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Showing posts with label liturgy and worship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liturgy and worship. Show all posts

Monday, December 9, 2013

‘The Last Stop: Understanding the Emerging Church Movement’ Interview with Gladys Ganiel and Gerardo Marti Published in Bearings

‘The Last Stop: Understanding the Emerging Church Movement’ Interview with Gladys Ganiel and Gerardo Marti Published in Bearings

Bearings5CoverAn interview with Gerardo Marti and me, ‘The Last Stop: Understanding the Emerging Church Movement,’ has been published in the Collegeville Institute’s Bearings magazine.

The interview begins on page nine and is based in large part on our forthcoming book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, and includes questions such as:
  • How do you introduce the Emerging Church to those who are unfamiliar with the movement?
  • What does the Emerging Church Movement tell us about the contemporary religious landscape? What is its significance as a modern religious movement?
  • Do you think the Emerging Church Movement will play a role in Christianity’s historical development?

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Stars for "Worship across the Racial Divide" from Christianity Today

Christianity Today has chosen to review my newest book Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation.  In addition to the enthusiastic review from Michael Emerson, a leading scholar of race and religion, the CT editors gave the book a full 5 stars. 

The review (and comments from readers) can be found here

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Author Reading: Worship across the Racial Divide

Starting today, I'm going to do a series of readings from my new book "Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation." These will feature short previews of each chapter and introduce you to some of the insights from the book.

So, here's the beginning of the book, from Chapter 1.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Worship across the Racial Divide: A Response from Three Practitioners

My new book on the dynamics of worship and music in diverse congregations has been out for just a few short weeks, but thanks to Art Lucero the first reviews are now in.

Last week, three Christian music leaders, Josh Davis, Nikki Lerner, and Jeff McCourt, took time to write their own reactions to the book. I am so pleased with how carefully they read the book and the responses they gave:

Josh Davis wrote, "Marti clearly states that no one knows 'what manner of worship is best for stimulating and accelerating racial and ethnic diversity in churches.' Absolutely. There is no one-size-fits-all method or approach to multicultural worship."

Nikki Lerner wrote, "I could not agree more with his conclusions at the end of this book: As I continued to pursue my research, I came to understand that it is not the acoustics of musical style but rather the visible presence of diversity—a racialized ritual inclusion—that stimulates integration of different racial and ethnic groups into their churches [pg. 198]."

Jeff McCourt wrote, "Honestly, I argued with Dr. Marti most of the way through the book but was beginning to feel an openness to his perspective due to the thoroughness of his research..."

Each of them wrote much more, and they're worth reading for yourself. I also provided a brief response that you can see at the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Welcome to Pub CHurch

Image from public Facebook Page for Pub Church in Buffalo NY
I began an online conversation with church leaders, theologians, and seminarians on Monday over at the Duke Divinity Call and Response Blog (part of their Leadership Education program) on the phenomena of "Pub Church."

The Pub Church is broadly defined there "as spiritual discussions held in 'open spaces' like bars, pubs, coffeehouses, and restaurants."

From a sociological perspective, this represents an interesting form of social assembly for religious purposes.  From a theological perspective, there are several issues about whether such meetings should be considered "church" at all.

I invite you to check out the post there and contribute your comments.  I especially appreciate the links provided on Theology Pubs and the experience of participants in their own versions of Pub Church.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Submitted to Press - New Book "Worship Across the Racial Divide: Notions of Race and the Practices of Religious Music in Multiracial Churches"

SHANGHAI, CHINA - DECEMBER 31:  Fireworks expl...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Last week, I submitted the complete manuscript under contract with Oxford University Press!

[Insert fireworks and happy dance about here.]

Worship Across the Racial Divide examines how music and worship "work" in successfully diverse congregations.

Research for this book began in 2005 as I was completing my ethnography on Oasis, a black-white congregation ministering to workers in the Entertainment Industry and released as Hollywood Faith (Rutgers University Press).  With over a dozen churches, 170+ interviews, and reams of background information from scholars and practitioners, I am pleased with the result.  Assuming all goes smoothly, I expect the book to be available in 2012.

This book goes into detail on what happens in the worship and music experience of diverse congregations.  I decided to focus on this because worship and music are believed to provide "strategic" moments for churches to stimulate racial and ethnic diversity.

Inevitably, what may seem like a simple idea ("Let's bring in some multicultural music...") inevitably involves a complex of tricky notions of representation, ethnic difference, racial authenticity, and the always pragmatic considerations of church leaders who need to be ready for church services on a week to week basis.

The Choir give an energetic performanceImage via Wikipedia
When I began to explore the background, I quickly found that the research on race and music is huge. One of the reasons it took so long to write this book is sifting through a pile of reading.  I had to constantly make decisions about what mattered most.  All too often, even the most significant material had to be cut away in the final months as at around 140,000 words, the manuscript was much too long.  The (intriguing) digressions were far too frequent, and the need to finish became very much a priority.

I would have liked to say much more about African American and Latino notions of "their music" and how this developed in the history of music and race in the United States.  No space, no time!

I also found the literature on worship and race utterly fascinating.  In reading documents from the mid-1800s, I saw how notions of African Americans as inherently religious (which is tied to their presumed "emotionality") continues to affect even the most informal discussion on racial worship.  Black people worship differently -- so it is said.  And the fact that church leaders and attenders BELIEVE blacks worship differently invokes the construction of sacred scenes which demand that blacks PERFORM worship differently.  Some of this talk can sound like a lot of sociological mumbo-jumbo.  But my observations and interviews reveal a fascinating dichotomy between blacks as they are expected to act when they are in the pews of diverse congregations and how they are expected to act when they are on the platform.

The interviews and stories from these congregations are striking.  The book includes page after page of pastors, worship directors, and attenders talking about their experiences of worship, their views on diversity, and their connections of race and music in church.  The ironies and unexpected insights continued to surprise me even in the final weeks of adding material and revising the manuscript.

The final draft of the book still weighs in at 100,000 words when you add footnotes and all.  I think it is far too short.  The amount of thinking left to do on worship, race, music, diversity, etc., is a rich arena of study.  I'm glad I stumbled into it.  So, whatever shortcomings may be in the book, it is so interesting and so important, I expect many others will pick up threads and make their own distinctive contribution.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silly Bandz - Stretching the Relevance of Spirituality

Thanks to an ongoing invitation from Jason Byasee at the Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog, I just posted a fun article on a recent experience visiting a church here in North Carolina. As my friend John Schmalzbauer commented on my facebook page, "Another interesting episode in the story of Christianity and material culture!"

Anyone who is a parent or works around kids has seen children go crazy over Silly Bandz, a broad array of colorful rubber bands shaped like cars, animals, and superheroes, and worn in big bunches on forearms. I was introduced to these back in April when my kids begged me to drive them over to the local drug store in search of a new shipment. It's not just the little ones who are into it. From toddlers to teens, the kids collect and trade Silly Bandz to express their identity and proudly flash a new form of status in the latest hierarchy of "cool."

So, when I visited a church recently I recognized the rubbery trinkets being passed out by greeters at the door. Actually, my kids saw them before I did - "Dad! Dad! They're giving out Silly Bandz!" Smiling volunteers enthusiastically gave away armloads of these pretty toys to excited kids as they came into the service that day.

As you might guess, the ambiance of this church is casual, the worship music is loud, and the "preaching" conversational. The pastor proudly showed off his own Silly Bandz at the beginning of the service before moving on.

But it was after the service when I saw these trinkets work their magic as kids, parents, other church members, and church staff were animatedly talking about their Silly Bandz, trading amongst each other, and telling stories connecting the shape of these bands to the shape of their lives. Strangers made friends, and adults found constructive ways to talk with children. A band shaped like an electric guitar prompted a person to talk about their love of music. Another shaped as an outline of the continental United States got people talking about their summer travels. And ones shaped like a cross were proudly traded around tables in the foyer amidst conversation about Jesus.

You can jump to the rest of the article here & comment at the Duke Divinity Blog hosted by Leadership Education at Duke University.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Smartphone Religion at the Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog

Christmas season is in full gear at the Marti house -- finishing up my classes, the kids homework projects before the end of the year, community activities here in Davidson.

In the midst of it all, I've been able to take Jason Byasee's invitation to again contribute last week to the Faith & Leadership Blog at Duke Divinity.

My latest post on The Wi-Fi Church of the Future (and the Present)
is tagged under Innovation | Liturgy | Technology ):

Worldwide iPhone sales by quarter in an svg fo...Image via Wikipedia

"The past two years have seen a rapid acceleration in the adoption of portable computing by the average person. This will inevitably prompt changes by church leaders."
It's prompted a good online exchange.

I'll encourage you to read the whole post on your own. But more than the post itself are the responses that follow it.

The Executive Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity first describes his "knee jerk" reaction against churches leaning on such technology. Another believes "the app" already exists. And yet another comment brings concern for the poor and their access to wi-fi technology and information.

I appreciate the dialogue. I'm learning all the time, and the comments are helpful.

Overall what this exchange suggests to me is that we've arrived at an interesting moment in the relationship between technology and church.

Assorted smartphones. From left to right, top ...Image via Wikipedia

The American culture has swallowed the use of smartphones almost whole -- after all, analysts can readily predict how many iPhones will be found under the Christmas tree this year.

But church leaders remain nervous about learning new techniques to harness the use of these advanced devices to their ministries.

Smartphones are not the future; they are already here.

So the failure lies not in ministry budgets (people have their own phones), it lies in the imagination of leaders to use these devices to advance their ministry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Approaches to New Evangelicalism - Special Session in Denver

Here's a shout out for a session I organized for this weekend at SSSR in Denver, Colorado, on contemporary Evangelicalism in the US and abroad.

Jesus SavesImage by Andwar via Flickr

Competition among sessions this year at SSSR is fierce!

So many great sessions in each slot, but you just can't miss the session on New Approaches to New Evangelicalism. Our session brims with brilliance through the work of excellent scholars doing fascinating research. You can count on this being a stimulating time with plenty to chew on.

New Approaches to New Evangelicalism
Westin Tabor Center
Room: Teller

Organizer: Gerardo Marti, Davidson College
One Way Out: Examining the ‘Evangelical Exit Clause’ for Central America
Robert Brenneman, University of Notre Dame (

Exporters of Religion: Evangelicals in Global South Impact Other Countries with the Gospel
Stephen Offutt, Boston University (

Reconstructing Social Space at Willow Creek Community Church
Peter Mundey, University of Notre Dame (

The Emotional and Aesthetic Dimensions of the Local Church Rock Scene
Kevin McElmurry, University of Missouri (

Plan on meeting us Saturday October 24 @ 3:45pm-5:15pm.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Instant Cool: Explaining the Diffusion of "Contemporary" Church Culture

Church Marketing Sucks, a website concerned with the use of contemporary marketing techniques by church leaders, recently provided a list of great media resources for churches freely available online. Through sites like these, we have a privileged window into American religion. Why? Because understanding the circulation of these media materials gives us an alternative means for understanding the widespread diffusion of "contemporary" church culture.

The Fields Church - Newspaper AdImage by mufan96 via Flickr

We know contemporary churches use rented facilities. Not just movie theaters and high school auditoriums--churches are using bars and coffeehouses, community centers and warehouses, even lake shores and parking lots. How do these church leaders focus spiritual attention in these architecturally challenging sites?

Well, what's happening is that even churches who do not have specially-designed or "megachurch" aesthetics are adopting sharp media imagery to promote an exciting "vibe" that directs devotional attention and speaks to quality (and money) even when the church is just starting out.

Take a look through the free resource sites listed by Church Marketing Sucks below. Each of these congregational ministries have longtime experience producing entire suites of visual materials that compliment and accentuate message series:Clicking and exploring these sites, you get a sense of what non-high liturgy, "contemporary" churches are bringing into their services.

(For church-researcher types, these materials provide fodder for understanding seeker churches, new paradigm churches, and emerging adult spirituality.)

But, I'm writing this post to make a particular point: The availability of these materials points out an aspect of the modern diffusion of church culture. Here's what I see.

The internet is allowing more easy accessibility to media resources. Churches which have produced these materials (and are frequently asked by scores of other church leaders who literally salivate over obtaining such things) are seeing the extension of their local church ministry as giving away these resources--at zero cost.

See, churches that produce these materials are well aware of the money and time invested in the creation of media materials that have an inherent disposability to them. They'll never be used again in their church (since churches don't "repeat" sermon series). So they are happy to have them used by others and see their investment put to good use by others.

In other words, providing media resources to other churches (after they have been used in the base church) is understood to be part of the missional outreach of the congregation.Graphic materials are viewed as tools (modern, necessary, missionary tools) that can be easily adapted by like-minded ministries who are perceived to be essentially partnering with them to spread a message they already believe should be widely promoted.

Because these media items are used in many different churches across the nation (perhaps the anglophone world), and because church attenders are highly unlikely to know the materials they see were originally used somewhere else, there is an unacknowledged yet powerful diffusion of Christian visual culture -- at last a type of Christian culture.

And because we have not studied this, I speculate that the diffusion of style, ambiance, and ethos of religion embedded within these media materials is reinforcing particular boundaries of similarity and identity.

In the research literature, this is a type of "institutional isomorphism." But I won't go into all that now. It's enough to say that researchers DiMaggio and Powell* defined imitating or "Mimetic Processes" as coming from similar external conditions. In particular:

Uncertainty encourages imitation.

What does this mean for how "contemporary" church culture is widely reproduced?

Let's look at how this works. Using DiMaggio and Powell's framework, predictors of similarity (or "isomorphism") are based on premises like this:

Principle 1: The greater the centralization of resource supply, the more it will change to resemble the organizations it is dependent upon.

1: There are only a few churches willing to give away these media materials, so the dependency on these few churches raises their influence as models for how to "do church."

Principle 2: The more uncertainty, the more an organization will model it's structure after successful firms.

2: The means to growing new (and struggling) churches is highly uncertain, so leaders look to the successes of other, usually much larger and media-rich, churches.

Principle 3: The more ambiguous the goals, the more an organization will mimic a successful one to establish legitimacy.

A mission statement like "Reaching our community with the gospel" is quite ambiguous, so church leaders quickly become alerted to widely accepted models of ministry and absorb their media practices.
These are not exhaustive, and certainly the principles are not directed soley toward understanding the use of media. Nevertheless, these principles provide a quick peek into the dynamics of isomorphism that can be applied.

Other important aspects are how organizational models can be diffused is through employee migration, which in the case of churches would include the movement of clergy, lay leaders, as well as members between churches. Larger churches with well-institutionalized media ministries more quickly diffuse their media-intelligent people in comparison with smaller churches which are not likely to have as extensive of media practices.

Also, organizational models are spread by consulting firms, which in the case of leaders is usually accomplished through church leader conferences. Highlighting and discussing the use of media is a common aspect of "contemporary" church conferences.

I've come a long way in this post, something I thought I'd shoot off much more quickly than I did. Here's my main point.

In short, I've come to think that the accessibility and wide-spread use of church media materials gives us an alternative pathway to grasping how the cultures of "contemporary" churches can be understood. For me, this highlights that the occurrence of "contemporary" churches are not isolated phenomena--and most of us know this.

Further, it also suggests that "contemporary" churches are more tightly networked with each other than we usually think, specifically around assisting one another to reach similar goals with similar methods. Media materials provides a tangible means to enact those networks.

*P. J. DiMaggio & W. Powell, "The iron cage revisited" institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields", American Sociological Review, 48 (1983), 147-60.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Inside Look: Andy Stanley's North Point Church Describes Creative Process

Quick post: The media department of Andy Stanley's North Point church in the Atlanta area posted a blog today walking through their creative process for a new sermon series.

North Point in Atlanta is a large, multi-site church that invests time strategizing their communication process.

This is more than just "making sermons interesting." The ambitious effort to craft ideas based at the heart of Christian concerns that connect to a mainstream audience is routinely performed.

Here's one video that came through this particular process.

Of course, North Point is not alone in their concern to craft image-saturated, symbolically-rich content. In my own research I've described Mosaic in Los Angeles and Oasis in Hollywood at length (yes, yes, "read my book...").

Nevertheless, it is important to realize the degree to which religious creativity is channeled through the construction of mission-driven religious content.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Young, Amateur Sikhs Lead New "Emergent" Congregations

NY Times reporter Samuel G. Freedman shows young professional Sikhs participating in amateur-led services as part of the "emerging movement."

Today, I caught another intriguing article by the Samuel Freedman on young Sikhs in Manhattan.

Seems they are creating new forms of worship, "youth gurdwara" or youth temple, created by and for young professionals. News of their meetings are spread by word of mouth, email, and social networking sites like Facebook.

NEW YORK - APRIL 25: Members of the Singh fami...By Getty Images via Daylife

Mandeep Singh remembers his first diwan located in a rented multipurpose room in a luxury condominium:
What most caught Mr. Singh’s eye, though, were the other members of the congregation, or sangat. They were, like him, young professionals, the BlackBerry crowd, and as the worship service, or diwan, proceeded over the next several hours, these amateur clerics took turns leading the chanting of sacred poetry and the singing of devotional hymns.

According to Freedman, this is "the Sikh version of what religion scholars call the emergent movement, a growing trend toward small, nimble, bottom-up, laity-led congregations that especially attract young adults."

Kanga, Kara and Kirpan - three of the five art...Kanga, Kara and Kirpan - three of the five articles of faith endowed to the Sikhs via Wikipedia

This is "not your chacha’s (in Punjabi, your uncle’s) gurdwara."

On reading about all this, my friend John Schmalzbauer called these "Sikher sensitive services." Yow!

The article describes how worshipers enter with bare feet and covered head, bow before the holy book, and so fulfill centuries-old obligations. "The service follows the time-honored sequence of readings, hymns, a discourse called katha, the distribution of the sweet sacramental food karah parshad and finally the sharing of a communal meal known as langar.

"But the words of the liturgy are projected from a laptop, both translated into English and transliterated phonetically for the many members who cannot read Gurmukhi, the script of the Sikh religious texts. One set of projections carries the logo 'Sikh to the Max.'”

While a diwan in a conventional gurdwara goes four or five hours, this one finished in two.

Freedman mentions other emergent congregations, evangelical Christian and Jewish ones, but the focus of the article is how 28 year old Singh has become a more religiously active person through this peer-led temple. Being with other young adults seems to motivate attenders.

Freedman notes, "For while news media coverage of Sikhs in the United States has tended to focus on controversy — bias crimes against Sikh men, who are mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans, or civil rights suits by Sikhs to allow men to wear turbans and keep beards in various workplaces — the more prevalent, day-in-day-out experience is of finessing the balance between accomplishment and assimilation."

"Balance between accomplishment and assimilation..." Nicely said.

Sikh weddingBy eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

Another attender Amit S. Guleria said, “When you’re living the life of someone in your 20s, it gives you a different energy.” He added, “When you go to a traditional gurdwara, you feel more like an observer than a participant. Here, the onus is on us. And that’s a responsibility we want to have.”

Who are these 20 somethings? "Well-educated and upwardly mobile... the diwan includes doctors, lawyers, bankers, engineers, computer consultants, graduate students and at least one chef. Perhaps half are the American-born children of immigrants, half are immigrants themselves...

Either way they have a foot apiece in tradition and dynamism."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Innovation, Social Change, and the Emerging Future of American Congregations

Hartford Seminary asked me to lead a 3-day intensive course in January. Here's the catalog description. Scroll down or search this page for more info.

Innovation, Social Change, and the Emerging Future of American Congregations
A Continuing Education Course with Dr. Gerardo Marti
Monday, January 4 – Wednesday, January 6
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Social change labelImage by Aleksi Aaltonen via Flickr

Much of the recent conversation on "secularization" among social scientists or "postmodernism" and "the emerging church" among church leaders is an attempt to reflect on social change and its impact on religious structures. This special course takes "change" as a fundamental, yet highly negotiated, dynamic of congregational life. More specifically, the course will continually connect contemporary (post-1960) societal arrangements with adaptation, reaction, innovation, and experimentation in congregational beliefs and practices with implications for church leaders.

By incorporating a historical sensitivity and scholarship rooted in a sociological perspective, the course seeks to develop more textured, more layered, and more sophisticated approaches to the ongoing changes and negotiations that religious congregations always make in relation to the broader social world.

This is an essential leadership program for all pastors and other religious and lay leaders.

Find more info on upcoming events page at Hartford Seminary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cynic to Sympathetic - Pentecostalism Moves Researcher to Look at the S Factor

Full disclosure: I have a good relationship with Don Miller, Firestone Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California and executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and he was a member of my dissertation committee.

Even so, Don's interview in the latest Books & Culture magazine is a fascinating look at how one social scientist negotiates his relationship between "empirical reality" and "spiritual reality."

In the course of conducting a sweeping study of Global Pentecostalism, Don Miller changed. He went from being cynical to a sympathetic in his analytical stance. In the process, he proposes that social scientists take into account the "S Factor" in studying religion.

In a recent interview, Don states:
At some point early on in the project, I felt that I made a turn in my own interpretation of what I was witnessing, from potentially writing a book that could have been debunking, maybe even cynical at points, to wanting to try to explain why Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religious movement in the world.

At a purely personal, spiritual level, it had a profound effect on me.

My worldview actually changed in the process of the project, and I became much more open to the possibility that there are dimensions of reality that we normally exclude from a Western, scientific, Enlightenment perspective.

Don does not become uncritical, but rather carefully altered his stance to reflect more fully all aspects of what he believed he was observing.

The letter 'S'Image by grytr via Flickr

Obviously, there were times when I felt there was manipulation going on, particularly in some of the "prosperity gospel" churches that we visited, even though we didn't actually study them. There were other instances where one could have a purely naturalistic explanation of something. But in the last chapter of Global Pentecostalism, picking up a hint from the opening chapter, Ted Yamamori and I write about something called "the S factor," the Spirit with a capital S.

We make the argument that if you exclude the Spirit from religion, and particularly Pentecostal religion, it may be difficult to explain many of the things that occur, or at least you have to go through mental gymnastics to explain certain phenomena.

This is not to exclude the role of social class, the role of race and ethnicity, the role of culture more generally, because these are factors that shape every experience. But there is this other dimension that needs to be considered.

Coming from a sociologist, this is a highly controversial statement. But Don is a good scholar and mixes all these considerations in an insightful way. His discussion of Prosperity gospel is a case in point:
...there is a certain element of the prosperity gospel that is oftentimes overlooked in negative critiques: the appeal of the prosperity gospel is to people who are poor and without hope. Prosperity gospel preachers give people hope; they give them a vision for changing their lives.

The negative side of the prosperity gospel is that it is sometimes founded solely on the magical belief that if you donate to this ministry, you will be rewarded a hundred times over.

On the other hand, if you are giving people hope, and if the solution does not produce change, there is the possibility that these individuals who have had their consciousness raised will turn to other alternatives, such as political means of changing their life circumstances. Sometimes these prosperity gospel preachers give sound advice because they tell individuals how to multiply their flock of sheep, of goats, of chickens, and save money.

One could cynically say that they are doing this purely out of self-interest—to enable people to give even more—but often the preachers are teaching their people the very rudiments of capitalism, giving them an opportunity to change their lives decisively for the better.

Furthermore, by avoiding alcohol, gambling, womanizing, and other such taboos, extremely poor people may eventually have surplus capital that they can in turn use to give better education to their children and provide better healthcare for their families, and all this, in turn, may lead to upward social mobility.

Hands raised in worshipImage by D G Butcher via Flickr

Many scholars studying religion, because of their Marxist, psychoanalytic, or other deprivation theory leanings, can only see the compensatory elements of Pentecostal worship.

But in my experience, this worship is something that empowers people and doesn't simply compensate. An even more nuanced interpretation might be that in order for people to be empowered, they need, in fact, to be comforted. So, by compensation I mean feeling that someone, namely God, is caring for you, that you can trust that your life has a destiny and purpose that is beyond your own imagination. Dynamic worship, singing, all-night prayer meetings, and fasting: these are things that give a power and discipline to one's vision and enable people to attempt the seemingly impossible.

More on Don's understanding of Pentecostalism is found in Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, written with Ted Yamamori.

The full interview quoted here is available online.

Finally, The Center for Religion and Civic Culture is just now launching a multi-million dollar research initiative on Charismatic and Pentecostal religion.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Twitter and Church - Accessible and Problematic

An interesting article in The New York Times shows how the accessibility of Twitter can make it problematic for religious use.

Turns out it's hard to keep the devotional content free of the riff-raff.

From Lead Us to Tweet, and Forgive the Trespassers,
While hundreds of worshipers watched the traditional dramatization of the Crucifixion from pews in the church, one of New York’s oldest, thousands more around the world followed along on smartphones and computers as a staff member tweeted short bursts of dialogue and setting (“Darkness and earthquake,” “Crucify him!”).

The trouble began in the second hour.

Twitter’s interactivity — its essence — made it easy for an anonymous text-messager to insert an unscripted character into the Passion play:

a Roman guard who breezily claimed, “I’ve got dibs on his robe.”

When another texter introduced a rogue Mary Magdalene, the intrusion only confirmed the obvious: Twitter’s trademark limit of 140 characters per message is no bar against crudity.

The rest of the article is online.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Smartphone Spirituality - Terrible? or The New Normal?

A Twin Cities newspaper reports on the use of social networking and new technology by congregations -- not just Christian ones -- who appear to advocate a "shallow consumerism" for religion.

An article by Jeff Strickler from the Star Tribune features a now-familiar article about the incorporation of technology and the targeting of younger attenders among congregations. It seems that some of the fastest-growing congregations in Minnesota -- suburban, mostly evangelical Christian megachurches -- embraced marketing from the start. Their success has caused more-traditional congregations with dwindling memberships to take notice.

The article begins with one congregation --

This church, called Substance (they tend to have radical names,) is one of the most-successful in the Twin Cities, drawing several hundred worshippers each Sunday. They reach out to young people by cutting back on the ritual of traditional churches. There's also a rock band and multi-media.

Nice commentary on the church's name -- I guess "Substance" could be considered a radical name if you take the substance being referred to in a more ambiguous way...

Anyhow, the key to the article is how it's not just Christian churches getting into the act. The article quotes Rabbi Hayim Herring who stressed in a seminar to "fellow clergy that they should spend an hour a day on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter" and that "blogging should be considered mandatory." Rabbi Herring also recommends using video clips from YouTube in the service.

Central Presbyterian Church, AustinImage by David A G Wilson via Flickr

"They used to look at me as if I'd just said a four-letter word," said Herring, the former senior rabbi at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park and now the executive director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). But in its seven years, the organization has seen more converts to what many call one of the dirtiest words in religion: marketing.

According to the article, it's younger people's "reliance" on electronic social networks that leaves religious leaders "no choice." As Rabbi Herring states, "If you're not out there, there's no chance of your message being heard."

Even Hindus are becoming technologically astute. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, urged his religious organizations to use "smart-phones with BlackBerry, iPhone and Symbian." While they were at it, he suggested, they should check out Flickr, Habbo, hi5, Skyrock, Tagged, Bebo, Netlog, MyHeritage, Odnoklassniki, Sonico and VKontakte.

Overall, the article stirs up controversy by echoing reactions from alarmists concerend about "salesmanship tools" and "commercialism." It's the marketplace of religion (so they say), and quotes Greg Smith, a research fellow for the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, who says, "Whether they like it or not, religions are being forced to compete for members."

Sacred Heart Church - Notre DameImage by timjeby via Flickr

The article then goes for the jugular - it's a religions "market" because congregations need to sustain streams of financial contributions to their ministry.

Bottom line: follow the money --

More than just bragging rights are at stake. Maintaining membership is critical for church finances, especially at a time of economic distress when contributions are dropping and endowment funds have taken a beating in the stock market. If belt-tightening members drop less money in the collection plate, the congregation needs to pack more people into the pews to make up the difference.

In my view, pointing to money as a core dynamic is just too crass. Religious leaders are sincerely wrestling with attempts to meet and minister to people about the things they really care about - bringing them into a closer relationship to the divine. And yet there is a struggle to define the role for new technology.

Rev. John Mayer who is executive director of City Vision, a Minneapolis organization that tracks religious demographics, said it well, saying,

"People see it as too worldly or gimmicky for the church to be marketing itself," he said. "But most of the same people who say it is sacrilegious also expect their church to have a website, a listing in the phone book or an ad in the phone book. To me, this is marketing."

In fact, he said, one of religion's classic icons could be considered a marketing tool: the church steeple.

"Yes, it's there for artistic reasons and to symbolize pointing to God," he said. "But it's also like a big sign to people saying: 'We are here. Come and check us out.'"

Steeples as marketing tool. Nice point.

The Rev. Scott Anderson at Eagle Brook Church, also tempers the discussion by saying that tailoring the delivery of the message to its intended audience is nothing new.

"We have to reach people through the culture we find ourselves in," he said. "If we want people to hear our message, we have to get them through the doors first."

What's even more interesting are the range of comments on the story. One comment from SMBowner3 writes,

"A church is a business and a religion is a brand, so they are smart to use technology to market themselves and their brand. You can learn about God in a bible - churches and religions are 'value add' services."

Old church’s sanctuary/Chorraum der alten KircheImage via Wikipedia

Another from kevinstirtz writes,

"The leaders who are moving (dragging?) their churches (and synagogues) into the 21st century by using social media tools and other technology are just plain smart. It's called meeting your customers where they are and it works. I applaud these pastors, ministers and rabbis who are simply trying harder to meet the needs of their people."

The whole article is interesting to me.

Looks like it will be awhile before the image of "traditional church" gets shifted far enough for these developments to not be considered so outlandish.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Cultural Practice of Self-Critique among Evangelicals

After recently reading several Christian books and posts, I want to draw attention to the pervasive practice of self-critique among contemporary evangelicals.

Evangelical Self-Critique as Cultural Practice

I suspect most people don't see just how much Evangelicals continually criticize themselves. Whether the tone is sincere or smug, the practice of speaking critically about the shortcomings of their faith community is bound to come up in any serious discussion among Evangelicals.

Jesus Army evangelismImage via Wikipedia

For Evangelicals, this is obvious and mundane (Dude, tell me something I don't already know). But for those outside the movement, it highlights aspects of this religious orientation that are both critical and complimentary. So, here's my take on it.

Another way to characterize this is that contemporary Evangelicals continually look in the mirror and are not quite satisfied with what they see. So, they turn to each other and talk about the practice of their faith.

I consider such critique to be "insider talk" with "insider language" about "insider dynamics." It makes it as compelling as gossip for those who are inside. It can also sound like gibberish to those outside.

text... ask if u dont understand!Image by Coach O. via Flickr

Because there are so many Evangelicals in the U.S., the conversation can be sustained at a national level through Christian publishing houses, individual blogsites, and constant twitter updates. It's not just local church fellowships (although it happens there), its also readily available at national conferences. The back-and-forth discussion in these settings easily turns to bantering and can become a screeching match. For anyone who cares to pay attention, the public nature of this conversation makes it accessible for study.

Evolving Critique and the Future of American Religion

Why bother paying attention? Because the evolving critique that happens among Evangelicals tells you a whole lot not only about Evangelicalism but also the near future of religion in America.

2004 LIFE Phoenix CD (34)Image by Don Orrell via Flickr

Take the sharp rise of Fundamentalism in the early 20th Century (George Marsden's book is an excellent source.) In that case, severe critique of what became characterized as "modernism" and "liberalism" redefined Evangelicals into the "Bible church orientation" we are all so familiar with today -- the primacy of exegetical preaching, the focus on Bible as Word of God, the salvation focus driving bullet-point evangelism, and the requirement of church membership affirmed by checking-off a series of doctrinal affirmations.

Since the dawn of the Evangelical movement, it might be said that Evangelicalism functions as an ongoing process of critique in the practice of religion. (See a my recent posts on Charles Finney's remarkable ministry.) Indeed, Christian maturity in some circles is measured -- not by how much you pray or know the Bible but -- by how incisive you can talk about Evangelicals.

Example of Evangelical Self-Critique

As excellent example of Evangelical Self-Critique just came out this week. Read a post by Scot McKnight who recently wrote this fascinating piece on "Spiritual Eroticism."

Spiritual Eroticism:

Are we really in love with Jesus, or with the experience of loving Jesus?

by Scot McKnight

A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age regarding love. Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters, there developed what has been called “courtly love” or “romantic love.” Married men found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at the emotional and non-physical level.

Romeo and Juliet in the famous balcony scene.Image via Wikipedia

The interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over the presence of the Beloved. The Lover preferred the titillation of fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was to become intoxicated with love, to fall in love with love. It was to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved and delight in the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved. Think Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.

Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.

They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.

Such folks might like sermons that create powerful contrasts between God’s wrath and human sinfulness or between our sinfulness and God’s gracious love; or they might like stories told so well as to usher them into the depths of human loves and hates and tragedies and comedies. What they like is the freshness of discovery or the flush of shame or the intoxicating sense of learning something new. They may create such a stir of silence in expectation of some great preacher or some great leader that the sheer presence of that person makes their soul swoon.

But this does not describe worship.

My contention is rather simple: the shaping of a Sunday service or a worship event or a concert in order to generate a profound experience might emerge from a courtly-love sense of worship. The expectation of such an experience on the part of the worshiper might also emerge from a courtly sense of worship. The opening of the Bible to read in search of an experience, or the entrance into a prayer time in order to rediscover some powerful emotion might also emerge from the intrusion of courtly love into how many today understand spirituality.

Let’s call this was it is: spiritual eroticism. And those who are good at it can be called spiritual erotics.

Cover of Cover of The Four Loves

So, what can be done? The same thing that good critics of courtly love, like C.S. Lewis, did about that distortion of love. Love, proper love—the love of God and, by extension, the love of others that both Moses and Jesus reveal—is to focus on God as the Sole Beloved worthy of our entire heart. Eros, Lewis argued in The Four Loves, wants to be a god, wants to be an idol. Eros left to itself, will not lead us to Charity. Eros needs to be tamed by Charity. When Eros is tamed by Charity, what happens?

Charity always leads us to the Beloved. Charity skips over the intoxication that comes with the experience of love and leads us straight to the face of the Beloved—Father, Son, Spirit. Those who know the Beloved and desire nothing but the glory of that Beloved may well know the experience, but they are so enthralled with the Face of the Beloved they forget where they are and dwell in the presence of God with but one thought: God deserves praise, God is worthy of praise.

There is a big difference between saying “You are worthy of our praise” and saying “I love praising God.” The second, I am suggesting, is courtly love. It is in love with loving God; but it is the first that is in love with God.

McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University. His books have been well-received among Evangelicals of all types.

Characteristics of Evangelical Self-Critique

In my recent reading, I think the best Evangelical self-critique today draws on aspects of Christian history as a point of comparison or apply a sensitizing concept to draw out subtle aspects of contemporary practices.

LUPA PREACHING WORKImage by who.log.why via Flickr

Scot McKnight's writing here is a good example of what can be found almost everywhere once you start looking. See books by Erwin McManus or Doug Pagitt or Tony Jones or Tony Campolo. See articles in Christianity Today or Relevance magazine. See online material like blog posts and podcasts at

If I began some attempt to formalize it, I would begin with these characteristics of Evangelical Self-Critique:
  1. Modern Christianity is off-point on several (most?) aspects of "True" Christianity.
  2. The word "Christians" is generalized, although it often means only other Evangelicals.
  3. Observation of common practices resonates with the experience of other "Christians" (see point #2).
  4. Some type of experience -- intrapersonal experience (what happened to me), interpersonal experience (what happened to us together) or extra-personal experience (what happened to my friend, neighbor, brother) -- is weaved into the narrative to root the observation in "reality."
  5. Finally, the use of Bible verses is far less important than the application of a biblical theology - that is, applying an interpretive concept of "Christian" living is what is required to drive the point home.
This is only a beginning.

At the core, I think it's important to know that Evangelicals continually have discussions -- intense discussions -- on nearly every aspect of "normal" Christian life. Such discussion can lead to endless spinning of ideas, but others further stimulate the practical decisions being made by church leaders and church attenders (as well as non-profit organizations and broad organizational networks) about practices and priorities that fuels further developments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Conversation with 76 Yr Old Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann

Filmmakers sat down for an intimate chat with Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann and asked about the role of the visual media artist in the church, life in the Kingdom and anything else we could think of. Brueggemann responds with insight and honesty.

Here's an opportunity to see the expanded use of new media in American religion.

Produced by The Work Of the People, this media organization describes itself as "a community of artists, storytellers, filmmakers, poets and theologians, who create visual media for the church to re-orient God's people around Jesus' good news and mission to make all things new." noun. pl. liturgies. From the Greek word λειτουργια, (transliterated, “leitourgia”) meaning “the work of the people.”

The Brueggemann "conversation" is a new venture for the organization. Here's a clip where Walter Brueggemann explores the question "Have we made the gospel too safe?" Always vulnerable, and not rushing to answers, Dr. Brueggemann's musings offer a different kind of Christian film experience, one intended to provoke careful reflection. 

I heard him speak when he was a guest at Rob Bell's church at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The film captures the tone and posture of this man. His writings are fascinating, and there are many books he has written. He may be best known for The Prophetic Imagination.  I appreciated his book on the Psalms and his fat-tome on the Theology Of The Old Testament.  

The Work Of the People also produces "visual liturgy." These can be used individually (they are not very expensive), but I anticipate that they are used in the context of church services as a twist on incorporating media in a manner that is not disruptive to the liturgical flow of "higher church" services. Two samples are below:


The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Music by Tracy Howe.


If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If your enemies are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Music by The Restoration Project.