be.

I agree with what you're saying here, I think it is the primary difference between attractional models and missional ones. Attractional being service oriented, and missional beginning with relationships in the community, existing as a church there. However, there are some issues for missional churches, specific to culture in Ireland. For example, I was talking to a friend the other day and while we noted a growing trend among Irish Evangelical Churches to be evangelistic (meaning, starting new church plants, going out into the streets and praying, etc.) there still seems to be a tendency to view church as a service. Not service in the sense that it is an event that we go to on Sunday mornings but "service" in the sense that it provides a product to us, as would the local butcher or grocery store. And to be honest, much of this is due - in my personal opinion (no research here) - to the history of the church in Ireland. Here we see a parish which covers an area and will send out a request for dues every year to maintain its services. Part of that service is indeed Sunday mornings, but another large part is things like counsel, funerals, weddings, moral upbringing, etc. Thus, not much is expected of each congregation. Rather the clerics are the ones from whom much service is expected. Sure there are those of laity who contribute to church activities but they tend to be the minority - people who are viewed as 1. having too much time on their hands 2. are being hyper-spiritual or 3. are on a journey searching for God (or God's approval). But what does this have to do with the missional movement you are suggesting Karl?

Well I think it puts in place an initial road block for both evangelicals and Catholics joining/starting missional movements. For one, while there is a very relational life in Ireland, with our pub-life, housing community life, our value of friendship, etc. but this does not necessarily easily translate into relational church. Why? Because of expectations. Most of my catholic (and protestant) friends seem to take a segregated view of their faith and life. By this I mean that many people still value church (and even those that do not but still consider themselves spiritual) often separate that church life from the rest of their life. They compartmentalize. For example, they have their spiritual life, and their friend life and their work life, etc. Sure they mix a bit but much of their perceived health comes from the fact that they shouldn't. So, while it may be perfectly normal to discuss religion at the pub or at home, you'd be nuts (or even worse, a cult) to claim you have church in your kitchen. Church is church because it maintains its life as a service for the community not when it tries to break that perceived notion down. Even in the evangelical community (where many a house church exists) it becomes odd to say that church is happening at the local pub or that you may never even desire a building someday. Now, this is not to say that missional church expressions cannot happen here, nor that they won't happen here (indeed, I think they are already happening here) but rather that we realize the specific perceptions of church in society and realize that even though a missional church seeks to engage Irish culture where it exists, a missional church is still counter-cultural in a sense when it comes to Ireland

Second, because Ireland has a history of church as Sunday morning services, it may well be that there is still a need for services from an attractional standpoint (just because we are missional doesn't mean we're anti-attractional)

Third, because there is an expected clergy/laity divide in catholic, protestant and evangelical churches across Ireland it will always be tough to see people engage in church with their whole lives. The expectation will be that those in leadership will get the service going, and while they may attend a small group of even head up a Sunday school class every once in a while the idea of church being dependant on their participation is frightening and way outside many a person's comfort zone. You go to church and it enriches you, how can it be enriching when it is dependant on what I bring to it? This is why I think the missional church may have a rough road ahead of it in Ireland.

That said, I think there is some great hope for the missional church in Ireland too. Specifically because Ireland is changing. It has become a culture accustomed to change. Different ideas pour in as different nationalities arrive. What was effectively a mono-culture 10 years ago has become very multi-cultural today. Growing up I remember feeling very exotic when I told someone I was from California. Not so today. Almost half of the people in our neighborhood are expats or have lived outside of Ireland for at least 5 years. Different ideas of church might just have some solid ground in this changing society.


knnuki said...

You didn't post this against my wishes. No problem. I was merely surprised!

And yes, I have heard others say some of the things you've said: Ireland has a long history of church packaged in attractional models, the clergy/laity divide, the relatively high number of people still attending mass here (among the very highest in Europe) compared to other places. All these factors do make Ireland different, special. And it is true that I have little experience in this culture - there is much I don't know about catholicism, and about spirituality in general, here. All of these I admit!

I remain eager to see "what it really takes" to reach folks here with a message I'm convinced very few have every actually encountered (that would be the gospel). What'll it take? Not, sure, but exploring. Great to interact with you - and others - on this, Matt.