A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, November 05, 2007

McChurch

There are many ways in which McDonald's represents America in the 20th century. One might say that it has been a fundamental institution for our society. Growing out of the Industrial Age, it was birthed from our need for speed - a turbo-charged culture with no more time for substantive meals. If you don't have time to dedicate to food, eat McFood. After all, it tastes great, its cheap, and its always ready when you want it. Food is the ultimate consumptive item in our culture of Consumerism. We can hardly think of it in any other way - it is merely a product to be desired or a means to an end. McFood is stimulating, fun, and you can eat while you are doing any number of things.

One thing that Qohelet (the voice in the book of Ecclesiastes) is concerned with is eating and drinking and finding pleasure in living out these very organic facets of life. (i.e. 2:24) The life well-lived is one where a person attains contentment with the simple life and with the very basic and rudimentary tasks of getting along. This, of course, is not a concept that fit well in our society. Eating and drinking is too mundane: We must do it faster; we must do it with more stimulating tastes; we must see the lights of the golden arches and be stimulated by ads for the latest tasty product.

Church leaders in America (particularly of the conservative stripe) often lament the fact that American Christians do the "church hop," as it is called. Church hopping is America's Consumeristic approach to religion. We shop for a product we like, and once we find the satisfying product we are willing to give them our time and a bit of our money.

But who is at fault for the church hopping religious consumers?

When I go to McDonald's I do not approach the restaurant with anything but a consumeristic frame of mind. McDonald's has set themselves up as a place to get your food and go. They have no expectations that I will invest anything into the company. It is a business transaction: I pay them money and they give me the food, fast.

But isn't church set up much like a McDonald's? Do we not operate on the basis of giving people some spirituality (via the form of a sermon and/or a worship experience) in small bites and then sending them on their merry way? The more I examine the nature of the American church the more I see significant parallels between church and McDonald's. This is what makes me think of church as "McChurch." We have marketed our spirituality for mass consumption.

Think I'm joking about all of this???? Let me give you the raw stats, baby. After all, this is still the age of science!

How much time do you spend getting your food from McDonald's and consuming your meal? Well, you've got to pull up to a drive-through, wait a minute or two, place your order, wait another minute and BAMO, you've got your McFood. Then, of course, you eat and go about your business. So, how much time? Maybe, like, 20 minutes? That sounds about right for a start-to-finish time frame. If there are 1,440 minutes in a day, then this means that a 20 minute investment in a McMeal at McDonald's takes up 1.389% of your day. How significant is that 1.389%? Probably not very. McDonald's is marketed for a fast experience, not a meaningful one.

And none of us really expect that spending 1.389% of our day on a meal is going to have a profound experience on our day. If we did expect that, then our expectations would be unreasonable and poorly placed.

But not things get very interesting. How much time do we spend in "church" each week? Well, all things considered, probably 2 or 3: We drive to service, listen to the message, maybe catch a sunday school, and then drive back home. Let's be generous and say 3 hours. There are 168 hours in a week, which results in christians spending 1.786% of their week doing the church thing. We beat out our McDonald's run by .4%, but we are still under 2% of our time spent in church.

So, let's ask a question: Can we really expect something to impact our lives if we spend less than 2% of our time on it??? We don't expect much from a McFood meal from McDonald's, so why should we expect anything more from a McService at our local McChurch?

To be perfectly honest, I think I am at the point where I applaud the church hop. Let people keep hoping in and out of our McChurches. If we run them like a McDonald's, then why should the Consumer have his or her own choice? We don't criticize people for choosing Burger King or Taco Bell and hoping around to other fast food restaurants, so why do we expect that McChurching would be any different?

Most pastors minister like they were managers at a local McDonald's. They give spiritual fast food for the masses. Until they begin offering substance, and until they stop emphasizing a sunday morning service as the ultimate solution to all of our spiritual woes, then people will keep church hoping, and for good reason. Keep hoping. Maybe someday the leaders will understand: the church hop is your fault.

And this is not just a polemic against the "evil, non-biblical" churches. The same McChurch approach permeates even the "good Bible believin'" churches as well. The only difference is that we think that a good Bible sermon each week is the basis of spiritual growth. But it isn't. This is still spiritual fast food.

I close with an appropriate story. And, believe it or not, it is actually true:

A teacher was working with children in a school to help them pronounce the "ch" sound. She was looking for words that would help he children say, "ch." So, the teacher said, "Ok, where do you go on Sunday mornings to worship God?" The response? One little guy pipes up and enthusiastically shouts out, "McDonald's!!!"

27 comments:

Melody said...

And none of us really expect that spending 1.389% of our day on a meal is going to have a profound experience on our day. If we did expect that, then our expectations would be unreasonable and poorly placed.

You think? Most people agree that what we eat has a huge impact on our lives, long after we've stopped eating it. Maybe it's gas and bloating that day, heartburn, weight gain, clogged arteries, and one day even bypass surgery.

And yet, people continue to believe that these health issues are worth it in order to save the ten minutes and the stress involved in making their own lunch.

It's even significant financially -a burger is 85 cents - a sandwhich probably runs you about 35-50 cents. Add in the fact that no one just buys a burger and a water and you're probably spending 5-8 dollars rather than 2-3 dollars(sandwhich, plastic bag, paper bag, drink, fruit), that adds up pretty quickly.

So I would have to dissagree that McDonalds does not profoundly impact one's life.

I think it's misleading to focus on the time spent. It only takes five seconds to wreck your car and take a life.

Not that our Christianity shouldn't be more than an hour and a half on Sunday. We're actually talking with teens right now about how absurd it is that we spend 9-30 minutes a day talking to God and then become dissapointed when He doesn't rock our world.

I just don't want to be dismissive of the impact something might have because it takes a relatively small amount of time.

Until they begin offering substance,

Example?

and until they stop emphasizing a sunday morning service as the ultimate solution to all of our spiritual woes, then people will keep church hoping, and for good reason.

Artistic license? When have you ever gone to a church that suggested all a person needs is to regularly attend a sunday morning service? I mean ever?

I'm not saying that there aren't problems with the church, but do you really think this is it?

Emily said...

I can see where you're coming from. However, do you really get the impression that Christians are to solely rely on what the Church tells them and offers them? Yes, we are supposed to be connected with other believers, but aren't we supposed to take that into our own hands no matter what the Church has? Can we really blame a group of people for our own problems?

Dawn said...

I loved that post!

Going even further, we can say that Mickey D's has helped to erode the sitdown family meal. We now eat in our cars on the way here or there.

In the new church, families don't sit together. The little one's go off to children's church, the teens go off to their thing, and the parents (hopefully dad is there) sit in "big church" as my friends and I call it.

I think both of those things open up the widening crack that is splitting families.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: You think? Most people agree that what we eat has a huge impact on our lives, long after we've stopped eating it. Maybe it's gas and bloating that day, heartburn, weight gain, clogged arteries, and one day even bypass surgery....So I would have to dissagree that McDonalds does not profoundly impact one's life.


Good point. For clarification, I didn't mean to say that a small portion of one's day could not have a significant impact on our life. What I was going for was the idea of a meaningful encounter. We typically don't invest much significance in a trip to McD's. In some cases, of course, we might. Perhaps we meet an old friend, or Moms talk while the kids play in the playland for an hour or two. But I think most people swing through McD's to get food that is fast and cheap, so that they can get on with other things. They don't care so much about their health, they just want to get on with other things. Their focus is on what is to come: the job, the kids, the house, the game, etc. My point is that this is how most of us in America treat church: Let's do our time - a few hours a week - and then get on with life.

You asked for an example of a church with substance. I'm sure you know how I respond: Meaningful soul-to-soul connections are the foundation of the Body of Christ. If Christian fellowship is primarily on Sunday morning or in the context of a Bible study or prayer meeting then there is no vulnerability. Without vulnerability I think we are still living superficially.

Melody:
Artistic license? When have you ever gone to a church that suggested all a person needs is to regularly attend a sunday morning service? I mean ever?

I'm not saying that there aren't problems with the church, but do you really think this is it?


I'm glad you asked this question. It's a good one.

I think most churches agree, in principle, that going to church on Sunday morning isn't the answer. But it's the darndest thing: They just keep investing more and more into the Sunday morning service. In my mind it can be double-talk. The preacher tells on Sunday morning that we need more than a church service to grow, and then we dismiss and all go about our separate ways and try to live the American dream. The point is, that the church does not often prioritize authentic connections at the deepest level. All of our time and money and efforts usually go into the service on Sunday morning. And when is the first sign that someone is going off course??? Well, he isn't coming to church, right?

Church leaders never say that Sunday morning is enough, but we invest so much into the service and into "ministries" and "programs" that we find ourselves running in circles to do the Lord's work, and at the end of the day we find that no one knows who we really are.

The American church is probably the best place to hide. If you have a ministry, go to the services, and have a small group or something you can just pretty much keep all your real bad junk locked up inside.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Dawn,

I couldn't agree with you more. American church is so program-oriented that we lose sight of the most organic relationships.

Frankly, if I ever had kids I would be scared to death. How would you build real family connections when so much of our lives are fragmented and isolated from each other???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily: Do you really get the impression that Christians are to solely rely on what the Church tells them and offers them? Yes, we are supposed to be connected with other believers, but aren't we supposed to take that into our own hands no matter what the Church has? Can we really blame a group of people for our own problems?

No. I agree with you. We need to take a stand and do things for ourselves. But here is where I get a bit radical: I think many churches actually put obstacles in the way of us average-folk who want to live out a genuine and authentic faith. How do they do this? By keeping us busy with services, programs, and ministries.

I think every church should have a big disclaimer on their bulletin that they hand out for services:

CHURCH SERVICES ARE OPTIONAL, DOING MINISTRY IS OPTIONAL, GIVING MONEY TO THE CHURCH BUDGET IS OPTIONAL, AND GETTING INVOLVED IN A CHURCH PROGRAM IS OPTIONAL. BEING AUTHENTIC AND SHARING YOUR LIFE WITH A SMALL GROUP OF BELIEVERS IS NOT.

Some churches actually have some kind of a disclaimer of this nature. There are churches that build off of the "house church" concept as their first priority. I think that is probably a lot closer to the New Testament idea of the "body of Christ."

Melody said...

But I think most people swing through McD's to get food that is fast and cheap, so that they can get on with other things...this is how most of us in America treat church: Let's do our time - a few hours a week - and then get on with life.

Ok. I guess I agree.

You asked for an example of a church with substance. I'm sure you know how I respond: Meaningful soul-to-soul connections are the foundation of the Body of Christ.

Ick. Well, just checking, you could have changed your mind.

The point is, that the church does not often prioritize authentic connections at the deepest level.

Are you sure that's the church's job? I just think...it's such an individual thing. It has to be. You can't make other people have authentic relationships, all you can do is have them yourself.

All of our time and money and efforts usually go into the service on Sunday morning.

It's a little hard to finance authenticity. Maybe as hard as it is to demand it from your parishioners.

And when is the first sign that someone is going off course??? Well, he isn't coming to church, right?

Often times because they are dissillusioned and bitter, yes.

But forget about deep soul to soul connections for a second. The people I know who have left the church would have been glad for someone to hang out with them once a week for half an hour after the service.

And what do you think is going to happen while other people are making these deep connections? Do you really think there's any kind of chance that these people who are unwanted as even casual companions within the church are somehow going to find someone to share the gross insides of their soul with?

Not likely. For them the church just became a little bit more of a nightmare.

On the other hand, I've seen the difference that it makes when one person decides to be a friend to someone who is otherwise ignored and I've seen other people decide that if one person saw value in that outcast, well...people don't value someone who's a loser. Clearly that person is worth something...at least worth taking a chance on.

It had a lot more to do with reaching out to people when it was inconvenient than it did with revamping the structure of the church. And fortunately for me it also has very little connection to baring one's soul (although I suppose for those so-inclined it could go there).

but we invest so much into the service and into "ministries" and "programs" that we find ourselves running in circles to do the Lord's work, and at the end of the day we find that no one knows who we really are.

Right. That's why relationship gurus are always telling the lonely to stop volunteering & taking up hobbies. It's really hard to get to know people while pursuing a common goal.

If you have a ministry, go to the services, and have a small group or something you can just pretty much keep all your real bad junk locked up inside.

Yes, well, some of us like to keep our guts on the inside where God has conveniently placed them, but something silly like a different enviroment isn't going to work some magic change and make someone want to start wearing their heart as a corsage if they were opposed to it before.

And the people who want to bare their souls, they just need someone to say, "Ok, tell me. I want to know."

So is restructuring church really nessacery for this?

samlcarr said...

On the one hand, I agree with Melody - just changing the structure may not help, it's people who need to get more relational. But, there's a whole bunch of problems with the standard conceptions of church that need to change and just shifting to a more NT type of house church setting may not do the job.

The very concept of church needs to get a shake up. We are the body of Christ whether we know it or not and regardless of how we think about it. There isn't anything optional about it not even the flavor. You cannot actually 'church hop' in any real sense as there is only one spiritual 'church'.

Secondly, being a part of the body is not a Sunday activity, it is not a meeting of Christians activity. It is a 24 x 366 reality, it's real at work as well as at play, it is an identity and not an activity.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

It is not about "restructuring," it is about "destructuring," such that authentic relationships can be the cornerstone of the life of those within the body of Christ who are committed to truly loving each other in an agape way.

It is ironic, but most of the time your disagreements with me are based on negative experiences that are the product of the very structure of church that I would like to destructure and destabilize. People treat each other like shit in churches, you suggest, and so why would you want to form a soul-to-soul connection with these people? Fair question. But the answer is not to continue to allow the goats to mingle with the sheep every Sunday morning and make the goats feel comfortable with a love-less religion. This is the whole point of posting on McChurch. We need to set our sights higher and start to discuss what it would be like to begin to connect the sheep in soul-to-soul relationships, rather than pandering to the complacent. McDonald's makes food for the masses that is fast, cheap, and tastes good to the average person. They try to sell billions of burgers. They work for the masses. Churches need to stop working under the assumption that they are here for large numbers of people. This is the problem, and this is why they have big budgets, big buildings, and big structures. But we shouldn't be focussed on spiritual fast food.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
We are the body of Christ whether we know it or not and regardless of how we think about it. There isn't anything optional about it not even the flavor. You cannot actually 'church hop' in any real sense as there is only one spiritual 'church'.

Secondly, being a part of the body is not a Sunday activity, it is not a meeting of Christians activity. It is a 24 x 366 reality, it's real at work as well as at play, it is an identity and not an activity.


Sam, I have a question for you: If the body is not acting in unity and does not have members that are connected as a body of belonging, then how is it still a body? If I am missing a limb, then the limb no longer belongs to the body. Only if it is connect does it truly belong, and only if it truly belongs is it a part of the body.

Melody said...

It is not about "restructuring," it is about "destructuring," such that authentic relationships can be the cornerstone of the life of those within the body of Christ who are committed to truly loving each other in an agape way.

Who says authentic relationships are supposed to be the blasted cornerstone? I thought Christ was the corner stone. I'm sure authentic relationships are well and good, but I'm exponentially more certain that the are not something you can orchestrate or demand. Sometimes they aren't even possible, most times they aren't possible - and that doesn't have anything to do with structuring or destructuring the church.

It is ironic, but most of the time your disagreements with me are based on negative experiences that are the product of the very structure of church that I would like to destructure and destabilize.

They're based on negative experiences that took place within that structure. They're not a result of it anymore than sickness is a result of a hospital.

People treat each other like shit in churches, you suggest, and so why would you want to form a soul-to-soul connection with these people? Fair question. But the answer is not to continue to allow the goats to mingle with the sheep every Sunday morning and make the goats feel comfortable with a love-less religion.

And so the answer is what? To make a judgement call on where people's hearts are at?

"I'm sorry Bob, but the vote is 5 to 3 against, you'll have to leave the little house church of love until you can prove to us you're a sheep and not a goat."

I agree, Jon, that it shouldn't be about the numbers. That relationships (whether they're the gross authentic kind or the normal we-enjoy-doing-things-together kind) should be a priority for Christians. But also I think that this destructuring that you're talking about is a sure-fire way to avoid relationships completely.

samlcarr said...

We created something that we call church. I'm not at all sure that this has anything to do with anything.

We are caught now in this illusion, we critique it and we ask how it could be more biblical, why it is not more like what we read about in Acts &c.

But, I really think that we are going round in circles because when we set up Church, we stepped right out of being the Body. It's a bit like the Israelites demanding a king and then wondering what went wrong. Even the exile didn't convince them to ditch the kingdom concept.

Jesus steps in with a radical new interpretation/vision of God as our Abba and as being now again a part of His Kingdom, an what do we do? We set up Church...

Melody said...

Sam, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.

I mean, church the church is a biblical concept, yes?

So what is wrong with asking what it means to be the church?

And how do you deal with Paul laying out guidelines for what church gatherings should look like? They're sprinkled pretty liberally through-out the NT.

samlcarr said...

Melody, I grew up in church and always thought so too but there actually is nothing in the NT about what we are calling 'church'. There never was an organisation, there never were buildings and there never was such a thing as fulltime ministry, there were no seminaries and there was no ordination...

Fellowships, yes, but an organisation? Any organisation?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: I'm sure authentic relationships are well and good, but I'm exponentially more certain that the are not something you can orchestrate or demand.

This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I'm confused: Why do you keep mentioning this line of thought as though it were in conflict with my theology of the Body of Christ?

Matt said...

I see some confusion here as to what a meaningful relationship means to the different people here.

There is a big difference between your bestest friend in the whole wide world, and simply spending time with someone to find out where they are struggling and how you can. I really picked up on this when Melody said that you can't have a meaningful relationship with most people.

Loving someone doesn't mean getting complete joy from every minute you spend with someone. There are plenty of people with will flat out annoy you. There have been a couple of occasions where I spent some time just talking with someone like that, and told them that the way they act or talk sometimes is annoying. If you do it one on one, and not offensively, the person will respond well. Usually they already know this about themselves, and now you have an opportunity to help. Again, these people didn't become my best friend, but the important thing was that they knew there was someone they could talk to. I didn't benefit directly, but I don't think love and righteousness is about what you can get for yourself.

Melody said...

This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I'm confused: Why do you keep mentioning this line of thought as though it were in conflict with my theology of the Body of Christ?

Because it has to be. You're talking about not letting the sheep and goat mingle and authenticity not being optional.
And if it isn't optional well then isn't it being demanded? Be authentic or leave?

Jonathan Erdman said...

As far as I can see, it shouldn't be demanded, it should be demonstrated. If it is demonstrated, then people will join with the body of Christ if they are interested in being open, vulnerable, and authentic because that's what is going on. If they are interested in religiosity or a mere form of godliness and don't really want any real change, then they will not want to be a part of a local Body of Christ that is actively connecting with each other.

As a general rule, spiritual goats typically only hang out where it is easy. If the sheep press on to higher ground, the goats usually disperse.

Melody said...

Matt, interesting thoughts. I do recognize the difference between being there for someone and being best buddies with someone.

But I do think it's worth noting that this is going to be a problem for some people. I know people who have left the church over it - they found it fake or duplicitous.

Melody said...

As far as I can see, it shouldn't be demanded, it should be demonstrated.

Which is lovely.

So why is this demonstration not possible within a traditional church structure?

Daniel said...

We created something that we call church. I'm not at all sure that this has anything to do with anything.

We are caught now in this illusion, we critique it and we ask how it could be more biblical, why it is not more like what we read about in Acts &c.

But, I really think that we are going round in circles because when we set up Church, we stepped right out of being the Body. It's a bit like the Israelites demanding a king and then wondering what went wrong. Even the exile didn't convince them to ditch the kingdom concept.

Jesus steps in with a radical new interpretation/vision of God as our Abba and as being now again a part of His Kingdom, an what do we do? We set up Church...


Well said Sam.

What a quandary, coz I love church fellowship all the same.

Guess I'm just one of the sheep...

in need of a shepherd...

Lord help us!

samlcarr said...

Daniel, sheep-shepherd, The idea has taken hold that ordinary folks(laos) are the sheep and the clergy (kleros) are the shepherds but this isn't spelt out anywhere in the NT that I know of. In fact looking at the practice in the NT outside of Jerusalem, whoever had whatever talents-gifts used these for the Body. Jesus tells Peter to "feed MY sheep". He is the only Shepherd and if you have him you don't need and in fact should not have any other, see also Mtt 23:8-12

Daniel said...

Hi Sam

Jesus is the good sheperd, I'm with you on this one. He shows us the way to the Father.

There's a place for leadership in church life, according to the five gifts (teacher, evangelist, pastor, apostle, prophet). My understanding is that we all have a measure of these leadership gifts.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,

I think you make an incredible point. American churches have taken the idea of "Pastor" and "Elder" and extrapolated it into massive hierarchy. The Baby Boomers love a big show, so they naturally think that having Worship Leaders and energizing/entertaining Preachers is the coolest thing that a church could ever do. A friend of mine recently suggested that there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that preaching was ever mandated or even practiced in the early church. The "teaching" was more of a dialog than a monologue.

Sara said...

Maybe previous generations haven't been as isolated as the current. Maybe interacting on an intimate level came more naturally for the baby boomers or whoever else before them?? Thus they weren't so focused on having to cultivate intimate relationships. The problem might be that the church, being now such a huge organization, has a difficulty shifting with the times. Many might sense the need to shift focus but it is not easy making changes to fit needs when we are talking about massive amounts of people and organizations. Breaking down into smaller groups allows for mobility to shift and change to meet the needs of people in and outside of the church more efficiently.

samlcarr said...

One way of compromising with this awesome and awful reality that is Church, is to keep reminding myself that it's not about shopping for the best church experience, nor about the purest of doctrine being pounded out from the pulpit, nor about multitudes of ministries for me to find a comfy fit somewhere within, nor about the wonderful and uplifting music ministry...

It is about fellowship and that doesn't take much more than a reaching out and sharing whatever I have got (good and bad) with the rest of the family that is around me. The nearest identifiable family. Very often, especially after making a move from one town to another, I'm tempted to go shopping for the "right" church, and I know that I'm already off track.

Daniel said...

well said Sam.

"I found the perfect church, nad tehn I joined it"