Sunday, September 03, 2006

Have pastors become shopkeepers?

As ever Bob Carlton has found a really interesting piece to put on his blog http://thecorner.typepad.com/bc/2006/08/eugene_peterson.html

the basic idea is that pastors have turned into keepers of a 'shop' called 'church' and behave like marketers and consumer pleasers in order to make their own shop successful. Read the article by Eugene Peterson (of 'the message' fame) and see what you think? My starter is that such could be true of many seeking to make church evangelistic in today's culture, so is this a stark warning or a reactionary misinterpretation?

27 comments:

Sally said...

there is something really unattractive about it, and yet...
I guess this is one of those tension places...
but I have to say I'd go for authenticity and relationship over shopkeeping every time!

Sally said...

Good to see you in Gloucester by the way- I guess you arrived home in one piece

Brodie said...

Peterson's oberavation caricature of what is happening, but like all good caricatures it is so shocking that it grabs our attention and makes us question if this is indeed what we have become.

Brocko said...

Shane Claiborne, who spoke at Greenbelt this year, raises similiar questions in his book "The Irresistible Revolution" p103-7. With reference to Willow Creek he asks why there are no crosses in the church & gains the reply "We try to be seeker sensitive and the cross is not". Shane goes on to comment "If we remove the cross, we are in danger of promoting a very cheap grace."

Sally said...

We try to be seeker sensitive... the cross is not??? Can we really pick and choose what to present and when we do what are we presenting??? Cheap grace indeed

Steve said...

thanks for that story Brocko, seeker sensitive = no crosses in a church! OK i wouldn't advise someone to plaster a stall at a Mind Body Spirit fair with crosses, though actually we've often had a celtic one, my reason being peopel will not engage with you if you look too much like what they'd expect a christian stall tot be like, the prejudices simply kick in. so am i actuallly doing the same as Willo Creek? it seems to me to be different what you might do in a particualry sensitve setting and what you do in your own building though, or am i just trying to justify myself?

Sally said...

Steve -
I'd have to say that a MBS Fair and a Church are two entirely different things- we get creative and dare I say sneakily wise in the Exhibitions, but surely this is not called for in a Church building- I suspect that some of your own research bears this out esp in regard to what people want/ expect from a church- there are times when what the building stands for is most important.
It is also necessary to recognise that we speak from a British cultural background and that America is VERY different, even our common language is not as transferable as it might seem at first sight.

charity said...

Hmm. Sometimes the church tries very hard not to be the church, as if we can somehow con people in and then after sometime reveal to them that we are infact all about God.
I would agree with the image of shopkeeper as being an ever growing model within our churches although I would go further and talk of McDonalization, and at the same time I feel some sadness about it.
There needs to be a healthy balance, and I would ask what the church thinks it is selling.
In the olden days when church offered spiritual direction, and the affirmation of rights of passage - that was when we should have been selling ourselves; and now as the church tries to work out what it is it seems bizarre to want to invite people to buy into it.
If we begin to transfer these models into how we 'sell' Jesus to people we then risk missing the whole point of Jesus or we perhaps become aware of the lack of need for the church in evangelism.

Steve said...

Charity
a good post. as someon who used to sell insurance i am rather aware of how we sometimes seem to want to sell our faith the same way. being aware of good communication is of course part of being good at this and i think something were Christains can learn a lot, we can so easily promote bad communication with theologies that make it 'worldly' or that emphasis the need to be ocuntercultural. i think this is just sloppy. but when we seek to sell faith, especially when that seems to become 'sell comming to my church' i think we can easily end up seeking to create a product that the 'consum,er' demands and it is likely then to end up as somethign very different say from Jesus call to 'take up our corss and follow him'

charity said...

I sold kitchens for a while...!

John Smulo said...

Peterson definitely hits on something that's a problem here. I won't speak for other contexts, but moving back to America this year I've found that compared to Australia each shopkeeper is very competitive with other shopkeepers--not saying this wasn't ever a problem in Australia, but not to the same degree.

I guess Peterson can be forgivne for being a bit reductionistic for the sake of proving a point when he says, "The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."

But it left me wondering, is that it? What about mission? What about equipping the saints for service, etc?

By the way, noticed that you and Sally are going to be at the Lausanne gig. Looking forward to meeting you both in person.

Sally said...

not me John- bank manager said no!

Enjoy the conference Steve, looking forward to hearing more insights!

Steve said...

John
a good comment, and i think the 'downside' of Peterson's article. i think it telling that he sees the job of pastors as pastoring, which means for him nurturing the spiritual lives of the faithful. pastoral mode chcurch tends to implictly think 'christendom' and not 'cross-cultural mission'. it has evangleists who go out and grab a few folks who've strayed from the fold but the church is about pastoring people in this view. i like John think missions is about the whole church, indeed fir me the problem with 'shopkeeper mode' is that not only does it turn faith into a commodity but also it makes 'coming to church' the goal of that faith. ironically pastoral mode whilst eschewing the consummer approach ends up with church as the goal too. not at least just an end in itself, the end is the beleievers relationship with God, but this tends to go with an approach that sees this as about worshipping God, which is then equated with 'what we do in church'.
i suspect that for those in pastoral mode mission mode might look like the shopkeeping model peterson attacks. i don't think it has to be, but it can so easily become that. but the alternative is not to call pastors back to their christendom calling (telling too that he berates these pastors for not doing what pastors have always done of x years, Peterson's world is one in which the church lives in a time that is as it always has been...i think he's going to get a rude shock!). the alternative is to call the church to a missionary calling that looks more like 'dying to live' than 'selling to keep the bills paid'.

nice to know you'll be in Hong KOng John, just been reading the paper you wrote on Satanism, some comments to follow on the Lausanne site! i think Sally isn't going to be there btw but i might be wrong!

Steve said...

oh and Sally posted whilst i was writing mine

BTW nice to see you here as well as Greenbelt Charity

John Smulo said...

Steve,

Thanks for your further thoughts. I think Peterson is going to get a rude shock too!

Glad to hear someone reads what I write :-) Which paper on Satanism are you reading? Look forward to your thoughts.

Sally, really disappointed to hear you won't be there. My bank manager told me the same thing, but I was fortunate to get a scholarship or I definitely wouldn't have been able to have gone either.

Steve said...

John
you submitted a paper which is recorded on the site for 2004, i am trying to catch up and the title drew my attention!
and yes sally would be a good person to be there she is doing a lot of good stuff in britain and i have enjoyed working with her.

Alcuin Bramerton said...

The core problem, perhaps, is that religion is a terrorist behaviour. Churchianity is no exception to this. Churchianity is an exercise in mannered spiritual fascism, offering fake salvations to the credulous.

Only when Christian spirituality learns to leave Church behind, along with its conflict-nourished priest-caste, its pastors and its rent-boy gurus, will it have a chance of freely exploring the divine nature in personal experience.

God is not religious, and the experience of God is not religious. That which is religion is not God.

On this view, the shop-keepers of Churchianity have nothing convincing to sell, and customers of discernment avoid their conflict-filled windows.

Steve said...

Alcuin

there's alot in there. i think that is why many people make a distinction between religion and spirituality. religion is something we construct. for me in recent religious construction of Christianity there has been too much connection to state faith. we got this from the Romans (though they hardly had a monopoly on the idea) following the state religion was part of your duty as a citizen. not following it was treason. the Christendom church took this on board, and so killed those who wouldn't follow the state from of Christianity (from the Donatists to Muslims and Jews, witches, Catholics or Protestants and many others. i hope that the weakening link of church to power and the opening up of religious freedom will lead to an end of this, and a reduction of the cnflict that has certainly filled past windows.

if the focus, and this has been th eissue of this thread to some extent, of christianity is simply to get people to church then churchianity is the right word for it. for me church is simply a name that you can apply to a community of people seeking to be faithful to the witness of Jesus, and that might be very different to what we think of as church.

one final thought, is it ever possible to really have a non religious faith, in the sense we're talking abiut here? i suspect that however free from influence we are and however open and deep our encounter with the divine our humanity means a)we'll always have this ecxpereince filtered through our own lenses and b)we'll always have to construct ways of exploring that experience. i suspect this side of perfection there is no such thing as a religionless spirituality. actually i suspect the atheist has their equivalent too, it's about the limited ability of humans to relate to that which they cannot fully comprehend

Mike said...

This topic begs the question “To what extent should the church adapt to cultural norms and values?” I’m sure that many so called “Shopkeeper” pastors are that way because they feel under pressure to be more quantitatively productive. This pressure may come from themselves, or from current trends in the Christian Pastoral community, and it also may come from the management strategies that congregations bring with themselves from the work place to the church. Thus could we not say that the so called „Shopkeeper” posture has not only been taken up by pastors, but has been accepted by the congregation as well?

The emerging church needs to ask itself “Who or what dictates how church is to be done?” Is it culture, the Church, God or something else? If it is God, then how do we as the church determine what His will is for accepting or negating cultural norms, values, or worldviews?

Steve said...

Mike
i think you point to an important issue underlying this (and actually porbabaly every) discussion on this site. how do we do cross cultural mission wihtout loosing our integrity? partly this also begs a question about how we view God and culture. there is a danger i think of viewing them as opponents, so to be influenced by culture is seen as not doing things as God requires. if Jesus is the model for christian ministry then incarnation, living as one of those you are with, sharing their culture and seeing how God can make sense within that culture is part of our calling. i think Paul is saying this wehn he speaks of 'being a Jew with Jews and a Greek with Greeks'. authentic church will i think in one sense be shaped by the culture it emerges within, and this is what God wants.

However, not all that is in any culture is good. so being in the culture anf part of it musy also kead to a critical engagement with that culture. from within (and not shouting from the sidelines) we will have things to say about that which is not good.

we live in a consummer dominated culture and seek to bring churches to birth within that culture. so it is not surprising we wrestle with 'shoping' issues. there are good things about our culture, it recognises peopel are not all the same, it seeks to meet their real needs and desires not the ones someone has arbitarily decided they must have. it celebrates diversity and inspires creativity. in this sense the church can learn from the world of shopkeeping. but there are bad things too, everything and everyone tends to become a commodity with a price. God sees things as gifts of infinite value. value goes to the rich and powerful when God talks of the importance of the poor and week, even telling us that he works best when we are week and know our need. Jesus offers us life in abundance but also tells us we need to live sacraficially, this too is counter cultural.

i could go on, but i hope the idea has come accross?

Alcuin Bramerton said...

Steve, you ask: "…is it ever possible to really have a non-religious faith, in the sense we're talking about here?"

I don't know about a non-religious faith, but I certainly think that it is possible to have a non-religious spirituality. But to achieve this, we must decisively reject negative religion-generated concepts such as scripture, belief and worship.

These categories, these behaviours, are seriously injurious spiritually. If persisted with, I suggest that they can only manifest in inner and outer conflict, and disease at every level of our incarnational experience.

Steve said...

Alcuin
well after the rest of my previous post i could have said i am not sure there is such a thing as a religionless spirituality, but you spotted that i didn't say that. but i doubt the claim to a religionless spirituality you make. i simply suspect the human within us constructs the religious around any genuine connection with 'spirit' however one encounters that. But i may be wrong and you might be able to convince me otherwise as you suggest. i'd like to know more. you speak of the problem of creed, scripture and worship. what are these? a creed is a statemnt of faith people have drawn up that says as best as they are able what is core of what they have come to know through their experience. if the expereince is genuine, then it will have value in helping others learn from that experience. will it be perfect? no, and if it becomes something that is not lived out of, something that reminds us of past wisdom and helps us understand our path, but something that means we only look back and never forward, then it becomes a hinderance. without the wisdom of others wheels need to be re-invented. scriptures, well like creeds save over much longer time and containing much more. i guess for christians cetnral to this is a conection not just with personal experience but the experience 'in the day' of Jesus, so pretty central. a manual to follow, or a rule book for life? OK some might claim this but i think this is never scripture's 'self claim' as it were. inspired and inspiring yes, but it pushes you on to discover Christ for yourself not just christ in a book in the past. worship, well i understnd why many Pagans have asked my what God's ego problem was in Christianity. and some worship makes me agree with that. human construct? of course. at it's worst people whipping themselves up or trying to whip God up. but it can also be about relationship, if you like 'romance' between humanity and God. it can also be a place of depth, self knowing and spiritual encounter. i don't think God needs telling how big he is, i know i value time allowing the life of the divine into my life and seeking the divine as the direction for true living.

Steve said...

Alcuin
oops i read your post i reply and then find i haven't repsonded accurately. happy to stand by comments on creeds, scriptures and worship. but i note you said beleif and not creeds. OK don't know what you understand by the word beleif. i am aware that many see this as intellelctual assent to a series of propositions about 'faith' or a creed (i guess that's how my mind got there). i personally think that is a modernist version of beleif. i think the 'scriptures' (see previous comment) speak of beleif in a very different way, as trusting in someone rather than assenting to ideas or propositions. so my beleif in Christ is my placing my trust in him 'my faith' if you like, not about affirming some particualr set of ideas about him.

Keith United said...

this is great stuff! thanks for all your stimulating conversation.

my own, weak thought would be that in my experience 'church', however that is expressed, is what is done inbetween meeting with the divine. When you actually experience God, it pretty much always blows you away - changes you and what you think - and then like Steve says you try and interpret this to others using words or music etc because you love them and want them to know about it. The problem i think comes when God doesn't meet anyone in your 'church' for a while (decades or centuries) and it becomes hollow and religion.

On scripture etc. personally i see nothing wrong with having common words and common understandings to help us engage with each other's experiences - otherwise whats the point anyway? an isolated personal relationship with God that you can't talk about or explain coz words can't capture it? maybe we should do away with all language then!? ;-) myself, i'd rather be able to share it with others, but keep a good deal of what i belive held lightly.

many thanks,
laurence

Alcuin Bramerton said...

Steve, you say: "I simply suspect the human within us constructs the religious around any genuine connection with 'spirit' however one encounters that."

I agree. Religion is a human construct. My contention is that religion is a human construct which is evil. By evil, here, I mean anti-evolutionary, anti-progressive, anti-experiential and generative of conflict.

It is because of the existence of religion that we have Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Zionism, Darfur, more AIDS than necessary in Africa, George Bush, and oppressed women and children in many of our societies.

I agree, also, that genuine connections with spirit are encountered as a matter of experiential routine. If God really is God, he must be the commonest of all human experiences. There is nothing outside God.

But when an experience of God is defiled by religious expression, and is allowed to become tangled up with scripture, belief and worship, that experience of God morphs into negative spiritual decadence.

The concept of scripture, the concept that a single human cultural artefact generated by others in a long gone civilisation, somehow mediates all the decisive, privileged and authoritative spiritual data germane to modern concerns, is quaint. Better books have been written since, and better thoughts have been received.

An obsession with the Bible (for example) might reasonably be taken as evidence of spiritual insecurity; as evidence of an attempt to give away one's power to an out-of-date male artefact; as evidence of a fear to think fearlessly and creatively for oneself.

An obsession with the Bible might be a coded attempt to reject one's own innate divinity; a refusal to accept that one is made in the image of God; a refusal to accept that one is a partaker of the divine nature, and can therefore write, think, feel and speak one's own scripture.

The concept of worship is also deeply flawed. Worship is a spiritually debilitating, negative and wasteful behaviour. If you were God, would you want your human colleagues to waste their energies grovelling? Of course you wouldn't. Only an incompetent, insecure and profoundly evil God would want that.

If you were God, you would want your human colleagues to get off their fat worshipping bums, stand confidently in their own strength and do something useful.

You would want them to share the abundance of the planet with Africa rather than spending it on cluster bombs. You would want them to look after home and stop poisoning the planet with the rich man's pollutants. You would want them to give women and children a chance to be free.

You would want them to invent a system of democracy where votes were not stolen and where politicians did what was right rather than what was expedient for their controllers in the covert security organisations.

Worship is the displacement activity of the spiritually idle; it displaces service. Wasting energy on worship is the devil's agenda.

The concept of belief is equally self-injurious, spiritually. A belief is something stuck onto the brain which functions by keeping truth out. It keeps out anything other than itself or things very like it. Belief obstructs the reception of new revelations.

On this view, a belief is a stuck thought-form invented by others and secured by a holdfast onto the intellection of the believer. There it acts like an aerial attracting energies similar to its own, but only energies similar to its own.

So if it is a negative or erroneous belief, like most religious beliefs are - for example those which have to do with sin, punishment, salvation, martyrdom, suffering, jealousy, hell, death, sexual oppression, sectarianism, estrangement from God, worship etc - it will attract in negative energies and negative entities which vibrate with a similar frequency. And the aura of the believer becomes colonised by negativity. The result, over time, is spiritual fear, physical illness and intellectual self-righteousness.

The belief is not freely constructed by the believer, nor is it freely modified by him. The believer is used by the belief. The believer has become an unfree religious whore.

I offer the thought that religion is a serious spiritual mistake. There is no room for religion in the Christian mind. That is why Christianity is leaving church.

Steve said...

Alcuin

thanks for the post, as ever provactive but alll the better for that!

some thoughts

Alcuin said
"I agree. Religion is a human construct. My contention is that religion is a human construct which is evil. By evil, here, I mean anti-evolutionary, anti-progressive, anti-experiential and generative of conflict."

evil is a strong word but some of the things done by people in the world deserve that word, and some of those things certianly do have religious motivation. but a question if as we agree religion happens when humans put there own constructs around what may have begun as genuine and posiitve spiritul expereince, isn't the problem humans and what they do to things and not just religion? i suggest that aethiest philosophies have done stuff like this too. this is not to let religious violence conflict and oppression off the hook but to claim

"It is because of the existence of religion that we have Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Zionism, Darfur, more AIDS than necessary in Africa, George Bush, and oppressed women and children in many of our societies."

overstates the case. religion has indeed been a factor in these but international politics, human greed, global business pressures, tribal tensions etc etc are as responsible.

i find the combination of 'ant-evolutionary' and 'generative of conflict' interesting, conflict seems to me to be one of the engines of evolution, OK not the only engine, but certianly one of the factors that leads to the adaption and evolution of species over time. Now it maybe that you didn't mean the term that way, i can concieve of another kind of evolution, one that happens as we become 'more christ like' and i would certianly accept that this is not the same as saying 'more religious' indeed that being more religious may be a hinderance or even a reversal of such an evolution.

"I agree, also, that genuine connections with spirit are encountered as a matter of experiential routine. If God really is God, he must be the commonest of all human experiences. There is nothing outside God."

I agree and also support your stress on expereince, though i have a problem with 'only my expereince', i'll say more later. i also note that we have both agreed there are things we'd call evil, such things might not in one sense be outside of God and the expereince of God, but i think they must be viewed as 'ungodly', so the reality that God must contain and susutain all there is doe snot mean all things are good.

"But when an experience of God is defiled by religious expression, and is allowed to become tangled up with scripture, belief and worship, that experience of God morphs into negative spiritual decadence."

this is where i have a problem. i agree there is a danger that our attempts to record our spiritual expereinces and share them with others to draw enlightnemtn for the expereinces of others can lead to a killing off of those expereinces. but my problem is that if the evil comes from what humans do for all sorts of reasons i do not think i can totally trust that my understanding of my expereince will actually not be turned to evil simply through my own human weakness. much evil is done by people who sincerely beleive they are doing the right thing. scripture beleif and worship can be abused and abusive, but i think the intention is that they are the places we encounter the genuine spirit along with others both today and in the past. i think we need that, but not as an alternative to expereince or as a straightjacket for it.

"An obsession with the Bible (for example) might reasonably be taken as evidence of spiritual insecurity; as evidence of an attempt to give away one's power to an out-of-date male artefact; as evidence of a fear to think fearlessly and creatively for oneself.

An obsession with the Bible might be a coded attempt to reject one's own innate divinity; a refusal to accept that one is made in the image of God; a refusal to accept that one is a partaker of the divine nature, and can therefore write, think, feel and speak one's own scripture."

the origin of scripture is that people where inspired by the spirit and that divine spark. that scripture is does not mean that the spirit cannot speak through me or you. indeed i think scripture encourages us to expect such, and God in scripture often surprises the religious by speaking through those who are irreligious or of other religions. as a christian i belieive all of us are made in God's image, and that remains true of all people. my problem then is how i deal with whatever it is that leads people, and somtimes me to do the evil things we spoke of earlier. i think this may be where we disagree. i actually think trusting in myself is not the way to realise my innate divinity, i think i need God to set me free from that human prepensity to evil that causes religious and non religious people to create wars, hatred etc. my beleif is that this was what Jesus was about, both as the example of the one who lived as we all ought to live, with the divine fully alive and the evil overcome, but also the one who helps me to do the same. i value the scriptures as a tesimony to him and a reminder of this reality. i suspose i might have discovered this myself through spiritul expereince, i happen to have discovered it in the bible, and i am not sure i would have done without it.

but i must now be honest and say that i have to face an uncomfortable reality. my case would be made a lot easier if Christians were all shinning examples of a 'Christ-like' life. sadly they are not, as we have agreed peopel have done evil in the name of Christianity. is this a reason for me to give up on it, or a reason to fight for the vision i and indeed many others have of what Christianity truly is? i go with the later as at present the only reasonable alternative's seem to me less true and less inspriring of the good in my life as well as that of others also seeking such a vision.

"The concept of worship is also deeply flawed. Worship is a spiritually debilitating, negative and wasteful behaviour. If you were God, would you want your human colleagues to waste their energies grovelling? Of course you wouldn't. Only an incompetent, insecure and profoundly evil God would want that."

i agree but don't think worship has to be like that (though it certianly can be) for me it's sometimes a party, or a time of sharing with spiritual others, or on other occassions a romantic dinner for two. no grovelling offered or needed.

"If you were God, you would want your human colleagues to get off their fat worshipping bums, stand confidently in their own strength and do something useful. "

sounds to me like what it says in the bible, see for instance Amos 5 23-4 or Micah 6 6-8, God is fed up with peoples worship and what he wants them to do is act justly and show kindness and live rightly

"You would want them to share the abundance of the planet with Africa rather than spending it on cluster bombs. You would want them to look after home and stop poisoning the planet with the rich man's pollutants. You would want them to give women and children a chance to be free.

You would want them to invent a system of democracy where votes were not stolen and where politicians did what was right rather than what was expedient for their controllers in the covert security organisations."

absolutely!

"Worship is the displacement activity of the spiritually idle; it displaces service. Wasting energy on worship is the devil's agenda."

if chritinaity is reduced to going to church on sunday than i am with you. if on the other hand christain worship is not about this it can actually be the place people get energised to do all those things, indeed it becomes the action planning meeting and the resourcing for action. but i think many churches do not do this and have indeed becoem obsessed with bums on seats at services, i think they proabaly don't take seriously enough their bibles and the Jesus they claim to follow. indeed if this persists 'christinaity will leave the church' as you say. which is actually a concpet enshrined in our scriptures and beliefs. people can and indeed do use these things to stiffle true spiritulity, but that is not i think the inevtibale outcome, they are also potential tools to wake us up to the need be part of the the transformation of this place into God's kingdom, which looks to me at any rate like the kind of place you desire (and not some bigotted un spiritul religious place some christians might seem to be trying to pretend it is)

John W. Morehead said...

Steve, I couldn't track down your email address so I'll post here. It was my pleasure to serve on the Lausanne consultation with you and Anne in Hong Kong last week. I look forward to our continued friendship and collaboration. I just sent the Sheffield Centre an email commending your work, and offering to promote its activities in the U.S. Let's keep in touch.