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A few ways in which the church cultivates irrelevance

A few ways in which the church cultivates irrelevance

Here’s something that worries me:

Every weekend kids all over the country get out on fields and courts and chase up and down and do something that makes them feel incandescently alive, and the response of much of the church is to worry not about whether these kids are having a formative experience, but whether holding youth sports on Sundays is cutting into our market share.


We just had an election which aroused both passions and fears in the hearts of people of all political persuasions, and the response of much of the church was to keep its distance from this process, or, worse, to turn up its nose and offer a service on election night that was represented in some quarters as a way of washing away the sin of giving a damn about politics.

Now we are on the cusp of the Christmas season, and folks are hustling around buying and baking and generally trying to make a nice holiday for their loved ones and the response of much of the church is to tell these people that they are ruining Advent.

We spend a lot of time telling people that their passions, hopes and fears are inappropriate, and the most exhilarating experiences of their lives consume time that could be better spent. Then we wonder why they don’t come to us to celebrate and mourn, why they don’t think of their church as a place to seek community or solace.

There isn’t anything prophetic or countercultural—and there’s certainly nothing Christian—about looking discreetly down one’s nose at the people we are asked to love and serve. If you aren’t willing to meet folks where they are, you have no chance of getting them to where you want them to go.

(Hat tip to recent articles by and conversations with Keith Anderson, Rebecca Wilson, David L. Hansen and Laura Everett.)

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Mary Caulfield

Dear Susan,

What you said! If I knew where you lived, I'd bake you a pie.

- Mary

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Dave Paisley

"It's the old finding balance in your life and setting priorities -- including room for God."

In my experience, church people have the biggest problem with balance - for many, everything revolves around church to an unhealthy level.

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Susan Snook

I went to the mall on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (horrors!) and found myself getting sniffy about Christmas carols being played when it wasn't even Advent yet. As I drove home, I was mentally composing a Facebook status: It is all right to play Frosty the Snowman, Winter Wonderland, etc. the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but you may not play O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or Silent Night until Christmas Eve. What a good Episcopalian I am! I know what's not appropriate in Advent!

But then I realized, those Christmas carols may be the only good news of Jesus some people ever hear. And whether or not they are paying attention as they ring up their charges at Target, they are hearing the good news: the angels are singing, a king is born. And something may remind them that Christ is present in the midst of their holiday stress. Who am I to get all sniffy and liturgically correct about the gospel being preached in Target during, gasp, Advent?

It made me think, we are fine with the good news when it is carefully scheduled and under our control, all decently and in order. But when the good news gets loose and threatens to impact real people in their real lives, we want to rein it in and put it in its proper place.

What if instead we were to find ways to proclaim the good news of Christ's presence to soccer leagues, shopping malls, election night parties, and all manner of things? That's the challenge that is before us now in the 21st century. I want to stop being sniffy about the gospel I want to control, and start bringing it out to the people. So many people are harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. They need to hear the good news of Jesus, whether it happens on Sunday morning according to the rubrics, or not.

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Kevin Jones

jesus was a political refugee as an infant. so being in solidarity at christmas and other times with the homeless or illegal aliens is being in solidarity with jesus and the holy innocents. a fine advent discipline

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Jim Naughton

John, I love Advent. I have no problem with talking about it, observing it, treasuring it. It is my favorite season of the liturgical year. I have a problem with people of comfortable economic circumstances deploring the economic behavior of people in much less comfortable circumstances. And I don't find it helpful to make people feel sheepish about the way they keep Christmas because this tends to be a deeply personal decision. I don't think you and I are in disagreement.

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