My Church is the Centerfold

In my previous post I referenced “The Door” magazine – a liberating piece of journalism for many of us trapped in the “ins and outs” of evangelical Christianity in the 70’s and 80’s. One of the magazine’s features was a section called “Truth is Stranger than Fiction.” It featured snippets of bulletins, ads or promotional pieces that the editors found to be, well, in our venacular, evidence of pretty Stupid Church People behavior.

We used to laugh at all the stupid things those “other” churches were doing, yet were so blind to our own “strangeness”. I remember thinking and hoping that I never would print an ad or promote an event that “The Door” might mock someday, and as a result, I begin to view everything through that lens.

While serving at a church as youth pastor sometime around the mid-eighties, you can imagine my surprise when I opened up the pages of my favorite magazine and found my beloved home church, Sagemont Baptist, the focus of my favorite section, “Truth is Stranger than Fiction”. (Click on picture above for a better look) Here it was, the church of my youth being laughed at by readers all across the world. Although I was no longer attending there or even living in the same town, the shock of seeing my church in print in this section where I had laughed at others so often was sobering.

I liken the feeling to the “J Geils Band” song “Centerfold”:

My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold
Angel is the centerfold

No longer sweet, innocent and pure… my angel, my home church was now a laughingstock.

OK, OK… I know it wasn’t that big of a deal. And I am sure if my pastor saw the magazine and the way his event was mocked, he might even have gotten a chuckle out of it. But it goes to the point of why the “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” existed. Here’s how “The Door” explained this section of their magazine:

…we were amazed at what has been printed, produced, written, or marketed in the name of Christianity. The lengths Christians have gone to get people into church, or to “spiritualize” their lives, or to enhance their Christian experience is almost beyond belief!

And that’s what makes each entry so funny.

This is not presented to demean or belittle those included here, but perhaps Christians should consider the impression these ads, articles, and stories give to the non-Christian world.

When I look back at past issues of “The Door” and see all the crap the church has been involved in peddling over the past 30-40 years, I too am amazed. What’s even more astounding is how the church still peddles crap, creates gimmicks, works the angles, and utilizes manipulation to get people into it’s doors or “win” people to Jesus. If there is ever an argument against evolution, the church certainly makes the strongest case… because it’s not really doing anything differently than it did 30 years ago.

No the church is pretty much the same. Sure, most of the “hipper” evangelical churches have removed the denominations from their names. The most radical don’t even have “church” in the name, but instead use names like “The Gate” or “Crossroads” or “Mosaic”. Nothing else has really changed. Lets face it, the real reason we go to church is for the “upfront” people anyway…. we like the music or we like the way the pastor preaches. That’s the way its always been and thats the way it always will be. We go to church because it (or they – the leaders and services) make us feel good.

We like the social events the church provides. We like the hokie tie-ins to blockbuster movies. We enjoy the “Outdoor Extravaganzas” of our time. We like our church just the way it is.

And what’s wrong with that you say? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just think we should be honest about it. At least I should.

48 thoughts on “My Church is the Centerfold”

  1. Well, I thought my original post counted for my thoughts, but maybe not. Or do you want me to give you feedback on what you have written lowend?

  2. Everybody gettin’ mad again? Calm down Dorsey. Nobody is making any personal attacks on your religious freedom. Just an observation, thats all. BTW if they are “real christians”, would that make you one of the “fake christians” or one of the real “real christians”.

  3. I kinda thought the outdoor playgroud stuff was kinda cool. Coming from a suburban life, it might seem kinda “hickish” but still I thought it was cool. It looks more like “The Door” was making fun of the “southern” activities. Really, seeing a Bass Tub sounds pretty wicked.

  4. what does “just like them” mean? are you referring to race? social creed? religious creed? don’t you understand that no two people are alike? yea, maybe the middle class white couple that thinks like us might be familiar with the same social niceties, but did they have the same parents? struggles? addictions? i’m sorry but don’t give me that, “we should hook up with buddhists or something to open our minds!!! then living room church will be fo’ real!!”

  5. LOWEND: I didn’t think you were calling me out… not at all. I am enjoying the dialogue. I just wasn’t quite sure what I needed to add, if anything. I am never sure whether to comment on my own posts. I try not to, but oh well.I think I am going to expand some of the thoughts that I have had generated in relation to this conversation into a new post shortly. It really gets back to the heart of some very early conversations we had at the beginning of SCP.

  6. Steve – I wasn’t actually trying to call you out. Just a mixture of boredom and my feeble atempts at stirring up the blogdom.Thanx for bringing some occasional substance to this otherwise drab blogoshpere.In direct response to your post, I think it all comes down to a question of personal motivations. Both on the part of the church – are they simply providing the location for a fun community get-to-gether, or are they trying to “lure” unsespecting lost souls into their snares? And on the part of the attendees – are you (the attendee) going to go with preconcieved notions of a currupted church full of “evil-doers” filled with humanly tainted selfish ambitions, or can just have a good times with the fam?It’s all good though. I think the bible shows us quite clearly, that church and animals shouldn’t mix-with the expception of Noah, but one could argue semantics for days on that one.

  7. Well I will drink my beer and read the Door while serving in my traditional Lutheran Church with a Contemporary service. We are so 1980s.

  8. Double Amen to the Beer. Having been an MK in Germany, beer was a key factor to my spiritual developement (pause for deep thought, and ensuing laughter). And please understand… I am no socialite, in fact I pretty much hate all people, but then there’s that pesky little thing about God’s desire for us to pass the word… man that’s a bitch!!I’m currently working on a project that is basically a community theatre type thing (but way cooler) having little or nothing to do with the “message”, but simply celebrates the arts. It just so happens that my church has a kick ass stage for this sort of thing. Now, if surrounding these envents a life or two is saved, well then Christians are doing what they are supposed to, but there sure as hell isn’t going to be any alter-call.Thanx for the feedback (sorry for bloggin’ on your blog dudes… but that’s what you get when you post meaningful shit!)STERN/STEWART ’08

  9. I don’t think it has to be an either/or. Why can’t you use your living room as a place for church to develop/emerge AND have a community centre which can be a focus of something wider & larger.The idea of the living room as a place of community is great, but the reality is that the majority of people never leave it and never invite anyone other than people who are just like them to sit in their living room.The fact is that an awful lot of living rooms are just full of lonely people doing things in complete isolation.Even the secular world has it’s community centres … whether it’s a pub or social club. And even there, lots are closing down as people retreat into isolation in their own living rooms.

  10. By the time I read this, there were 46 comments. It all seems so mind boggling to think that this is even being argued. Christianity is the most simple thing on the planet which makes it the hardest to do. What did Jesus say when asked what the most important commandment was? Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and strength. After that he said Love your neighbour as yourself. The Law and Prophets are summed up in total here. That’s it. How does your church stack up to this? If you think Bass tanks and South Texas Snake Handlers are a good reflection of this then have at ‘er, but leave me out. I don’t attend Church to be entertained, I go to celebrate Christ’s sacrifice and to be with like minded people, even if we disagree on some nitty-gritty things. I think that getting together in a living room is great! Studying the bible with others is great! What this does NOT replace is the formalized service that requires something from you to get up on Sunday morning and take time out of your day when it is not entirely convenient for you and to go, even when you don’t want to. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus Christ. Going to Church for me is a labour of love for my Saviour, which I try to pass on to the community at large. I’m not perfect either, I’m Roman Catholic and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m not perfect. I only want to love Jesus with my all and then to love others like I want to be loved. It’s so simple it hurts the brain.

  11. All that aside, Steve, if a church in my area held an event like that, I’d go. It sounds pretty cool, especially the snakes and the quick draw guy. My kids would love it.

  12. I actually kind of agree with Loweend about changing the shape of the church to reflect community. I have nothing about saying church can happen at home or anywhere else (of course it can and does) but the church building and structure needs to be aimed at community…if we rid it altogether then we just lost a great agent/system for social change (I think). Odd thing is I am not big on attending church but basically because it’s lost some of it’e relevance to me (and I want to see that changed for the betterment of everyone in the respective communities).

  13. A while back, a buddy of mine was sharing some insights on this topic, and he read some non-biblical historic accounts from the time of the early church. What totally blew my mind, was that these writers were actually attempting to discredit and slander these young christians, when they wrote: (and I am poorly paraphrasing) “These people are doing bizaar things. They are sheltering those in need, and feeding the sick and hungry. They ask for no money, nor do they boast their own good deeds. WE should be doing these things for the citizens.”Again, I know I’ve shamefully butchered this, but the main message was: the early church just went out and DID it, and that without want for praise or hidden adgendas. And this form of ‘bizaar’ behavior put the local ‘do-gooders’ to shame.I’m not saying that we have to go out and feed and shelter more bums (not that there’s anything wrong with me). I think it has more to do with this selfless, voiceless behavior, that speaks volumes.If we can figure out what that looks like in midst of our modern bastardization of the church… well my friends…

  14. Steve, how’s it going? Sobering post. That would be a fear to have your own church made fun of, but really, it’s a free consultation, if you look at it that way. The only thing better would be to have non-Christians doing it. I think you would have a purer perspective. When Christians are at the helm of mockery it seems a bit off. Perhaps that is why all the reaction you get at times. Christians don’t handle criticism well in general though (whether it be from another believer or God forbid – a heathen). I’ll be the first to confess my defensiveness. You’ve seen me blog, so I have no where to run or hide. Maybe that is because they truly believe their motivation (agenda) is pure and they feel that is what’s most important.

  15. Oh no … has it really descended to the level of getting one over on the ‘bad guy’ by correcting grammar & spelling? Thought that only happened on the more moronic anti-Christian sites (you know the ones … <>“You Christians are so dumb you can’t even spell properly … I bet you still believe in Santa & the Easter Bunny”<>).

  16. take a effing break and humor yourselves with a blog with some church marquee shitty signs (“shigns”) from this bloomin’ land.

  17. So what do you guys think the early church did for outreach. I mean whatever it was it must have been effective. Maybe I am being presumptuous in thinking that this is about evangelistic efforts. Or are we talking about being “relevant”, and if so doesn’t that go hand in hand with “outreach”. I guess what I am saying is: I get what Steve’s post was saying, but what is the context of these comments.

  18. shieldsy: what’s wrong with isolation??????????what “demographic” should I seek to associate myself with to meet your standard of community??

  19. but why have another place that needs to be “cool”? think outside the box, for the pete’s sake! just go meet at the pub or the living room. criminy!if you people are so insistent on making your own churchy thing to “appeal” to people (are we supposed to be bribing them with “coolness” or wow-factors?) build your own pub. or, build your own living room. or, if you absolutely cannot fathom a church without a building, make the building open to the public 24/7 (or nearly) like the catholic buildings.

  20. I think what makes us cool is that we know the difference between “your” and “you’re.” The beer is just a bonus.

  21. <>“Authenticity doesn’t stand a chance against you guys.”<>Sorry, I was forgetting you’re the authentic, ‘keeping-it-real’ ones.Please forgive my audacity. Let me retreat to the safety of my shallow, unauthentic, sheep-mentality Christianity.Quick Steve … make that post.

  22. I know.. I know… this is all my fault. It’s time for a new post. If I would keep things moving you kids wouldn’t have time to get into trouble.New post coming up… so you all hang tight.

  23. Dorsey writes: <>All that aside, Steve, if a church in my area held an event like that, I’d go. It sounds pretty cool, especially the snakes and the quick draw guy. My kids would love it.<>And that was my point I believe (I wasn’t being sarcastic) when I wrote: <><>We like the social events the church provides. We like the hokie tie-ins to blockbuster movies. We enjoy the “Outdoor Extravaganzas” of our time. We like our church just the way it is.And what’s wrong with that you say? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just think we should be honest about it. At least I should.<><>That being said, I also think it’s OK to make fun of the social events, the hokie tie-ins to movies and the “Outdoor Extravaganzas”…. there’s also nothing wrong with laughing at the church “just the way it is”. If we can’t laugh at the<> lengths Christians have gone to get people into church, or to “spiritualize” their lives, or to enhance their Christian experience<> then we can also never consider <>the impression these ads, articles, and stories give to the non-Christian world.<>

  24. i love how people want to “get back to the way the early church was” but when it comes to sheltering and feeding that seems to not be very relevant or “the best way to do church”and i gotta give the credit to bruce (one of them, can’t remember which) for making me think about my position on that matter. i haven’t done anything about it, but my position has changed. heh, maybe i should be in politics?

  25. I couldn’t agree with you more dorsey. I guess I wasn’t clear. I’m sort of on my own little mission: to work on my church, and help them break some of those “stupid church” manditoirsms (i’m all about makin’ up new words).So in a way, I envision churches as being “cool” again, in the sense that you couldn’t tell the difference between your living room, the local drink hole, or your favorite strip joint… wait, ok, so a stripper ministry might be a stretch… but what would Jesus do?it’s those things that make you go hmmmmmm

  26. Why is everyone so obsessed with drinking beer in conjuction with this topic? Ok, you guys are beer drinking christians I got your cool, your above the stereotypes.

  27. Get a clue, dude. This whole blog “conversation” descended to the depths when the “real Christians” showed up to correct the rest of us. Authenticity doesn’t stand a chance against you guys.

  28. Lowendaction- I agree. I think Acts 2- 4 gives a glimpse of this when the people came together to meet needs, to share life together, to worship, and to learn from scripture. The result was a committed group of people who lived unselfishly and caused others to take note and be filled with awe. Then numbers were added daily…. oh, and I think The Message translation does mention a large Bass tank and sharp shooters.

  29. Or dividing up our money amongst all members of the church, each according to their need.Giving money to missions doesn’t count.

  30. Yeah cause everyone knows that – Girls rule and boys droole..I learned that in Sunday school!!!!Ummm…would that be considered a “snarkey” comment? Just wondering like “anonymous” people wonder…….But unlike anonymous people, I’m not afraid to wonder with my name attached….

  31. lowend, I’m not sure if I misunderstood the intent of your first comment, but let me make my meaning clear. I’m all for meaningful relationship, wherever it happens, even in a church. And I’m not trying to make it an either/or. We can have community in my living room (and we do), and we can have community in a bar, or at a biker rally, or on a fishing boat, or even at a church. But there’s a mentality out there that says, “You can have all the community you want, but you MUST include the organized church in the mix. Well, if it suits, ok, I guess. I just don’t think it’s mandatory.

  32. look, all I’m saying is: what are YOU doing to build the kingdom of Christ through love? I know that sounds like it just reverberated directly off of a well lit Plexiglass pulpit, but you can’t mess with the TRUTH.Of course we are all different, that’s how God made us, and that’s how we should remain. So obviously church petting zoo’s and TV Jesus clowns have totally screwed up everyones perception of the “church building church”.So what’s more important, bitching about how shitty it all is, or finding a way to show the lost world what God REALLY meant when he created that little thing called love?I’ll be honest. For me, my church building is a matter of convinience. My medium is film, theatre, and music, and using my churchs’ facilities is a hell of alot cheaper than renting some jacked up community joint. I also happen to have other meaningful friendships and the occasional quality God-time at this building (with or whitout the help of a well trained worship leader). Does this mean that I can’t still have meaningfull fellowship with two or more in my living room (while enjoying fine imported German beer)? Of course not, but I guess my mission has lately become more about trying to rebuild the church “image” as it is shown us in the new testament, than kicking it while it’s down on it’s pathetique fat and bloated back.God, I miss the good ol’ days where we would argue about the color of our hymnals, or ‘contemporary’ versus ‘traditional’ services. This shit is gettin’ heavy man….hey Steve / Josh …. any thoughts? Or are you just going to sit back and wait untill one of us breaks down and gives his/her testamony?

  33. Using church as the vehicle to foster relationships? Um… why? For me, it’s far more authentic (if there is such a thing) to allow relationships to be the vehicle through which the church develops (I was going to say “emerges,” but…).I don’t see the reason to hang out at church when I have a living room at my house. And beer.

  34. First off, let me say this… I am generally for you guys, and the reasons behind your blog. However, though having grown up as a missionary kid with a deep skepticism towards all things “church”, I have come to a new realization of late. As fake and screwed up as far too much of the modern church-family is, there are a precious few that are staying true to the early church model. And that is simply this: community. If all you are getting out of your local church is what is being presented on stage, you have potentially missed out on a vital component of the original church design. If you (and by you I am referring to the general “you”) are simply stumbeling into your neighborhood sanctuary to be entertained like lost sheep, then you are nothing more than a participant; an empty vessal ripe for manipulation.To the point: Why not use your local church as a place of community? Is that not what the early church essentially was? You may ask: “Does this not set up many of these scewed up cathedrals of cash for failure?” Of course. But how great would it be, if people would say, “Hey, let’s go hang out at church.” And this without altererior motives, but simply to enjoy fellowship (meaning to hang out with others – not sing cheesy three chord Jesus jingles), “love” EVERYONE, regardless of our screwed up human ambitions, or inbred desire for another “saved” notch on the old “Bible Belt”.Enough outta me, just wanted to share.Thanx

  35. Honesty is, I think, the first step on the road of personal redemption.Also, I really liked your comment, lowendaction. I think you really brought out the balance that we all seek, but have a hard time finding.

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