A Church for Freaks?

A Church for Freaks? October 27, 2012

Scott Paeth has been thinking about what kind of church he might fit. It is, he thinks, a Church for Freaks. He asks, “If I no longer feel at home among “normal” mainline Christians, and I can’t take self-identified evangelicals, where’s the church for the freaks?

He’s come up with three posts about what that church might look like, and I think that many readers of this blog will resonate:

Part I: A Church for Freaks

I am thinking more in terms of both the institutional and ritual structures that have become central to the mainline Christian denominations over the past decades and even centuries. Part of this is an objection to a particular kind of church bureaucracy, which is increasingly moribund and useless for the purpose of actually sustain the church as a community of believers. This is the case across mainline denominations. It’s not a specifically United Church of Christ problem, but exists among Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and others. Despite the differences in their organizational structures and ecclesiologies, these denominations have all managed to create and sustain a set of institutional prejudgices and prerogatives that seem to me to be increasingly damaging to the church.

Part II: Theology

Here is where I think the issue of what would motivate freaks like myself to want to show up for worship at a place like the one I’m describing. The heart of Christian theology is and always must be about the grace of God. In Christ, the grace of God is revealed to us in the midst of our brokenness and woundedness. Certainly its true that there can’t be grace without some sense of judgement, nevertheless it has to be the case that the preaching and theology of the church should be rooted in the idea that what is revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ is the grace and love of God.

Part III: Culture and Aesthetics

The “contemporary praise and worship” model is absolutely repugnant to me. The problem isn’t so much that I disagree with the theology that underlies it (which I often do), but that it strikes me as being culturally and aesthethically shallow, with prayer that seldom reaches to the depths of human experience and genuinely horrible music. This aesthetic vulgarity actually often seem to extend to the entirety of the evangelical worship experience, whether it is the church buildings that are actually stadiums or re-pourposed warehouses, with enormous parking lots and Starbucks coffee for sale in the narthex, or the kind of kitchy artistic sensibility that views Thomas Kincade as being an artist of note.

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  • If I had my way, I’d start a church for geeks. References to the Matrix, Avengers and such would be there. No idea how worship would go. But that’s my dream. We do service projects like putting internet in old folks’ home and cleaning up computers at inner city schools.
    We read comics.
    We go to Comic Con and take confessions or give them.
    We love people.
    Even the jocks that shoved us into lockers.

    • You’re not alone in that dream Ryan. It’s one I’ve pondered on several occasions. I certainly think all churches should put on geek friendly services periodically. I find it easiest to preach when I can reference that kind of material but in my church I can’t do that because of the age and other demographics (I don’t complain about this because I think not being able to preach to your natural strengths, tones up the areas where you may be weaker).

      I think it would be easier to get momentum for it in urban areas… being in a rural market town leaves me fairly isolated on that front.

  • Tim

    I feel pretty much the same, having grown up in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

    Take a look at Peter Rollins and his work with a group called Ikon, if you’re looking for something radically different. His book “How (Not) To Speak of God” describes some of the “liturgy” that Ikon uses in their “services”. I put “liturgy” and “services” in quotes because i hate to really call it that, it’s that unique. Really interesting stuff.


  • Lee P.

    My church, St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville, is not a church for freaks but I’m a freak and they have welcomed me. There are a few freak-friendly churches out there.

  • Jim Armstrong

    I have felt somewhat the same way, though I’ve been inclined to describe the small, but growing progressive Christian church that I found my way to in the North part of Phoenix/Scottsdale as “a church for the rest of us”. It’s tricky to grow because it’s like-mindedness lies in greater openness to people and diversity of understandings of “The Way” than is common. But making new connections with that other-than-mainstream “audience” (well-aimed publicity) is a challenge.

    But part of this congregation’s attractiveness is that the (pretty familiar) worship service format (the celebrative and message part) is complemented by intentional nurturing of wide-ranging adult conversations that intentionally range from faith-related topical conversations to the more social settings.

    That said, even this openness per se selects (is attractive to) a smaller segment of Christendom. And for every distinctive “want” or “don’t want” that we add to our wish list, we narrow the definition of that dream church, and shrink the likelihood of finding one, particularly away from larger metropolitan areas. That’s what seems to be fueling the emergence of many diverse, but also intrinsically small faith gatherings.

    So my sense is that many of us who have departed the mainstream in some measure of understanding or practice are pragmatically faced with finding an approximate church(?) home match, building community, and living with some residual (and constantly changing?) hankerings. Otherwise, our options would seem to be launching something ourselves or dropping out. BUT the good news is that diversities turn out to be both pretty neat, and mutually informative. Imagine that!

    Oh, and “liturgy” is a fairly new arrival in my working vocabulary, becoming much more meaningful and useful to me as a lay participant in our worship hour as I began to engage the word’s core meaning as “the work of the people”.

  • Craig

    I like the challenge of rethinking church. But would a theology so pre-determined to be focused upon grace be any less shallow than contemporary praise and worship? Such a focus threatens to sideline other important values, and to restrict their exploration.