Archives For Consumerism

What is What?

kinnon —  November 24, 2009 — 14 Comments


Last week, I had a long chat with someone I hadn't spoken to in years. He's a well known leader in the wider church world – one who has become tired of consumer church, sounding almost post-evangelical. He reminded me of the above statement – one he remembers a seminary professor sharing with him almost four decades ago. It's no less true today.

Last night, the iMonk shared this video on the Boar's Head Tavern, The Christian Side Hug. This is what masquerades as discipleship in youth ministry. A steaming pile of gangsta-style from middle-class white kids singing suspect purity theology. And we wonder why the 18-30 segment are leaving the church in droves.

Yet, we will use the same nonsense in an attempt to win new "converts." Brad Boydston points to this good post from Dan Whitmarsh, Anything to Make a Sale:

… the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell 'em about Jesus.

Let's be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this 'wow 'em and tell 'em about Jesus' strategy doesn't do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we're doing something wrong. That we're not growing Followers, that we're not raising Disciples. Instead, we're creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We're not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they 'said the prayer' following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they're 'in.'

And here's today's problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they're using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

A case in point, this painful video at Out of Ur. I have no doubt this young man basically has good motives. But he's not interested in hearing any critique. Entertainment is good because it gets butts in seats – "cuz, it's all about the numbers, baby!" And this young man's church has the numbers to show – so the rest of us just need to shut our festering gobs.

But, in line with Whitmarsh above, do those numbers reflect the raising up of people who are disciples of Christ – whose lives exhibit "sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy."

Tony Robbins attracts huge crowds. He has loyal followers who hang on his every word and buy his every product. Actually, Tony has loyal consumers. And that is what much of the the entertained pew fodder are in North American megachurches and megachurch wannabees – loyal consumers. If we can keep them entertained, providing them with the "tools" to be better whatevers (husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, children, students, employees, employers – you name it) then we can guarantee growth.


What we win them with, is what we win them to. Win them with entertainment, and you've created customers – who expect to be continually entertained.

Picking up our crosses and following Jesus is not particularly attractive. Buying into a worldview where the last are first, and the first are last doesn't win us any earthly popularity awards – and seems antithetical to the North American Dream.


Please allow me to suggest.

If you insist on bragging about your church, don't tell us about the numbers. Tell us about how the Kingdom has come to your community. Tell us of the lame who walk, the blind who see, the debts that have been forgiven, the reconciliation that has taken place at personal, generational & racial levels, how the poor and the outcast are loved and taken care of, how widows and orphans are grafted into the church family, how your community is experiencing the Year of Jubilee – because of what the Spirit is doing in and through your church.

But if all you can talk about are your numbers, then, please…

…just shut up. It's long past old.

[NOTE: If you click on the image at the top, it will take you to a larger version, which you are more than welcome to use. It was created in Adobe Illustrator & After Effects CS4.]

Two Things!


First, the Hanster pointed to this wonderfilled story where at Lighthouse Church of All Nations YOU COULD WIN $500 dollars if your seat number is drawn from a bag during the service. Two other lucky contestants congregants each win $250.

(Pastor) Willis concedes the cash prize is a gimmick to fill the pews. But he's unapologetic about the plan, because it's working. On a typical Sunday, his church draws about 1,600 people to its three Sunday services. But since the money giveaway started, about five weeks ago, the congregation has grown to about 2,500 each week, he said. The money for the giveaway comes from the church offering. [emphasis added]

Meanwhile, friends 'n' neighbors, in that severly underchurched area, known as Dallas/Fort Worth, First Baptist in Dallas is building "a $130 million expansion featuring a 3,000-seat worship center." [via] And one of the important things being solved by this $130 million expansion, PARKING!

Q: Will parking be improved?
A: Parking is an absolute priority in the plan.


Oh. Oh. And they've got a glowing cross, with a shallow pool, for…? I guess it's to remind them of Golgotha… or maybe not.

At the heart of the campus will be a towering stone water tower topped with a luminescent cross. The shallow pool at the bottom will be surrounded by green space, providing a common area for downtown residents and guests.

ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS. Are you people out of your frakin' minds.

Let me put this into perspective. I have a friend (from Texas no less) who builds 800 seater churches in East Africa for $60,000 US – with the local parishioners coming up with between 25 and 30% of that budget. (The church building budget when Imbi and I had our class in Kenya produce a video for them back in '02 was $50,000). They also build schools, orphanages and hospitals for the same kind of reasonable prices – using all East African labour and materials.

Which means, for one GREEN 3,000 seater church in the truly underserved Dallas market, we could build over TWO THOUSAND 800 seater churches in East Africa. First Baptist's decision makes complete sense to me – especially when you consider,

The design is filled with messages about our church. The glass, the water, the light and the spaciousness of the plan speak of openness, transparency and spiritual refreshment. In a way, the glass walls have an evangelistic effect: people walking by have a view in from the street and feel drawn in. The glass also unifies the architecture of the church by extending the aesthetic started by the Criswell Center, which was built in 2006, and thus capitalizes on our $50 million investment in that multi-purpose facility. As for long-term cost, modern technologies allow vast use of glass with surprising energy efficiency.

One might think all these asshats clowns took me seriously when I wrote this.

Drive-By Church

kinnon —  October 6, 2009 — 3 Comments

What a great idea!

I was just reading John Armstrong's blog. He's talking a bit about Robert Schuller and referred to Schuller starting his drive-in church. Except my brain is a tad cloudy today (with a chance of showers). I read drive-by church.

Which led me to thinkin'.

What about it?

Drive-by Church™

(I think there's a book in here somewhere. Someone call my agent.)

BTW. As I mentioned on FB. I have the mental acuity of a vervet monkey today.

Please note the TSK Support Widget in the left sidebar of this blog. Click GetWidget to add this to your site or go here. You can modify the Widget to better suit your site, if you’d like.

Andrew Jones and his family are on a European/North African missional journey and can use our support.

GuyMegaphoneOnChair Setting up movie theaters to project the graven-image of rock-star, celebrity pastors across the United States has some long-term implications.
Ed Stetzer @ 1:01

He must increase. I must decrease.
John, the Baptist

One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"…
Paul, the Apostle

Prompted by this story, and this one.

More later.

Homemaking for Pirates

kinnon —  September 22, 2009 — 14 Comments
Squirrel Kanye & Pirate Homemaking

A couple of things jumped out at me as I scanned blogdom and Twitter this morning. The first was Jonny Baker's post, it's clearly richard sudworth day – that pointed at Sudworth's post – which, as Jonny puts it, is "a very poignant critique of the over against rhetoric of kester brewin and pete rollins."

Jonny says,

i often get asked what i think of pete's work and usually respond by saying that i love having his voice in the conversation but it's not the only voice i want to hear. i loved the book how not to speak of god. but this conversation reminds me a little bit of the book nation of rebels: why counter culture became consumer culture which makes a powerful critique that the over against rhetoric of liberals who talk a good game round the dinner table about the evils of the system and overcoming it are not the people who effect real change in society. it's the people who have engaged in the public square, engaged in civil rights marches and so on – often long slow painful processes – who have done more. on reading that book i was challenged to think that actually being alternative is a poor strategy for change (emphasis added)

Sudworth commenting on Kester Brewin's Christians as Pirates attempted meme, says,

What I sense in Kester's piece on piracy, and indeed in Pete Rollins' publications, is a de-centred viewpoint. Both are keen to articulate a place from the periphery that is "unorthodox", "heretical" or "piratical", in their terms. I'm reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's assessment of contemporary society which has lost any sense of objective morality or authority; one that is working with the "fragments" of moral traditions. The arguments are pieced together, magpie-like, from sociology, philosophy, contemporary culture, with the occasional leitmotif of scripture (I won't even begin a critique of the cod-populist vision of Jesus the de-bunker of Jewish tradition, the anti-authoritarian on a mission that is all about correcting the wrong road of Judaism that Kester offers!). But this de-centred moral perspective forgets the one essential lesson of postmodernity: that all our standpoints are situated; there is no "view from nowhere".

What I feel I am left with if I'm to take seriously "the fidelity of betrayal" and a "plea for Christian piracy", is a moral vision centred on the individual and thus a "theology" that is yet another rotten fruit of modernity, (there are times when I wonder whether I should read this material acknowledging a wink and tongue-in-cheek at the hyperbole, but the gravitas afforded published books, my experience of their persuasiveness amongst Christians and the earnest hopes of the project (?) suggest I should be treating them seriously!). Kester and Pete are in danger of articulating something that is always and intrinsically "over and against" (the "empire" of the church). So where is it? Kester poses the question "what should we think of the Somali pirates", suggesting the global geopolitics of western oppression might give an alternative vision of who the real baddies are. Well, if you ask a poor Somali woman whose children have been killed by the Somali warlords growing rich on the piracy (for that is yet another side of the story), the answer would be a no-brainer. The point is that there is a coherent moral vision to be applied, inescapably, and we practice that moral vision in community and in our tradition. What i would describe as "an ecclesiology of iconoclism" is in fact licence for the individualism and self-referencing that i know Pete and Kester would otherwise disdain. The example of the shift from "pirate radio to BBC" and "Napster to Spotify" betray more than a whiff of the romance of the new, the trendy and the latest: a vision of consumerist heaven confirming my suspicions?

In the comments on Sudworth's post, Jason Clark adds,

I remember reading a well-known emerging-church blogger who wrote an autobiographical piece on why he had left his church. He described how the members of the church drove in their cars past the poor, the homeless and drug addicts, on their way to spending their money on putting on a Sunday worship service, having bypassed the needs around them.

It was enough for him, showing how the people of his church had failed to engage with the poor, to justify the leaving of his church. He had taken 'action' against the failings of his church community.

I did wonder why the author was unable to stop himself on the way to the service, why had he not tried to minister and invite the other members of his community to serve the poor with him.

Perhaps then something amazing and truly revolutionary could have taken place instead.

And beyond romanticizing ourselves as pirates, we know that real pirates do not form a life with others, but conquer, control, steal, loot, pillage, and bends all things towards their own ends and self creation, controlling others with fear and intimidation.

I confess a profound weariness with the kool kids who want to blow up the present church to create what – a groovy new way of doing church? Who spend more time dancing with the words of Foucault, whilst wearing Lyotard's – than struggling with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

But then I see something like this – via @lensweet on Twitter. The Horner Homemaking House.

"Having a facility that truly models the home environment will allow students to put into practice the foundational principles learned in the classroom.This is an exciting and practical way to impact a future generation of families in a way no other conservative theological institution can," Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs, says.

It is only the healthy fear of the strong Estonian-Canadian woman I am married to that prevents me from writing words of which Patrol Magazine completely approves. You have got to be kidding me! A Homemaking House. This isn't a "conservative theological institution," it's a white bread, lost-in-the-50's school that has confused American Consumerism with the church. God help us all.

Both stories remind me of Imbi's favourite lyric from a Bruce Cockburn song, The Trouble with Normal is it Always Gets Worse. And the normal at both ends of the Church conversation just seems to get worse.

The last word goes to Sudworth,

What story are we a part of? If we own the Christian story, we have a responsibility to bless and be blessed by the whole church; to challenge and be challenged by the whole church. There is truth and there is authority; we just don't have the complete take on what that truth and authority is.

UPDATE: Read Kingdom's Grace's take.


Bob Hyatt has some fun with my previous post – a response to his two recent Out of Ur posts – There Is NO Virtual Church 1 & 2.

In his response he points to the Perry Noble video (also discussed @ Out of Ur) where Perry goes off on those leaders who would dare express concern about Video Venues (and, by extension, "Internet Church" one might reasonably suppose.)

Perry's argument is basically, 'I have a big church. You don't. Since size is proof of God's favor, shut up.' Pure power pragmatism – the engine that drives much of the Western Church. (UPDATE: Read my friend Dan's post on Perry's video.)

Bob then decides to add a bit more fuel to the discussion's fire and says,

…here's where I'll go ahead and tick off the other side of the spectrum.

Me and my buddies sitting around the firepit in my backyard is not church either – absent things like praying together, teaching the Word to one another, the sacraments, some sense of accountability and discipline, biblical eldership (and many other things)…

What I'm saying is that it's easy to look at the internet church and call it lacking and silly. Shooting fish in a barrel.

But I think the "de-churched" movement makes the same exact mistakes (albeit in a less technophile way) and just doesn't see it.

What follows is most of my response from the comment section of Bob's post.


As to shooting fish in a barrel, I hate fish but I will comment on the de-churched.

At one level, if one is a believer in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to be de-churched. It is possible, however to be De-Institutionally Churched. (And yes, we will avoid the acronym for that.)

Most of the folk I know who have walked away from the Institutional Church had been leaders therein and were rather badly hurt in their experiences. The "Not EVEN Virtual Church" of their experience left them profoundly gun-shy on one hand, and craving something a little closer to what they saw promised in the New Testament. (Though thankfully, the NT is full of problematic expressions of church as it tells God's story of real people.)


Relationships across fire pits where conversation continues into the wee hours of the morning, speaking of the things of God with wounded brothers and sisters who hunger for a holistic Gospel is a lot closer to a "virtual church" than is the consumer-driven model of much, if not most of the church in the West. (As the graphic says: Virtual = almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.)

Focus on the Sunday morning service, on the primary importance of the preaching/teaching surrounded by great music, entertaining children's ministry and good coffee for the 30 minutes folk hang around after the service (in deep hunger for actual relationships) has turned the Western church into a deliverer of feel good infotainment built around effective pulpiteers (or at least those attempting to be).

As our friend, Dave Fitch says,

I fully grant that good teaching is necessary and it feeds the soul. (I regularly defend the 9 a.m. communal teaching hour at our church as essential.) Certainly consistent doctrinal exposition of texts is important on an interpersonal dialogical level in a smaller class room type setting. Unfortunately in larger arenas, the retention rate is next to nil from week to week. Good charismatic (entertaining?) preaching soothes the soul as opposed to feeds the soul. It can become a consumer item, even if it is expository preaching. Under these conditions, Christians, who are told to connect to the local church for the sake of their discipleship (as opposed to being part of a politic of mission in the world) – will naturally gravitate towards the most exciting preacher. They will leave the previous church because “I wasn’t getting fed.” For the small community churches of modernity therefore, whose members are graying, who are seeking new and younger members to replenish the dying saints, they must compete for the remainders of Christendom by presenting the Bible in as compelling and entertaining a way as they can muster. To those who can’t compete, they are in a quandary. (emphasis added)

Perry Noble's position on this is simply the logical place to be – based on what he's been taught the Western Church looks like. He's used the Hybels-Warren-Young Jr. model to build a big enterprise with lots of happy-clappy butts in the seats. The fact that the community has not changed dramatically around said enterprise does not even enter into the picture.

It's not about Luke 10 – it's about moving from Good to Great. And Perry would tell you he's done that – and from his perspective, I daresay he has.

The conversation continues here and @ Bob's Blog.

UPDATE: Bob responds to this post in the comments below and at his blog. My response to him is in the comments there.

Back in August, one of my favourite bloggers, Bob Hyatt had a good two part series @ Out of Ur with the strongly stated title, There is NO Virtual Church – addressing the internet church phenomena.

It was good.


It was wrong.

Most western churches don't even make it to virtual.


In Part Two, Bob appeals to Calvin,

Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.

Really? That's a good summary? Of ecclesia? Sticking with the Reformed for a moment, according to Donald McKim in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (via),

In the New Testament, the term ἐκκλησία (church or assembly) is used for local communities and in a universal sense to mean all believers.

Communities that at their best – according to the New Testament, hold all things in common, love each other unconditionally, confess their sins one to another, practise servant leading, take care of the widows, orphans, those in prison, the sick & the dying, gather to hear the Word, correct and are corrected, grow in wisdom and understanding, study the Scriptures – and that's just scratching the surface – all of this done with a passionate love for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When you next gather with your fellow believers, ask yourself, is this what's happening?


This isn't an attack on Bob. From what I know of the community that he leads, they do their best to live like this – and are just as fallen and broken as the rest of us – but they are at least working at living what they believe to be true.

Internet Church, however, is the logical outgrowth of the Western Church. It is the consumer church on steroids – about meeting my needs in a way that "works for me." To the point of being ridiculous.

I was aghast – filled with shock and horror – when I read Drew Goodmanson's 5 Online Trends for the Future of Faith. The first point being doing the Sacraments Online. ARE YOU SERIOUS!? (And I'm not suggesting that Drew supports all of these things – he's simply reporting them. At least, that's what I hope.)


Online Baptisms?! In the comfort of your own bathtub?

Heck, why not just mimic some denominations, and stand over the sink and pour water over your head, three times for good measure. Do-it-yourself baptizing. (Why not go all the way and just be your own saviour?)

And receiving "Holy Communion" via the Interwebs?

If I have any Christian home, it would be amongst the Anglicans. Even there I struggle with their "delivery" of the Eucharist. I read Jesus telling us to break the bread and drink the wine at every meal in remembrance of Him – especially at the communal meals we will, of course, be having regularly together. (See jonny baker, here.)

Drew's point two is the The Rapid Growth of the Internet Church.

As people blur their sense of presence (with things like mobile apps that constantly tether you to distant places) the idea of having to be somewhere in person for it to be ‘real’ will be lost in a digital generation. Already there are fully packed online services for churches to launch their own Internet campus.

I am no Luddite when it comes to technology and the net. And I have significant community with friends scattered across the globe – connected via email, our blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and more.


Like the nightmared little girl whose mother said, 'just talk to Jesus if you're scared' responded with "but I need someone with arms on," we both need and are the hands and feet of Jesus. Digital tethering can enhance the ecclesia, but it cannot begin to replace the warmth, touch, smell (occasionally ripe) of the body gathered. And Internet Church is at best, silly and at worst, simply wrong.

Would that the church were truly virtual!

The Nines, Why Here?

kinnon —  September 8, 2009 — 4 Comments


Twenty years or so ago, my dear wife Imbi was co-organizing a "worship conference" in Toronto to be led by Graham Kendrick. In an early planning meeting, the question was asked about Graham's North American itinerary. An Anglican pastor piped up with the memorized dates and times of Kendrick's schedule – as if reading from a calendar.

He was a Kendrick conference junkie – planning on attending a number of the events. Knowing this gentleman only casually, I cannot say I noted any particular changes in his ministry after his innumerable Kendrick experiences – though he remained consistently tongue tied in Graham's presence.

There is a mythology around church conferences that suggests efficacy. There are so many of them, one should reasonably assume they are having a positive impact on the Body of Christ – an impact that should suggest growth in church numbers, should it not? But, as this Pew Foundation survey shows,

More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

Though other surveys may show the church growing, in terms of church growth vs population growth, population growth is significantly outpacing the growth of the Body of Christ in the West. Which begs the question – why so may conferences, at least in my not humble but accurate opinion? Do they simply make church folk feel like they are doing something? Alleviating their dis-ease as they sense something significantly wrong?

Yes, I read the reports of Mega Church X and Y, and their multitudinous baptismal services. "How can you comment on what we are doing, we baptized <insert inflated number here> this past Sunday!"

Baptized into what, one might reasonably ask? Were these baptisms simply initiation rites into a culture of consumer church? Is significant change taking place in the communities where these newly baptized live? Has the Kingdom come?


So why promote the simulcasting of The Nines web-conference here First, presenters are limited to 9 minutes. (Although that may be too much for some of these folk, but…) Secondly, this has the potential to be great usage of social media – if people join in via comments here, @ Ed Stetzer's blog, at TSK's, etc., riff on the presentations via Twitter (hashtag: #thenines) and write your own blog posts about what you liked and what you didn't.

In fact, I hope the comments provide as much or more insight into what's happening in the Western Church as do the actual presentations.

So tomorrow, The Nines conference will be simulcast across numerous other blogs along with this humble nanonode on the interwebs. "Leaders" from all over the Western church world will have 9 minutes to share their thoughts and insights – people like my friend, Ed Stetzer, who is always worth at least nine minutes of your time. And I'm also looking forward to hearing Nancy Ortberg and a number of others. You can get more information and register for The Nines here.

Come back to tomorrow, watch the videos and comment about what you liked and what made your hair curl – assuming you're not folliclely-challenged, of course. The Nines simulcast post will be stuck to the top of this blog (for the day). A Twitter window will be open in the column beside it – displaying Tweets with the #thenines hash tag.

I look forward to your response. You can be sure that I'll have a few responses of my own.

MountainOfFire.jpg Need I say more. Original on Flickr.