Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hip - Contemporary - Evangelical = Apparently Not

My stomach hurts. In an article at, I read this sentence.
Set in a field amongst the St. Charles sprawl, Morning Star Church is part of the United Methodist Church, but it looks and feels more like a hip, contemporary evangelical congregation.

The underlying assumption? That a United Methodist Church couldn't possibly be "hip, contemporary," or "evangelical." It's as if the very idea that a mainline church could be doing something like Morning Star is doing in their worship services was just too mind-boggling for the writer to comprehend.

If you read the whole article, you'll see that it is about a really cool practice they have at Morning Star UMC. People are encouraged to send text messages to the church's cell phone during the sermon. These messages are screened and sent within seconds to the preacher's laptop computer. Mike then reads the questions and addresses some of them in his message. LOVE IT! Completely cool idea!

What makes my stomach hurt is the surprise expressed by the article - as in, "Y'all aren't going to believe this, but this is happening in a United Methodist congregation! Crazy, huh?" Since when is it so shocking that Methodists are evangelical? Arghh!

Is there anyone reading this who is still unconvinced that the public image of the mainline church is very seriously damaged? There are thousands and thousands of people who wouldn't even think of a denominational church as a place where their spiritual thirst might be quenched - not because of any animosity, but just because of simple ambivalence. It's not that they hate the church, it's just that they don't really care about it.

And without seeing the irony, it seems to many of us that the mainline is still doing battle to "win people" into their congregation. I can't even count how many times I've heard someone use the expression "win people for Christ." "Win people"? What? Evangelism isn't a fight anymore. We are not battling for people's souls; their souls are just fine, thank you. It's not really a fight when nobody is fighting against you, it's just a tantrum. You can't "fight against" ambivalence because people who are ambivalent ... um ... are ambivalent! This, incidentally, is another reason that my stomach hurts.

Morningstar UMC's innovations are exciting and definitely will help to convey the gospel in a language in which it can be heard. And in doing so they stand firmly in the Wesleyan evangelical tradition of "becoming more vile" in order to communicate the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. (That's how John Wesley described the innovation of preaching on the street in his day, btw.)

I long for the day when the fact that a United Methodist Congregation is doing such creative, cool stuff does not result in "Crazy, huh?" but rather "There they go again!"

(btw - if you read the article, be sure to peruse the comments that people have left. There are some pretty interesting critiques of the practice that are worth reading.)


Adam said...

To me part of the problem is that so much of the Methodist church has no relevance to the average attender.

Most people at Living Word would have no idea what the Bishop/DS/Conference Lay Leader/a million other people's name is or what they actually do- besides move the Pastor, if they know that much.

Case in point, we're required to send in names of lay leaders to the conference, including a "UMYF President". We don't call anything in youth ministry UMYF and we don't function with elections, etc. So I arbitrarily wrote down one of the students name's, and now we refer to him as our president and it's pretty funny.

So part of me doesn't blame the perceptions, because there is so much ambivalence even within the congregations themselves about the larger hierarchy of Methodism.

Kory said...

You've now officially made my Facebook quotes. You should feel honored.


Larry B said...

I'm one of those reading the article thinking that the image of the mainline church isn't that damaged. There is plenty of criticism floating through the popular press of the "hip contemporary evangelical" churches too.

It's simply good journalistic technique to use contrast and comparison to build a story - I don't think it's an in depth analysis of what's wrong with mainline denominations. The hip comment is used to give the reader some familiar context based on popular imagery.

I hope that we don't fall into the trap of believing that the secular press and popular imagery defines us or needs to define us.

Kansas Bob said...

Churches like are making the UMC cool.. my 28 year old single son likes it.. it is relevant and inspirational.. heck my wife and I have thought about going.. hmmm.. maybe it's not so cool after all :)

Adam Caldwell said...

Larry I think you bring up a great point...and Mustoe I love you but I am really beginning to revile the word "relevant". Since when does outside culture drive our inner church culture? Yes, I do feel comfortable using the language of "outside"-"inside" here. People have to move somewhere when they come to Christ. Screw relevance in my opinion...let's make it harder to understand...seems to be what Jesus did...let's give people plenty of opportunities to assess whether they want to join the church instead of salivating like lap dogs anytime it is mentioned, seems to be what the early church did...I don't know...random thoughts before Hebrew...

Patrick Moore said...

Reviling "relevant" is right on. Should be the name of a blog.

The President of UMYF, and officers of the UMM/UMW/Kitchen Committee, Flower Committee, etc, were attempts to be revelant and use the structures of the world around us. And now we are left with this goofy system no one likes. That is what happens when the church in North America tries to be "relevant." We end up being goofy. (BTW goofy is the theological buzz word).

It seems to me that "our" relevance should be measured on how well congregations equip folk to live out a life shaped by their baptism and on-going communion with the Divine.

Andy B. said...

Adam, Patrick -
Every expression of the Gospel is enculturated. I don't read "relevant" as meaning subsumed by the culture, but in order to most faithfully convey the Gospel, we have got to speak in a language that people understand. I think we are smart enough to figure out how to do that without compromising our ecclesial identity.

Andy B. said...

Larry B - I think you are right, it is a journalistic technique. And my lament is just that - the journalistic technique that came to mind for this reporter was to assume a disconnect between "United Methodist" and "hip, contemporary, evangelical."
(Especially evangelical!)

Adam said...

What I was trying to say is that most people that ARE United Methodists have no idea what any of this crap means. I'm not talking about the outside culture driving the church, I'm talking about the majority of the church being ignorant of its own processes. Wrong soap box buddy!

Anonymous said...

Since when are UMs not evangelical? Perhaps part of the issue is that a small (but very active) segment of the church has co-opted and defined the term “evangelical.” What I understand the article to be saying is that Morning Star looks and acts like an evangelical church, but is really a UMC. What?! -Mitch

Brad said...

It's no wonder that the people who are United Methodist don't know much about what being a United Methodist means when our United Methodist Churches take the words UNITED METHODIST off their signs, take away any cross and flames, never mention John Welsey. Adam, you said most people at "Living Word" don't know much about being a UMC. Well, maybe if your sign still said Living Word United Methodist Church, they would have an idea.

I had a district meeting Sunday, and as I looked around, I just thought "Man, we are old and we are white." I was the youngest person, again, and there were two African American pastors present.

It's a nice prayer and hope to have, my big brother, that stories of innovation and exciting evangelism in the UMC are the norm instead of the exception.

I'll leave you all with a question:
What is hip? Tell me, tell me if you think you know. What is hip? Sometimes hipness is what it ain't...and What's hip today, might become passe. What is hip?


Adam Caldwell said...

All I know is it is "hip" to be square.

Adam Caldwell said...


I agree that every expression of the gospel is enculterated to some extent. That does not mean that there is not an "over-driving" narrative of the gospel which the church uses to subsume and redeem the culture that is being witnessed to. For me Patrick hits it on the button when he notes that the church, particularly the UM church, is in trouble now because of how it incorrporated outside models and structures. The church should not be driven by outside intentities. How can we as the church be redemptive of models that we are adopting lock, stock and barrel? Now, that is not to say that the church can't learn from these models and, again, redeem them for her use but to accept them outright is not...well acceptable.

Clix said...

Oh, MAN. I think that's an awesome idea. One of the issues I have with Sunday-morning-church is that it's typically passive and impersonal.

The dissenting commenters (I'm on page 4/5 so far) have IMO thoroughly misunderstood the point; I'm hearing a strong bias against texting, rather than any serious points against how it's being used.

Patrick Moore said...

I am not opposed to texting in church, drinking coffee in church, or wearing golf shirts and shorts while preaching in church. I just don't think these things inside a church building make a church relevant. Someone mentioned Wesley debasing himself to reach folk. And he did that by actually going out to be with folks. All these "relevant" ideas are still based on folks coming to a building, rather than church folk spending time with people outside the building. To me the latter is incarnated ministry. Real people spending time with real people in real situations.

Yet, the actual thread was a lament that The United Methodist Church is not automatically considered hip nor evangelical. I lament that the word "evangelical" is a great and holy word gone bad due to ecclesial political struggles in all the Xian franchises.

Anonymous said...

You guys need to read the book, "Pop goes the Church", by Tim Stevens.