Monday, March 05, 2007

The USAmerican Luxury of Church Hopping

Sasha Savich is a good, truth-telling brother.

I wrote earlier about his thoughts on our USAmerican "cheap grace." With our "repeat after me" prayer followed by our rock-solid affirmations of eternal security, we produce a cadre of people convinced of heaven when they die without any shred of evidence that the seed of truth has taken root in the soil of their lives. I don't think this "gospel" is either Jesus's or Paul's.

Sasha is stunned by another USAmerican church feature. We have the luxury of church-hopping. We are so use to this feature that it is hard to understand the spiritual horror that this feature generates in our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. With our franchizing everything in the USA, including church, we cater to the consumer mentality, to the shopper spirit, to the hopper syndrome.

I report this to Sasha and he sucks in his breath like I am lying to him. I'm not. Sasha shakes his head and looks so bewildered.

"Oh, John, that does not happen here. When we unite to the church, it is a covenant decision. It is serious. We would be horrified to see Christians in Lutsk shifting around from church to church. We pastors would not allow it."

In Ukraine Christ-centered, Bible-informed, mission-minded churches are hard to find. You find a family of believers and you become part of that family.

Imagine if our own children shifted around from family to family in our neighborhood, saying, "I don't like my current family. I think I'll go join the Smith family. They have a swimming pool and a large screen HD TV." We would be shocked. That's how Sasha responds to the USAmerican church-hopping mentality.

Serious. That's the word that describes the faith of Ukrainians. Utilitarian. That's the word for our USAmerican faith. What will my faith get me? My family?

Serious, but not somber. Committed and saturated with joy. United and living in a wide-open freedom. One of the reasons I like going to Ukraine is that it gives me a reprieve from the evangelical bubble of feel-good, me-centered, "I-deserve-to-be-served-today" faith.

Some of our luxuries are killing us.



At 3/05/2007 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great reminder!
We simply have to redefine membership and recover the metaphor of church as a family. Your post reminds me of Benedict's vow of stability and how growth happens when we're planted in a particular piece of soil for a prolonged amount of time. May God help us to live this way ... and just to let you know that it's not just the American church that's challenged by consumerism. Mcchurch is alive and thriving here in South Africa.

At 3/05/2007 7:04 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Oh the things we (the USA) export. Sad. Christology shapes ecclesiology. A weak Jesus produces a church-hopping people.

At 3/05/2007 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that church hopping is a serious issue to deal with, I am alarmed at the pastors response. "The pastors would not allow it" What? Someone needs to teach them that they have no authority to stop people worshiping how they want to worship. Not allow it. Next they will start telling people what to wear, what to eat, and who to marry.

At 3/06/2007 4:16 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Don't be so quick to your conclusion. You have to understand the moral/spiritual authority of Ukrainian pastors. It sounds like "command and control" to you, but to the Ukrainians these shepherds are lovingly caring for their flocks. You seemed to have embraced the USAmerican principle of rugged individualism where it's "our right" to worship where we want. That's not biblical; that's American. Didn't the Jerusalem Council letter (Acts 15) tell the new Gentile Christians what not to eat? Didn't Paul address what to wear and who (not) to marry?

At 3/06/2007 6:20 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Powerful stuff, John. Thanks for sharing Sasha's reaction. I've quoted liberally from your post today at my blog. Peace.

At 3/06/2007 7:53 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. I am pleased by your visits.

At 3/06/2007 4:57 PM, Blogger Judy said...

LOVED this post.

I linked to you on my blog, hope you don't mind.

(It's read by tens of people.)

Evan's mom

At 3/07/2007 2:11 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

John, So sad, but so profoundly true of us. We're conditioned with a different Christianity, which is in danger of not being Christianity at all. We need an overhaul. In regard to our vision and practice of a large part of what we are in Jesus: church. Thanks.

At 3/07/2007 4:06 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I am so gald you're stopping by and commenting. All 3 of my regular readers are happy about that, too :)
Shamar's Dad

At 3/07/2007 4:08 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I am with you on the need for an "overhaul" in our USAmerican understanding of "church." Like fish, we're so use to our environment, we can't see the stink in the tank. That's why I like going to Ukraine regularly.

At 3/13/2007 11:42 AM, Blogger modorney said...

Don't blame the congregation. People aren't "hopping". Most people are looking for community, in a church home. What you see is a symptom, not a problem.

A few decades ago, most (20 million) Protestants were in a church of 100 to 700 members, in a close geographic proximity. It was easy for the pastor and the members to have friends, and feel they belong. The typical person has about 250 friends, some close, some just acquaintances, and most somewhere on the closenessscale of 1 to 250. Back then, a third or half your friends were in your church.

Nowadays, 20 million Protestants attend a megachurch. A religious provider, but not a friend provider. Pastors have far more staff to relate to, so there are few connections to the congregation. And it flows down. You might have 10 friends from church - distant ones. Probably friend 100 to friend 200.

Pastors need to make friendship, and be friends. Not modeling "christian distance". Don't shoot the messenger! The pastor needs to fix the problem.

At 3/14/2007 7:04 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Mike O,
When warehousing Christians for Christianized enertainment took over "being the church," we lost something very valuable. You hit the nail on the head--we exchanged meaningful community for "success." However, I do think consumerist Christians do church hop and do share some of the blame. We're dealing with a complex of issues. Christology determined ecclesiology. We have created a USAmerican Jesus to fit our consumerist tastes.

At 3/14/2007 12:11 PM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

Excellent! I tried to serve a church that had lost members in droves (before I arrived, preacher number 6 or 7 over a 5 year period) when the program-driven please-the-member mentality collapsed.

Not fun. I'll take and teach missional any day over THAT!

At 3/15/2007 9:22 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

The vibrancy and wideness of heart that the church should express is driven by mission, not size, talent, organization, etc. Growth does not necessarily mean health. Cancerouse tumors can grow massively...from what I've heard.

At 3/22/2007 4:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the church attender does have part ofthe repsonsibility - the reason people church jump so easily is because the church has become watered donw.

pastors are no longer called to the ministry but enter a profession and liken themselves to the manager of a secular company.

I attend a conservative evangelical denomination and when we began a Pastoral search for the first time is 40 years, the Denomination DS told those of us on a search committee that being a Pastor was a "profession" and his role was to get as much as he can for his Pastors.

Pastors bear most of the responsibility fo church hopping.

At 4/05/2007 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You responded to Johnny: "You have to understand the moral/spiritual authority of Ukrainian pastors. It sounds like "command and control" to you, but to the Ukrainians these shepherds are lovingly caring for their flocks."

I live in Ukraine, and I have to (regrettably) disagree with you. In many churches here it really is a case of "command and control". I don't know your friend Sasha, so I wouldn't presume to speak for him.

I do know many Christians here in Ukraine who are seriously struggling to find a community of other followers of Jesus who don't have to "control" or micromanage the lives of others.

Church hopping for "trivial" reasons in North America is a problem, but "command and control" by pastors as I have seen here is not a solution.

Johnny's analysis of the situation was regrettably accurate for many churches in this country.

At 4/05/2008 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please do not paint those who are "church hopping" with the same paintbrush. Right now DH and I are looking for a church that we can attend at the same time as DD's teen service. (DD's is blended and not loud, she says. And has a large variety of teens.)
We love the biblically based, sermons of the pastor at that congregation. He makes the Old Testament come alive and he is interesting without being wildly dramatic. But the music is way too loud at the (contemporary) service which runs at the same time as hers. And if you complain, you are told that the music is "not about us (baby boomers." In other words you will have to endure it for the sake of the younger members who are "our future." (But who won't have much hearing left in the future if the sound crew doesn't turn down the volume soon.)
So, we have been on the move looking for somewhere to go not too far from her service. Even in this metro area, it is a bit of a challenge. We would prefer an Evangelical Covenant congregation as we like their doctrine. (DD's teen church is not E.C.) But even they, like so many other Protestant churches here, are staffed with ministers who are nice enough persons. But they don't seem to have that spark, that gift for speaking -- their sermons are too lightweight and perfunctory.

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