Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"I'll Have A Double Galatians. Hold the Psalm."

Ken Medema once sang about our Christian culture's creation of the "corner drugstore Jesus pushing happiness pills." Well sung, Ken.

I am startled at the responses to the previous post. My friend, Bill Kinnon, is wondering why his essay and mine have struck such a sensitive nerve in the evangelical community (see previous two entries). "Grace" offered insights into the underlying issues of "church" gone awry and Jamie points us to a preferred missional future.

It's risky writing as we did because some will think we're petulant or whiney or bitter. As far as I can tell, Bill is a happy guy. And I'm enjoying the place God has called me to at this time in my life. Others may conclude differently. Such is the risk when you reveal the "family secrets."

I don't think Bill and I are seeking to place blame on anyone. We're trying to address a prevailing form of USAmerican/Canadian "church" that is spinning out a lot of negativity. Disillusioned people are fleeing congregational life as we have come to know it. Pastors are jettisoning a toxic form of ministry parading under the banners of "success" and "cultural relevance."

Remember "paint by numbers" kits? This is the USAmerican church. Just like McDonald's across the States---all the same---so is the average evangelical church. Same songs, same current trendy stuff, same effort at some kind of coffee bar. We older folks poke fun at teens wanting to express their "individuality" and end up in the same jeans, same shoes, piercings, same T-shirts, iPods, etc. as all their friends. Why do we joke about the teens when we sit in our churchy cultural sameness from sea to shining sea? For all the fuss about GenX, etc. versus Boomers, I even see an ocean of sameness in the emerging church. The 'conference-ization' of anything is the evangelical way.

We don't have honest evangelicalism. We have an American Christian economy driven by market share and media. You got a good idea? Publish it (with a workbook). You got a creative ministry? Put it on a DVD. You got a heart for the poor? Make money off of it. Anything is marketable. Bank on it.

Christians are investors in the corporation. What is their profit share?

"I pays my money and I makes my choice." Christians are consumers.

"May I see your menu, oops!, I mean your church bulletin..."

"Is this service rated G or PG? I hope to God, not R."

Q: "Are we going to do the 40 Days of Purple?" A: "Yeah, after we do Experiencing God and before we do Alpha."

"Can I bring my snack, oops!, I mean my coffee into the theater, uh, sanctuary?"

Who wants to serve in that mess? Who wants that mess in the first place? A whole lot of people and pastors are saying, "Not me!"



At 4/10/2007 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic comment, how do we change from being consumers? It is so deep rooted in me!

At 4/10/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Great question with no easy answers. It's rooted in me, too, and in our USA/UK way of life. Think and live little is possibly a way out.

At 4/10/2007 6:34 PM, Blogger Mark Van Steenwyk said...

Your post is painfully true. I just started reading your blog. Good stuff. Our little community (Missio Dei, in Minneapolis) is trying to break free from these issues. It has been very difficult. We've had to sacrifice a lot in our desire to be faithful. I was a guy who went to seminary on a full scholarship--a scholarship for shiny future pastors. Part way through, however, I planted Missio Dei. Though we've made mistakes, I've tried to lead alongside my friends at Missio Dei as we subvert some of the norms within American Christianity. As a result, we've grown from 60 to 15 in two years. Why? Because I refused to carry the ministry. I wanted a ministry team that serve a neighborhood together. I refused to grow a church to 200 people, expecting that only 20 would show up for prayer and ministry outings. I wanted to start a church with a community that shared the ownership. I've had people tell me to quit all along the way. They see our ministry as a failure. No one understands why I've given up having a big church just to have homeless people live in my home. No one understands why I don't get a paycheck from church and why it is that so we empower mentally ill people to have a big say in things. Folks don't "get us" because our goal is to live as much like Jesus as we can--to show people a living example of the Gospel. We're not as interested in being a big church with lots of people and money. And I'm not interested in being a pastor of a church with lots of people and money. I'd rather just be me--and be surrounded by people who don't think of me as a special genre of Christian. Sorry for the diatribe. You've struck a nerve.

At 4/11/2007 5:42 AM, Blogger kent said...

How are you able to make Fellowship Covenant Church unique or authenitc to is own character and make up? I know something of the congregation and it locale. I ask in all seriousiness. I serve in the land of expectations literally surrounded on all points fo the compass by mega churches, so the pressure to mimic is significant, but that tactic fails. Popular but not effective. You are right, there are no conferences or book or video series on how to be honest with you are in your location. it is a struggle, but worth it.

At 4/11/2007 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

going beyond market share, assembly-line thinking, and franchising in the church would be so-o-o welcome... one result of this kind of church (where we are concerned about numbers, measurement of "growth" and expansion) has convinced many that Christianity is really just a system of moralistic, therapeutic Deism (Christian Smith, Soul Searching). In other words our churches are successfully helping teach too many that God is something like a combination divine butler and cosmic therapist, who comes when called, helps you to feel better, but doesn’t get too personally involved.

At 4/11/2007 7:09 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

you have my deepest respect. I applaud your vision to be a living expression of Jesus relationally and to the marginalized. The tiny seed of your ingdom work will be affirmed by Jesus, I'm sure. Blessings on you, and thanks for your "diatribe" :)

At 4/11/2007 7:13 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

you asked the exact right question. Eugene Peterson's writings have helped me a lot. It is the passion for the particular, the local, this place and this people. Forget all the peer stuff that suggests we have to do what everyone else is doing to be "successful." I am still trying to discover what this will look like at FCC in the religious burned-over area of W Michigan.

At 4/11/2007 7:15 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Bingo! my man. I couldn't express it any better than what you commented. God--the Butler-Therapist giving us what we want when we want it and making us escape all sense of pain. "My will be done as comfortably as possible" is the USAmerican evangelical's prayer.

At 4/11/2007 7:31 AM, Blogger David Wilson said...

I feel like we're scratching and clawing to get out from under the covers. It's been warm there, but we realize we need more air or we'll perish.

It's difficult to even articulate what the image of the local church I serve would be in the new world, but I know we have to go there.

And almost every step we take along that path puts us outside the flow of most seeking churches.

Multigenerational eliminates some.

Congregational praise versus performance teams cuts some more.

Bible-centric (for lack of a better word) that walks through books almost exclusively instead of the latest canned series from Outreach, Willow, or Fellowship.

Green. Intentionally seeking to engage in the care of our earth.

Engaged with the networks around us even when we aren't twins theologically.

There's more, but I'm still clawing out from under...

At 4/11/2007 9:55 AM, Blogger Steve said...

For all the fuss about GenX, etc. versus Boomers, I even see an ocean of sameness in the emerging church. The 'conference-ization' of anything is the evangelical way.

Couldn't agree more...been saying the same things...but I love your phrasing "ocean of sameness"... good stuff.


At 4/11/2007 10:08 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

David Wilson,
Change the metaphor from clawing out from under the covers to a caterpillar being transformed as it turns and struggles out of its cacoon and, viola! you have a beautiful butterfly. So keep clawing.

At 4/11/2007 10:14 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I don't mean that there aren't some unique expressions of church in emerging forms, but like most things American, somebody always wants to mass produce emergent spirituality and church.

You WON'T win a car if you come to my church, either. :-)

At 4/11/2007 10:31 AM, Blogger SLW said...

God help me, John, I do like what you have to say. Amen! Don't know that I'm ready to switch hit though, I'm not ambidexterous.

At 4/11/2007 11:57 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I bet you're multidextrous! :)
As the old commercial says, "Try it; you'll like it." Blessings on you and your ministry.

At 4/11/2007 12:57 PM, Blogger Steve said...


I would argue that there are absolutely ZERO unique expressions of church in emerging forms that I have heard of or been exposed to... just repackaged with candles and couches and Starbucks. (The emergents hate when I generalize and charcterize them).

And eventually it will all be standardized...cuz as you say - it's the American Way. Then something "brand new" will come along soon.

At 4/11/2007 2:47 PM, Blogger kent said...

This may be one off of the post but I am stuck on the thought that focus on such a small percentage of chruches for our models these days. The uber successful church, mega church is less than 1500 in number out of what 350,000 churches, but they are the ones we obessess over in terms our direction and inspiration. I am not anti-mega church, but what works for them is not going to happen in my congregation of 260. Where are unique and creative stories of the other churches who strive to be faithful? Certainly God is work in one of these other churches, so why is there no research or attention paid to them?
By the way is one of the peterson books which helped you "Working the Angles"?

At 4/11/2007 5:25 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Unless you are omnipresent or at least ubiquitous, how can you be so sure there ZERO unique expressions of emerging church? That seems like a stringent comment to me. Ax-grinding does not become you.

At 4/11/2007 5:30 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

You make an excellent point. The fame of some mega-churches puts them in the gunsights of a lot of critics. And I would not deny God doing very good things in them. Yet, what about the multiple thousands of faithful churches that will never get their "15 minutes of fame"? "It is required of stewards that they be found faithful."

I think I have read 90% of Eugene Peterson's books and, yes, *Working the Angles* is good. I also like his *Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Ministry* and his latest series with the recent *The Jesus Way.*

At 4/11/2007 7:41 PM, Blogger Steve said...

John... I had a qualifier...how did you miss it.

"That I have heard or been exposed too..."

In my personal experience I just don't think much of what we have done in the church is unique throughout the course of our history.... you know "nothing new under the sun" and all that. This includes my ax-grinding - as you call it. Sociologically speaking, we tend to be pretty cyclical as a people.

Oh... but I looked up "ubiquitous"... yep that's me!

:-) Thanks for letting me hang out in your space... car or no car giveaway.

At 4/12/2007 6:35 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Oops, I didn't pay attention to the qualifier. You're right.

I have a friend who was part of the radical '60s church overhaul; he's says that much of what emerging values was voiced and pursued then. The added feature these days is the whole 'postmodern' flap.

The door is open; hang out a lot here.

God bless!!

At 4/12/2007 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,

First time reader and commenter.

John, are any of the voices and/or organizations, that are presently frustrated with the state of the evangelical movement within the U.S., considering the Catholic church as an option.

While it would be absurd for me to suggest that the Catholic church hasn't likewise been tainted by our materialist culture, it does offer historical connectedness, a deeply spiritual/mystic expression of worship and a long standing tradition of world wide missional activity.

Concerns that, to me at least, speak to the heart of "emergent" discontent.

At 4/12/2007 8:48 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I do know friends who have joined with the Catholic Church for the very reasons you've stated. From my "spiritual stream" (to use Richard Foster's idea), it would have to be the more evangelical Catholic segment...as repesented by Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, Ronald Rolheiser, and the like. Does that make sense?

At 4/12/2007 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those authors you mentioned in your previous post are leading me back to the Catholic Church. The Real Presence is the drawing card and the stumbling stone like Christ was 2000 years ago. I think the Eucharist will be the ticket for unity. Catholics and Orthodoxy have the valid Sacraments.

At 4/12/2007 10:00 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate this glimpse into your story and I am intrigued by your comment about the Eucharist.

At 4/12/2007 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes John, I think that a highly spiritual, biblicly studious, non clerical method is a great way for the Catholic church to dialogue with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

At 4/12/2007 11:37 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

sounds like a welcomed and needed dialogue

At 4/12/2007 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, i saw your comment on the Jesus Creed blog regarding calvinism leading to an existential nihilism.

could you recommend any reading material on this topic? i'm considering pursuing it in paper i'll be writing. Calvinism and Nihilism.

It'd be great if you could email me! slau2693@mail.usyd.edu.au



At 4/13/2007 7:38 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I haven't read about it anywhere as a specific topic...it's a connection between rigid deterministic Calvinism (a Christianized fatalism) where God chose who will be saved and who won't. As a matter of fact, everything in life is predetermined by God's decree. The nihilism hit me seeing a stage play of Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana." The tethered iguana is a symbol of man's desire for true freedom, yet is tied (by God's decree?). One of the main character's, Reverend Shannon, has a monologue about "why God made him the way he is." He feels trapped in God's predetermined will. I wish you well on doing your paper.

At 4/13/2007 12:12 PM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

My comments on your last post got me noticed by someone who knew me in college and got the link to the post from another friend via e-mail. Funny how this things ping around the Internet.

Anyway, you are hitting the nail right on the head. The reason why we homogenize is that we talk to each other. Whether at conferences, via e-mail or on blogs, we communicate our ideas and try to adopt what we like and think might work. There is almost no way I can see to avoid it.

That said, it is really bothersome when suggestions and approaches become gimmicks that are packaged and sold on Amazon.com

At 4/13/2007 5:59 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

It's a pinging environment, isn't it?

I doubt that we can stop the commercialization of the faith in the USA, but we can opt out and invite others along with us.

At 4/13/2007 10:33 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Hi John,
Thanks for these insights. I linked a post to your (and Bill's, Grace's and Jamie's) previous posts. Love to have your perspective.

Our comfortable consumerism is another nail in the coffin of what's dying. Christian identity is in Christ and being a performer in the theodrama. This reality should offer us some capacity for and hope of differentiating ourselves from the Empires of consumption.

At 4/14/2007 7:08 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I hope you don't mind that I copied your post into my blog. I really like what you said and how you said it.

At 4/14/2007 11:45 AM, Blogger Greg said...

What you, Bill, Grace and Jamie wrote so resonated with me that I had to say something from the heart. Glad to be part of the conversation and thanks for posting my plea.

At 4/14/2007 12:34 PM, Blogger The Preacher's Household: said...


I agree that the church has been infiltrated by commercialism and self-centered motivations. I had a recent experience where I noticed this. I received an invitation to a conference where you pay a fee to “defray costs”. It was in looking at the program of speakers for another conference I noticed some of the same agenda from the first would be at the second. The second conference is hosted at a large convention center and has no registration fees. They take a collection, an offering before the evening speaker. The thousands in attendance always donate what is needed to pay for the costs. No one hosting or speaking is making money on the conference. The fee thing has begun to bother me. What happened to faith in God? Besides, the first event was held at a church building how much cost was there? Buildings and other structures that need to be supported are almost a pet peeve. I am not anti-building but how much of the churches identity is wrapped up in the building not to mention money.

I understand your point but, not all imitation is buying into the commercialization. Coffee bars are where many people are in the secular world. It makes since to go where the people are, socially. Maybe the answer is to have a building or ‘ministry’ outside the ‘church’ but that seems almost pharisaical. We are the church. Friends and I go to coffee houses to share our faith by building relationships with the people there. It can be a great ministry. It is just more difficult if there is an overtly worldly atmosphere. I have some friends who started a coffee house to minister from. It is subtly Christian and lacks the negative aspects. I don’t know the answer completely just wanted to point out that using that tool can be a good thing.

At 4/16/2007 11:04 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

preacher's household,
I am not against coffee bars; I against the lock-step response of evangelical leaders..."we've got to get a coffee bar; that'll help us grow..." You know what I mean. I'm not against buildings per se. I'm with you that church is people and the kingdom is driven by relational energies, not religious programming.

At 4/16/2007 11:06 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

A very heary YOU ARE WELCOME!

At 4/16/2007 11:07 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Oops!, Greg, that should read
HEARTY not heary, whatever that means :-)

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