I’ve Become Them

When I was a pastor, my “mission” was to “reach” the “unchurched”. In my mind, my methods and strategies for doing so were relevant and cutting edge.

Now I am the “unchurched”, and I realize how far off the mark I was back then.

I am coming to the conclusion that churches and pastors need to stop trying to be relevant. In doing so, most of the time they only end up looking silly.

The more they try to “reach” guys like me with their marketing schemes and “witty” sermon series titles, the more I just want to stay away.

37 thoughts on “I’ve Become Them”

  1. Dorsey,can you expand upon what you mean by “starting from scratch”? What do you start with? What is the base belief?

  2. I like to call it “being Othered.”When I became unchurched, I was “othered,” and treated as such. To be “othered” means the churched don’t treat you like a spiritual being anymore, but a sin-loving heathen who is barely human. It’s the same way a lot of people look at their enemies (national or personal), because it’s easier to view them with contempt, rather than with empathy.In my opinion, a lot of pastors and the churches they pastor have really gotten themselves in a bind by becoming so elitist, and narcissistic. What I mean by that is the ATTITUDE that going to church somehow makes you a spiritually and/or morally superior to your unchurched neighbors, and what usually follows is the ACTION that church-goers become increasingly focused on serving “in the church” (almost exclusively to their own members and attenders), which has the result of reinforcing that attitude, and even setting up a hierarchy of spiritual superiority. I.e., “I’m involved in children’s ministry/youth small group/worship team/ and attend two services a week, therefore, I’m *better* than Joe Schmoe who just comes to the Main Service and sits on his butt.” While no one says this, they sure as heck are thinking in it some capacity or another if they’re pastor keeps urging people to “get involved” and “dedicate themselves to some ministry,” within the church. And the people who can’t or don’t want to are guilt-tripped into thinking they are not “as good” of Christians as the Star Worship Team or Prayer Breakfast Warriors.However, it’s a vicious circle as those “super christians” who are so dang involved with church lose touch with the unchurched, and then wonder why they have to spend huge amounts of money on marketing their church through silly promotional events, billboards, and TV commercials: they no longer know very many unchurched people, and are too busy or too scared of getting close enough to call them friends. Therefore, they don’t feel comfortable inviting them to church (and having their unchurched friends be receptive to said invitation). Also, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sermons from the pulpit talking about how sinful and depraved the unchurched are. As if going to church means you’re NOT sinful or depraved, or, alternatively, that not attending a church service means you’re in league with Satan. Thus, the unchurched are the Others, who are spiritually dead and will poison you, too. So stay away, don’t be “unequally yoked.” Love them from afar, if you must. Or only love them as long as they are potential converts. After all, YOU have the answers they need; there’s nothing those poor motherchuckers can teach you. As a regular church-goer, you get pounded with this kind of spiritual propoganda enough, and it starts to influence your attitude and actions in such a way that you are ineffective in the real world. It’s safer to just stick with your church friends, serve the church, and keep your nose clean when it comes to the rest of the world.If the church is not interacting with the hurt and lost world they’re supposed to helping, they are not growing and their salt has lost its saltiness.

  3. Holy crap, Zec; I think you nailed it!It’s all about church attendance now rather than helping the congregation learn how to <>be<> the Church.

  4. I only ask because the unchurched crowd seems to know exactly what it doesn’t want. It seems to not want the commercialized Christianity, the rapid church growth business models, the me-centered gospel that is the trademark of Warren and others. So I was wondering if there were a church out there that focused solely on teaching the scriptures, administering the sacraments and got back to focusing on Jesus and what He’s done for us rather than what we can do for Jesus or Jesus as our life coach, would a church like that appeal to the unchurched crowd?

  5. I was just listening to an episode of the Issues, Etc. podcast and came across this. Todd Wilken and his guest, discuss the unchurched in America according to a USA Today story that ran in January. I have posted links to the audio so you may listen to it.http://www.kfuoam.org/mp3/Issues8/Issues_Etc_Jan_10c.mp3http://worldwide.kfuo.org/kfuo/issues_etc8/Issues_Etc_Jan_10c.wmaIf these links don’t work here is the link to the Issues, Etc. audio archive section. You want hour # 3 of the January 10th, 2008 episode.http://www.kfuoam.org/ie_archive_Jan_08.htm

  6. I think one thing that people forget is that the church is not meant to focus on the unsaved. It’s a group of believers, who are already saved and that has to be their primary concern. What I’m seeing today in the Evangelical and Non-Denominational mega-church movement is that the regular church attendees are having their needs pushed to the side in favor of attracting the seekers. The saved are not being fed from the word of God weekly, they are not growing in their faith, because the churches are always looking for new ways to grow their numbers and are focused solely on being relevant to the community.A church does have a responsibility to reach the lost, but there are two ways you can do that. You can either leave the church building and go out into the world and reach the lost through various means or you can have a seeker-friendly service on Friday or Saturday night. But the Sunday service, the divine service has to be for those for whom it is intended. There has to be a balance instead of what we currently see, which is attract the seeker and focus on their needs, and forget about the saved who need shepherding and feeding. I personally think it’s much more likely that a seeker will see their need for repentance in a divine service, where the law and gospel of Christ are preached than they will in a contemporary seeker-friendly service, where they hear what a good guy Jesus was and how He just can’t wait to bless your socks off, if you’ll only be His friend.

  7. The problem with the church today is that a lot of churches have stolen the worship service away from their people and replaced it with a service devoted to “seekers” and/or stealing people away from other churches. By doing this they steal both evangelism and the worship service away from the people and put on a show for people who simply cannot worship God (because by definition – they do not know God).What’s interesting to me is that the emergent church as well as out-churched people in general seemed to have rejected this type of church as if it were the only one. I hear this type of rejection all of the time but it’s almost always pointed at rich, protestant, North American, evangelical churches that came out the 1970’s church growth movement. The problem with this is simple: These churches simply do not make up the majority. Does the Orthodox Church really seem market driven? They are far larger than the kinds of churches usually talked about here. Does Catholicism really have nothing to offer us? How long will we hold on to our nearly complete rejection of them? There are all kinds of options out there and some are much better than others. I have a good friend in the emergent church and it is always very interesting conversation. We both rejected market driven churches and what I’d call “consumerism Christianity”. But where he started looking to reinvent the wheel I just discarded the junk and went back to a time where I found what I was looking for. Why assume that all churches are just like the one you left? Why debate going back and then when you do just simply return to a clone of the one that hurt you? I don’t mean to rant (and I hope I didn’t offend anyone or come off pious – that is not my intent) but I am often confounded by the self-destructive nature some of the other contributors here.

  8. Alright I’ve gotta ask. What kind of church is it that the “unchurched” or “others” are looking for? Would you even want to go back to church, having been out of one for so long?

  9. Also, forgot to say: a lot of Christians are SO busy with church activities, that they don’t have TIME to devote to activities where they would potentially meet their unsaved neighbors or get to know them as individuals. That was certainly the case with me. I was so involved with “ministry” at the church I was attending, that there was literally no opportunities for me to meet and be friends with people outside the church. All my close friends were inside the church, and my job was solitary enough that I didn’t interact with anyone else throughout the week. Church was not just the place where I worshiped God with like-minded individuals, but it was my #1 means of social interaction.Churches need to stop dominating every social instinct of people’s lives, and go back to doing what it is uniquely shaped to do. Let movies, sports, and TV entertain us, let schools and books inform us about science, let the book clubs, parties, pubs and dance halls enable us to meet people with similar interests. Church service should be a time when people are encouraged and refreshed, and can worship in community. No other social outlet or human institution fulfills that role the way religion ought.

  10. I like the love and abiding principles. I think that if you don’t have that, you have nothing.But, I’m still convinced that if that’s all you have, you still don’t have everything.That’s why I believe in going and sending. Without missions, many people in the world would never hear about Jesus Christ. And missions for me is becoming closer than ever. It’s in our own back yard.

  11. I have no problem with a church trying to reach new people, if I can ascertain that they actually care about the people more than the pew-space.But Steve’s right. “Witty” sermon titles and marketing schemes all seem pretty shallow in comparison to the manner in which Jesus spent times with “sinners”.

  12. Just an observance, but most of the time the “witty” sermon titles do more to liven up the regularly boring sermons for the believer than they attract the unbeliever. As a believer, I like it.But, if you want to bring the gospel message to the unbeliever, then go out and be among them. Do good and bring God up. Duh! That’s what Jesus did. That’s what he had the disciples do. Revolutionary.

  13. Brad, I left the type of church you described. Upper middle class, suburban and evangelical. While I agree that many orthodox churches are not consumer-driven, it is my perception that most of them have sufficient amounts of other baggage (blind allegiance to tradition, for example) that think I’d just be trading one disillusionment for another. I think most modes of church have at least some redeeming qualities. But, I don’t see starting from scratch as reinventing the wheel.

  14. The Church should be Church: a community of flawed people who believe that Jesus has ideas for living life. We regularly engage in communal prayer and singing as a way of reminding ourselves of the presence of God – and we invite everybody to discover God’s blessings through the Sacraments. We also offer support and encouragement to anyone who struggles with life. And we are committed to challenging injustice and oppression of all forms.How this happens is worked out from community to community depending on context.Oh yes – and all churches are imperfect.

  15. You know at this point I should say that I have a lot of respect for my friend (Dylan) in the emergent church. We have almost identical goals. We just found differnt ways to go about getting to those goals. -HaKohen

  16. I have also become ‘them’ – quite some time ago – I had to admit ‘they’ were different than ‘me’ – I went from very conservative to very liberal – and now I gather they consider me ‘them’ or amongst the ‘unsaved’ – it’s always nice to be in the ‘us’ group but that group was sooooo elitist.

  17. Lowend,I wish I could lay my hands on my reference for this, but the original text of the “great commission” can just as easily be interpreted as not just “Go into all the world…” but “As you go into the world, make disciples.”Do you see the distinction? The latter interpretation doesn’t read like marching orders, but is more in line with the idea of being about the business of living. I read it not so much as a commission, but as a context for relationship.I don’t think you’re wrong, either. I just think there is more than one way to look at it. I also agree with your comment that the Spirit can “move” in the hearts of people through (and in spite of) our entirely flawed and otherwise disastrous methodologies. I find that encouraging, because it takes the pressure off us to have to perform in order to “win” people.Zec, if members of the flock learned to feed themselves, we wouldn’t be in a tenth of the shit we’re in.

  18. I guess I am proud to be a filthy sinner unchurched heathen. I guess I could say to them see you in hell but I dont plan on going there. That is if its a real place. Uh oh, I just questioned a cardinal doctrine.Somebody better drag me to a revival now before I turn gay or something.

  19. Pete, I’ll talk to the membership committee, but I don’t think it’ll work out. Your bike is a little too… uh… contemporary for our group. You see, we ride cruisers and choppers, as did our parents and their parents before them. You might be more comfortable with the group up the street. It’s nothing personal. We love you. We just don’t want to hang around with you. heeheeheeSeriously, the yeast analogy is spot-on. Well said.

  20. Dorsey can I come an join you? some biking, some supporting, some singing – and some teaching. Only problem is – us human beings have a terrible ability to take the simple stuff and turn it into power play. And all too soon we will be appointing a pastor for biking, and a prophet for preaching, and a sister for supporting: and we are back in the same old shit.The best we can hope for is what Jesus pointed out: we are yeast in the bread and salt in the meal. Problem is that our consumer driven society makes us Christians want to be the whole loaf and to be the whole meal.I understand the Great Commission to be about authentic living and integrity of character. People are attracted by lifestyle rather than by religious entertainment.

  21. As usual I can’t help but feel that you are speaking negatively about only one “kind” of church. I am still very much within the church but I agree with most of what is said here because I very rarely find a connection between my own church and the “church” as it is spoken of in this platform.

  22. So there is no denying that the body of believers (more formally known as the “big C” church) is just that. A living body of people who proclaim Christ is Lord and are thus connected via the Holy Spirit. So when a few (or many) of those get together to celebrate said belief, and possibly learn more about it we’ve come up with a name for it: church (with a small “c” tee-hee).As individuals within this group, we are charged with the awesome responsibility of telling as many people about this belief before we die.Now, if a few of us were to band together (pool resources some might say) to accomplish this goal, I see nothing in scripture that speaks against this, if anything it might just support it.HOWEVER, if at any point we have created a machine, with which we can attracked large masses, and from behind the shadows of said thing we are steril from direct contact from the “unsaved”…..then we have soarly missed the point!!!!zec pretty much alluded to this as well.So in direct response to Steve’s post. If a church organization/machine/whatever is being used to “reach”…WRONG!But I would HOPE, that the church body should be reaching out each and every day.thanks

  23. <>“As individuals within this group, we are charged with the awesome responsibility of telling as many people about this belief before we die.”<>I think that’s the problem. The idea that “reaching the lost” is our chief objective completely subverts the larger purpose of simply abiding together. I was in a conversation today with an elder from the church I have started attending again. He was seeking my advice about the direction of the congregation under its new management. What I told him was that we have to stop being driven by the idea that we need to be accomplishing something. Instead of boldly marching forward (wherever the hell that is), we need to be about learning to live together with each other and with the “others” in our lives. I told him that no one wants to hear our words. They just want to see our real selves. Rather than coming up with new ways to attract people, we need to learn to be who we are, people in the process of learning to serve each other to the point of sacrificing ourselves. That’s something to which people would be drawn, I think.

  24. It seems to me that people in general are greatly divided as to how a church can best fulfill the Great Commission. But is the Great Commission the # 1 job of a church to begin with? What about feeding the flock through sound teaching and preaching of the word and the distribution of the sacraments? Have these been pushed to the side in favor of fulfilling the Great Commission to boost the attendance numbers? If so, what does that say about the church? Are pastors really shepherds of God’s people at that point? I’d have to say no.

  25. It’s actually a combo deal. The fellowship is there to facilitate corporate worship and “broadcast” teaching. Discipleship is absolutely the key!! You couldn’t be more right Dorsey. And this is how it would fix your valid point zec.If people are living in relational terms, than elders are discipiling a few “young” people (not age specific, spiritual age) in the essential scriptual life steps. It is NOT the pastors job to fill every single person who attends with all the knowledge and wisdom they need. It is his/her job to raise up disciples and for them to “nurish” others on an individual level.Of course it should not be discounted that the world today is not helping with this. By that I mean we use to live in much closer community (a long long long time ago), and it was just normal for a young person to take up an apprenticeship and thus spend much of their adolescance under the tutelage of an elder. And along with learning their trade, they would also learn about life, God, and everything in between. That disciple/mentor would deeply invest themselves into that persons. This sort of relationship almost doesn’t exist today, and thus this original concept of discipleship is very hard to replicate. I mean who is honestly interrested and/or willing to invest THAT much time in another human being, who is not family, these days?This, in my humble opinion, is the number one crutch of the modern christian church today.great topic. great conversation.

  26. “To be “othered” means the churched don’t treat you like a spiritual being anymore, but a sin-loving heathen who is barely human” (NinjaNun)I found this to be the attitude also – I even knew Christians that would outright ignore me when they saw me because I did not attend church – it was always a laugh. I was talking with my buddy the other day – we left church around the same time – and I said to him ‘we are being justified’. I am starting to see many people that were church leaders for that 6 years I was in church now leaving and re-vamping their faith doctrines – finding real life problems can find them in churches and suck just as bad (if not worse).Many of the critiques I had from 1997-1999 (prior to leaving) and after leaving in those first years (1999-2003) became very accurate after a while. I used to tell my friends ‘they judge us now – but at some point they will be us’. Now I think I know about 2 handfuls of leaders that have either fallen from grace, facing a divorce, reject their faith, etc…all the while I do not attend church – elaborate on my faith as I please – live a very good life – and have a good marriage. Irony? No…wisdom is justified by her children. I really like NinjaNun’s critiques about church – and we all know aspects of the things she mentions. But I really love her last point ‘Churches need to stop dominating every social instinct of people’s lives’…awesome!

  27. What does starting from scratch mean? Just that. Scratch means nothing. So it can become whatever expression suits the situation. For me, it starts with a half-dozen friends (give or take) who love each other, spend time together and try to help people when we have opportunity. We didn’t plan it. It just sort of happened. No doctrinal distinctive. No creed. No mission statement. No vision. No plans to take over the world, nor to take our city for Christ. Abiding together.

  28. No Zec… and that’s the point I think.People that walk into any church after having not attended come because they want something that they feel the church has to offer. I would say they are already “pre-sold”.Kind of like a car dealership. Unless I am looking for a new car, there’s no way I would want to interact with a car salesman unless I needed or wanted a new car. That makes the car salesman’s job easy.So in that sense, maybe I am not the demographic. But the fact that that word has even come up in this conversation says so much. Our church strategy sessions on reaching people were about addressing felt needs, which in continuing the car dealer analogy, equates to a “loss leader” marketing strategy which gets you in the door to sell you something bigger.

  29. Dorsey,I agree that simply “telling” people doesn’t cut it. But to say that our primary purpose on this earth is abide, seems a bit understated in my interpretation of the word.I couldn’t agree more that the gimicks and marketing are way off the mark. However I think it is pretty clear that Christ pretty much gave us one basic order: spread the word about Jesus, who is God, who is Love. If we disagree on that, then the rest is for not. If however it comes down to the symantics of how one goes about carrying out these orders….at the end of the day, if hearts are being opened to Christ, does the how really matter?There is no question that many of us here would double over with fits of projectile vomiting at many of the modern church methodologies being used to “cast the net”. But how do we know that there not are others who are being deeply affected? If you can show me where someone is scriptually off the mark, fine. But I believe that the methods used were left pretty much up to us.“Spread the word of Christ by any means possible. Use words if nesecary.” (poor paraphrase of St Francis of Ascisi)good times

  30. Dorsey,I understand what you’re saying, but how will the flock learn to feed itself if it is not taught how to feed itself? Just like your parents had to teach you how to feed yourself, so the pastor must teach the flock. Now feeding yourself from the word should of course, be part of every Christian’s walk, but sadly it usually isn’t. People can of course, read the word on their own and study it and should, but what about the distribution of the sacrmaents? The Lord’s Supper for instance. Should people be partaking of that on their own as well? My whole point is that the Great Commission, while important, is not the sole reason for the existence of the church and can not be the sole focus of the church. The purpose of the church is to feed the flock and train the flock to go and feed others.

  31. What then is the church supposed to do? Didn’t Paul talk about being “all things to all people”? I’m tired and lack the ability to adequately express myself tonight, but shouldn’t the church try to reach its community by being relevant to the needs of its community instead of pontificating about what is and isn’t sinful?

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