You might find this interesting, I did.
Posted today at Life Under the Blue Sky: The View From Below, so to Jerry for finding it!
Today, I went to Bismarck Evangel Temple, sat through the worship and most of the sermon, and then…walked out before it was done.
I don’t blame that church; it is my own inability to fit that literally forced me to leave. I don’t really doubt their sincerity, and that many people love the programs and opportunities that church provides. I’ve even found, in the past, a few sermons to be interesting. But…
I believe what I believe — my Christian faith — not because of tradition or because I was raised that way. Not because I want fire insurance or hell-avoidance. Not because I want to find a group or place to belong. I believe it on my own, I believe it to be real, I believe it to be important and valid, and I believe the way we have made Christianity out to be is completely wrong. And that’s why I have such a hard time going to church as it is now done.
Reaching people with trendiness
A recent cover story at World Magazine about “NextGen Worship” inspired a strong desire to smack the pastors depicted in the article and in the photos. The cover photo alone enraged me, with the pastor wearing baggy jeans and untucked button-up shirt with flip flops and an ear microphone. Later, the same guy is shown out front of a church holding a paper Starbucks-like cup of coffee. Could he try any harder to be lame?
I’d have liked to have taken that cup of coffee and dumped it on his head. But it’s nothing personal against that guy or his beliefs or sincerity. It’s an anger at something else.
I’m not going to be one of those starched-collar Christians who, based on personal preference, say that this is a sign we’re going to hell in a handbasket and that all things are wrong unless they are done as they were with the Puritans. What I’m saying is that I can’t stand the phoniness, or trendiness, or sameness — or whatever I’m trying to say here — that the church seems to catch onto at the tail end, not even aware of how lame it is. The fact that this is not only actually successful in appealing to people, but attracts them, also disgusts me.
It makes me want to throw up.
It’s buying into some kind of lie or substitution of cool culture as being relevant when it isn’t.
If I see another cool Bible college student or pastoral studies major wearing the hemp choker necklace, flip-flops, open-at-the-collar shirt that’s untucked, and baggy jeans, saying words like “dude” and “sweet”, I will kick their *##. It’s like the Christian version of annoying hipsters, an overly-studied and homogenized “with-it” faux coolness.
Perpetual youth group culture
In recent conversations with a couple of my girlfriends, I expressed an extreme disinterest in Christian guys of my generation.
“I’ve pretty much had it with Christian guys,” I said. “The main problem is that they are ‘guys’ for too long and never become men.”
They are, I theorized, stuck in the youth group culture. The church has encouraged them to never leave that mentality, and so it takes until about age 35 for them to extract themselves into adulthood-land where the women have been waiting for years and have been steadily growing fed up. Men not raised in this evangelical youth culture, I’ve noticed, tend to be vastly different in maturity level.
Youth group culture is a place of video games and pizza parties and perpetual “here we are now entertain us” (thanks for the lyrics, Cobain). When youth leave the appropriate age level (i.e. graduate from high school), they face a difficult moment, a moment made difficult because of age segregation, which I’ll talk about next.
Instead of helping them get on into adulthood, we’ve introduced single’s groups — in the name of helping the unmarried, of course — which are mainly youth groups for those in their 20’s. Which, instead of helping people not be single actually encourages them to never grow up and, instead, use the group as their relationship fix. I see this particularly with Christian guys, this stunted maturity, and it somehow seems to permeate Evangelical culture today.
It would behoove some of the leaders in church to read The Death of the Grown-up. While some of the book becomes a little too nostalgic for specific generations and, oddly, jazz music, it nails it on the idea of how we segregate by age and, sadly, create a self-feeding monster that means teens look to each other for cues and kids look to each other for cues, and the adults “leading” them are pandering to them to get their attention. The end result? Idiocy. Never-growing up. Never asking for behavior beyond what we have let them tell us is normal for their age. They only learn to function in their age level and have no examples or incentive to reach beyond that and mature. We make no demands on their behavior, only bemoan its current state.
The church is especially notorious for doing this. We have kid’s ministries and youth ministries and young adults and older adults — all separated from each other because of age, thereby negating any positive and necessary influence the different ages might have on each other.
The children are removed from the boring main service for their benefit, and the parents get a break. The youth are in youth groups and, consequently, only learn to be youth and actually intensify the silliness of their age by reflecting off of each other. The adults trying to lead the youth fall for the idea that unless we have games and parties and other dumbed-down stuff, we can’t keep their attention.
Why would we be able to keep their attention? We’ve let them take ours and tell us how to treat them. We’ve taught kids and youth to expect to be entertained and now we are in a vicious cycle on how to up the quotient and keep their attention. This is magnified and made even more ugly in a church setting when we try to find a way to insert the gospel into this machine of age segregation.
Focus on the family
Churches now tend to focus on the family. This is good, if you have a family. But, for those of us who are not married or do not have kids or a family, it really sucks. Sure, there’s the obligatory single’s group (which tends to peter out by the 30’s and those still left, at that point, can fend for themselves), but the focus is really on the family unit, and raising children.
Today’s sermon at church, for example, was on the importance of children’s ministry. I walked out at the part where we were told, as the call-to-action part of the sermon, to do our duty and sign up for the various children’s ministries. This was right after the explanation that children’s ministries accounted for the largest chunk of the church’s budget because kids won’t pay attention if you just show up with a Bible; you have to have all kinds of programs and themes and activities…
I had to.
I don’t know that the minister was wrong, though I think he was in some things he said. I am sure parents appreciate the ability to leave their kids at children’s church and know they’ll have activities and learn a Bible story or whatever, but it annoyed me.
If it isn’t a sermon about marriage, it seems to be a sermon about family. I’ve pretty much had it. The only answer I get, as a single, is a few verses by Paul which are supposed to make me feel good about being single since it’s “the higher road” or some such crap. And then we go back to another sermon directed to those on, I guess, the “lower road.” Or, I’m encouraged to find the other single women of my “advanced” age since the singles group doesn’t really reach up that high anymore.
Whatever. I’m not looking for a program or ministry geared for me and my situation. I’m just looking for people to connect with and be church with. I’d like marrieds and singles and old and young in that group. I’m not looking for easy homogenization.
It won’t work
As it is, I, and others like me, will walk out of churches. The coffee bars in the foyer, the casual attire, the buzz words, all the programs and activities imaginable, the big-screen video monitors, the contemporary music — it is actually repulsive and fake to a large chunk of people.
These are the people churches aren’t aware of, because they aren’t anywhere near a church. They slip in, walk out, and aren’t even missed. They don’t fill out visitor cards. They don’t want to be part of a flow chart or be managed as part of a Church-as-Corporate-Hierarchy system. They don’t want a polite follow-up call or to hear a voice on the other end say that they just wanted to “touch bases” with them to let them know they’re important. Even if those actions are sincere and the only plausible route when a church is so huge, they ring insincere.
Such people, like myself, sound impossible to reach or include in the system of church as we know it today, which is my point. They way we do church today isn’t necessarily being church.
There needs to be something else for those of us who can’t stand the way services are arranged, the way emotions are herded into a set time frame (which today involved — what was impossible for me — going from the whole congregation doing “the wave” as instigated by the children’s pastor into, about ten minutes later, “surrendering to Jesus” with soft piano music and hushed tones), how discussion is nil and being preached at in silence is the accepted method of learning…
…nope. Not gonna work.
I’m not looking for starched Baptist legalism, but Casual Friday Church is as equally fake and disgusting.
I miss my own, small church, from back home. It’s filled with uncool, normal people who just want to help and talk and connect and be real and accountable to each other. It’s filled with people who want to go to the Dairy Queen after service and maybe have an ice cream cone. People who help change a flat tire in the parking lot. The building isn’t huge or fancy. The church doesn’t have programs and any other accessories to attract sub groups, like teens or kids events or anything that smacks of entertainment; there’s no program there to attract me to stay, but instead, it is the real relationships that have done the trick. We greet people not as a job or because we’re the assigned greeter, but because we see they’re new and we want to get to know them.
I feel more like part of the body than an attendee when I go there. I have a place, an integral part, just like all the rest of the people. As it is, the more I attend these larger churches and hear about programs and activities and see places to sign up for classes and possible facility expansion projects…the less I want anything to do with it. I feel like a barcode in the pew, and little else.
I’m having difficulty putting this into words.
I hate to church hop. I don’t want to waste my time here going from one church to the next. I would like to find just a small group of people and meet and talk about our beliefs and struggles and study the Bible and connect on a real level, and let that be church. Because isn’t that what the church is, meeting together with other believers and being accountable and real with each other in our walk?