Via Media

Just some follow up thoughts and links:
Three critiques in the same general area, all from Christianity Today, a mainstream evangelical publication.

From Sarah Pulliam at the CTLiveblog, on “Porn Sunday:”

One Indianapolis-area church Sunday sermon sparked interest from local media. “You heard him correctly: It’s Porn Sunday” headlined the Indianapolis Star’s article. The Crux Church joined hundreds of churches across the nation who observed National Porn Sunday yesterday, sponsored by, an online ministry aimed at Christians who are addicted to porn.

“I mean, how many times have you heard your pastor say ‘porn’ from the pulpit?” Crux’s lead pastor, Daron Earlewin, tells the Star.

The Daily News in Florida reports that a 15-foot tall inflatable, blue elephant is mailed to participating churches across the country as mascot for National Porn Sunday.

“We are basically going to confront the big elephant in the pew,” Robert Pooley, senior pastor of Coast Community Church told the newspaper.

But is the pulpit the place for the big blue elephant, or should it be addressed within individual counseling? What Bible verses do these preachers use?
These pastors desire to preach on issues that may have been overlooked in the past, but how do pastors make sure that they are not overlooking more traditional themes (pride, love, evangelism) that may not be as “sexy”?

From Mark Galli, on marketing:

Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don’t deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?

Should it surprise us that in this era, pastors increasingly think of themselves as “managers,” “leaders,” and “CEOs” of “dynamic and growing congregations,” rather than as shepherds, teachers, and servants of people who need to know God? And that preaching has become less an exposition of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and more often practical lessons that offer a lot of “take-away value,” presented in an efficient, friendly manner, as if we were selling cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake?

And on it goes. Let me be clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with large churches. Medieval Europe was full of them, and I long for the day when those cathedrals will be full of the worshiping faithful again. I have been blessed time and again by the ministry of megachurches.

Today churches large and small (the small imitating the large) have unthinkingly adopted a marketing mentality that, it turns out, subverts rather than promotes the gospel. We inadvertently imply that the church benefits as much from the spiritual transaction as does the recipient. Marketing, by its very nature, contradicts the essence of the gospel lifestyle of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to expend his life for others—no exchange implied or expected.

How can we possibly communicate the radical, self-giving love of God to our culture if we continue to use a method that by its very nature replaces the notions of sacrificial service for an exchange of goods and services?

We are indeed called to the four corners of the earth to be witnesses of Christ’s transforming love. But witnesses are not carnival barkers. Sometimes it feels like the church is just another voice shouting for attention in the marketplace. I wonder what would happen if we quit shouting, if we quit trying to tell the world how beneficial the faith is or what a difference going to church can make—and simply told others, when appropriate, what God has done for us, and let our lifestyle “market” the message.

The editors of CT write on the infiltration of the culture of amusement in churches, using as a starting point, the baptismal instruction video I linked here a few weeks ago – remember the two guys in the swimming pool, the jokes about what’s suitable attire for baptism, with then the (we are led to believe) naked guy with blurred-out guy parts, one of the guys in the pool giving the instructions noting someone on the slide and yelling, “Hey, get off the ****** ing slide!” Etc. The editors:

This pastor is not alone—although this video is particularly egregious. Shortly after ct editors viewed this video (in the heat of summer), we received a press release from a nationally known church promoting its Christmas program. That church “has been entertaining and inspiring audiences … for more than 25 years,” said the press release before it went on to talk about “pageantry, marvel, magic, and awe.”

To be sure, the church ministers in the entertainment culture, so it must find ways of arresting attention, engaging, inspiring, and motivating audiences immersed in this culture. It must also resist the insidious nature of entertainment discourse, which demands fragmentation, while having confidence that it offers something more engaging than entertainment: narrative.

There is nothing more arresting than the biblical story of God’s great rescue operation to save us from sin, degradation, and destruction. It is a narrative with humor, violence, heroism, tragedy, and triumph. Its parts belong to a meaningful whole. (That’s the reason many churches follow the liturgical year, which carries us through the narrative of sin and darkness to the coming of the Messiah.)

Because the gospel is very much a coherent narrative, it can be destroyed by using a discourse that traffics in fragmentation. But a fragmenting culture ultimately longs not so much to be distracted as to be drawn into a rich and transforming story.

Postman pointed out two dangers that can destroy a culture. One is the Orwellian, in which culture becomes a prison. The other is the Huxleyan, in which culture becomes a comedy. You can see the Orwellian danger coming far in advance. It publishes books like Mein Kampf and goose-steps its way into our lives. But the Huxleyan danger sneaks up on us. As Schoerghofer wrote in 2001, “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a comedy show, then a nation finds itself at risk.”

Let’s not fill the church with collaborators. Let’s join the resistance, a resistance that, if successful, will allow people to cohere and flourish in ways our culture can hardly imagine.

From Fr. Dwight Longenecker today, in a similar vein:

According to Pope John Paul the Great, evangelization works like this:
1. Spend time (lots of time) in contemplative prayer
2. Because we become like the thing we worship, we will eventually become more like Christ
3. As we become more like Christ, we will reflect his glory in our own lives, and our faces will become radiant with glory like Moses.
4. Because we are becoming more like Christ, we will want to spend more time with people and for people
5. They will see the beauty of Christ in our lives and be drawn to Christ as a magnet draws iron filings.
6. This will happen, because they will instinctively recognize in Christ the fulfillment of their heart’s true desire.
This evangelization is effective because it is:
1. Appropriate for each person in a natural way
2. Totally the work of grace and not human effort
3. Free of personal ego on the part of the evangelist
4. Non-threatening and naturally attractive
5. Free of guilt, pressure of propaganda or coercion of any sort

Now, I wonder how Fr. Dwight would interact with the thoughts of the folks at the Siena Institute, and they with his thoughts on this vein, in light of their concern with what they call the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” culture of Catholicism. (I invite both to share their thoughts here!)
Finally, from a friend who works in evangelization and catechesis on the ground. Letter edited to protect her top-secret identity:

I  sense a need for a new voice, a new approach–that maybe isn’t so new but very old. I meditate much on Acts and Pauline Epistles for inspiration–their world sounds like our world.

I am tired of too much marketing and no Christ-talk. ….
We keep pointing a finger toward the evangelical megachurches–and forget about the three pointing back at us.
We have a rich, marvelous story to tell–but the talking heads of the moment who dominate our parish leadership, ministry programs guaranteed to “fix” us, and diocesan task forces remind us too much of “Kumbaya” moments. Gimmicks do not have legs–parishes and groups rooted in hundreds, if not thousands of years of spirituality and tradition, do.
Megachurches hold onto someone for about 30 months–and then they move on. Oftentimes to nothing. What I have experienced in parish work is that people do “burn out” after 30 months–only in the Catholic church, that means you may move from pouring your heart and soul into social outreach to move into a prayer group–or you change from the youth mass to the more traditional, Sunday morning liturgy. Or from a Sunday to a Saturday evening. You don’t have to move to another church–you can move to another expression of your faith.
Lastly, we need to be more explicit, more direct about Christ and His Church. We do have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ–we need to tell that story better. But, we need to be honest about the cost–and the rest of the story.

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