October 18, 2017

Guest Post: Rachel Held Evans, “Blessed Are the Un-Cool”

Note from Chaplain Mike: Today’s guest post is from Rachel Held Evans’ blog, which is rated “iMonk Highly Recommended Reading,” and is used with her permission.

Thanks, Rachel!

Come see usphoto © 2006 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)BLESSED ARE THE UN-COOL
By Rachel Held Evans

People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a  fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app, and a pastor who looks like a Jonas Brother.

While none of these features are inherently wrong, (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants,  and…brace yourself…painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

Soup line-come in for a hot mealphoto © 2006 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)But more importantly, I want to be part of an un-cool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus, and like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool.

They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people, and crazy people.

Cool congregations can get so wrapped up in the “performance” of church that they forget to actually be the church, a phenomenon painfully illustrated by the story of the child with cerebral palsy who was escorted from the Easter service at Elevation Church for being a “distraction.”

Really?

It seems to me that this congregation was distracted long before this little boy showed up! In their self-proclaimed quest for “an explosive, phenomenal movement of God—something you have to see to believe,” they missed Jesus when he was right under their nose.

Was the paralytic man lowered from the rooftop in the middle of a sermon a distraction?

Was the Canaanite woman who harassed Jesus and his disciples about healing her daughter a distraction?

Were the blind men from Jericho who annoyed the crowd with their relentless cries a distraction?

Jesus didn’t think so. In fact, he seemed to think that they were the point.

Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced?

In Bossypants (a book you should really go out and buy this very instant), Tina Fey describes working for the YMCA in Chicago soon after graduating from college. This particular YMCA included, “a great mix of high-end yuppie fitness facility, a wonderful community resource for families, and an old-school residence for disenfranchised men,” so Fey shares a host of funny stories about working the front desk. One such story involves one of the residents forgetting to take his meds, bumping into a young mom on her way to a workout session, and saying something wildly inappropriate (and very funny—you should definitely go out and get this book). Fey writes, “The young mother was beside herself. That’s the kind of trouble you get when diverse groups of people actually cross paths with one another. That’s why many of the worst things in the world happen in and around Starbucks bathrooms.”

Helping handsphoto © 2006 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)Church can be a lot like the Y…or a Starbucks bathroom.

We have one place for the un-cool people (our ministries) and another place for the cool people (our church services). When we actually bump into one another, things can get awkward, so we try to avoid it.

It’s easy to pick on Elevation Church in this case, but the truth is we’re all guilty of thinking we’re too cool for the least of these. Our elitism shows up when we forbid others from contributing art and music because we deem it unworthy of glorifying God, or when we scoot our family an extra foot or two down the pew when the guy with Aspergers sits down. Having helped start a church, I remember hoping that our hip guests wouldn’t be turned off by our less-than-hip guests.  For a second I forgot that in church, of all places, those distinctions should disappear.

Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside.

But we’re all broken.

We’re all un-cool.

We’re all in need of a Savior.

So let’s cut the crap, pull the plug, and have us some distracting church services… the kind where Jesus would fit right in.

***

Do you ever get the feeling that church is just one big show? Have you found a congregation in which Jesus and his friends would be welcome?

Comments

  1. As someone who has given up on finding a home in an institutional congregation because of “congregations [that] get so wrapped up in the “performance” of church that they forget to actually be the church,” I totally agree. (And it’s not just the congregations with the fog machines and the pastor with a fauxhawk; I find the same problem in traditional evangelical — and non-evangelical — congregations too.)

    As someone who is probably ADD (never diagnosed) and is VERY easily distracted, I can sympathize with those who want a nice, orderly Sunday service. But if you want everything in your worship life to be nice and orderly, Jesus is probably not the guy you want to hang around!

    • As one “uncool” Christian who HAS been diagnosed ADD, I know what it is like to be the “distraction” and to have been asked to leave. Yeah, asked to leave. I don’t know if you’re out there today Eagle, but I will bet that you have some insight on this one. Thanks for this post

  2. “Well, for one thing, when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.”

    Love it. Great writing, thank you.

  3. Excellent post, Rachel. Very well articulated. Keep em coming!

  4. iMonks: You should read and re-read this excellent article often, several times a day. Let us all pursue Jesus and not entertaining shows.

    Excellent, Rachel. You are welcome here anytime!

  5. ” I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants, and…brace yourself…painfully amateur “special music” now and then.”

    If you’r ever in Corona del Mar, CA come visit us. You have basically described our Lutheran congregation.

    Except we don’t have much in the way of special music, and with all the less than stellar production values we also are blessed to have a strong law gospel preacher.

    Pound for pound I would put us up against any congregation as far as wierd congregants go. Nice…but strange.

    That Christ Jesus could bring such a bunch together who wouldn’t normally go out of their way to spend any time together is a testimony to His power and grace.

  6. Melanie says:

    Fantastic… as a particularly uncool Christian (single, Mum, student (read financially challenged), who loves science and teaches ‘E’ in Biology and whose daughter has sensory problems and cannot be still or quiet… ever), I am proud t to say I drive 110km, passed dozens of churches, to go to probably the un-coolest church in our state. We share a church building with 3 other church denominations. We sometimes have music (loosely applied term). There are usually 15 people attending and the average age of congregation is around 55.

    BUT

    This small member of the body supports the ministry of 2 churches in remote areas for chinese immigrants (in 2 languages), ministers to their local community every day but once a year feeds them all! Every single person touched by this little church sees Jesus first …. before they see our little band of un-cool members.

    Un-cool is cool!

  7. ” I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants, and…brace yourself…painfully amateur “special music” now and then.”

    if a church needs a “sound tech guy”, I probably will not be at that Church. Great post!

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Indeed. There is an inverse relationship between the quality of a church’s sound system and the quality of its worship service. If I walk into a church and notice a sound booth filled with professional electronics, I have zero expectations for worship, though there might be a very well produced concert. If the sound is a bit scratchy, with the occasional feedback squeal, or a tendency to pick up police chatter, I have much higher expectations.

      Call me reactionary, but I would rather not see any sound system at all in older churches, which were built with acoustics in mind. My church’s sanctuary is two hundred years old. The acoustics are excellent. There is no real need for a sound system, except that even professionally trained clergy nowadays aren’t trained to project their voices.

  8. Oh man, the Starbucks bathroom reference is on point. I live in an artsy downtown area. My apartment is on one corner of Main & Broadway, Starbucks on the other corner. Housing projects are a mere two blocks away. Worlds collide everyday, and the Starbucks bathroom bears the burden.

    My urban, lower-middle class upbringing doesn’t allow me to fit in with the artsy yuppies. But I’ve still always had it pretty good, so I don’t identify with the residents of the projects, either. I’ve always kinda been right in the middle, not sure which direction Jesus wants me to represent towards. I guess I need to study the Starbucks bathroom more (and the local YMCA similar to Tina Fey’s).

  9. I’m sorry, I have to play devil’s advocate here a bit. I sing in choir and play bells. I’ve been involved in music my whole life since my mom played the organ when I was young. Our choir is smaller than it was when I came back to this church in 1989, but we are experienced and led by a classically trained director. We have been told we sing better than anybody else in town. We are now the 9th largest town in California, so that is saying something. We sing well but we sing to the glory of God. You all seem to think this is a bad thing.

    Our church is the oldest in town, but not this building. It was never good acoustically and the old sound system was so bad, we finally put in a new one. Yes it does have video. We were tired of rolling out an overhead projector for the contemporary service. But you say this is a bad thing as well.

    I think you are focusing on the wrong things. It’s not whether there is electronics or not that matters, but whether your members are focused on Jesus or themselves. If you go to a church and every Sunday feels like a production, then it probably is. But there are also places where people care enough to do their very best, and sometimes that one musical number that stirs you or makes you cry, sets the tone for the entire service. And there are plenty of churches out there that have none of these things, which does not mean God is more likely to show up there than He is here.

    The point is that worship is giving of yourself as a living sacrifice. If you want to see brokenness, come to our Wednesday night women’s class. It’s led by a woman who started it as a support group after her husband committed suicide. Brokenness is everywhere, it’s how it is handled that counts and we think our job is more to be a hospital for sinners than otherwise. Are we perfect? Of course not. We are far more white and middle class than our neighborhood, but we are also growing more multicultural every year. But all are welcome in our services.

    If you want a minimalist approach, come to our chapel service at 7:30. If you want organ and choir, come to 8:30. If you don’t want to see the praise band then don’t come to 11:00. But for your information, they are mostly unpaid volunteers as well, even though they do a great job. I just don’t think you can find out what the spiritual life of a congregation is, by looking around to see whether they have a sound system. You would do well to do more than visit one service though. Try out smaller groups in the church and see if they seem to be honest about their brokenness and support one another or whether everyone seems to be wearing happy masks. It may even be that God wants you planted in some imperfect congregation near you and working toward honesty and openness. Don’t forget to ask Him about that.

    • +1.

      Great balanced perspective, Ann. It’s interesting to me that Rachel strikes the same balance in her blog, but some of the comments miss it. You can judge immediately by looking at the sound system. Really? Because you’re not superficial like “they” are, right?

      • Its is not the sound system i’m against. its all the man hours it requires to keep it running. soon everyone is focus on the production instead of God. peace.

        • I read this post on Rachel’s blog a few days ago, and I have to say there’s not very much, if anything I disagree with. I think what she’s getting at is that what a lot of people are really looking is simply a community that’s authentic and not about putting on airs to make themselves look better than they are.

          As far as how that relates to stylistic elements of worship, I guess I’d still like to think that there is room for non-sucking sound systems in an authentic environment, but that just may be a pet peeve of mine. I also think that it is possible for music to be presented in a way that is polished without it being pretentious. I guess I still tend to think that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing it well. It’s not that we all need to be perfectionists or anything, but I’ve seen some people who are involved in different ministries at churches who were just plain lazy.

          • This comment wasn’t really meant to be a reply to Brian. I had meant it to be in response to the original article.

    • If your church has all the latest fad things and is still oriented around Christ, well great.

      But I and many others have discovered that many with the latest do dads and fads are not where they should be as a church. And for us such things tend to be an early warning system to tread carefully.

    • Good points. Everyone has a line that they think should not be crossed when it comes to the content and style of corporate worship. I’m pretty sure that God can be worshiped in virtually any situation since he is looking into the hearts of, and accepts each of us as unique individuals with unique personalities. If I were looking for a prescriptive worship method that was the same for everyone, I could think of better alternatives to Christianity.

  10. Rachel, wow…great post. This is why I’m so thankful for The Refuge. I’m sure you know this, but it’s a great place for grace WITH distractions and they ARE the ones ripping the roof off the buidling to get people to Jesus! Hope you can find it in your place…or, move to Colorado! 😉 God bless! -Tammy

  11. David Cornwell says:

    The churches I served weren’t very cool when I arrived, and my arrival didn’t seem to change that. Now I could tell some un-cool stories, but I won’t.

    Excellent post. Thanks Rachel. You are kind of cool!

  12. Reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes. Lester Bangs in Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”

  13. I loved being in a church in a remote fishing village in Alaska. It’s not a great Sunday night singing service unless the drunks show up and ask to sing their favorite songs from when they were little.

  14. Rob Grayson says:

    “Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside. But we’re all broken.” So true, and beautifully expressed. Thanks, Rachel.

  15. So let’s cut the crap, pull the plug, and have us some distracting church services… the kind where Jesus would fit right in.

    I vote for THIS…. and so do all my dead relatives… (latent Catholic urge….sorry)
    GregR

  16. Hey rachel yes i love that where jesus would fit right in! Its something me and my friends have been recently talking about and is so important that no one feels left out or useless thankyou x

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Well, for one thing, when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something.

    Funny, CM, I get the same creeped-out feeling when someone shows up on my doorstep or beelines towards me in public, pulls out the Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet, and starts his rote-memorized “DoYouKNOWwhereYouWillSpendEternityHaveYouAcceptedJesuschristAsYourPersonalLORDandSavior?!?!?!?” spiel.

    • Do people really do that anymore? I know of one church in my city that does it, but they are in another part of town so I rarely cross paths with their people.

      The only ones who ever come to my door are the Jehovah’s Witnesses on their annual visit. And I avoid them like the plague.

      • One comedian says he copes with Jehovah’s Witnesses by inviting them in and selling them Amway . . .

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I just pass them on to this one guy I know who really has a mad on for JWs.

          And I heard long ago about someone who was deluged with both JW and Scientology literature; he tweaked the forwarding addresses so all the JW stuff went to the local Dianetics Org and the Scientology stuff went to the local Kingdom Hall. “Now it’s THEIR problem!”

        • THANK YOU that I was not drinking my morning joe when I read this….. outrageous…

  18. Well said, Rachel; how I long for churches that keep it real!

  19. One aspect of the problem is that there is an entire industry (industries) set up to make money around worship as performance. And anyone who says ‘no’ to the fog machine and giant plasma screens is standing in the way of progress.

  20. dumb ox says:

    Great post. I don’t understand the populatity of Mumford and Sons, and I listen to that genre. If I want to listen to banjo, I’ll listen to Steve Martin. But I digress… 😉

    • dumb ox says:

      Will the banjo be the next must-have instrument in the kickin’ worship band line-up?

  21. Rachel,
    I’m 50 and really enjoy Mumford and Sons, the National, and My Morning Jacket but I just get labeled as weird.

  22. dumb ox says:

    “Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside…But we’re all broken…We’re all un-cool…We’re all in need of a Savior.”

    (Very poetically put. 🙂 )

    “I wear my shadows where they’re harder to see
    But they follow me everywhere
    I guess that should tell me that I’m travelling toward light
    I guess something you sang made me remember that
    I guess I’m saying thanks for that”
    – Bruce Cockburn, from “Birmingham Shadows”

  23. We’re in the uncool church – in Charleston that means a church where you can trace your family through the Civil War and back to the Revolution in the graveyard. We keep asking God why he put us here as we live on the wrong side of town – location wise, economics wise, and historic wise. Most of the time we are ok with being un-cool but sometimes you just want to be one of the cool kids and no matter how much your parent tells you just to be who you are, you still want to be cool sometimes.

  24. Jonathanblake says:

    “We have one place for the un-cool people (our ministries) and another place for the cool people (our church services). When we actually bump into one another, things can get awkward, so we try to avoid it.”

    Incredible insight and for the first time I can say that it doesn’t apply to me as I’m in a small unhip church plant north of the city I live in. The church has a lot of youth either from the foster care system, addiction backgrounds, etc. They are one tough bunch to work with but they keep hanging out with us (the youth leaders and head pastor) and coming to church because they trust us and most of all they trust our head pastor. She is an exceptional woman.

    I guess that is a a lil weird- a semi-country small church plant lead by an older woman pastor full of local bible college students and a wide variety of youth from troubled backgrounds and lives

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “When we actually bump into one another, things can get awkward, so we try to avoid it.”

      I believe this situation is called “Hilarity Ensues” and is a staple of older TV sitcoms.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be”…

    Or “Portal” (with hip graphics and no mention that it’s even a church), the rename of Anaheim First Baptist down the street from me.

    I’m 55, a highly-paid professional, and never married. Rachel, you wouldn’t believe the junk-mail Yuppie Come-ons I get just because I happen to fall into the same “target demographic”. Die Yuppie Scum.

  26. I used to be a Hillsong fan (among other worship bands). When I entered their church in 2010 I was deeply impressed by every detail of the service, by the lights, the sound, the marketing-oriented guest speaker (whose message seemed fine to me at the time). Meanwhile God has “slightly” changed my “tastes” and now I am able to sincerely enjoy the simplicity of our church, and I can’t but thank him for that…
    Great article Mike!
    In Him,
    ~ Teo