Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Should Church be Cool?

Addie Zierman recently wrote an article that was published in the Washington Post. You can read it here. It got me thinking; should church be cool?

It's not unusual to hear that advance guard millennials (born roughly 1980-1985) have, despite growing up in church, opted out of church but not out of faith. Now wearing fashionable fluorescent clothing for the second time in their lives, this crew grew up on a diet of easy answers, catchphrases and clichés. Zierman lists a few phrases you may be familiar with and I hope that if you break out in a nasty rash and cold sweats that you recover quickly: 'The Bible clearly says,' 'God will never give you more than you can handle,' 'are they a believer, an unbeliever or a backslider?,' 'God is in control, he has a plan, he works in mysterious ways.' I've got a couple to add: 'If it's God's vision look for God's provision,' 'God says it, I believe it, that settles it.' Enough? I could go on. 'A Bible falling apart will belong to someone who isn't falling apart.' Stop there? Ok. Sorry. 'Bigger level equals a bigger devil.' Sorry. Again. If there is one thing that these folk have learnt it's that; life is always more complicated than the clichés.

In some cases however, these millennials, now often with a young family in tow are returning to church. Partly cynical and partly hopeful they're willing to give church a second chance. For their own sake and for the sake of their children. Having a family they now crave a family beyond their own; immediate or extended. And with this in mind, it seems that if there is one thing they're not looking for the church to be, it's cool. In fact they expect the church not to be cool and would be suspicious if it was.

 They're looking for community, for authenticity, for grace, for inclusion, for acceptance, for church to be in fact what by nature it should be - everyday messed up broken people, all in equal need of the bread and of the cup of Calvary, who have encountered Jesus, received grace, offer grace and are attempting to live as an advance party of heaven in right relationship with God, self, each other and the created world around them. The reality is, 'cool' doesn't leave much space for community, authenticity, grace, inclusion or acceptance. It is a social construct that takes it cues from film, song, television, popular culture, fashion labels, social media, and marketing. By nature it deems some people to be 'cool' and some of course to be anything but. Cool isn't found in community it's found in clicks. Cool isn't found in authenticity it's found in conformity. Cool isn't found in grace, inclusion or acceptance but rather in judgement, exclusion and rejection. Cool can only exist when things are equally deemed to be 'un-cool.' This creates some issues for the church, the body of Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, but rather all are one in Christ.

If the local church is pursuing cool, even as a means to an end, ultimately it's a betrayal of who the church is called to be. In the midst of a 'hyper-world' the church is instead to be a down-to-earth community of authenticity that lives out a counter-culture narrative to that of consumerism, materialism, individualism and self-gratification. And at the end of the day I'm not sure that you can actually put a 'cool' spin on laying down your life, taking up your cross, looking to the interests of others, offering cups of water to the least of these. The church is a place where people find Jesus, where they drink and thirst no more, not a place that serves up sparkling evian.

A 'cool' front is only going to make it difficult for people to embrace the grounded, sleeves rolled up, gritty, down-to-earth, up-side-down, His will be done, way of Jesus that Christ followers are called to live. And it's not necessary (or I think smart, or I think biblical) if we are to learn anything from millennials disengaging or reengaging from church it's that they actually crave an authentic, messy, down-to-earth, slightly chaotic faith that is true to Jesus and true to the realities of life and of family.    



Nathan Cunliffe said...

This article really captures my heart on trying to sell church attendance. The Church is not a business with something to sell but rather an organic community of authentic people who struggle with sin, yet participate with the work of God in the process of His coming kingdom. Salvation lived out, not sold. Yes the business world can give us some great tools but not to the detriment of daily life experiences that are authentic and not to be ignored. They will know us because we love one another, even as awkward as that can sometimes be.

Nathan Cunliffe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph McAuley said...

Good stuff Nathan!