“Doing Church Differently” or “Spare Me the Hip…”

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Current Events, Rite and Rituals
Tags: , ,

Spare me the hip.

You do not do church “differently” just because you meet in someone’s home.  Or because you meet at a time other than Sunday morning.  Or because you sing songs that aren’t considered hymns.

You do not do church differently because you wear hipster glasses, or you wear a t-shirt and jeans.

In fact, you do church just as church has always been done.  Churches have always met in people’s homes…and that eventually grew into meeting in cathedrals and large buildings because, well, your living room isn’t super comfortable with more than 9 in it, let alone 25.

Churches have always worshiped on different days: sometimes Saturday evenings, sometimes Wednesday evenings, sometimes three times a day, sometimes nine times a day!  It’s not new; its ancient.

Churches have always sung a variety of songs, some contextual and some more reflective of their ancestors.  Ancient Christians sang new songs, ancient Jewish songs, and then some new Christian songs to ancient Jewish music.  You could say the same of any church you go in today.  Amazing Grace done on electric guitar comes to mind.

I would argue, however, that this trend of church songs having only one theme (some variation of “Jesus loves me personally” or “God is awesome”) is fairly recent (within the last 70 years).  That newness, though, doesn’t make it different…I think it should invite us to evaluative questions like, “Is this really the best we can do in expressing our thoughts about God in song” or “Is God other than awesome?  Is Jesus more than just for me?”.

It’s clear those questions aren’t being asked in many circles.  Please, someone, ask those questions.  Mumford and Sons is writing songs with more theological depth than most anyone in the world of CCM.*

And churches have always sought people “where they are.”  And I’ll admit I’m guilty of using that line, mostly because I think it’s true.

I don’t think it’s different, though.  And it certainly isn’t hip.

It’s just that, well, can you actually be anywhere where you aren’t?  Do you really know of a church that thinks you have to change to walk in the door?  If you do, I wouldn’t argue that they’re doing church “the same old way.”  If you have to change to walk in the door, they’re just doing church badly.

And if you think that just because you don’t wear robes you’re “doing church differently,” I’d ask you to read a Christian liturgy book.  Robes, the clothes of a servant, were meant to give a “replaceable” quality to the leader of worship…much, I think, like the t-shirt and jeans of many of today’s preachers who think they’re doing something different.  The “See, I’m no different than you” of the t-shirt and jeans is not a far cry from the, “See, you too can do this. I’m totally replaceable” of the robe.

Along those same lines, the mass-media approach of projectors, screens, TV’s, and made-for-worship movies are no different than candles and incense.  Engaged senses?  Yes.  Ordinary objects?  I bet you’d find candles in the ancient home just as often as you’d find a TV/computer in the homes of today.

The rock-arena stage setting of many “doing church differently” churches reflects a contemporary concert experience.  Bach composed music that reflected his contemporary concert experience.  JSB and BNL are not so far apart.

So, my question is this: why do you feel the need to say that you “do church differently?”

Spare me the hip.

Do you try to connect people to God?  Do you try to tell the story of a world in desperate need of Divine intervention in the person of Jesus?  Do you try to help people see how God is active in the world?

If you do, then you don’t do church differently; you do it in the way it has always been done.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, church branding has become a business taking its cues from contemporary advertising.  In the need to feel relevant, so many places just end up fading into the same melange of commercials bombarding people daily.

What I think Christians and churches should be asking themselves is: are the symbols and mediums we use deep in meaning?  Do they reflect a fullness that exemplifies the fullness of God?

How about we spend our time on that rather than spend time trying to convince people that we “do church differently.”

Don’t do church differently.  Tell the story.  Invite people into a relationship with the God shown through the Christ.

And turn off the advertising machine.  It’s not different.  And although it tries to be hip, it is not.

*Gungor is creating some good stuff, but they often rely quite heavily on male stereotypes in their depiction of God.

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Comments
  1. Chris says:

    Was linked to your blog by an old high school friend. Enjoyed this post. Point me to the liturgy you mentioned which discusses the role of robes. In fact, any resources discussing the “why” of church traditions. This is fascinating to me.

    Thanks,
    Chris

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hey Chris,

      Frank Senn’s work “Christian Liturgy” is a seminal work that goes through the tradition from the very beginning (hence it’s massive size).

      More accessible (literally: mailable) works might be Gail Ramshaw’s “Christian Worship” (a primer) and even Anita Stauffer’s “Altar Guild Handbook.” There are others, of course.

      Everything we do has meaning. And the meaning is only lost when it fails to speak. So much of what people consider “old” or “stuffy” isn’t because it fails to speak, I think, but because we’ve become bad at listening.

      Thanks for reading!
      tjb…

      • Great answer to this question, Tim. Thanks for that.

      • Mark Christy says:

        I don’t think it is necessarily that people are bad at listening, it’s just that the old symbols have been around so long and become so familiar that people stopped thinking about them and/or explaining them. When you use a symbol that is drained of it’s meaning you run the risk of becoming a formalist.

      • Timothy Brown says:

        Hey Mark,

        Thanks for the reply. I wonder if deep symbols can ever be drained of their meaning. I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s worth asking. Thanks for reading, though!

  2. Jason says:

    Don’t forget the plaid shirts.

  3. revdonna says:

    Reblogged this on Revdonna's Blog and commented:
    Well put.

  4. siberiangrits says:

    Okay I get it. And for the most part I would agree if it weren’t for a glaring inconsistency in the theological perspective of most “mainstream” protestant churches, namely the idea that the liturgy must be old (traditional) but the theology must be new. So we’re all for singing the “old songs” with pipe organ, clergy in robes, following the liturgical year…you know, tradition, yet at the same time, don’t dare insist upon biblical inerrancy, inspiration, and the exclusivity of Christ, (all traditional). Don’t dare insist upon “traditional” marriage between a man and a woman.

    So why must the worship style be old, yet the theology be new? If we’re going to insist upon following traditional liturgy, why not begin by following the biblical Christ?

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Yeah, you don’t get it.

      At my parish, we have different services with different styles.

      But I don’t claim that we’re “doing church differently.”

      We’re doing church. The very idea that “doing church differently” has to happen is the rub here.

      And by the “biblical Christ”…you’re going to have to parse that for me. You mean the Jesus from Matthew or Mark? From Luke or John? Or perhaps Paul?

      Or maybe Revelation?

      If you don’t think they’re different, read closer. I would say they’re all Biblical.

      So, I would say, you don’t get it. But thanks for reading.

      • thedeadwhitemale says:

        “Yeah, you don’t get it.”

        Ouch!!!

        I was in the middle of possibly buying what the blog post was selling until I saw the snide reply to siberiangrits.

        “If you don’t think they’re different, read closer” is a variant on the age-old “look it up” trope of quasi-engagement and pseudo-argumentation. The clear implication is that anyone who reads it carefully will come to the same conclusion you have and, concomitantly, that siberiangrits simply hasn’t done his homework.

        If you did not intend to insult siberiangrits, I respectfully suggest that you be more careful in the future, for that is what you did. You didn’t even try to answer his question, or engage what you obviously believe are misconceptions on his part. Assuming, if only for the sake of argument, that siberiangrits doesn’t “get it” (whatever that means), why not try going to where he is, and then bringing him over to your point of view, rather than merely snidely suggesting that he simply doesn’t have a clue while studiously avoiding any substantive commentary that might actually give him one?

        You also do not explain how the one and only risen Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, differs in the way He appears in the various books of the New Testament. Perhaps He does, but the point is not obvious and thus must be clarified if it is to be part of a meaningful discussion. This frankly underscores the concerns raised by sibertiangrits, and you do not help your case with what comes across as an arrogant, condescending dismissal. Perhaps you did not intend that, so please take this as one Christian’s heartfelt, if critical, observation to another. In any event, the Holy Spirit–by which we are all to be guided as Christian brothers and sisters in addressing one another as well as non-Christians–is gentle, loving, accommodating, and kind. Tone matters.

        Respectfully submitted for your consideration.

        May God continue in His blessings upon you, brother.

      • Timothy Brown says:

        Haha. Granted. Late-night reply equals snide reply.

        Apologies given, especially because it distracted from the original intent of the post.

        And, I agree, the Christological argument did indeed distract from the point of the post. But my reply to, “You don’t get it” was in response to their claim that they “get it.” I don’t think they did. Because the point of the post wasn’t to suggest that things be done any certain way, but just that we be honest about the way we do things.

        So, back to that point,I question why people need to suggest that they are “doing church differently,” which is what I think that Joe (giantfaith) was getting at with his response. Joe thinks they do it to get people in the door, not because they actually think that they’re doing anything different.

        If that’s true, they’re being dishonest. If it’s not true,and they think they are doing something different, then they need to rethink what they’re doing and look at history.

        I do think that responder did misunderstand the message of the post. It wasn’t that I think things should be done a certain way; I just think they should be done honestly. Those claiming they “do church differently,” aren’t.

        But I do repent of offending. That being said, I know not everyone will agree. That’s ok, too.

        Thanks for reading.

  5. giantfaith says:

    I guess I don’t think Churches actually think they are doing anything different, but they want to try and make other people think they are different so that people will come. There are so many people turning away from the church, the church is just trying to get some people to walk in who might not have come in before, or have never even been to church. It’s hard because there a lot of churches who do church badly, and tell people they do have to change, and it makes it hard for people to want to go, because if they see one church do it, they think all churches are like that.

    • Timothy Brown says:

      It’s true, Joe. There are a lot of churches who are trying to rehabilitate an identity. But, I don’t think the solution is to say that they “do church differently.” Instead, I’d offer that they should just be authentic to where they are. Point out the depth of what they’re doing, whether they’re using screens or icons. Point out the connective tissue between the elements of worship and the way they convey them. I want churches to stop rehabilitating and start confessing: “Yeah, historically we have baggage. So do you. Let’s talk about it.”

      I think that’s the beginning to authenticity. And I do think that some places think they’re “doing it differently” by just putting on t-shirts and jeans, by just adding screens or upping the incense. If we want to get people in the door, let’s throw away gimmicks and advertising solutions and start telling the story better.

      Hope all is well! We miss you!

  6. Tammy says:

    Thanks for the balanced perspective. I do think we know this at some level…but get caught up in the rhetoric of the church is dying…which I believe is the language of lament…the church is stuck in a place of lament and does not see that it’s time to stop indulging and to start working….

  7. I’d be happy to defend the “doing church differently” concept.

    First, the church has not always told the story or sought people where they were. In fact, a cursory review of Church History illustrates that the institution, although beloved by Christ, has often “lost its first love”. The instituion has often used language and custom and hierarchy as modes of colonization or repression – or simply indifference to cultural context.

    Second, the church has a lot of trouble with change. The ability to incarnate “God’s story” as to bring the mystery of salvation into contact with the lives of regular people in context is a talent the Christian institution has never done well. We’re getting better. Still, some think that organs and drums have intrinsic liturgical value – they don’t. The only question is about connecting human need to God’s blessing.

    Third, “doing church differently” is not so much a theological argument as it is a conversation teaser….cf, Paul asking about the unknown god. Sometimes a twist on language is all it takes to open the door to a meaningful encounter with another.

    So, as an Episcopal priest and church planter, I regularly “do church differently” – not in a mega church, concert setting. My congregation “does church differently” be questioning ourselves, regularly, as to whether we are engaging our ministry context in a way that makes the Gospel ‘good news’ to those who hear it. We do it differently by intentional evangelism and outreach in a bilingual setting. And yes, we use drums and guitar and piano and some chant, too. http://www.roomforyou.org

    I am confident that such an approach is very different from what many have experienced of church, today and over the centuries. And lastly, doing church differently works – we are growing where an Episcopal church normally does not grow.

    Phil +

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hey Phil,

      Thanks for reading. I can see the reasons for your defense of the phrase “doing church differently,” and the practice. But I would actually offer up that you are, in fact, not doing it differently. I would say you’re doing it anciently.

      There have always been churches that are doing what you do.

      And while I think that your “conversation teaser” point may have some legs, I think that ultimately those who claim they are “doing church differently” actually want to believe that they are. So, while it may masquerade as a teaser, there is a deep seated belief that, “Yes, what we are doing is novel.”

      I don’t think that it is. And what you’re doing is working not because it’s novel, but because it’s authentic.

      The church has done a bad job keeping up with the stories behind the rites/symbols. Absolutely agree. And I don’t think that robes and candles have intrinsic value anymore than screens and mics do. We must communicate the reasons for them, why they are deep in meaning (if they are). Justify why you are using a projector (if you are) or candles (if you are).

      Make the connections.

      But I think that you’re mistaken when you say that “the ability to incarnate ‘God’s story’ as to bring the mystery of salvation into contact with the lives of regular people in context is a talent the Christian institution has never done well.” For instance: you in your role as a priest? Obviously something connected.

      Patriarchy, hierarchy, sexism, racism, all sorts of power-plays and “isms” have infected the church. But I would not contend that that is the original intent nor purpose of “church.” When those things get in the mix, that’s church done poorly/badly.

      What you are describing seems, as far as I can tell, church done well…and that is not different.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  8. naomi Bologna says:

    I was SO HOPEFUL that someone would tell us how Jesus differs in Mathew, Mark than Luke and John and Revelation….great discussing folks, this is helpful to me, Mommy Salomi or Naomi Bologna

    • Timothy Brown says:

      Hey Naomi,
      Thanks for reading. I think it’s important to distinguish between each book and how Jesus is portrayed, but it doesn’t take much reading to see that the Jesus in Mark is quite human, while the Jesus in John seems to know everything before it happens. Matthew and Luke, borrowing from Mark, seem to have a mix.

      That being said, I would say that Jesus’ message is largely the same in each book, even though each book characterizes him differently. And each book does have a certain overarching theology that is unique. Matthew is all about prophecy fulfillment, Luke seems to like Jesus the radical boundary crosser. And John has Jesus as the paschal lamb (hence why Jesus dies on a Thursday in John).

      A good, deeper look at these ideas can be found in “Fortress Introduction to the Gospels” by Augsburg Fortress. There are others, of course, but thats a good primer for the theology student.

      I also want to reaffirm that I, in no way, thinks this detracts from the truth of the Biblical witness. I know this is a stumbling block to some. Take a look at my post “I Wonder if this Elephant is an Atheist” to see some fleshed out thoughts on that topic.

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