I Don't Care About "Doing Church"...

I know "doing church" is really important for emerging/ent Christians. It's all lots of us talk about. In fact "doing church" is one of the most overused idioms I've heard in the last 5 years...

"Let's rethink how we do church."
"We need to do church differently."
"We're radically altering the way we do church."

Because what underlies far too much of this "doing church" business is a deliberate attempt to avoid confronting some of the real problems we're facing: religious beliefs that directly conflict with our own personal, organic, postmodern ethos (i.e. the truth I see in the world is not always the truth I see in 1st Century biblical text).

For example (and I'm not picking on them) Imago Dei in Portland doesn't want to deal with the problematic attitude that women are second-class and subordinate to men in the church, so instead of confronting that head on and facing the dangerous possibility of belief evolving (and ultimately, theology itself) they focus on "doing church" in a way that is appealing, hip, sensitive in attitude, but not in all subversive or in opposition to a prevailing, narrow, gender-oppressive evangelical belief structure.

I am not trying to diss on Imago; Rick McKinley is a nice guy. But for me, that's not good enough. A Christianity that truly cares about the world it engages must stand on something bigger than cultural tradition (shakily supported by perilous proof-texting). If I smile warmly to your face, but defend harsh, condemning beliefs in my heart, am I being truthful? Authentic? At least the guy standing on a crate with a picket sign tells you what he's really thinking...

In the last few years, I've had a lot of talks with a lot of good friends about "dream church" ideas: how would we do church if we could do whatever we wanted? An art gallery? A concert hall? A coffee shop? A tavern or a pub? How would we decorate it? Religious icons? Local art? What kind of music would we play? Trance-techno? Punk or alt rock? Accoustic by candlelight? Where would the people sit? Traditional pews? Couches? Big pillows? On the floor? At the bar?

Ok, I'm starting to sound cynical, and I don't mean to be harsh. But look - there are a lot of good ideas for how to "do church" in a way that's more fun or more approachable. And for those folks who really have hearts for preaching or worship ministries, or church-planting, I can see how these would be exciting brainstorms to have.

But a hip space doesn't mean better Christians. In fact, it could even mean the opposite: more COMFORTABLE Christians - which is the last thing churches should produce.

I don't want to find a better way to do church.
I want to find a better way to do life.

I don't want to be just a "New Kind of Christian," I want to be a "New Kind of Human," as Leonard Sweet puts it (a "true kind of human").

And THAT means rethinking the way we believe what we believe. And how. And why.


Existential Punk said...

RIGHT ON, Peter! You and i think so much a like but you express it in words that i struggle to find. i have been telling people i have a great online community but no church right now. i am cool with that. We do life with our friends by supporting one another, dealing with conflicts, having fun, etc. i don't need an outmoded church structure or one that is trying to be relevant. i have no time or patience anymore for that.

Thanks for a;ways hitting the nail on the head, or at least attempting to do that! ;) i know sometimes we hit our fingers when trying to hit the nail on the head!


A. D. Hunt said...

Thanks Peter for "The Word of the Lord"

Thanks be to God!

Brandon K. Baker said...

Great thoughts Peter. Coming to GFES and listening to professors and classmates like you has helped me realize that we don't need to find a new way to "do" church. We need to find a way to "be" the Church in our time and context.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with the "hip-ifying" of church. As Jesus denounced, we've become obsessed with polishing the outside of the cup while ignoring the inside.

James said...

I dislike the hip-ifting of the church, and it may just be because I am not hip, but do you really think that it is fair to reduce an entire community to "hip" and "sensitive in attitude."
I understand that you do not agree with Imago's stance on women in ministry, and I do not agree with their stance either, but I do not think that is a good enough reason to discuss the church the way that you did. You made it clear that you were "not picking on them" and "not trying to diss on Imago" but that is exactly what you did. You claimed that not only does Imago not want to deal with the issue of women in the church but they did not want to deal with it because they did not want to face the possibility of evolving. Really? How is it possible to make a statement like that and not be a diss? Are they really "doing church" as a substitute for dealing with the women in ministry? It is not as if they did not deal with the issue. They did. Imago just landed in a different theological place than you have. You can go onto Imago's website and read their position paper on what they believe. Instead of actually engaging their position you reduced them to a hip church for Christians to feel comfortable in with bad un-evolved theology, based on "perilous proof-texting".
I understand that he point of your blog was not about Imago Dei but for me the good message of "find a better way to do life" gets lost in all the negative rhetoric. One of the things that I love most about your blog is the kind and gentle way that you discuss those that believe different than you do. I wish that you could have made this very good point in the same spirit of kindness and understanding that you extend to most everyone else.

camsview said...

Your mention of comfortable is appropriate.
In places where it is impossible to be a comfortable Christian, there seems to be little focus on doing church correctly. Rather, it is seen as good when they can do any type of church at all.

Peter said...

James, thanks for the comment, you're probably right. I could have been more gracious. Usually I use Mars Hill Seattle as my dead horse, so I intentionally avoid mentioning Driscoll.

To use my own words against myself, I suppose it is perilous to critique a church, when living organism are made up of so much more than the sum of their parts. I know plenty of lovely people who attend there.

But I can't apologize for talking about something I find terribly hurtful and problematic in contemporary and emerging churches in America: doublespeak. Folks are invited into "open, accepting" communities with theologies deeply inconsistent with those attitudes.

Moreover, this is the same sort of critique I got every day, running www.ChurchRater.com a few years ago: "you can't talk about churches like this! It's the Body of Christ!"

Well, the Body of Christ is sick. And maybe petty blog critiques make it sicker, so I'll take that to heart. But if we can't have honest conversations about these most important issues in our lives, then we're complacent. And I don't want to be that either.

More intelligently? Sure, I could have done that. I read Imago's statement on women a year or two ago. It felt like an apology: "we're sorry, we don't want to believe this way, but we can't help it."

James said...

My critique was not you can't say that about the body of Christ, I have no problem with honest critique and dialogue. My problem is if you are going to critique a church then critique the church not a caricature of the church. I think that it is important to have dialogue on this issue and I agree that it is one of the most important issues that faces the church. But in order for dialogue to exist there has to be two sides, or at least a proper representation of the other side, to the dialogue. Because just one voice is not a dialogue it is a diatribe and I know that is not what you are going for.

rjlight said...

I am just so tired of doing church, changing church, reimagining church, and just that word church. I am so tired of visiting churches to only find out that they just aren't the one for you. I love Jesus, but do I have to go to church?

A. D. Hunt said...

Just to reiterate, I am in agreement - for the most part - with what Peter is saying.

For those frustrated with "doing" and "reimagining" church and all that. Might I humbly suggest the Anglican church? ie- The Episcopal Church

Peter said...

RJLight, yes, those words have become pretty tired and trite, haven't they? I'm not sure we "HAVE TO" go to church, but I have a hard time imagining following the way of Jesus without being in fellowship of some kind. I'm very very open to how that might manifest though.

AD, thanks for the sameless Anglican plug :) Actually, I'm very attracted to the liturgy of your church - so we'll see...

Brent said...

One critique I have is the word COMFORTABLE. Would complacent be a better word.

I want to be comfortable with who I am as a Believer. The more comfortable I am the easier it is to be myself in uncomfortable situations. For me, that is telling others about what God has done and is doing in my life. Not worrying about being perceived as crazy or delusional. Not a forced conversation but a comfortable one. With that comfortableness I would love being in what would be considered an uncomfortable situation. And recently I have been. It was odd and cool all at the same time. I want to continue to push myself into those kind of uncomfortable places.

But it does seem like a COMPLACENT christian is what the church might be producing, or it could just be human nature in a nation where so many things are about comfort.

As for the word I know I probably miss use words all the time and don't realize it. And I don't know if you even did.

Love you Man!
Keep bloggin

Peter said...

Love you too Brent, keep in touch here!

rjlight said...

It is funny that the Anglican church is mentioned. I met the most wonderful vicar from an Anglican church in England when I lived in Spain. It was a conference about rethinking church! (ha!) He confirmed my spiritual gift...why does that sound so weird? Anyway, he spoke truth into my life and I have the utmost respect for him.

nadine.w said...

Just because we wear jeans instead of suits, meet at coffee shops instead of chapels...doesn't mean we're really transforming our church. We're just tweaking the style but keeping the same dispositions and perspectives. True transformation and reformation is a change in disposition...a change in heart, not just the outward appearance.

Anonymous said...

Hey, man. I've thought about your critique of Imago Dei in Portland, and this sentence of yours stuck out: "Folks are invited into 'open, accepting' communities with theologies deeply inconsistent with those attitudes."

Are you being "open" and "accepting" when you demand that Christians conform to your single interpretation of that text? Considering the broader Church history, you might have to admit that Imago's stance represents the wide, overwhelming majority of Christian interpretations. Is this because they are close-minded?

I guess I need to get hip to the scene and realize that it is good to demand that everyone believe and behave precisely the same way that I do. Then, we can have "unity" my way. Thanks for correcting me.

A. D. Hunt said...

Wow anonymous, you're so right (and brave). If there's anything those of us who read Peter's blog have thought, it's that Peter insists that everybody read the Scriptures like him.

Nail on the head!

A. D. Hunt said...

btw, obviously I was being sarcastic. I'm with Peter

Peter said...

Haha, A.D. thanks. You're a good friend ;)

Anonymous, I guess if you read this individual post, you could draw that conclusion. I won't get overly defensive.

But my biggest complaint is not that Imago Dei has conservative or "orthodox" or traditional beliefs. It's that Imago, Mars Hill Seattle, and many other outwardly progressive/culturally-relevant churches aren't really offering the "product" (forgive me) that they advertise. I think (I observe) it's bait-and-switch.

"We give you 'RELEVANT' till you're 'in.' THEN we'll tell you about our theology..."

james said...

It is interesting that you say that the issue is not with the traditional beliefs because really that is where the issue lies. It is these churches theology that keeps them from taking the last couple steps to being a "real progressive/relevant" church. I am curious what product they are advertising? They are pretty straightforward about where they stand theologically on their website. So, bait and switch, really? Do you really think that they have some sort of nefarious intent? I understand that you have a fundamental disagreement with both their methodology and theology. But, it is not like they are some slimy used car salesmen, switching out a clunker for a shiny new car.
I consider myself to be far more culturally progressive than the denomination that I have grown up in, but, my theology will not allow me to do certain things. Progressive seems to be a very relative term and if you are going to say that something is not progressive, acknowledge what you are really saying. And that is, They are not as progressive as me/us, because it seems like that is what you are getting at.

Howard Pepper said...


I like your comment, I think in the original post, of "doing life" as the real objective. That is certainly more the point than how any church (or regular gathering for worship, fellowship, etc.) looks culturally, in its style, etc.

At the same time, any group WILL have core theology (or in biz terms, "core values,") that guides it, and may not be apparent until one is "inside" a while (cf. your "bait and switch" comment). From what I hear of Mars Hill and virtually any nontraditional but still basically orthodox (Evangelical, etc.) church, they are still tied to certain integral (i.e., virtually required) dogmas. Most central is the blood atonement concept. Certainly this is "biblical," but is it "right?" Is it indeed a God-revealed truth about a requirement for reconciliation with God? Or more a product of evolving human concepts of what it is thought that God wants. For a couple radical but important reads, has anyone tried one of the many by Neale Donald Walach entitled "What God Wants?" Or, for a much more step-by-step logical and biblically-literate critique of the very core of Evangelicalism, "The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth" by Seattle psychologist Valerie Tarico? (Who I incidentally know has visited Mars Hill as an observer, and whose history was long, deep in Evangelicalism.)

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