Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beer Drinking Church

In a way, it is good that church is the place where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. But did you hear the one about the church that not only meets in a bar, but also partakes of the local brew? Read this. Here's their website. The church is called "The Journey" and beer drinking happens at a monthly program they call "Theology at the Bottleworks."

The article referenced above was in the Columbia Tribune last Sunday, and it says that "Theology at the Bottleworks is run by a wildly successful congregation of young St. Louisans called The Journey. The ... program is part of the church’s outreach ministry. And it works. Every month, dozens show up at the brewpub to drink beer and talk about issues ranging from racism in St. Louis to modern-art controversies to the debate about embryonic stem cell research."

It's all about keeping it real and relevant and taking the church out to where the people are. And apparently ... it got them in trouble from the Baptists. (I hope you read the whole story, it's great!) I guess The Journey is non-denominational, but they got a big loan from the Southern Baptists in Missouri to buy and renovate an old Catholic church building in St. Louis. At the time, the SBC was all stoked about this new and emerging church thing. Rev. Darrin Patrick (who did his seminary here in Kansas City, by the way) was praised and the model of ministry was lifted up as exemplary.

But then, they found out about the booze!

Now, they say things like, "Beer being served as part of a church presentation sends mixed messages to the community and causes confusion. Had we known about this before the loan was approved, I would have openly spoken out against a financial relationship being established."

So here we go:
Is this an example of the older status quo balking because younger people just do things differently?
Is this an example of a congregation compromising the church's doctrines in order to attract people and grow?
Is this an example of a congregation betraying the trust of a denomination by taking their money but not upholding their moral principles?
Is this an example of a congregation working in partnership with a denomination in urban ministry, but just using rather unique methods?
Do you have to drink beer in order to be relevant?
Do you have to not drink beer in order to be church?

I know a bunch of wonderful, Christian people who drink beer.
Is there a difference between drinking beer with a bunch of friends at your house and drinking beer at an official church function? If so, why?

Look, making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your troubles sure would help a lot. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name ... and have a beer or two with a good friend? Is that church?

update: click here, read the comments for Darrin Patrick's own take on the situation.


Steve said...

Hey. FYI, The Journey is an SBC church. Not non-denom. Some good questions here.

Gerry said...

Terrific, challenging article. Thanks!

Adam said...

Hey guys. This one is close to home for me; as a st. louis suburbanite myself, this story was on the front page of the post dispatch about a month ago. Also, my fionce's (sp?) sister and her boyfriend attend this church.

I have eaten at the Schlafley Bottleworks, it's much akin to Flat Branch in Columbia MO if anyone is familiar with that wonderful place. It is also located in an area (Kirkwood) where there are many many many young adults/emerging generations as Dan
Kimball might say.

I think the burden falls on the Journey to obey the rules of their SB convention, cause that's who's footin the bill, quite frankly. But the SBC should've kept tabs on what they were paying for, which ultimately a "successful" ministry and a church that people are talking about, Christian and non-Christian.

What I think is sad is that it takes booze for churches to make headlines. Nevermind that this place connects a generation missing from other churches into the body of Christ. Nevermind the fact that in the face of a shrinking Christian American population, this church is growing and expanding even out into West St. Louis county where I live. No no no, let's make news stories about the fact that they meet at a bar and serve beer!

I think the Journey should feel glad that it truly is taking the church to where the people are. Now, does that mean we crawl into a crack house and smoke crack to reach people for the gospel? I don't think so. It's just the alcohol issue is so loaded, I wish people would give it more wiggle room, because it's easier to teach people to abstain and that alcohol is evil than to teach them moderation and that alcoholic beverages aren't inherently bad. Think about it, why do people drink coffee? Because it tastes good/they like the effects of the drugs in the drink on their body. Hmm, same thing with beer! Only idiots don't drink 9 cups of coffee on a Friday night and put people's lives in danger like they do with beer, so I understand the difference. I'm just saying, it's hard to fault the Journey for doing what they're doing. However, much like when Daddy paid for college you can't bite the hand that pays the bills!

If it's THAT important to them, severe the ties with the SBC...if it's not, don't make it an "official" church program.

Now that i've finished the longest comment ever, I apologize for my multiple spelling/gramatical errors at this late hour. Thanks for the post Andy.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that The Journey is stepping out in different ways to reach different types of people. I would imagine they have many other unique outreaches besides Beer for Jesus, but that is simply an assumption on my part. Outreach isn't one size fits all.

I, personally, have no issues with the beer. Heck, my favorite "drinking buddies" are friends from my church.

However, for me, where the issue comes in is recognizing that there are people who have a weakness for the bottle and we, as a body of faith, need to continue to encourage those people to find other things to fill their addictions and offer those opportunities of comraderie (sp?).

But, I think this can be said about so many things - we just tend to focus on the drugs and alcohol. There are many addictions that just aren't taboo enough to recognize the church might be encouraging and triggering the addictions.

As a recovering anorexic/exercise bulimic, I can't tell you the number of times I've triggered at church - during the sermons when the minister tells stories involving food, at potlucks, in the women's circles and retreats where the topic often turns to weight and fat and diets. My ED is an addiction just as much as drinking is an addiction to an alcholic - and it can hurt almost as many people if it gets out of control.

So, this begs the question for me. How do we serve and minister to ALL the people - both in our church congregations and those not? We are each unique and have our personal struggles. And for the most part, an addict is an addict and always will be an addict. Addicts have a make up in our brain chemistry that make us that way. Sure, medications and therapy help, but most of us will always be addicts (unless God chooses to take this affliction from us). So, what do we do when we break an addiction (such as drinking or an ED)? We find something else to be addicted to. Hopefully, it ends up being something positive, but we have to be careful - the addictive behavior usually does not go away.

Is there anywhere the church can go to serve and minister to people where they truly are free from the likelyhood of triggering someone who has some sort of addiction or affliction? Personally, I don't think we can. So, I think we need to go to many place, give people many different venues and opportunities - all the while, of course, staying within the realms of the law.

Vinny said...

The STL P-D I think originated this story . The pastor, understandably upset about the article's emphasis on alcohol, made a reply in this blog entry. It's a great example of small group work, which is the glue that keeps thriving churches together. Much ado about nothing, IMHO.

Now if you want a real firestorm of a story, google "Albert Mohler" in current news articles.

Oh, BTW, the picture in the P-D story shows folks raising hands in church. No beer.

Brett said...

Take out the beer, and I still question if this can be a church. I heard things mentioned about racism and about stem cell research. I didn't see God mentioned, and I certainly didn't see Jesus. Or sin. Or grace. Or love. Or mercy.
If I'm searching for a place where everyobody knows my name, or a place where I can make some friends, it's a great place. If I'm looking for meaning in life, I won't find it there.
Call it a social club but don't call it church.

Andy B. said...

Hey Brett,
I hope you check out The Journey's website at least before you leap to a conclusion about them. The references to the "Cheers" TV show were just rhetorical devices on my part.

Kansas Bob said...

I got a hunch that Jesus would have showed up and spent some time with these folks. Anyone want to do this STL thing with me in KC?

Anonymous said...


Great post and questions. In the interest of full disclosure: I like beer! Give me a cold Newcastle or Bass Ale any day, or whatever brand with a hotdog at a baseball park.
I'm an old fashion sort of guy, (suprised you I bet!)and had difficulties when MUMC changed our morning format without the beer. This story and your questions and looking at other models have had me re-examine my position. In addition, I received a chuckle last night when I read this week's messenger and your dad's position - which actually suprised me regarding this church. Maybe what disturbs me is that we (man) feels a need to market and package The Gospel. I concur to some extent with Brett in that these efforts seem more suitable for a social club more than church. Conversely, I meet regularly every Saturday morning with a group of guys for Bible study at a coffee house. The only rule we have is for us to devote time reading and studying scripture during the week so that we can share in the Word. We have also seen many other men's bible groups meeting as well. Perhaps this is what you have with the Journey. Nevertheless, I can't help but have nagging thoughts that this fad shall pass.

Cli....errr Joseph!