A friend and colleague recently posted this article about Zoe Church and their mass baptism on the streets of LA.
The location is no doubt double-edged: they probably couldn’t host those baptisms in the night club their church meets in. Blood is allowed on the dance floor…but not water (and if you don’t get that reference, check your Michael Jackson albums).
But no doubt at work was the optics, too. LA loves to roll out and walk red carpets, and what better way to design a baptismal service than to entice the cell-phone paparazzi?
The whole article, while well written, smacks of gimmick and glam.
And trust me, I don’t say this without some self-conviction. I’m not far from receiving similar accusations. We in the mainline get accused of being into gimmick and glam when we suggest a credit-card kiosk for offerings (because who carries cash anymore?), logo-label coffee mugs, or (gasp) suggest a coffee station in the Narthex.
I’ve been called arrogant and artificial a few times (this week).
I figure most pastors my age aren’t far from such accusations. When you lead, people will call you arrogant, even if you don’t see yourself that way. When you try new things people will accuse you of being self-serving and gimmicky, even when that’s not your intention.
Doing things differently or with a new set of eyes and ears and minds is not gimmicky.
What is gimmicky?
Leveraging Sunday to purely provide the shot of feel-good that humans say they want. Like a drug, we’re addicted to the feel-goods. And we’ll come back for it week after week, but never feel any better, ultimately. It will work for fooling yourself, but won’t work for what you want from it.
Read the article.
See the ending where he notes that, at the end of the day, he’s “here to preach good news. To give humanity hope…When I come to church, you know what I need? I need encouragement.”
But here’s the rub: his idea of good news, of hope, has more to do with consumerism than it does with Christ. It has more to do with individual dreams than with Jesus.
His good news is good news for the celebrity who stars in each of our individual plays, not for the world at the center of God’s drama.
Narcissism and the current Christian culture go hand in hand. The Jesus who you invite into your heart becomes your indentured servant in this story, granting wishes and giving you unending personal encouragement as you deal with being an adult…
That’s the story, right?
Right now in Austin, people are being targeted by a serial bomber. How is your personal Jesus going to help them?
Right now in Syria little boys and girls are being bombed. Weekly. It’s far from you, but do you think Jesus has a thought about it? Or is Jesus only about encouraging you?
This is the problem with the church of the future. Pretty soon the self-help shelves will meld with the Christian Lit shelves in the book stores (which will soon all be electronic, anyway, save for the few who have a cult following), as Jesus becomes more and more the personal talisman of the believer.
Hope is not the assurance that in the end you’ll get what you want. Hope is the assurance that, no matter how it ends, you won’t be left high and dry by a God who cares deeply about you, your story, but also everyone else’s story, and deeply cares about how you will intersect and interact with their story.
You will be encouraged, because you won’t need the drug of the feel good every week when the true story of the wandering prophet from Galilee is seen.
You will have hope because you’ll see that the whole world can be moved and changed, not just your world.
And when the pastor in the article mentions he wants to avoid politics…well, what are we to do with church and politics?
Friend, we’re about to come up on Palm Sunday. If you want to talk about a political march, about resistance theater done in public, read this story about a Galilean who rides on an ass instead of a white horse to snub his nose at Caesar (who would enter cities on a white horse), effectively calling Caesar the ass in the play.
You might be able to take politics out of church, but you can’t take it out of the Bible.
Is this the future of the church, the “church of the good feels”? Yes.
Because it’s the current reality.
I’m not against good feels in church. But I am against an uncritical faith. I am against stripping the Bible of it’s power to change the world because you want to make it about solely changing your life. I am against public theater that serves the self over the whole community.
The church is a place to know and be known. It is a place to receive comfort and be made uncomfortable. It is a place where your wounds are healed and the wounds of the world revealed (and, often, the ways you’ve caused such wounds whether you wanted to or not). And it’s a place where you learn that the Good News is both about you but also about everyone else, and that should be jarring to you.
The church is about the feels, but they aren’t always what the world would call “good.”
But they are good in the same way we call “Good Friday” good…
The church of the good feels is alive and well, but I wouldn’t call it “good.” And I wouldn’t go there.
But I would eat an acai bowl with you.
Because I like acai…not because I think you’d think I’m cool if I did.