September 23, 2017

Church Year Spirituality: Faith of Our Family

By Chaplain Mike

When I was a pastor in local non-denominational congregations, I found it difficult to maintain a sense of cohesion and togetherness within the church’s program. Each church, of course, had its own traditions, and they created a certain level of family identity and oneness. But I’m talking about something deeper than when we held the annual congregational meeting or Vacation Bible School or church picnic.

Like many evangelical pastors, I tried to rally us around sermon series. However, it became disappointing to realize that people were not hanging on my every word! So much happened in people’s lives between Sundays that folks rarely maintained the mental connections between last Sunday’s sermon and the one I gave today. I was studying all week long; for the most part, they weren’t. Plus, people weren’t always there every week due to work or family schedules. I tried to create some continuity by writing daily devotionals to go along with the sermon. A few used them sporadically. We tried linking our small group studies to the message with limited success.

I discovered that evangelical Christianity, with its pervasive emphasis on individual faith, was also working against me. If my sermons weren’t “scratching where people itched,” then they just went down to the Christian bookstore and found a book or Bible study for themselves, searched out some preacher on TV, radio or the internet that was dealing with their issues, or even went to another church that “met their needs.”

Even within the church, the children were studying whatever their curriculum presented, the youth pastor was leading the teens in a study suited to them, men’s and womens’ groups were seeking out materials to meet their specific interests, small groups were organized according to their own program, Sunday School classes were often set up according to what someone had been studying that he or she was eager to share, and individuals and families were following whatever pattern of daily devotion they had been taught when they first became Christians.

I wasn’t interested in controlling people’s lives and limiting their learning, but as a pastor I believed a church family should have some sense of an overall pattern, a “tradition,” if you will, that gives identity, shape, and direction to the course of our faith. I apparently wasn’t creative or forceful enough as a leader to make it happen in our churches. I was no Rick Warren with a “purpose-driven” theme. I was no John Piper, through whom a church could be set on a path of “desiring God.” I was no in-your-face, scruffy, cursing Mark Driscoll, dressed down and appealing to disaffected urban hipsters. This, apparently, is the way evangelical churches gain their sense of identity — by being known as “so and so’s church.” Our tradition is formed by the strong, charismatic leader. Their “program” becomes our tradition and the pattern of our faith.

This is a perfect formula for American culture. We revere the entrepreneur, the guy who sees a need and fills it, the one who takes charge and makes a name for himself, who innovates and creates a new, attractive way forward, who is magnetic in personality, a riveting communicator, and whose looks ain’t bad either.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that does not sound like the Gospel to me.

And herein lies some of the advantages of following a pattern of spirituality like the Church Year. It’s not about me. It’s not about some flashy leader. It’s not about some innovative program. It’s not about individuals all going their own way and finding what “meets their needs.” It’s about a family living in the family story, as individuals, families, and congregations. As an overarching structure by which our personal and congregational life is patterned, it allows plenty of room for creativity and variety, but it provides a larger metanarrative that gives meaning and direction to everything we do. We learn that following Christ is about being welcomed into what he is doing. It is not about merely asking him to bless what I am doing.

Following the Church Year sets my devotional life, my family life, our congregational life within the context of the Gospel. No matter what else happens in the church or in my life, I know that this Sunday is the beginning of Advent. I drag myself to worship and pray with my brothers and sisters, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” I enter the story of my Savior. I stand with the patriarchs and prophets of old and cry out for God to rend the heavens and come down. I am led to realize that no matter what I am facing or dealing with in my own life, my hope is in the divine promise of a Redeemer. I know that the lectionary readings will point me consistently to Christ. I know that the hymns, the colors, the prayers, and all the other elements in the service will remind me of why I am here: I am sinful, living in a broken world, and the remedy is a Person who will make all things new.

I can still study other things. I can still take part in a wide variety of activities. Our church can have a full program if we think that’s what will best reach people and edify those in the congregation. But in the end, it’s not about charisma or innovation or programs or anyone’s bright idea. It’s about the Story. It’s about the Gospel. It’s about Jesus.

Comments

  1. I agree that church families need pattern and tradition and a unique sense of identity. But I think most churches need to work on the “family” part first. Are churches that exist merely to showcase one man’s insights and abilities or a first-rate worship team’s talents or even a well-planned liturgy really families in the truest sense of the word? Or are they merely audiences, spectators, fan clubs, or social groups established around similar tastes, interests, preferences, or theological opinions?
    I would say a true family is different from these other kinds of groups and gatherings in some very essential ways. For one, a family remains a family regardless of the context — whether that context be a home, a church building, a restaurant, a car, or the city park. And families (healthy families anyway) don’t exist merely to spotlight one or two family members to the exclusion of the others. First and foremost, a healthy family is tied together by intimate, loving relationships. One might even define family as a collection of close-knit relationships. To be honest, I haven’t encountered many church fellowhips that really meet that definition. Usually, relationships in most churches could be better defined as friendly acquaintances — typically on about the same level as the relational connections inside your average civic club. And how can they form close relationships when they typically only come together as an audience of the Sunday Morning Show?
    I definitely see how some time-honored tradition and pattern (such as can be derived from the Church Year Calendar) could definitely help a church family to draw even closer and center their relationships more closely around Christ. I just don’t think most churches are actually church families. And, sadly, I haven’t encountered many church pastors and leaders who seem to be all that interested in leading their congregations in the direction of becoming a real spiritual family that continues to exist and function as a family once the show is over, the lights are turned out, and the church doors are locked. Maybe that’s because it’s just easier to manage an audience or a fan club or a target demographic. Families, on the other hand, can get pretty messy and emotionally taxing.

  2. Olivier Wacker says:

    Dear Chaplain Mike
    of course what you write about strong, charismatic leaders in your tradition is true. Nonetheless there is also the IMonk crowd, which does not seem to follow anybody in particular, which tries to live into the church year spirituality and which is, even though admittedly virtual, a kind of family, don’t you think so? I have been hurt in a way in the far past by charismatic leaders (not without my own fault by the way) and I guess other IMonk readers might have been as well. We all appreciate your work. No need to feel down. Hm, you realise maybe that I am not sure if you have the blues and need some lifting up 🙂
    And on a side note – you realise of course too, the irony of the internetmonk platform which reinforces the notion that if I do not get what I need or want from my church I go and search for it on the internet and might well come upon the internetmonk …
    Olivier

    • Olivier, I wouldn’t do this if I thought we were trying to build our own “community.” In my post from yesterday, please note that I strongly encouraged people to find a local congregation and take their cues from their local ministers.

      • I think one issue that we face is that there are often not enough kindred spirits locally to provide us with the same support that we experience globally with Internet Monk.

        Both Michael Spencer and I have tried to plant our own churches (and Denise can correct me if I am wrong here) but having to give up because there were not enough like minded people who shared our vision.

        One thing that struck me as I read Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity, was that he seemed to have a good grasp as to what was broken, but was a little fuzzy on the details of how to fix it. I am not sure that he knew.

  3. A few quotes that give me perspective:

    Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact, every time he had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in his personal interview and in the time he spent with the twelve. – Billy Graham

    There should never be enough structure that the Church could survive without God. – Tony Dale

    Programs are what the Church resorts to when the Holy Spirit leaves” – Wolfgang Simpson

    Has the religious ceremony we participate in every weekend taken the place of a relationship with our Savior?

    • That’s a false dichotomy, Ron. You might as well say that family dinners together are taking the place of my relationship with my dad.

      • Suppose for a moment, however, that your family decided to limit its interactions as a family exclusively to family dinners — and, instead of cooking your own meals and serving one another as a family, you hired a catering service to cook and serve you — and, instead of engaging in dinner-table conversation, you hired a professional orator and an Italian violinist to entertain you while you enjoyed your food — then one might legitimately say that your family dinners had taken the place of your relationship with your dad, as well as your relationships with every other member of your family.
        What I think Ron is getting at is that, instead of serving as a means by which we draw closer and find a greater sense of identity in our relationships as church families, these things on which we’ve come to focus our attention — these services, programs, sermons, musical productions, liturgies, and top-notch facilities — have all but completely eclipsed the real, day-to-day, person-to-person relational dimension of the church. And, in many ways, these things we do and the style and order in which we do them have become the central defining points of our identities as church bodies.

      • Of course. But we also need to be careful of creating a dichotomy that really doesn’t exist between gathering together and having a “personal relationship” with Christ. It’s both/and, not either/or.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And a lot of what’s gone sour about American Evangelism is the fruits of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

        • I very much agree. And I think churches would do well to do a lot more gathering together outside the context of official services and programs. Liturgies and sermons can be meaningful and draw us closer to Christ — but, honestly, most church services are just not a context in which one can form strong, Christ-centered relationships with other believers. Of course, it’s up to us as believers to make those connections and invest the time to form relationships with other Christians. Still, I think a lot of Christians need some encouragement and even permission from their church leaders to start opening those relational doors. And I suspect that the reality that a church can and should have a life that extends outside the church building and regular service hours is not part of many Christians’ paradigm of church at all.
          Patterns and traditions can certainly add to the stability and cohesion of a family unit — but it is the daily, unscripted bump and grind of shared life that makes a family a family. And it’s that unscripted, organic, relational element that seems to be sorely lacking in our church culture. People get together for regular services, exchange a few smiles, handshakes, and some shallow conversation before and after those services, and then they return to their own little worlds and individual bubbles until the next service. We like to call ourselves church families, but the truth is that we scarcely even know each other.
          I might be wrong on this, but I very stongly believe that American churchianity needs to take a break from custom-designing the cart and put the horse back in front of it.

  4. Last two paragraphs are a keeper! I live in the Southern U.S. where SEC football is king. People are always saying about their football team “If only Coach xxx were still alive” or “If only we had a Coach like xxxx”. More and more I hear people saying of church “If we only had a pastor like ….”. I know of a mega church church in Memphis, Tennessee where almost weekly I hear the members say “If only pastor … were still alive.” and he has been dead for several years.

    Even that large organization of church starters with grace in their name promote the strong leader model.

    Without the leader, there is no identity. In the calendar based church where I am currently in the process of joining, the first thing my wife and I noticed was that it was not centered around the personality of the pastor. The sermon is short, and may be delivered by either the pastor or assistant pastor. The sermon usually follows the lectionary. All of the rest of the service is performed by lay people following the lectionary and/or calendar. Even the music is chosen a year ahead by a worship committee, not the pastor or staff.

    For years in baptist and non-denominational churches, I was taught that lay led churches never grow. And, to a an extent, that is correct. They don’t experience the rapid growth of current mega-churches. But, they do not seem to experience the collapse of many mega churches when the lead pastor passes away or is found in sin.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      They don’t experience the rapid growth of current mega-churches. But, they do not seem to experience the collapse of many mega churches when the lead pastor passes away or is found in sin.

      A boom-and-crash cycle. Just like house prices over the past 5-10 years. Without any substance within, a bubble always pops into nothingness.

  5. I have very much appreciated this series and feel almost all churches could benefit from participating in the rhythm of a liturical calendar that is centered on Christ. I do believe that cultural and denominational “personalities” should allow for varying degrees of its form and influence.

    In regard to “charismatic” leaders, I also agree, to a point. In America we seem to idolize everything. But this also is a human tendency that was even an issue in the NT with Peter, Paul, Apollos, etc. They were all “charistmatic” leaders in the true sense of the word, and yet people would sometimes idolize them as well – and they would rebuke them for it. Some pastor/leaders will also have charismatic “personalities”, although most will not. This also is not wrong as long as they continue in a spirit of humility to point to Christ and not to themselves. It is the Spirit of Christ that people need to recognize and be drawn to in such personalities rather than to the person-ality themselves. Both with the pastor/leader and with the congregation (or whatever the context), the question is whether Jesus is the center, the one being lifted up and is the glory genuinely being given to our Father in heaven.

  6. Steve Newell says:

    Many American churches are “a-historic” in that they have cut themselves off from centuries of Church history and from other churches. The independent non-denominational churches also cut themselves off from the other churches at a theological level as well. The result is that many churches are isolated “denominations” of their own.

    Church practices such as the liturgical calendar, the lectionary, the reciting of the three creeds helps us remember we, as a local church body, are of part of the church universal or the church catholic.

    Acts 2:42 provides us with what life in the Church looks like on the Lord’s Day:

    1. Teachings of the Apostles (Word)
    2. Fellowship (gathering of the saints for worship)
    3. Breaking of Bread ( Sacrament)
    4. Prayers (prayers, psalms, hymns etc)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Many American churches are “a-historic” in that they have cut themselves off from centuries of Church history and from other churches.

      And in doing so, they leave themselves with a “holy history” that ended with the Apostles, completely cut off from reality. Just like any other mythology — what makes the Gospel so special? When it becomes just another set of myths and stories that happened a long time ago in what may as well be a galaxy far far away?

      The independent non-denominational churches also cut themselves off from the other churches at a theological level as well. The result is that many churches are isolated “denominations” of their own.

      It’s called the “Non-Denominational Denomination”. Which usually ends up looking like X-Treme Southern Baptist or IFB with the labels painted over. Then “Can You Top This” sets in and you wind up with isolated One True Way cults in all but name and (increasingly-extreme) theology.

      Until one day you reach the ultimate theoretical end-state of Protestantism:
      “Us Four,
      No More,
      (and even the other three are going Apostate and Heretic),
      Amen.”

  7. CM, once again you have “hit the nail on the head” as far as describing my 10 years in pastoral ministry many years ago. My wife and I were in the Lutheran service yesterday and are so much looking forward to the beginning of the new church year and learn first hand what you and others are writing about. HEY ALLEN! My son received his Master’s and recently his PHD from Alabama, we have been down for a game or two….ROLL, TIDE!!!!

  8. Yes and amen!

  9. Good post, Chaplain Mike. If Catholics had to rely on the personality of their local priests, we would be in even more trouble than we are, numbers-wise, in terms of attendance at Mass. Spending the last few years here at internetmonk has helped me to have a better appreciation of my Catholic tradition, heritage, etc. Liturgy, lay readers and educators all help to keep people within the Church. Priests come and go but Jesus will always be there in the Eucharistic celebration and in the Word and among the people.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I discovered that evangelical Christianity, with its pervasive emphasis on individual faith, was also working against me.

    Which is a real kicker when you factor in that Evangelical Christian Culture is also one of the most conformist on the macro level.

    • Excellent point HUG. Is there something about the hyper-individualism that necessitates the conformity you point to?

      • Chesterton, in “Orthodoxy,” had an image that seems relevant here. Imagine everyone lives on a flat table land, with steep cliffs around it. If there are no fences, people will stay huddled in the middle of the mesa, knowing that danger lies all around them. If, however, there are fences, people will feel free to roam all over their area, fearing nothing.

        While Chesterton wasn’t making this exact point, it seems to me that the hyper-individualism you’re talking about is the fenceless state, and conformity is the huddle in the middle of vast and varied territory. If these people accepted religious “fences,” such as liturgy, hierarchy, etc., they would be free to spread out a bit.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Not sure of the connection. You’d expect Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation types to be real anarchistic — after all, it’s just “Jesus and Me” and nobody else. Instead, they’re only anarchistic on the macro level, between One True Churches. Within each One True Church, it’s completely opposite. All I know is during my time in-country years ago, I saw way too much of this.

  11. I was pleased yesterday when our new, young priest preaching in his newly acquired language, Spanish, tied the day’s liturgy to the roots of most of those present. I think it surprised him when he received my e-mail thanking him for his effort.

  12. It may not seem like it, but the Jesus/Gospel way will win in the long run. Johathan Edwards had his thing going for a while. Later Charles Finney had a thing as well. At one time it was Martin Luther; at another time in history Billy Sunday was the biggest thing going. All of those guys were incredible men that lead many. Men come and go. What is popular changes over time; I don’t think a hundred people today would stay 3 hours and listen to Charles Spurgeon. That time has past.

    You may never be on television, smiling and holding your new book. But in a hundred years, Driscoll nor Warren nor ________ will be either. The Gospel, that will still be preached.

  13. Okay, I’m going to word this very carefully, except it’ll probably offend some people anyway. I’m sorry if any of this comes across as rude. I’m not part of the “family” of this site so take it with a grain of salt and don’t excommunicate me.

    On the one hand, I understand the desire to create cohesion in a church, and I also appreciate maintaining the perspective that the Church is bigger than a single local congregation. I think those things, especially the latter, are important, and I value churches’ efforts to remember believers in the past, or in other cultures, or in other denominations, as being part of the same family.

    That said, I have some issues with some of the thoughts expressed in this article.

    Mike: Like many evangelical pastors, I tried to rally us around sermon series. However, it became disappointing to realize that people were not hanging on my every word!

    I think you’re being facetious, but this is not evangelicalism’s fault, or the fault of sermon series. People have short attention spans, and people like listening to good speakers. I think your point later on is that it’s not imperative for people to hang on your every word because it’s not about you, but that doesn’t mean that having a sermon series is inherently self-focused or something like that.

    So much happened in people’s lives between Sundays that folks rarely maintained the mental connections between last Sunday’s sermon and the one I gave today. I was studying all week long; for the most part, they weren’t. Plus, people weren’t always there every week due to work or family schedules. I tried to create some continuity by writing daily devotionals to go along with the sermon. A few used them sporadically. We tried linking our small group studies to the message with limited success.

    This is also not evangelicalism’s fault. Do you find the opposite to be true in Catholic circles? I don’t know many Catholics; I was friends with a few in high school and a few of the high school students I now teach are Catholic, and I probably shouldn’t use them as a rule for evaluating Catholics as a whole. You know what high school kids are like.

    I discovered that evangelical Christianity, with its pervasive emphasis on individual faith, was also working against me. If my sermons weren’t “scratching where people itched,” then they just went down to the Christian bookstore and found a book or Bible study for themselves, searched out some preacher on TV, radio or the internet that was dealing with their issues, or even went to another church that “met their needs.”

    Wait, I thought your congregants didn’t study during the week. Do you mean they just didn’t study the same thing you were talking about on Sunday, and if so, why is that such a problem? Now, I understand that a lot of Christians are just looking for a feel-good sermon about prosperity or peace and love or whatever. And that’s not evangelicalism’s fault either, and not all (I won’t even say most) evangelical churches are like that. The ones that are happen to be big and on TV, because they draw lazy people. All people have a tendency to be lazy, Catholic and Protestant alike – we just find different ways to be lazy from one tradition to the other.

    Evangelicalism focuses on individual faith, studying the Bible for oneself, and not letting any person come between you and God, not even a pastor. There is good and bad in this. Catholicism focuses on tradition and the authority of the church leaders telling the church what to believe, what to study, and what to pray. There is good and bad in this too. Protestants, in moving away from being spoonfed their faith, threw the baby out with the bathwater. You in this article seem to be doing a bit of the same.

    This, apparently, is the way evangelical churches gain their sense of identity—by being known as “so and so’s church.” Our tradition is formed by the strong, charismatic leader.

    No, this is the way -those three churches- gain their sense of identity. There are a lot of evangelical churches out there whose pastors are nobodies, are not charismatic, and are not the focus of the church. Please stop using the few celebrity churches out there as a blanket to cover all of evangelicalism. I don’t assume all Catholic priests are molesting little boys just because that’s what I hear about in the news. It’s a strawman argument, it’s lame, and it’s annoying.

    And herein lies some of the advantages of following a pattern of spirituality like the Church Year.

    Forgive me, but you’ve hardly made a case for the Church Year pattern here. It’s a program too, just an older one. I’m not saying it’s a bad model or that we shouldn’t use it, just that in writing a long rant against shallow doctrine, flaky congregants, and made-for-TV pastors, you haven’t explained to me what’s good about the Church Year model or how it is inherently better than any other doctrinally sound, cohesive program. I’ve been to churches that are the opposite of what you describe as everything that’s wrong with evangelicalism, and they don’t follow the Church Year plan.

    It’s about a family living in the family story, as individuals, families, and congregations. As an overarching structure by which our personal and congregational life is patterned, it allows plenty of room for creativity and variety, but it provides a larger metanarrative that gives meaning and direction to everything we do.

    Do you find that congregants whose churches use this model do study during the week on a regular basis and can connect one Sunday to the next more, on average, than at your evangelical church?

    No matter what else happens in the church or in my life, I know that this Sunday is the beginning of Advent.

    Yeah, Protestants do Advent too.

    I’m not saying everything in this article is bad or that I disagree with it all (generally if I don’t reply directly to a statement, I have nothing to say in disagreement with it). I just think you got a little sidetracked in your rant, but from the articles I’ve read here that kind of seems to be the norm. No offense, but that’s what it comes across as. Other people who have issues with the evangelical church probably eat it up. The question I ask myself whenever I read something from this site is, is this really about spirituality, or even about the Catholic/high tradition church? Or is it about throwing rocks at the evangelical church because it burned you?

    • Wow, Zoe. Internet Monk is a journey of discussion that includes a lot of people, many of whom are trying to find their way through the post-evangelical wilderness. I am certainly critical of evangelicalism, not because it “burned me,” but because I find it so wanting and have a deep desire as a called minister for reformation and renewal. It is a lover’s quarrel.

      Oh, and by the way this is just one of many posts on liturgy and the church year, etc. It does not contain everything we have to say on the subject. Perhaps some of the other posts will communicate the respect we have for these historic practices better to you.

      You have some strong and passionate opinions yourself. What’s up?

      • Haha! Nothing’s up. I suppose I have a tendency to word things strongly, but overall I was annoyed by the illogical criticisms in this article (X churches are like this, therefore this is true of all evangelicalism). I have great respect for many things in Catholicism and the higher tradition churches.

        A reformation is taking something that exists and reshaping it into something better. To this effect, the Protestant Reformation was never intended to create a new branch of Christianity or to leave the Catholic church. I am unsure, because I don’t know you or anything about you, if you really mean to reform the evangelical church or move to a different tradition.

        Also, since I don’t know you I have no frame of reference for when I read the articles you post. Most of the ones I’ve read begin with references to your history as an evangelical pastor and the bad experiences you had as such, and move from there to a criticism of evangelicalism in general, frequently drawing on “celebrity” churches that are consistent with your experience as examples of what’s wrong with the evangelical church as a whole; and finally, you speak about the positives of Catholic tradition compared to what you experienced. The comments you receive usually corroborate this (bad experiences with evangelical churches and the superiority of Catholic tradition). I don’t read all that many articles on this site, but that’s been the pattern I’ve noticed so far. To me, that reads as someone who left the evangelical church because of bad experiences; I’m sorry for drawing inaccurate conclusions but I hope you’ll understand how I could come to that conclusion based on my very limited knowledge. And

        I’m not saying your experience is invalid or that there aren’t problems with the evangelical church. I don’t even think that the evangelical church is for everybody (call me weird, but I think having many different facets of the Church is a good thing, if we build each other up instead of tear each other down). I’m just saying, not every church is what you describe, and it annoys me when people make sweeping generalizations like that. It’s illogical and usually inaccurate, and I’ve seen it in nearly every article I’ve read on this site – granted, I haven’t read many – and it started bothering me after maybe the third or fourth time.

        When I was in college I went to a church that I absolutely fell in love with. It was different from every other church I went to, all in good ways. At my small group we sometimes discussed church structure/organization/tradition/practice, and sometimes we would start to talk about our past negative experiences. Usually one of the people in the group would then remind us that not every church is perfect and that we shouldn’t become arrogant in thinking our way was the best way or that our church was the best church, because that leads to division in the body of Christ. I do think it’s important to discuss the failures of the church and to work toward making it better, but sometimes we go a little overboard.

        I was hoping you or someone would respond to some of my specific points or at least my questions, but it’s okay if you don’t.

    • Whoa…there’s some strong opinions here. Some of which I will respond to.

      I would hardly classify CM’s writings as “rants”. Whether you’re post-evangelical, paleo-orthodox, emerging, contemporary, etc…there’s great value in considering the practices of the early church in a contemporary context, which is exactly what IM promotes.

      Ten years as an evangelical pastor led me down the proverbial Canterbury Trail, not because I was weary of one style of worship or another, but because I took a year off from ministry, not to examine myself, but to examine ministry! There are two matters of concern that you will find addressed often on IM: Orthodoxy (right worship) and Orthopraxy (right practice). I honestly don’t know if there is a right form for worship…as long as the substance is solid, who cares about the style? But there are definitely right forms of practice. I ventured into the post-evangelical wilderness because I needed a faith that was incarnational, sacramental, catholic (Not necessarily Catholic, but catholic), AND evangelical. I didn’t find that in the evangelical church I’ve known for the past four decades.

      I did find these things and more in faith groups that still honored the practices developed in the first 1500 years of Christianity…practices that the bulk of American Christians ignore. I was tired of a faith that spent a large amount of energy hurling stones at other faith groups, trying to convince people that they couldn’t be “saved” under a certain denominational title, politics and faith gettting tangled, and the minimizing of the value of church history. I had to get back to the basics…Christ first.

      The liturgical calendar is one of those practices that has helped me to do just that.

      Was there a “pro-Catholic” sentiment to this piece? To this series? I didn’t catch that at all.

      • Lee: Whoa…there’s some strong opinions here. Some of which I will respond to.

        I guess by “some of which” you’re referring to me, so I’ll respond. I’m not sure why I’m being classified as a “strong opinion” on this subject, just because I took issue with some of the comments. I haven’t actually said much of what I believe about this subject; I just asked questions and pointed out a logical fallacy that bothered me.

        I would hardly classify CM’s writings as “rants”.

        I’m just saying, that’s what some of the stuff comes across as to a person who is on the “outside,” so to speak. Not every article, and not every part of a given article, but certainly some stuff.

        Whether you’re post-evangelical, paleo-orthodox, emerging, contemporary, etc…

        I’m not big on labels. Post-evangelical is a relatively new term to me and I’ve never heard of paleo-orthodox before.
        there’s great value in considering the practices of the early church in a contemporary context, which is exactly what IM promotes.

        I never said there wasn’t (maybe this part wasn’t directed at me but I haven’t read all of the other comments). On the contrary, I said from the beginning that I see great value in connecting to the past, as well as to other cultures and denominations.

        I honestly don’t know if there is a right form for worship…as long as the substance is solid, who cares about the style?

        I think there are definitely wrong forms of worship, but they have little or nothing to do with style.

        But there are definitely right forms of practice. I ventured into the post-evangelical wilderness because I needed a faith that was incarnational, sacramental, catholic (Not necessarily Catholic, but catholic), AND evangelical. I didn’t find that in the evangelical church I’ve known for the past four decades.

        I agree that our faith definitely needs to be all those things. I’m sorry that in forty years you didn’t find that in a single evangelical church, or incorporate it into the one you ministered in. I don’t know how many churches you interacted with in those years; I’m only 23 but I’ve moved around a bit so I’ve been to a number of different churches. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve never had a terrible experience with any of the churches I’ve been to except one Presbyterian church, but that was a personal conflict stemming from doctrine and didn’t have anything to do with practice. I don’t think my family’s church is perfect, and there are some things I wish it did differently, especially compared to the church I went to in college, but I think there are a lot of things it’s doing very well, and I support that. At the same time, I know that I won’t go to that church forever. Someday God will call me away, whether to a different city or just to a different body. In the mean time, I hope that my involvement with my church will contribute positively to the body.

        I was tired of a faith that spent a large amount of energy hurling stones at other faith groups

        Exactly.

        Was there a “pro-Catholic” sentiment to this piece? To this series? I didn’t catch that at all.

        That’s not exactly what I meant; I apologize for being unclear. I was speaking in general terms of what I’ve seen overall in what I’ve read on this site (which is admittedly not a lot). The church calendar promoted in this series is one of many practices employed by the Catholic church and high order Protestant churches. I also didn’t say this was a good or a bad thing; I was making an observation, trying to summarize my overall impression of IM. The thing I said was bad was, as a friend of mine put it, taking potshots at evangelicalism. Speaking of hurling stones at other faith groups and all that.

        • Well Zoe, since I’ve pastored and interacted with a variety of evangelical churches for a longer time than you’ve been alive, I hope you’ll give me a little credit for observations based on a substantial amount of experience. As soon as I get home today and can reply using a real computer rather than this iPod, I will try to address some of your specific questions and comments. Fair enough?

          • I didn’t question that you have had substantial experience; I said I didn’t know. I just find it surprising that so much of your experience, from what I can tell, has been so incredibly negative, while very little of my experience has. Maybe I’m just not old enough.

            And thanks, that sounds good.

            • Zoe, if you’re interested, I would encourage you to go back and read more from the FAQ/Rules page, from this past year, and from Michael Spencer’s articles in the archives for a more comprehensive view of what we’re all about here. I’m not going to change your impression with one comment on a particular post, but I assure you the discussion that goes on at IM is more complex and nuanced than what you perceive as simple “evangelical bashing” based on negative experiences some of us have had in churches. Michael said he was a “post-evangelical” because he believed “the way forward for evangelicalism is the way back to the roots of the broader, deeper, more ancient, more ecumenical church, not forward into more of what evangelicals have been doing the last 50 years.”

          • Aaaarrrgh! Mike! The “longer than you’ve been alive” defense only works with your kids.

            Well, on second thought, maybe only with your kids. It doesn’t work with mine.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Many churches that are not “high order” are now following the lectionary and making an attempt to be in the Year in a better way. There is a variance as to what liturgical elements are used, but this is a trend, for the better in my opinion. This is includes United Methodist, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ and I’m sure some others.

    • Hey Zoe:thanks for your comments. To your question, “Do you find congregants whose churches use this model do study during the week on a regular basis and can connect one Sunday to the next more, on average, than at your evangelical church?” Yes, definitely. But I only know a few people personally who attend such churches. A couple of families we’ve gotten to know in our neighborhood who study it, talk about it with their children every night at the dinner table. I sat in on some of those discussions over the years and was amazed at what they were saying, never heard such things in my 35 years of evangelical christianity. I’m a hospital chaplain and for 13 years have had the honor of sitiing with elderly people who are congregants of such churches and have been humbled, challenged, and instructed as I’ve listened to the life story of their faith as it was explained in terms of what CM was talking about in regard to the church year. I hadn’t heard of one’s life in the Lord spoken of in that way befor and it took hold of a thirsty place in my spirit where I wanted to know the Lord more, or in a richer way. Could I find that in continuing in an evangelical church? Yeah, possibly. But I am presently exposing myself to that kind of worship experience and it has been so rich and meaningful. Thanks again for jumping in.

      • Hi Ronh, thanks for the input regarding my question. Like I said, I don’t know that many Catholics, and the ones I do know probably aren’t the best examples to use. I’m a little surprised your experience with evangelical Christians has been what it has, mostly since mine has not. But then, I went to a Christian college which seemed to attract certain “types” of Christians – the ones who were serious about living their faith daily.

        I would like to propose that it’s not necessarily the formula (in this case, the church calendar) that causes people to be diligent and studious in their faith. It’s the people themselves, their level of spiritual maturity, and the way they have been brought up in the faith by their mentors and/or spiritual parents. I think that while following the church calendar is a good, useful thing to do, we should keep in mind that it still takes personal discipline and diligence to stick to it. The model itself is not going to transform us or our congregations. It’s one of those “you can lead a horse to water” things.

        Certainly, some models/programs/formulas/systems are better than others, and we should try to follow the ones that are good, but I suggest that the essential problems with worship are not formulaic problems; they are human problems. I think if our hearts are earnestly seeking after God, then we could follow any of a variety of programs and be consistently growing in faith and maturity. On the contrary, if our hearts are not earnestly seeking after God, then the best program in the world, even following the church calendar by the book, will not result in growth. I think we can probably agree on that.

        • Zoe, I think this comment shows some of the difference between us. I don’t see practices like keeping the Church Year as a model/program/formula/system. It is living the Christian faith as it has been practiced by most Christians for almost two millennia, walking in the wisdom that the Holy Spirit has given the church over the centuries rather than trying to find some new innovative way of spiritual growth. Evangelicalism’s traditions and practices are rooted in the revivalism of the 1800’s and I think it would be stronger, more vibrant and more fully oriented around the Gospel if it would reconnect with the historic teaching and practice of the one true, holy and apostolic church.

          • Well, the words I used have been blacklisted today, but by definition, that’s what the practice is. That doesn’t make it bad; that doesn’t make it non-Spirit-led. But to be perfectly technical, it’s a preset system, a codified way of doing things. It just happens to be a very *old* system, developed over time, as opposed to a new formula or a passing fad developed very quickly by one person or group. If I may make an assumption about you, and correct me if I’m wrong, I think the difference between us actually is that you think calling something a model or program or formula or system is saying something negative. I don’t think of it that way; all those words just mean a set way of doing something, as opposed to complete spontaneity. I’m a classical ballet dancer and formerly a classically trained musician; being systematic is not bad in my book.

            By the way, I know that the phrase “one true, holy and apostolic church” is a standard reference to the Roman Catholic church, but it makes it sound like you think every church that’s different from yours is not true, not holy, and not apostolic (and therefore heretical). You probably don’t think that (at least I hope not); I just wondered if you were aware of how your choice of words came across.

            • Zoe, “one true holy catholic and apostolic church” is from the Nicene Creed, one of the early Creeds that ALL Christians subscribe to, not a specific reference to the Roman Catholic church.

              And no, I am not saying that “every church that’s different from mine is not true…etc.” I am saying that some branches of the church have cut themselves off from their history and roots, and are weaker because of it.

              Please re-read my comment: “I think [the evangelical church] would be stronger, more vibrant and more fully oriented around the Gospel if it would reconnect with the historic teaching and practice of the one true, holy and apostolic church.

          • I’m replying here because the reply button goes away after so many replies. Sorry for my misunderstanding of your comment (yes, I am familiar with the ancient creeds including the Nicene creed; I had a brain lapse). I know that’s not what you meant, but the way it’s worded, it almost sounds like you were saying the evangelical church is not part of the one true church. I was just pointing it out is all.

            Anyway, I think one of my comments got deleted/didn’t pass moderation (about there being more to my earlier comment than the word “formula”). I didn’t really intend to have a conversation about terminology, and the focus keeps bouncing from one term or technicality to another while my main points go unaddressed (Chrome tells me that’s not a word). I know I’ve done the same thing plenty of times, so I’m not mad at you or anything, but I’m probably not going to say much more here. I don’t post online much anymore and it’s not worth my time or yours to keep bouncing around like this. I’m sorry if anything I’ve said came across as rude or anything like that. I was just trying to make some observations, coming from a different perspective; that’s all.

            • Zoe, thanks for participating. I love it when people push back on what I write, and I hope my answers gave you some perspective. I’m sorry you feel your main points were not addressed. Sometimes in the conversation we lose our way. I thought it important to give you a big picture of where we’re coming from first, because you seemed to have the impression that the main thing we’re about is bashing evangelicalism because we’ve been hurt by it.

              However, let me try. I’ll go back to your original comment.

              1. My point about “sermon series” and church cohesion, etc. The most important sentence was this: “I wasn’t interested in controlling people’s lives and limiting their learning, but as a pastor I believed a church family should have some sense of an overall pattern, a “tradition,” if you will, that gives identity, shape, and direction to the course of our faith.” I found, over thirty years of ministry, that the evangelical churches were mostly winging it, making it up as they went along, and constantly reinventing the wheel. Having cut themselves off from history and tradition, they always felt they had to find something “new” to attract people and keep them interested. It was a business and marketing mindset, and I find it pervasive throughout the evangelical world. I longed for something more substantial, rooted, an overall sense of what being a Christian and being a part of a church was all about. I came to think that it wasn’t up to me as a pastor to create that; it’s already there for us in the Gospel, and that many of the ancient church traditions and practices have provided a way of living in and under the Gospel for two thousand years.

              2. Regarding evangelical churches being formed by a strong charismatic leader. I gave three prominent examples, but I don’t think they are exceptions. I am convinced that the churches most people view as “successful” are led by charismatic pastors who promote an innovative program. They may not be public celebrities but the model is still entrepreneurial and values innovation first. Maybe until one is in the ministry and finds himself trying to “compete” in the church marketplace, that is not evident to everyong. But it is certainly true in the areas where I have lived. Not every church, of course, follows that model, but it is the model that the evangelical world promotes through its materials and media and conferences and schools. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is the ruling ethos in the evangelical world. This criticism is by no means unique to Internet Monk, but is pretty well accepted and stated by many critics of evangelicalism.

              3. Regarding my arguments for keeping the Church Year. This is article 5 of a series of articles, and this series follows many other articles on Internet Monk about the value of liturgy, ancient practices, and the Church Year. If you find this argument falls short, then I suggest you realize it is but one small snippet of a much longer conversation. Go back into the archives and read the posts on the Ancient-Future Path (start with http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-ancient-future-path) and you can get a much fuller picture.

              4. Regarding “being burned” by evangelicalism. We are “post-evangelicals” here. That doesn’t mean we have been hurt and are striking back (though that may apply in some cases). It means we have been part of the system of church and culture of faith practice called American evangelicalism and found it wanting. Hopefully, what we write is deeper than mere bashing. We aim to critique evangelicalism and share what we’re discovering about the church because, with Michael Spencer, we believe “the way forward for evangelicalism is the way back to the roots of the broader, deeper, more ancient, more ecumenical church, not forward into more of what evangelicals have been doing the last 50 years.”

        • I’m a little late to the party here, but I wanted to pass on some thoughts to Zoe…

          Chaplain Mike gave some links and some explanation for the context of this community… please follow these up if you already haven’t. It was very helpful for me as I first found this community. The perspective and corporate experience here may be very different from yours, but there is much profit in reading and seeing through these eyes.

          This is a wonderful group of people who love Jesus very deeply, and there is much depth to be found in the iMonk community. I hope you stick around and feel welcome. This is one of the few places I have found where the exchange of ideas (and yes, sometimes debate :)) is nearly always cordial, robust, and seasoned with grace.

          Grace and Peace, have a great Thanksgiving!

          • Thanks Ray. I’m not actually here to stay; I occasionally read articles that a friend of mine reposts asking for feedback, and I guess I was in just the right (wrong?) mood today so I thought I’d comment (I think I’ve commented a few times before but almost never received replies). I did read the FAQs and that was helpful in giving me a better picture of where Mike and Michael Spencer are/were (respectively) coming from. I do find great value in conversing with people whose opinions are different from my own, and that’s partly why I posted in the first place. Anyway, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving too and enjoy the season of Advent.

  14. “This is a perfect formula for American culture. We revere the entrepreneur, the guy who sees a need and fills it, the one who takes charge and makes a name for himself, who innovates and creates a new, attractive way forward, who is magnetic in personality, a riveting communicator, and whose looks ain’t bad either.”

    Which is why I like the Liturgical calendar – it gives us a chance to focus on something greater than the magnetic personality, and what the personality comes up with for a particular week. The cult of personality can become a god unto himself, proof being that when he leaves a church the congregation follows. “A new and attractive way forward” sounds like a marketing campaign with the christian brand on it…

    I will admit I am biased, though I continually reach out to see what other faiths are doing. But I still love a liturgy where the focus is on the liturgy and not the messenger, even if the sermon or homily is flat, it is but one piece that makes up the whole of the liturgy. And the liturgical year keeps me on track from a 10,000 foot view.

    Is there some pull to take the low/non-liturgical route-wing it as you go-follow the latest fad (cafe styly/liturgical dancing etc)? Apparently, as I watch those in my high liturgical faith leave for the fun of rock bands and total casualness. But I often wonder if they were leaving to grow deeper in their faith, or leaving for the fun…

    • You can always annoy your friends by quoting the Pope at them 😉

      From his interview with journalists on board the flight to Britain for the Papal Visit in September of this year:

      Father Lombardi: The United Kingdom, like many other Western countries – this is a theme that was already touched upon in the first response – is considered a secular nation, with a strong atheistic movement associated with cultural influences; however there are also signs that religious faith, in particular in Jesus Christ, is still vibrant at the personal level. What might this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can one do something to make the Church as an institution more credible and attractive to all?

      The Holy Father: “One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity, the power of love; it is than when the Church is heard and accepted. She should not consider herself, but assist in considering the Other, and should herself see and speak of the Other and for the Other. In this sense it seems to me also that Anglicans and Catholics have the simple task, the same task, the same direction to take. If Anglicans and Catholics see that both are not there for themselves, but are rather instruments of Christ, ‘friends of the Bridegroom,’ as Saint John says; if both follow together the priority of Christ and not themselves, they draw closer together, because the priority of Christ brings them together, they are no longer in competition, each one seeking greater numbers, but are united in commitment to the truth of Christ who comes into this world, and so they find themselves also placed reciprocally in a true and fruitful ecumenism.”

      One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path

      If you want to get a name as a grumpy wet blanket, there’s the quote for you!

      🙂

  15. Hey CM, thanks for a great series on the Christian calendar, and for acknowledging the comments with thoughtful response.

    Peace…

    Lee Adams, Post-Evangelical, Paleo-Orthodox, Ordained Baptist, Confirmed Anglican, Lover of Jesus….

  16. Mike, thanks for giving a more thorough response to my original comment (you still didn’t answer my two questions, which were actually one question, but somebody else gave it a shot already). I still don’t agree with you that most evangelical churches are based around a charismatic leader and modeled like the celebrity churches, but if that’s been your experience, my only further question is, do you live in the South?

    • Nope, Midwest.

      If you wouldn’t mind, please your other questions that i didn’t answer, and I’ll give them some thought as I drive today.

      • Mike: Nope, Midwest.

        Interesting. Well, that’s one area I haven’t lived and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of big churches there (I visited a large church in Toledo once that reminded me of going to a concert). I live in the Northwest in a small town, and we just don’t have churches like what you describe. I think there are two mega-churches in the Pacific Northwest, one in Seattle and one in Portland. Other than that, the biggest church I’ve ever attended in this region is my family’s church, which has about 600 regular attenders.

        If you wouldn’t mind, please your other questions that i didn’t answer, and I’ll give them some thought as I drive today.

        My basic question was, do you find that your congregants do study more consistently through the week when using the church calendar model? And if so, do you think this is primarily because of the model itself, or because of the people using the model and the strength/maturity of their faith compared to the other congregations you have been part of?

        And my basic point was, in this post you mentioned a lot of problems you saw and/or experienced in the evangelical church, and I don’t think the essential problem is that the system is wrong (although some systems are certainly better than others – and yes, you can substitute another word for “system” if you prefer), but that there is something wrong with us. We’re lazy. We’re short-sighted. We live in a culture where everything is instant, easy, and disposable, and we think theology and worship ought to be that way too. Simply changing from one focus (say, Desiring God since you mentioned that) to another (such as the church calendar), although it may be a good change, won’t automatically make us studious, diligent, and consistent. The change comes from within, not from without. I think having a single cohesive focus is certainly a good thing and would help people connect their individual study to what they hear about on Sunday or Wednesday or whenever they go to church – but first they have to be individually studying.

        Finally, I think I’ve given the wrong impression of myself here since I’ve been coming at this from the other angle on purpose. To reiterate, I don’t think the church year model is bad. I don’t think it shouldn’t be used. I don’t think evangelicalism is flawless or even the best kind of church, or that the problems you mentioned do not exist (although I have a hard time believing that some of the specific ones you mentioned here are as widespread as you think they are – but that’s just your experience versus mine I guess). I’m just questioning whether it’s logical to fault a system for what (I think) are essentially human problems – because when you change the system, those same problems are going to creep in somewhere else.

        • Good, thoughtful comments, Zoe. Yes, obviously at heart the problem is human. But the Bible talks about the world, the flesh, and the devil as the three great powers that tempt us to sin and work against the Gospel. You are correct that merely changing systems is not the answer, but I think we must also recognize where these three powers are impacting us. You said it yourself: “We live in a culture where everything is instant, easy, and disposable, and we think theology and worship ought to be that way too.” A common criticism of American evangelicalism is that we have created a faith practice that is very much bound to our culture in ways that feed our worst tendencies. For example, around here, we worry a lot about “consumer” religion, evidenced by people hopping from church to church to “get their needs met.” That’s the world feeding our flesh. In the same way, running our churches like businesses and thinking that spiritual growth comes through programs reveals more of our American corporate mindset than about our faith and understanding of Scripture. One reason evangelicalism is so susceptible to this is because it has cut itself off from history and tradition, and therefore has little in the way of long-term institutional memory to give it perspective when it faces contemporary issues. Practices like Church Year spirituality can get us back in touch with our roots and the broader church in a way that the latest, greatest program can never do, and that’s why it’s one small piece I’ve recommended.

          As for whether or not Christians study more under the Church Year system than in others, I’m still observing and learning about that. We currently attend a Lutheran church and I can tell you that daily prayer and Bible reading and catechizing of children and young people is highly valued by many in our congregation. However, I wouldn’t say they are Biblically literate in a way that I would desire if I were the pastor. People in my former evangelical congregations would participate in Bible studies and so on, but I always felt disappointed in the depth of our Biblical and theological understanding there too. I think you are right, Zoe, when you say that’s a problem all churches face.

          • Mike: Good, thoughtful comments, Zoe.

            I like to think all my comments are thoughtful, but they’re not all necessarily good. 😉

            A common criticism of American evangelicalism is that we have created a faith practice that is very much bound to our culture in ways that feed our worst tendencies. For example, around here, we worry a lot about “consumer” religion, evidenced by people hopping from church to church to “get their needs met.” That’s the world feeding our flesh.

            I agree this is a major flaw in the Western church today, particularly in America.

            One reason evangelicalism is so susceptible to this is because it has cut itself off from history and tradition, and therefore has little in the way of long-term institutional memory to give it perspective when it faces contemporary issues.

            I think I both agree and disagree with this statement. On the one hand, I agree that it is detrimental to cut ourselves off from the past and that a historical (and multicultural) perspective can help us understand our contemporary situation. However, I also think that we can go overboard on this, because tradition is not always correct. For example, I’m a ballet dancer. Church tradition has been highly critical of dance, sacred and secular, and there have been a lot of sermons, essays, and even papal bulls about the evils of engaging in dance (although throughout history there were also believers, usually in the minority, who disagreed with this view). I am going against tradition for the most part in my profession and in my incorporation of dance into worship. One thing I appreciate about non-traditional churches is that many of them are beginning to welcome the arts back into the church, understanding that God is the supreme Artist and the giver of human creativity, and that as believers we ought to redeem the arts rather than shun them (as a side-note, one of the things I appreciate most about Catholicism is that they carried visual art, architecture, music, and even to some extent drama forward from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages).

            I think another way we can go overboard with tradition is that relying on it by default can feed our tendency to be lazy about evaluating things for ourselves, or listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

            As for whether or not Christians study more under the Church Year system than in others, I’m still observing and learning about that. We currently attend a Lutheran church and I can tell you that daily prayer and Bible reading and catechizing of children and young people is highly valued by many in our congregation. However, I wouldn’t say they are Biblically literate in a way that I would desire if I were the pastor.

            Yes, Lutheran children go through a confirmation process, just like Presbyterian children memorize a catechism, and I think that is very valuable. However, I don’t know that it’s very efficacious. You’re probably aware of studies by the Barna Group finding that biblical illiteracy is on the rise among all Christian denominations. http://www.theologicalstudies.org/page/page/1573625.htm or just Google “Christian denominations and Bible literacy poll” or something like that. Me, I was an AWANA kid, and even before that my parents read my brother and me Bible stories every night. I went to an evangelical Christian school, and I went to Sunday school every week, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said I studied the Bible more than anything else except maybe music as a kid.

            I guess there’s a difference between valuing something and doing it. I think this is why my church did the Bible in a year series two years in a row (the first time in the order they appear in modern Bibles, the second time in chronological order). It was a bit like the Survey of Old and New Testament courses I took in college (actually I wish my Survey of Old and New Testament courses had been more like those two years’ worth of sermons).

            People in my former evangelical congregations would participate in Bible studies and so on, but I always felt disappointed in the depth of our Biblical and theological understanding there too.

            I’ve only been part of three Bible studies in my life, two in college and one now, and I think I often learn more in those Bible studies than I do in church. I guess once again my experience is the exact opposite of yours – I am surprised by how much depth and insight I find in the other people in my Bible study, especially when it comes from people whose education was not as . . . doctrinally driven . . . as mine was. Well, that’s not entirely true – that is, I’ve stopped being surprised. For the past six years I’ve been part of a message board which is comprised largely of evangelicals or people who come from that kind of background (I don’t know, maybe some of them are post-evangelical; that’s a new term to me as none of them ever used it – for all I know, I might be post-evangelical), and again, the wisdom and knowledge I find in many of those people, some of whom are quite young, is truly humbling. I had a similar experience at college, surrounded by people whose faith was vibrant and flourishing, and there were many very different churches represented there.

            I think you are right, Zoe, when you say that’s a problem all churches face.

            Absolutely, and that’s really all I was intending to point out.

    • Zoe,

      If you don’t mind (just curiosity speaking here), would you be comfortable giving a little taste of your experience in the evangelical church? How might it have differed from the corporate experience here?

      • Sure, I’ll mention the three churches that have influenced me the most: my family’s church that I grew up in and two churches I attended in college.

        My family’s church is a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. We’ve gone there almost as long as we’ve been in town, about 18 years. In that time every member of the pastoral staff except one (the director of children’s ministries) has changed at least once. A lot of people did leave the church after our senior pastor moved, but he’s not at all the kind of person Mike described. He was quiet, introverted, not very dynamic, and not very charismatic. He was the kind of guy you wouldn’t really remember, but he was the pastor for 15 years and a lot of people liked him because he was a down-to-earth good guy; what I remember people saying about him more than anything was that he was a wonderful husband. The pastor we have now is much more dynamic and charismatic, but I don’t actually know that the church has grown that much since he’s been here, and it’s been close to 10 years I think.

        I think of my church as being pretty basic . . . I don’t know a lot about sub-denominations and the other labels, but we sing a combination of old songs and new songs, and our service structure is typical of Baptist churches. Both the pastor and former pastor usually did/do topical sermon series or else go through a book of the Bible, although last year and the year before, our church’s focus was reading through the Bible in a year, and so for those two years all the sermons were about whatever that week’s reading had been. We still have the read through the Bible in a year thing going but the sermons don’t follow it this year. We practice Advent and we start talking about Holy Week and Easter a few weeks in advance, although not usually the entire length of Lent. If there’s one thing this church is about, I would say it’s missions. I guess that’s a given as a CMA church, but I live in an area that has a very high Mormon population and there’s an additional focus in my church for educating people about Mormonism and how to interact with Mormons.

        When I went to college – and by the way, I went to college in Mississippi – the first church I attended was a PCA Presbyterian church. It was also your typical traditional Presbyterian church, as far as I can tell. No worship team – a worship leader and the choir, all in traditional matching robes – pretty much all we sang was hymns, the only instruments were a piano and an organ, and the pastor (I don’t know if they’re called pastors in the PCA but you get the idea) wore a robe too. I can’t remember for sure but I’m pretty sure that church’s sermons went through a book of the Bible in a series too. Let’s see, the pastor was pretty animated in the pulpit, but in real life he was very soft-spoken. I only attended that church for a year, but I got the impression that people went to that church because that was the church they’d grown up in or whatever, and that’s pretty much the norm for that kind of church in the South. Church is just what you do, whether you’re a Christian or not; it doesn’t have much to do with who the pastor is or how big the place is or whatever, for most people. I don’t really know if this church had a single focus, besides just this is the way church is, but I suppose its focus could have been on doctrine. The kids all memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism and all that.

        The church I went to for the last three years of college was started less than 10 years ago by a man who had a heart for the people of Jackson (that’s where I went to school). I don’t know exactly how it was started up because that was before my time, but when I started going it was about 100 people, one service on Sunday evenings, in a rented space because they didn’t (still don’t) own a building. Depending on who you are, you would either think it very traditional or very nontraditional. Every week we said the Lord’s Prayer together, every week we took Communion (as opposed to once a month in my family’s church or practically never in the Presbyterian church), the structure of every service was the same, we sang a fair number of hymns and often the same songs from one week to the next. On the other hand, nobody dressed up, the pastor sat on a stool to preach, we met for about two years in a restaurant/bar because that’s the space that was available to us, a lot of college kids went there, and it didn’t have any denominational affiliation. There were people from lots of different traditions and backgrounds, and the pastor recognized a lot of different traditions in his preaching, as well as in membership classes. Offhand, most people would probably call the church emergent, but I’m not really sure that label fits entirely.

        The sermons usually went through a book of the Bible at a time – when the church first started they started with Genesis 1 with the intention of going all the way through, and when I started attending they were in 1 Samuel. At some point I think that changed (though I’m not sure when because I wasn’t there for Christmas or summer breaks) and we went through other books individually, and Luke and Acts together. Once in a while there would be a single service about some completely unrelated topic. The pastor, while not very dynamic or even particularly well spoken, is the kind of person that people are drawn to. I think he recognizes that though, because he’s gone to great lengths to make the church not about him. He encourages everybody to be part of a small group (and almost everyone who attends regularly is), but in the group he leads, what he does is he has a different person lead the group each week. The church has a lot of different leaders over the functions of the church like the prison ministry and homeless ministry, etc. Essentially, he set it up so that it could keep going if he were someday no longer there, and I think it would because people don’t really go for him (although I learned a lot from his preaching in those 3 years), they go for the whole experience and for the community they can be part of. It’s been described as a church for people who hate church, and in the South there are a lot of those kinds of people. I think attendance was up around 200 a night by the time I was a senior in college, and now they have two services but I’m not sure how big they are because I’m no longer there. Anyway, of all the churches I’ve been to, and I’ve visited a lot here and there besides these three, this is the one that always seemed the most like what church ought to be, to me. It was very simple, no bells or whistles and not a whole lot of “programs” (they didn’t even have Sunday school), but there was something very pure about it. It’s a church without pretensions – it doesn’t try to impress you or hook you or be anything except an authentic endeavor to worship and serve God as a group. I wish there were more churches like it, and I was very blessed to have been part of it.