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.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pay-as-you-go Church

My friend Nicole had a good idea that would resolve the division that exists among churches, encourage attendance, help the unity of Christians, encourage financial giving, facilitate worship service creativity, and help fend off boredom amongst Christians. Yes, an idea to speak to all of these issues, from my friend Nicole.

The idea, though profound, is quite simple: have people pay for the sermons.

Now, we are not suggesting something so crass or crude as to set a price tag on the sermon. Oh, heavens no! One should only give as they are led! All we are suggesting is that the offering plates are passed amongst the faithful after the service is over. The unstated understanding is that if the service was good, then the people can feel good about giving their hard earned American dollars to the cause. If the service was not good, then the clergy can give it another try next week.

We really need to utilize the forces of Adam Smith's invisible hand.

If Nicole's scenario existed, then Christians could feel free to visit other churches without having a "home church." When the services become a matter of routine, obligation, moralizing for the sake of moralizing, or in anyway dull and uninspiring, then the faithful can go to other churches where people have something interesting to say or do. In such a scenario, believers don't "belong" to a church--as if one church had all of the answers while all other believers are shadows of this perfection--rather, all believers belong together, and Sunday morning would become a matter of finding the gathering where the most energy seems to be present, where provocative challenges are presented, intellectual stimulation is evident, spiritual passion is alive, etc., etc.

The "church hop" already happens in America.....people go from church to church.....but Nicole's thought is that we should just let this idea reach its logical end. Right now people "join a church" (a horrible idea!) and then they have to completely break their ties with the old church (cancel their membership, etc.) before they can "join" the new church.

No more shame! Let each Sunday be a fresh start!

Go from church to church. Pass the plates at the end of the sermon, and then people can contribute to the ministry that has something going for it. Think of it like a cell phone plan: wouldn't it be great to use your phone and then at the end of the month just pay for the minutes you used???


daniel hutchinson said...

Hi Jon,

Last weekend we visited a church where the collection was taken right at the end. Afterwards the pastor approached us and we were chatting when I told him we belong to a church down the road. He said "we don't have members here; just feel free to come and visit whenever you like". By the way the sermon was exceptional, spiritually insightful, the music was less upbeat than what we are used to.

Maybe what you describe is already going on, but not systematically and with reference to Adam Smith(!)

Nicole's approach seems rather top-down - are you guys a little taken with your government's increased interventionist policies? :P (ok that's meant to be tongue in cheek).

Also, regards the proposed cell phone plan, most of our contracts in South Africa work that way, at the end of the month you are billed for the minutes you used.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Very cool! Interesting experience.

I'll have to break my church fast and drop by sometime!

tamie said...

You know....in the Episcopal church, the sermon isn't the focus of the service. In fact, if the sermon goes over 7 minutes, my friends get a little perturbed. They're like hey, let's get to the important/good parts. Which are, for them, the Peace (when everyone hugs everyone else--the point being, you're supposed to make your peace with everyone, at least for a short time), and the Eucharist.

I myself love a good sermon, because I'm super verbal and word-oriented. I also love a good speech or essay. But I have to side mostly with my friends, after having been at an Episcopal church for a while now. The Guy/Woman Up Front isn't supposed to be the point (which is one of the #1 problems I have with evangelical Christianity). The point(s) are supposed to be a lot of things....being reminded to embody Christ; being together all on the same level and reminding ourselves that hierarchy is bullshit; acting out forgiveness and reconciliation and love....etc. etc. Sermons can certainly help us with those things, but an impressive orator, in a lot of ways, can just get in the way.

Melody said...


I do hate the idea of church membership. And I like being involved in more than one church.
I think it's healthier - although clearly it's not what I'm doing at the moment.

ktismatics said...

In the status quo, the preacher gets paid the same amount regardless of the quality of his or her work. If s/he does a good job, more people start coming to the church, so it takes less money per member to pay the preacher's salary. If the preacher does a poor job, people start leaving the church and the few who remain must each pay more to cover the preacher's salary. So you're left with a paradoxical situation: the poorer the preacher's performance, the more each member of the congregation must pay, and vice versa.

In your alternative scenario the good preacher gets a fairer deal. You characterize it as capitalism, but in a way it's closer to Marxism. In capitalism the owners pay the workers an agreed-upon wage for their time, but if the work brings in more income than the workers were paid, the owners rather than the workers reap the profit. In your scenario, the good worker benefits directly from his or her efforts. In the status quo the owners -- the church members -- get the best of both worlds from hiring a good preacher: good sermons AND less cost per owner. If they happen to hire a bad preacher they can always fire him/her and try again.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Some consider Marxism and Capitalism to be basically two sides of the same democratic coin.

ktismatics said...

Certainly Marx wrote his ideas within the context of a capitalist economy where work is exchanged for money. It's mostly a matter of who gets the profits: the investors or the workers. Now if you regard the members of the church not just as owners but as co-workers -- which is I suspect where your idealistic self is going here -- then maybe the money economy of ministry is no longer relevant.

I just linked to this post from a post I wrote on Calling, by the way.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, thanks for the link.

The post is Calling as Transcendence for those who are interested. It explores the relationship between passion (the energy that a person generates when doing something they are "passionate" about) and calling (the energy that is shared with others who can appreciate one's passion). It's quite an interesting discussion.

Yes, personally, I think that we should eliminate most of the money that goes into supporting churches, with the exception being when believers pool together resources to help with specific causes, e.g., when the NT believers sent aid to those who were oppressed and/or persecuted......but since most people still want to support an institutional church, I would suggest that the pay-as-you-go approach has a lot to offer.

ktismatics said...

Why should churches operate differently from the rest of the economy? Is preaching a sermon all that different from growing food, preparing and serving a good meal, making and distributing Ipods? Eliminate money; people work to the best of their ability and provide it to those who need and value it. The early church operated along these lines, providing for both material and spiritual needs. The issue to me is this: does the church moves in this direction only internally, as a kind of socialistic economy where the admission ticket is having been born again? Or does the church regard itself as exemplar or forerunner of how people might work together in the world?

ktismatics said...

Meanwhile, in the society we live in, should a paid pastor try to please her bosses (the church hierarchy) or her customers (the members) or herself? I believe I mentioned elsewhere that in a recent survey, ministers/priests had the highest job satisfaction of all American workers. In churches the workers, customers and owners all meet together regularly. Maybe not the perfect job, but better than what the rest of the congregation has to deal with in the workplace.

daniel hutchinson said...

I once heard a statistic that 85% of church income in the USA goes to maintaining buildings, servicing debt etc.

Jonathan Erdman said...

That sounds a little high to me; however, I would guess that overhead expenses for most churches (administrative, pastor and staff salaries, building mortgage and maintenance, etc.) range between 60-80%. I would include missionary budgets as overhead as well, since missions budgets go to pay American missionaries, hence the payment is still focussed internally (money we basically spend on ourselves) and not externally (money that goes to repair suffering, heal the sick, provide for those without food/shelter, and others who are in need but wouldn't otherwise be able to provide).

Jonathan Erdman said...

Check this out. Interesting statistical observations, there is even a mention of looking at giving as a "payment"!

From Generous Church dot org:

Churches are spending more on themselves, less on global mission outreach.
In North American churches, the percentage of church monies devoted to benevolences (ministries outside the local congregation) has fallen steadily since 1968. Many studies confirm that benevolences now make up only 15 percent of a church’s budget. A study by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, however, puts this figure in its larger context. According to their research, benevolences made up 21.2 percent of a church’s budget in 1968. The figure has declined steadily over the years to its current 14.5 percent, even as giving to the church has made an upswing.41 When home missions are subtracted from benevolences, we find that only about 5.6 percent is left to operate foreign missions. Thus, in 2000, nearly 97 percent of the entire income of all Christian organizations was spent on, and primarily benefited, other Christians at home or abroad: $261 billion spent on ministering to Christians, $7.8 billion on already-evangelized non-Christians, and $0.81 billion on unevangelized non-Christians. It is no wonder that “one of the reasons churches in North America have trouble guiding people about money is that the church’s economy is built on consumerism. If churches see themselves as suppliers of religious goods and services and their congregants as consumers, then offerings are ‘payment.’” Meanwhile, many churches say they don’t have enough money to support missionaries.

tamie said...

Comrades. I have to say a word for the pastors/ministers/priests out there. Having been one myself for the past four years.

I understand frustration with ministers. Believe you me, I understand.


I'm not sure where that stat came from about job satisfaction. Maybe the ministers were all high when they asked them whether they were satisfied with their jobs. In my humble opinion, being a minister is an insanely difficult task. Perhaps this varies across denominations...but last year, the Episcopal Bishop told a room full of Episcopal priests and deacons and, on average, priests take twice as many anti-depressants and ulcer medication as the normal population. Being a minister is hard. It is also satisfying, or can be, yes, because you get to be present to people in some very joyful and very vulnerable times. But it is an incredibly lonely job, and incredibly stressful, and there is very little genuine support for ministers. Ministers very rarely get to let their guard down, they almost always have to be "on," and they're expected to be endlessly accessible, deliver consistently astounding sermons, not have any personal problems, have perfect children, be really happy for every wedding, be really present for every tragedy, be organized and efficient and well-dressed and charismatic and etc. etc.

I say: hug all the ministers you know. Hug them twice.

Meanwhile, perhaps indeed the system itself needs to be changed, I don't know. Personally, I really like the idea of committing to one church, not because it's perfect or will give you an emotional rush every time you go there, but because there's a lot to be said for committing to a group of people and sticking out the boring/exasperating/sad times with them. It's a lot the way we learn how to love. Maybe, as in romantic relationships, a time comes when you have to end things. But....I guess we have to ask ourselves what we think church is for. And what ministers are for.

ktismatics said...

Tamie, I feel your pain, as well as that of other ministers and priests. Think about this though: if the survey is accurate, then just imagine what crappy jobs other people are having to suffer through. Church is positioned as something like anti-work. It's the sabbath; it's your day of rest from the crap you have to put up with all the rest of the week. But if the church could help people come to some better place in their jobs, opening the church doors outward into the world, that would be a good thing I think. Not just how to be a good witness for Christ at the workplace, or how to resist the temptation to steal free xeroxing from the company machine. More about passion and calling in what one does in the world, dealing with sources of anxiety and anger and depression in doing one's work, etc.

On the other hand, returning to the hellishness of the ministry -- you identified the main sources of anxiety and depression. What would fix these? Lower expectations from the congregation? The ability to resist these unrealistic expectations in order to follow one's own passion and calling? More opportunities to get together with other ministers for professional and moral support?

ktismatics said...

Let's presume that both studies are accurate: on average ministers and priests score very high on job satisfaction, but on average they also take more mood-enhancing prescription drugs. How might this disconnect be accounted for?

ktismatics said...

Tamie already offered one explanation: they were high when they filled out the questionnaires. A side effect of antidepressant meds perhaps?

Jonathan Erdman said...

K & Tamie,

I have some first hand knowledge of the Pastor phenomenon b/c my father was a minister when I was growing up.....from my experiences growing up and in the church post-high school, I definitely get the sense that Pastors feel a weight of responsibility to be kind-of a superhuman example. I think this is changing, but there is still a sense that a Pastor can't just be a "regular girl" or an "average joe." This sense of expectation I think can be detrimental in many regards. There is the obvious sense of pressure that might lead to taking meds. But there is also a sense in which ministers lose touch with their average-ness and/or their ability to fail. Personally, I think that a lot of this stems from the fact that the position of minister is placed within the context of a pre-existing hierarchy of power within the institution. Like it or not, if you are at the top of a spiritual ladder, there is pressure. However, if the community is truly communal (and non-hierarchical), then I would think that this would greatly reduce the pressure to "be" a certain way. But hierarchy is so built in that I don't know if such a communal/equal leveling is even possible.....perhaps it isn't even desirable, as long a church is acting as an institution with a corporate identity.....just a few random thoughts.....good questions to think about...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Oh, also, I would say that I personally felt a lot of pressure as a Pastor's Kid....pressure that I could never identify b/c it was so much a part of my identity (I never knew a time when I was a "regular" Christian, not an "example" to the church......I'm sure this has something to do with my need to walk away from all things institutional/religious.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

OK....so it is late Friday night and I have just now read this...what a concept and to think that we were just talking about the whole membership idea this afternoon. Also, why did I not remember that you were a PK...so was I. I hated being the example and while I wasn't going to go out and "live it up",I wasn't going to be defined as some "holier than thou" example for the rest of my life. That is why I love my church now. The people that I encounter there for the most part are real...or at least those are the ones I enjoy company with. But as far as church hopping... I don't know if I could do that. A couple reasons:
1) Hopping around doesn't keep me connected with a group of people that are neccessary for many reasons. Small group are essential, and I think if I hopped around, I would be missing out on what they were experiencing if I didn't stay in one place.
2)By choosing which church I am going to each Sunday, it's like I would have control of what I want to hear. Not allowing room for the Spirit to move me. Almost like choosing a movie, if one theatre doesn't have what I want to see, I choose another. So how is God going to address some of those touchy issues in my life, if I avoid them? While I suppose this could happen in just one church, picking which Sundays you felt like attending and such, I think that finding a home church is a great experience even if it isn't a permanent lifetime move.
Hopping around seems like that "lost" feeling I was explaining to you earlier toady.

tamie said...

Two quick thoughts.

1. What do y'all think of when you think "church"? Perhaps because I've been in ministry a little while and have worked hard at re-defining some of this stuff, I don't think that I primarily think Sunday-morning-service when I think church. And I don't think of preaching as the minister's primary duty. So, there's that.

2. Today I was listening to an evangelical preacher preach. All I wanted to do was find the eject button and eject him outta there. So naturally I started thinking about this conversation. I immediately understood why evangelicals and former evangelicals are into this pay-as-you-go preaching thing. Because that was some bullshit, inauthentic preaching, lemmetellya. But then I began to think of ministers who are very successful, in monetary terms. Who have been paid, in a mega-church kind of way, for their preaching. And suddenly it came to me what the #1 problem with this pay-as-you-go preaching thing is: In that scenario, the ministers would only tell us what we wanted to hear. It would be a customer-is-always-right kind of situation, and frankly that's the exact opposite of what Jesus was doing and what I think the church is supposed to be about. The church is supposed to stand as a counter-example to the status quo, especially when the status quo means division between people, oppression, violence, etc.; and ministers, I think, are often supposed to be telling us what we *don't* want to hear. Things like--give your money to the poor, stop fucking exploiting people, live love even when it seems impossible, etc.

I feel that I could have more to say on this, but alas, I have traveled a lot of miles since hearing that evangelical preacher preach and it's taken the steam right out of me.

Melody said...

And suddenly it came to me what the #1 problem with this pay-as-you-go preaching thing is: In that scenario, the ministers would only tell us what we wanted to hear.

Yeah, I agree.

daniel hutchinson said...

Tamie, you might not want to hear this, but your foul language is offensive. It seems hard for you to restrain from peppering your posts with expletives. If this is so in a written communication, where you can think twice before hitting send, how much more must you be swearing in conversation?

Would you use that language from your pulpit?

If you wouldn't swear "in church", please don't do so here either. It doesn't do much for your "re-definition of ministry" either.

tamie said...

Daniel, I'm sorry that I've offended you. Yes, I swear a lot in conversation, and no, I wouldn't have any problem swearing from the pulpit; in fact, I have done so. However, I will try not to do so here if it offends you.

ktismatics said...

Daniel says "your foul language is offensive," to which Tamie replies, "I'm sorry that I've offended you" and agrees to stop swearing if it offends Daniel. Doesn't this exemplify the issue a little bit, where Tamie is prepared to change the words that come from her heart in order to satisfy the customer? I'm offended that Daniel would impose his standards on Tamie, especially since Tamie wasn't even swearing at him, and also since Daniel doesn't even reply to what Tamie says but only to how she says it.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

Daniel, I can see how you thought of nothing other than the words that offended you...the content of became irrelevant and Tamie's choice of words gripped you. Tamie, I apreciate the fact that you would not want to offend anyone, but if I was in your congregation and you swore from the pulpit, I would have a hard time listening to your message as well. To me, using a swear word is to show a lack of cleverness at the moment...we all do it...but when you are speaking from the pulpit, I would hope that you had put some thought into what you were going to say, so that an uncleverly placed swear word doesn't emerge. Hmmm...what were we talking about again....???
Oh, yes pay-as-you-go churches.

tamie said...

I'm really hesitant to get into this argument. But perhaps a moment to speak my mind.

When I preach, I try to gauge my audience. I don't preach intellectual sermons in parishes where intellectual jargon isn't spoken, and I don't swear when I'm speaking to a crowd whom I suspect it will offend. My main crowd these past few years have been a bunch of college students. Hence--saying "bullshit" from the pulpit isn't really pushing the envelope. I don't want to be self-indulgent; at the same time, if I'm just censoring myself all the time I'm just being inauthentic, and how is that helpful?

The word "fuck" is a big part of my vocabulary, and I don't find it inarticulate at all. It's a really common word in the crowds I hang with--it's just part of how we talk. It's a great word. At the same time, I understand that if you're not used to hanging with people like us, it can seem shocking and get distracting. Kind of like how sometimes when I hang out with conservative evangelicals I feel like I have to translate what they are saying, because they talk a certain way that throws me a bit, and I have to remind myself not to get dismissive or judgmental.

It seems to me like we shouldn't get offended at such small things. Perhaps we should reserve our getting-offended for things like multi-national corporations and child abusers. You know? Why is it really such a big deal that I say fuck?

As for what my buddy ktismatics said....yeah, I think you're right. This whole thing exemplifies what we're talking about. Which consoles me, because it means we're not completely wasting Jon's blog talking about irrelevancies.

daniel hutchinson said...


Do you not see any contradiction between your statement that you want to preach what people "don't want to hear", but that you will swear from the pulpit when with the student crowd (which they are apparently comforatble hearing), but refrain from swearing when preaching to "evangelicals" (because they don't want to hear it)?

If you feel it's ok to swear from the pulpit, why not swear to all and sundry?

I think your swearing goes beyond mere language use, as you have stated before in another post that you support sex before marriage and fornication. I see a link here.

In my view, you do not raise the standards with your compromised message as Jesus did with his uncompromised message. Rather, you are lowering the standard, despite trying to shift the focus onto what you feel to be more offensive in the actions of child abusers and exploitative multinational companies.

If you ask me, by swearing from the pulpit and supporting fornication amongst your followers you are guilty of child abuse yourself - leading these little children into sin. And you are exploiting the conscience of your listeners.

I hope you are not offended by me giving you my honest point of view.

tamie said...

Here is the deal. I enjoy discussing ideas and beliefs. I greatly enjoy dialogue, and I don't mind it getting personal when it's between people who know each other well, and are respectful and interpret each other with love.

However, I refuse to tolerate getting personally attacked.

If you want to discuss my ideas on sex, or hermeneutics, or ministry, fine. I enjoy that kind of discussion. But I only enjoy it if it's mutually respectful. If people (Daniel is not the first one to personally attack me on this blog) are not able to have that kind of discussion without it descending into personal denigrations, then I refuse to play.

tamie said...

Jon, I gave you an award over on my blog! Come check it out!!

Eve.........Interrupted said...

Tamie, I have never meant offense to you or your person, and while writing in a blog seems like I may be, I want to reiterrate that I appreciate you not wanting to offend anyone. I appreciate your boldness and hope that you don't feel judged by me. I, like you say how I see it and what's on my mind. While "f***" is my favorte swear word to use also, I am very careful where I use it, too, like you. It is distracting. And if you knew me when...well if I said that word, your jaw would drop and you would probably say, "I can't believe you talk that way". I was percieved as a "Miss goody two-shoes" and called that often, not because I was judgemental, but parents were and they wanted us to appear that way. I never want to come across that way. I am totally real...I have friends of all types and I love them all. I don't try to change them, and I don't judge them. And if we sat down for a cup of coffee, I am sure we would become friends.
Just so you know, when I have time I hop over and read your blog from time to time. I enjoy reading your perspective on things.

daniel hutchinson said...

Tamie, I'm not attacking you. You are entitled to your own beliefs about life. I am challenging you though - It's ok if you don't see fit to respond, I withdraw the challenge. Sorry that you perceive it as a personal attack. Maybe I shouldn't have linked your swearing to your beliefs on sex outside of marriage, so I apologize if I overstepped the line there.

The way I see it, we are all free to express our points of view here, you have expressed yours re. sex outside of marriage and swearing, I've expressed mine. No need to fight about it if you don't want to defend your position further.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey all,

I was in Cleveland all weekend and couldn't really check email until now.....well, maybe I did once....I had a good weekend....it was fun, and nice to get away....oh, but enough about me!!!

In regard to the discussion on profanity. For what it's worth, Paul used a profane word once in Philippians 3:8. I took a Greek class in Seminary that focused on translating Philippians. We did a word study on scubalon, which literally means "shit." Paul considers all of his pre-Christ accomplishments to be "shit" in comparison to knowing Christ. Kind of has a nice ring to it, I think!

Many of the Evangelical 20th century versions of the Bible tame the language and say something like "rubbish." But "rubbish" doesn't capture the force of the word. If a translation tames the language in order to avoid sounding offensive, is this a good translation???

The Message:
Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung.

The Amplified Bible:
For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One)

Young's Literal Translation:
yes, indeed, and I count all things to be loss, because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, because of whom of the all things I suffered loss, and do count them to be refuse, that Christ I may gain, and be found in him,

8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ

Interestingly, the New King James Version tames the language:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Why tame the language? I think that perhaps it may have a lot to do with an American brand of commercialized Christianity that has focused on "safeness" and "niceness" as the highest form of Christian lifestyle.

But "dung" once again makes an appearance in the 21st Century King James Version:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but dung, that I may win Christ...

Fascinating, huh?

Jonathan Erdman said...


I favor Tamie on this one....but I don't really find the word "fuck" to be offensive. I think it has kind of entered the common vernacular, at least in the circle I interact with.

I'm not sure I am all together clear on what your objection is. For example, should people always tame their language if it is offensive? (See above: Paul's use of "shit" and translations that tame the force of the language.) I don't want to lose site of the importance of language, though, so I am not here to suggest that you don't have a point, but I guess I'm just not certain on what you are driving at.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Thanks for the award!

And, I want to express my appreciation for having you share your thoughts and your heart here at Theos Project. Your life and the resulting output of writing demonstrates a passion and transformation that challenges me.

Many blessings to you.

daniel hutchinson said...

Hi Jon,

Where I'm coming from, is a point of view where personal discipline is valued. Before I was a Christian, I was a fornicator, living life according to my own lusts and this included swearing when I felt like it. When I became a Christian, I left that "shit" behind.

I thought Tamie had a point in saying pay-as-you-go preaching will lead to people preaching what they believe the congregation wants to hear; except that when I go to a hear someone preach, I want to be challenged.

(I'm not satisfied with my lifestyle as it is, and appreciate when correction comes from the pulpit, so that I can change. The bet sermons to me are the most hard-hitting.)

So I thought it was hypocritical of Tamie to call out this point and then defend swearing from the pulpit when with a certain crowd. Isn't that the very crowd that should be hearing that they should control their tongues? Isn't this exactly what they don't want to hear?

In Tamie's post she denounced some "evangelical" preaching giving us no other reason other than it was "inauthentic rubbish". We were all expected to guess what the preaching was about, because she didn't tell us.

Instead of giving us the content of the preaching she hated, she used this abusive language. There is this aggression and laziness combined in the use of swear words as nouns and adjectives. When they are used as verbs, it becomes violent and insulting.

Maybe swear words are more a part of your lives in the states, but I think they still have the same meaning and effect even if they are used more or less indiscriminately by some people.

tamie said...

Tis late and I don't have time to respond to this whole thing right now. But I wanted to say this before I forget.

The reason I didn't mention the content of the sermon was because it was at a funeral, and it's way too raw and personal for me to talk content at this point, and probably at any point. In other contexts, I would have attempted to describe in concrete detail what made it so hard to listen to.

Ok. I think that's it for now.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: Where I'm coming from, is a point of view where personal discipline is valued. Before I was a Christian, I was a fornicator, living life according to my own lusts and this included swearing when I felt like it. When I became a Christian, I left that "shit" behind.

It sounds like most of your comments are directed at Tamie, so I will let her respond to those. But I am interested in following up on the idea of using strong language.

You make a fair point. Personal discipline can be important. Your pre-Christian life was primarily that of doing what you felt like and following your lusts. That sound like what Paul describes when he talks about "the flesh": a raging pursuit of lust, with no regard to others. Such a state of mind and lifestyle objectifies others and even turns one's self into an object, or an animal.

But here is my follow up question: just because using profane words was a part of your Pre-Christian "fleshly" pursuits, does that necessarily mean that profane language is absolutely immoral in any other context?

One thing to understand about the Christian American context is that we are coming out of an era where mass movements focused almost exclusively on legalistic issues: don't curse, don't drink, don't have sex (ever! except in marriage, of course), always go to church, etc., etc. The foundation of such "faith" was legalism (and still is for many). The end objective was to create as many "pure" Christians as possible: people who think "correctly," act "appropriately," and live as good little Christian citizens. Such a religion thrives by conforming people to a particular pre-established standard (an allegedly "biblical" one).

This is a form of faith that I reject. The problem is a profound lack of appreciation for the human subject as a free being. Religion turns people into cattle that can be rounded up, branded, and herded into whatever direction they wish them to go.

That's why there are so many passionate and caring people who are walking away from the Christian movement and essentially saying, "I don't give a fuck!" Does such a reaction mean there is a lack of personal discipline? Perhaps in some cases, but not in all. I know a good many people who live very disciplined lives but who also pepper their language with words like "fuck," "damn," etc. Also, I have seen many legalistic control-freak religio-maniacs with no love in their lives who have talked in a very "disciplined" way, with no "fuck," "damn," etc.

I think language should be strong sometimes. I think that is why Paul used "shit" in Philippians 3:8. Most of the big 20th century translations use "rubbish," but that doesn't do justice (in my opinion) to the force of the passage. Using strong language does not seem to me to be an indication of an undisciplined life.

tamie said...

I've been reading this wonderful book by May Sarton called Journal of a Solitude. This morning I read a passage that reminded me of this discussion. In it she writes, "I suppose what all this comes down to is that the American ethos is still fundamentally puritanical...and its values based not on a flowering of life or anything like that, but on restrictions, disciplines, mores..."

She goes on to say that we have to question those restrictions before we can live a fully human life.

What I would say, in regard to discipline & profanity & etc. is that I believe what ought to guide us in our conduct & interaction with others is a ethos of love, and everything that pours out from love (reconciliation, respect, patience, etc.). I don't think that rules or "discipline" ought to be what guides us.

When I say "love" perhaps I could also say "what makes us fully alive." What ought to guide us in how we live is what brings us fully alive.

Yes, discipline does become a part of life. Because for most of us, a fully alive life is ordered, stable, and sane. But if discipline itself ever becomes the point, then we've lost sight of what ought to matter.

There are definitely rules that we all tend to follow, or think we should follow. How these rules came about, it seems to me, is that humanity noticed that things go better between us when we don't rape and assault each other. But the rules themselves are not the point, and following the rules is not a direct indicator of one's righteousness or lovingness. Rules like "do not murder" are pretty good to live by most of the time, until you're Deitrich Bonhoeffer in WWII. In that case, murder might be the most loving thing to do. (This is arguable, this Bonhoeffer example, but I think it's worth considering.)

So that is what I think ought to govern our relationships. An ethic of love that is not in and of itself rule-oriented. Given this, I don't see how saying fuck or not saying fuck has anything to do with whether someone is loving or fully alive.

Perhaps, Daniel, this is where you and I fundamentally differ. It sounds like you are suggesting that we ought to follow a list of rules laid out for us in the epistles, and that not using profanity is part of that list of rules, hence you're offended that I call myself a Christian but make no attempt to follow that rule (and make no attempt to preach that others try to follow it). But I do not think that adhering to Paul's lists is what being a Christian, or a human being, is about. Some of his lists seem like pretty good ideas, some seem weird and antiquated, and while I don't think we should just throw out Paul, I'm not all that concerned about whether I'm following him either.

Melody said...

I don't think swearing is inherently evil - but the general argument against is that it's rude and disrespectful.

Sometimes I find this baffling (because what's the difference between "shit" & "poo"?). Other times I think it makes sense.

I personally abhor the word "bitch". People have tried to convince me that it can be a term of endearment...but for me it just can't - any more than a word like "nigger" or "dyke" could be. It's beyond rude.

I understand that my mother hates words like "fuck" or "suck" (even though the latter isn't considered profanity really) because she feels they make sex into something base &/or degrading. For her it would be impossible to use the words in any way that would be in keeping with loving one's neighbor.

She would say the same about "hell" or "damn" - since taking perdition lightly cannot be kind.

Not trying to get on your case hear - I mostly don't mind profanity - I just wanted to explain why it bothers some.

Many people still see it as with an intent to provoke or offend...and I think that's where it becomes an issue of love and that's why people were ever against it at all.

tamie said...


i can understand where your mom is coming from, and where you're coming from in terms of not liking the word "bitch" etc.


there are so many different uses for "profane" words. some of them are definitely rude, even cruel. some of them are funny. some are just used for emphasis.

real-life examples from my life as of late, of the vast potential of the word "fuck":

"I'm makin muthafuckin bank!" -my friend evan said this in regards to making a lot of money in one day

"It's so fucking cold out here" -Alvaro expressing his feelings on the weather

"It's likely to be a clusterfuck" -my thoughts on an upcoming event, I can't even remember what now

More examples, this time made-up:

"They were just fucking around" -in reference to people doing relatively unproductive (though not profane or anything) activities

"Oh, fuck you" -My response, on any given day, to people teasing me. I say this casually, definitely not offensively.

Obviously, I could go on. We could make the same kind of list for the word "bitch." Sometimes you say something is "bitchin'" when you mean it's really cool. "Bitches" can also just be the term for ordinary people (when one feels oneself superior, not in a cruel way, but, like, "Football is for bitches.").

Point is: profanity isn't necessarily mean or rude. It's also not necessary. Most words aren't *necessary* but they can sure make life sweeter.

Melody said...

Yeah, I'm aware of the many ways one can use profanity. I'm pretty sure my mom is too.

Again, I'm not calling you out for using the words - just hoping to explain how not approving of the words doesn't have to be born out of legalism but can, in fact, come from a desire to love others.

tamie said...

Ah. I copy.
Sorry if I came off as patronizing...wasn't my intent! :)

daniel hutchinson said...

Hi Jon,

I'm sure you've found the recent exchanges about swear words interesting, as have I. It was wrong for me to personalize the discussion by directing it at Tamie. Although I may come across as rather doctrinaire, there are of course moments of doubt and questions and you gave me a very thoughtful response that provokec more of the same as I thought about it.

Yes, there is no reason that my own experience of a changed lifestyle (and new vocabularly) after coming to Christ would automatically invalidate someone's use of these kind of words. However, while it may be unpopular, I still see the church (broadly defined - ekklesia, "called out ones", fellowship of believers etc.) as providing the common context where these things can be defined. Yes this may be interpreted legalistically, but it can also be more of an expression of community where conversation is seasoned with grace and not peppered with swear words.

you said:

But here is my follow up question: just because using profane words was a part of your Pre-Christian "fleshly" pursuits, does that necessarily mean that profane language is absolutely immoral in any other context?

It is my view that although there may be many contexts, cultures, beliefs, experiences, where anything and everything can be justified, ultimately the Kingdom of God supersedes this all and provides its own context, culture etc.

I think Paul's wisdom re. "everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial" is also applicable in this case. As Christian's, we should all be open to change and should indeed be in a constant process of transformation. There should be nothing in our identity that can claim centrality other than the love of Jesus. If we find ourselves seeking identity through style of dress, music, sexuality, eating habits, wealth, happiness, or whatever, we should be able to give these thingsup at the drop of a hat because our identity is not found there, it is found in Christ.

jhesiak said...

f%c# g-d d&$$!t this conversation is annoying the SHIT out of me!!

just kidding.

"Oh, fuck you" -My response, on any given day, to people teasing me. I say this casually, definitely not offensively.

i generally in these instances go with "i don't even like you" :)

CJ Dates said...

Jonathan, this pay-as-you-go church might be a good idea, in theory.

However, I am not a fan of the "church-hopping" idea completely. I agree that there is too much division in the Body of Christ, but I am not sure that it is healthy to just pay for what you like, or even attend numerous churches until you get what you like. Part of our Christian practice I think is to be in community with those around us, especially when we don't like their practices and doctrines. The power of Christ's reconciliation is only truly demonstrated in areas where we disagree.

Secondly, you are starting with the assumption that Christians are (accurately) aware of what they need in a Christian life. No one would pay for sermons that convict them, who wants to hear that? No one would pay for sermons they may have heard before, because "honestly, Christ and I already jumped through these hoops..." What I mean is, isn't it a bit limiting to pool the resources into areas that Christians WANT to pay for? What if Christians aren't WANTING the right thing? What if all the Christian funds get directed towards an ultra-emotional, reality TV version of an in-your-face shocking church service? Although that may be what we value, or maybe what we want to see, is that really what God requires us to seek?

I feel that with this model, we may fall into a trap of not enough Christians seeking sincere spiritual growth, and only paying for the comfortable and maybe even fruitless sermon of perspective. The Invisible Hand might guide differently than the Holy Spirit, and we may not want that...

Jonathan Erdman said...


This post was a bit satirical. I actually believe that market forces already govern church. The Pay-as-you-go church model was meant to take the American church system to its extreme.

Like you, I think that a close community is the foundation of any church. It is very rare thought, I think, to find people in America who really want to live in close community. And even for those who do, it is really difficult to make it work.

Oh, and I thought I would mention......you said "No one would pay for sermons that convict them, who wants to hear that?" I actually disagree with you here. I think there are many people who have a masochistic spiritual inclination and actually do want someone to tell them that they are evil/bad/etc. I suppose that this is not normative in America. But who knows???

I come from evangelical backgrounds that made extra efforts to remind everyone how bad they were before Jesus saved them and how bad they probably were now! There's a weird psychology at work. People are willing to talk about the grace and love of God, but only after they have spent sufficient time and energy feeling guilty and bad about themselves.

That's my background, anyway.

But yeah, I'm with you: church should be based on community.


Cynthia said...

your blog is a vast treasure trove of posts and comments! Goodness, I can't begin to keep up with all of this! I have spent way too much time reading and linking and going back and forth. Ahh give me the great outdoors fast! This is why blogs and the internet in general make me feel like a nutball! Your stuff is just too interesting I guess. wish I'd found this a couple of years ago.

Hmm, origional post sounds awful consumeristic to me. (definitly not opposed to church hopping though)

Maybe we should just go the Tolstoy route though- complete anarchy and biblical communal living.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Well, the problem with Tolstoy's route is that it really takes a good deal of sacrifice.

My Pay-as-you-go Church concept is a satirical alternative. In the absence of a radical, anarchistic community of faith (like that found in Acts 2, for example), my suggestion is to open up church to the free market!

The non satirical point, however, is that there can be many churches concentrated in a small area, but no real sense of connection between them. And often there is not a strong sense of connection even within the churches. So, a pay-as-you-go approach would help all believers realize that the body of Christ is bigger than just their own particular church. That there is a good deal of diversity to be had.