Sunday, April 28, 2013

Being Church

Amy Hanson, Denver, CO 2012
For my Holy Spirit, Church, and the Triune God class we read a book entitled, Liquid Church by Pete Ward.  This text affirmed some of my convictions about my sense of call, but more than any other text for the class so far, made me vehemently angry.  The idea of "liquid church"comes from the idea that the church needs to respond to the demands of post-modernity in a way that differs from its previously "solid" state.  The solid church operates out of the convictions that church is a destination (a building) and success is measured by budget and congregation size, and faithfulness is equated with attendance.  Ward argues that this "solid church" is no longer relevant and has mutated into new forms that are not helpful.  He states that the church must embrace consumer culture in order to attract people to it.  It is important to note that this text was published in 2001, at a time in which prosperity was relatively intact, the tech bubble existed and the war on terror had not yet started.  I would argue that in the twelve years since its publication, much has changed.  Below are some of my reflections on this text:

Where his argument breaks down for me is where he attempts to put all of his theoretical knowledge into a practical model for what it means to be church in the world.  Ward writes, “Liquid church involves a radical change in attitude for the church.  Church leaders will need a fundamental change of heart if they are to start to take consumer culture seriously.  Instead of opposing materialism and treating consumer culture as evil, we need to embrace the sensibilities of consumption” (Ward 72).  Ward seems to take for granted that consumer culture is something that should be embraced by the church without critically examining these base assumptions.  He plays right into the mindset of so many Americans, that church exists to meet their very specific needs.  It is from this paradigm that we get such ideas as “church shopping,” “seeker-sensitive churches,” and an epidemic of blas√© emergent congregations with pseudo-hipster pastors wearing flannel shirts and scruffy facial hair, spouting bad theology, and waving a latte they bought from the coffee cart in the church narthex.  What if the church exists not to meet MY needs, but OUR needs?  What if the church exists as a way for us to be in communion with one another?  What would it mean for the church to be in the world, a part of the world, but also an alternative to the world?  

My own sense of call is deeply rooted in the theology of the cross. I believe that there is a deep and painful yearning “to call a thing what it is” and a deep need among all people to be in real community with one another, to be broken, but also to be swallowed up by grace and to be born again and again each day.   The church is a broken institution composed of broken people and I think my issues with Ward’s perspective are that this can somehow be overcome with enough awareness and enough planning.  It does not matter how aware you might be of post-modernity or social trends, when people get together in community, the best and worst of humanity will emerge.  

My convictions regarding what it means to be church are forever evolving.  I do not think that Ward is doing anything revolutionary, and in fact, I think that he is still operating out of the same assumptions that have shaped the church in modernity.  Along with my congregation here in MSP, I spoke to a group of Lutherans gathered at a St Paul area Synod conference back in February about what it means to do church differently.  The comment that I made was, "Having a coffee bar in your church is not going to bring people to you, but actually going out into a coffee shop just might."  And I stand by that conviction.  People do not need church to be the same as everywhere else in the world, they need it to be a place that is real.  

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