I have noticed that some of us younger types (I just turned 40, so I maybe I am using the term generously) tend to have a certain disdain for the older evangelical church culture of the 1950s-70s, say. We also don’t like the super-slick culture of the megachurches of the 1980s. So we have developed our own type of cooler, "more authentic" culture which is down on programs and up on simplicity. I’m all about it.
But more and more, I have seen more and more trust be put into developing the right kind of cool church culture, rather than a focus on the simple Gospel, regardless of what the church looks like. I can’t see how this is in anyway superior to the trust in the older church model which we disdainfully dismiss as inauthentic. This new culture itself is not bad, but I think some of us could major on it less. Perhaps the below chart will help make my thinking a bit more clear:
IN: Pub Discussion Groups
IN: Church planting
OUT: Discipleship structures
IN: Hanging out
OUT: Hair Spray
IN: authentic hair
OUT: Praise music
IN: RUF tunes
OUT: Welcome packets
IN: Hip websites
OUT: The Key: Bus ministry
IN: The Key: the right graphic design
OUT: Church Circles
IN: authentic Community, man
OUT: Zipper boots
IN: Birkenstocks (well, now Keens)
OUT: Special Sundays
IN: Weekly communion
OUT: Coffee Hour
IN: Coffee in worship
IN: Hanging out in coffee shops
OUT: Lots of programs
IN: programs we refuse to call programs
OUT: Proper Capitalizationhip
IN: non-threatening case usage
In rejecting what we think to be inauthentic, all we are doing in some ways is creating a new sub-culture which is merely more hip than our fathers. What we think is more authentic is simply a mirror reflection of the so-called "granola conservative" American sub-culture. (And then there are those that are taken with everything British, and so deliberately move their church culture towards that, in everything from furnishings to graphic design to high-sounding phrases. But that is another subject.)
Now, keep in mind that I tend towards all these things in the "in" column myself. But my point is that in the same way some folks were won over to the 1950s church culture rather than to Jesus, we can also attract people who are hip on our particular look, rather than being hip on Jesus. Don’t get me wrong – every church has to have a look and a culture of some kind. But I find myself wanting to deliberately pursue a particular look that I can feel good about – which desire has little to do with actually discipling people in Jesus.
This is why I think so many are drawn to church planting – the ability not to only to develop a church from scratch – but to make it look like ourselves, because after all, our own "look" is just right, and people should be more like us.
So what’s the answer? Make sure that your church culture is always secondary to the Gospel itself. Be content with the look or culture that the Lord has given to your church, ministering to those whom the Lord has brought. And most of all, do try to develop a distinct church culture – one not based on the look or feel, but one characterized by the things the NT puts forth as foremost – the fruit of the Spirit; the Beatitudes; the definition of love found in I Cor 13, to name a few.
But if you do this, you are then dying to yourself in one very important way – you will not be developing a particular look or movement that others can point to and emulate specifically. You will not make a name for yourself or your church. But when people do imitate you (as Paul encourages others to imitate him), they will be imitating Christ within you – and in their church, that might look different, thus robbing you of the chance to brand a movement in your image.
Finally, one last comment – it is inevitable that churches will to some extent look like their Senior Pastor – and it is neither wise nor helpful to try to prevent that altogether. But we are presbyterians. One of the coolest complements I heard about our church is that it reflects not just the Sr. Pastor, but the personality of the whole Session together. None of us has a corner on Christ’s "look" or character. But hopefully, as a group of elders, we reflect Him more or less fully (though all too dimly) to the congregation, and in way fitting to our particular community.
I suppose I am arguing for some sort of "Christ and Church Culture in Paradox" paradigm if you are familiar with Richard Niebuhr’s categories, but it’s been awhile since I read that book. The main is that I think we should think about it more, and stop trying to create a particular church culture over and above the simple culture of NT faith and ethics.
OUT: Writing out common phrases in emails
Chris Hutchinson, Blacksburg, VA************************************
There's much in here that explains my own denominational 'fuzziness' at the moment. Do I stay PCA? Do I look for something in the OPC? Or should I maybe entertain options in the URC, EPC, or one of the other 'C's?
Often times, it fluctuates week to week....and I think part of the reason is that all of our conservative, North American denominations exude a certain ethos that goes against "the simple culture of NT faith and ethics."
Oh well....that's life this side of heavenly glory!