Monday, September 10, 2007

It's Not About Programming; It's About Culture

It is very telling to me that in some of my remarks on rethinking/reforming the way the evangelical church does worship and ministry, the more adversarial responses automatically assume I am calling for a return to choir robes, stuffy and dry sermons, 100% hymns sung to organ music, etc. For those trained to think programatically, it is hard to switch gears.
But while what I and others are calling for has implications and applications for style and how we do worship and ministry, the call to reformation is deeper, more philosophical. It operates from theological convictions, not from aesthetic ones.

When my church's former pastor got the boot last year, at his first rally in a nearby park, I recall him immediately employing the scare tactic of warning us that our elders kicked him out because they wanted to turn the church into an inward-focused, traditional, "for churchy people only" institution. (The irony of course is that under his leadership, our church could not have been more inward focused than to exist pretty much entirely to put on a "spectacular" weekend service.) He knew how to play the programming card, to invoke the boogeyman of boredom.
And of course we all know there's no fate worse that can befall a Christian than to have to endure a worship service that is anything less than "exciting." Right? :-)

What we are dealing with, however, is not a crisis of programming or style, but a crisis of culture. This is why I say I am passionate about the reform of the discipleship culture of the Church. Because everything we do in our local churches, from the service to small groups to missions work to whatever, flows from the collective values of the community's identity.
Because of the state of the modern Church's collective values and community identity, the call to reform cannot be met merely by offering alternative programming or adding an "emerging" service or what have you. We're messing with DNA here.

And so the going is slow; the work requires patience and investment. It requires commitment, faithfulness, obedience. As Eugene Peterson would say, "A long obedience in the same direction."
This is not easy. Particularly when you are trying to do this stuff within a community that doesn't value it yet. People want results, numbers, success. Explaining that values that took (charitably) 20 years to form may take 20 years to reform is likely to receive blank looks, if not panicked ones.

I see elements of our "troubling" vision for Element in this bit from Out of Ur's interview with Dan Kimball:
Because they’re not addressing the deeper, philosophical, theological issues, they’re just changing their style?

Some churches only change the style or add an alternative Sunday night worship gathering to see younger people come to the church and consider that to be missional or emerging. That’s a wonderful hope and worthy motivation, but usually that isn’t addressing the deeper issues. Adding an alternative worship gathering to an existing church is very difficult because the philosophical DNA not going to be different. Being missional requires an ecclesiological change.

That’s why I never recommend starting an alternative gathering with a different pastor in an existing church. Being missional must impact the whole of the church, not just a department within the church. That’s why most churches-within-a-church don’t work and why we are seeing so many church planters. It’s hard to change an existing church at this deep a level. It’s not impossible, but it is a lot harder than just changing the style of an alternative worship gathering.

Uh huh.
Being missional requires an ecclesiological change.
Yes.

Reformation is messy business. (At least nobody's killing each other this time around. One hopes.)

I am finding myself having to explain the vision and values of Element every week, and re-explain them. A mere six months in, and the fear that "it's not working" is in constant need of addressing.

It is wearying trying to sell our churches on the notion that what they've been selling for so long doesn't work. It is difficult suggesting that the service-centered approach to reaching the lost has failed. It is a delicate thing to suggest that we have not exalted Christ and we have not glorified God and therefore we haven't really served the people we've claimed to.

And yet for some of us inside this culture, slogging away at discipling the culture into a more vital discipleship, it is incumbent upon us to, in our hearts and minds, say "Here we stand. We can do no other."

7 comments:

ROD WILLETT said...

you need to read this guy:
http://www.pastorrod.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

What is offered, is eaten. Bottom line, the culture of a Church is dictated by it's teaching.

I always come back to this point. The Church is for believers. It where believers sharpen each other and the Word is taught and expediency is rejected. We're so wrapped up in a corporate and competitive culture here in Nashville. Instead of the Word, we see such an emphasis on strategy and replication of "what works." But do the ends justify the means ?

Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about creating an environment where people "accept" Jesus. We've taken a high and Holy God and reduced him to a component for better living. A lot of people find a buddy Jesus in these environments and don't really deal with the stain of sin in thier lives.

That's right. You can learn how to deal with difficult people, win in the work place, and avoid mediocrity all without giving up your will.

I'll take Savior for $200 Alex. ( not Lord )

Nathan

hamster said...

In our church in Singapore, we emphasise (sometimes even then too little) the need for songs and preaching that is Bible-centered and God-centered. Meaning we actually look through the songs we sing rather than sing those that sound nice or give us the best "feeling". Which limits our choices but also opens doors for creativity (write our own songs).

My parents-in-law come from a very conservative background, and when they visited, they were so shocked by the quality of our lead singer (a very rich voice) and the presence of a live band (drum set, some guitars, single row keyboard - our church sound system wasn't the best, definitely not "megachurch" material) that they immediately told my wife and me that we must be careful of charismatism.

You never win...

On another note, this site has songs that tend to be rather Biblical while maintaining a very nice tone. I've found it very helpful.

http://emu.mu/

God bless,
hamster

Ken said...

Jared,

If your call to reformation is "deeper, more philosophical"...operating from theological convictions, not aesthetic ones", why do you begin illustrating/prefacing so many of your remarks with aesthetic references (specifically your indictments of the more contemporary elements of worship)? Do you feel as though us adversarial responders are incapable of being engaged with the deeper points?

It sometimes appears as if your judgements of contemporary worship are, in appreciable measure, the foundation of your convictions (don't overreact, I said "appears").

I'm concerned that your constant resorting to sarcasm when discussing these "aesthetic" topics will give rise to folks questioning the depth of your "theological" convictions (it's amazing how much you and Driscoll have in common...personality-wise)

I really appreciate your passion to reform discipleship culture and the way in which you make me re-think the mission of the church. Howvever, more often than not, I am also left wondering why you feel compelled to resort to petty accusatory remarks to make your points.

...not looking for sugar-coated, entertaiment-centered church commentary here, just something beyond the predictable hypercritism.
Thank You.
Ken

Jared said...

Ken, good questions. Not sure I understand exactly what you want to hear from me, but I think I can respond to the subjects you've brought up.

f your call to reformation is "deeper, more philosophical"...operating from theological convictions, not aesthetic ones", why do you begin illustrating/prefacing so many of your remarks with aesthetic references (specifically your indictments of the more contemporary elements of worship)?

It is a point of entry into the discussion. From a writer's angle, it is a "hook." People have opinions about aesthetics, they notice styles, so I use them as illustrations and examples. Illustrations and examples aren't the meat of the posts.

My belief is that the aesthetic/style stuff derives from our philosophical/theological convictions.
Driscoll talks about this a lot.

It is not to say that "Contemporary music is bad." If you were to attend Element, the service for younger people I teach at every week, you would encounter a cafe-like setting, worship music using electric guitars and loud drums and colored lights over the stage (if it wasn't an acoustic night or something).

I am not hung up on style vs. style.
But I do think the church has led with style, has indiscriminately made an idol of style, so I do think it necessary to talk about the role of "programming" and aesthetics a lot.

It sometimes appears as if your judgements of contemporary worship are, in appreciable measure, the foundation of your convictions

Maybe so.
I can only clarify, I guess, and say that my convictions about the use of style, the use of technology in worship, is derived from my convictions: style is relative, but not neutral. Technology should be leveraged, not idolized.

I think there is a difference, for instance, between opening a service with a theme-related secular song as walk-in music and using an REM song in the worship set.

I think the Church has adopted a practically indiscriminate affection for technology, an "anything it takes" mentality, to where innovation for the sake of innovation has taken over. It has become about people being fulfilled in their giftedness, and whether or not something glorifies God or actually contributes to the biblically defined purpose of a worship service becomes almost peripheral.

I'm concerned that your constant resorting to sarcasm when discussing these "aesthetic" topics will give rise to folks questioning the depth of your "theological" convictions

This may happen in the isolated reading of blog posts.
In the context of the whole blog, I would hope it would happen less.
In the context of all I've written here and elsewhere, I would hope it would happen even less.

And in the context of real life, which is what really matters, for the people who know me, work with me, live with me, go to church with me, and otherwise interact with me in community, I trust they see me as more than my snarky opinions.

Howvever, more often than not, I am also left wondering why you feel compelled to resort to petty accusatory remarks to make your points.

I'd be willing to address which accusatory remarks you find petty, if you'd point them out. Perhaps some are.
Perhaps that is how you read criticism of people.
I don't know.

I don't believe I've been petty.
I believe I have been sarcastic and I know I have been "strong" in my opinions (I wonder if you are on the blogs of some of the "other guys" whom you may agree with asking them about their tone, which is frequently warrior-like and strident and dismissive of people who disagree with them).

In any event, if all you see is criticism used to make my points, you're not reading. Or the criticism just sticks out to you.
It's there, obviously. But if all of my points were made by being critical of someone else, I would be more inclined to see merit in your insight.

In any event, when one is challenging the status quo, it only seems logical that one has to demonstrate or point out deficiencies in the status quo. How could I argue for future change if I can't mention or delineate the current problems?

Ken said...

Jared,
I guess what I'm saying is you're a young man of rare theological depth, conviction and conversation who - contrary to agent/publisher instruction - doesn't always have to rely upon a writer's engagement principle ("hook"); wherein a heaping helping of anecdotal evidence/opinion is served up with a side of sarcasm...just to get the readers' attention. As I said, I appreciate the "strength" of your passion, just not the "snarky" stuff. Over the years, I've witnessed generalizations in the church that served to destroy rather than build-up.

On the "anything it takes" mentatity, I too am tired of seeingly "everyone" worshiping at the altar of the service-veneer wearing an insincere mask of sincerity. But I truly don't think it's indeed, "everyone". Just as I don't think it's "all" large/megachurches that have failed in their mission

Regarding my reference to "petty" accusatory remarks...well, forget I used the word "petty". It was an unneccessary modifier. Forgive me, your the writer and I'm not (obviously).

And finally, perhaps you're right...maybe I'm over-interpreting the criticism.
Thank you for sharing your gifts with me and the others.

Ken

Jared said...

You're welcome, and thanks.

I don't believe it's "all" megachurches either. Not sure if I've ever said, but if I did, I didn't mean it and I was wrong.
I do think the problem is widespread.

We'll have to disagree on the "hooks." Part of that is my personality, which includes humor and sarcasm. Part of it is that I think examples, illustrations, "sharp" criticism (Doug Wilson is helpful on that), etc. makes for good and engaging writing.

I don't wish to be uncharitable, deceptive, or divisive, however.
I am not perfect at anything I do, writing included.