Finding a Faith of Our Own

Defining our faith by who we are, not by who we aren't.

“Not Your Parents’ Church”—that’s the tagline for the Sunday morning Christian gathering that meets a few downtown blocks from my home. I’ve been there a few times, and the only thing I can tell you is they’re really, really cool. They wear skinny jeans and drink coffee during the service—and not just “church coffee,” but the good stuff.

If you go to their website and click on “About Us,” you’ll find this sentence at the top of the page: “First off, at [hip name of the gathering] we like to have fun.” Their second point is much better, but still seems too cool for school: “We’re built around a come as you are mentality,” they promise. Their overall presentation seems to insist, “Look, we aren’t your parents’ church! See our hip language and sick web design!”

I wonder if it is counter-productive to forge a way of our own that is shaped more by who we don’t want to be than who we want to be.

After sitting in on a few sermons and perusing the Beliefs and FAQ sections of their website, I’m convinced that their theology is solid, and their intentions are quite well-meaning. But even though many of their theological concepts are sound, what seems problematic is the overall context that frames their theology and practice.

It’s no secret that the young demographic in churches today is wearing thin. Today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings who have grown up in the Church have grown disillusioned and discontented, and churches trying to intentionally reach them should be applauded. Yet I wonder if there are drawbacks in this approach.

Our generation is emerging into adulthood—we’re claiming our independence and struggling to find our place in the world of jobs, relationships, finances and faith. And during this formative time, I wonder if it is counterproductive to forge a way of our own that is shaped more by who we don’t want to be than who we want to be.

Jesus didn’t ever get with the world’s program. He remained authentic to who God wanted Him to be.

Are we framing our theology in terms of what it is not—not boring, not old-school, not whatever your parents raised you on? By defining our faith in terms of what it isn’t, have we assumed the role of the marginalized hipster and so built our faith on a framework that is reactionary and defensive? If we can only gain spiritual independence by distancing ourselves from “other” faith expressions, we risk organizing the body of Christ into “us” and “them.” Sure, it might be marketable, but is this really the point?

Jesus once compared His generation to children sitting in the marketplace, angry with Him because He wouldn’t dance when they expected Him to (Matthew 11). His point was that He didn’t come to be the Messiah they expected Him to be. He came to be who He was—to be, in a sense, who God was. “No, no,” this Messiah said. “I’m not here to overthrow Caesar. I’m here to overcome the world. Put away your flutes, and join Me in My dance as I recreate the universe one atom at a time.”

And in reality, neither this Messiah nor His message was very marketable. Quite the opposite, actually. Jesus’ angry episode in the temple was horrible for business. With indignation, the Messiah looked around at those who exploited the temple for their own purposes. And as He overturned the money tables, He chastised the merchants, calling them thieves, and accused them of turning the temple into something that reflected their own agendas—not God’s.

Whenever I pass through downtown, I think about this church’s slogan, “Not Your Parents’ Church.” I think about how maybe they say things like that because they’re trying to be cool, to be marketable, to be exactly what non-Christian people want. And I think about how this approach works with our generation—how we can’t wait to disassociate and cut ties with anything that signals us as passé or culturally behind. I think about some American Christians and the kind of Jesus they’re offering the world.

And I wonder how many more revisions and updates this Jesus can undergo before He stops being the very unmarketable carpenter that He was.

Perhaps this all seems too harsh a critique. But I imagine Jesus’ response as something like this: “No, this isn’t your parents’ church, but it isn’t yours, either. This is My Father’s house.”

Certainly, we need a faith of our own. We need to rediscover the glory of the Gospel in an age that has relegated it to something of no use and no importance. Certainly, we need to engage our faith individually and in community in authentic ways.

I’m not sure exactly how we can reform some of these misguided aspects of American Christianity. But I think the cross is a good place to start.

Behold the man nailed to a tree—that peasant, from a working family, despised and unknown. Look at Him there—the weakness of God, rejected, despised, unfashionable as ever, cursed by His own Father. If only He’d gotten with the program.

But He didn’t. And that’s the point of the cross. That’s why there was a cross. Jesus didn’t ever get with the world’s program. He remained authentic to who God wanted Him to be.

So as we start to claim this faith as our own, maybe we need to stop looking at what “not” to do. Maybe we should get with His program.

16 Comments

Brandon Ambrosino

4

Brandon Ambrosino commented…

Nice thoughts, Amber. Yes, I think the issue -- the struggle -- is finding the balance between first century faith and twenty-first century expressions of that faith.

Matt Hammell

15

Matt Hammell commented…

Jesus never focused on how Sundays should be run. Whatever attracts non-believers and believers who don't like their traditional church sounds good to me. Right now I'm tired of the same thing every Sunday. It feels rather contrived. There is a church plant in Burlington, VT some friends are leading and they have house churches. Not hipster, but different. I think it's awesome when people think outside the box on church. Teachers in grade school have pressure to reach their students in new ways, but old-school Christians (not necessarily old) sometimes think if others don't like it, well too bad. Church needs to change with the culture. Church is a way to praise Jesus and know our triune God better. Many things (though not all) in traditional churches are man made as it is. I don't know what the big deal is with slogans. It's just something to grab attention. If they are solid past that and hipsters are going to church then power to that program. As it is Catholics and Presbyterian and Assembly of God are separated. One more won't matter. If we all could assemble a couple times a year then Christian faith groups wouldn't feel so separated, disconnected, and different.

Matt Hammell

15

Matt Hammell replied to Matt Hammell's comment

And Capitol Hill will never follow society! (Seattle shout-out)

PrestonandLauren Lund

1

PrestonandLauren Lund commented…

I can't help but be reminded of a "factory church" I once went to in Va. They were, I think, trying to do a similar thing to the "not your parents church" type movement. However, the whole time I was there, each time I went, I felt like I was a part of a group that was reacting, or revolting, against the church, and not a part of the church itself. I actually remember one "sermon" that was basically consisted of members bashing Liberty University. It was a bitter atmosphere. Though I agree that there are things that may need to be done differently, I don't think that should be the focus or motivation behind starting a new church. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love what you say here: "So as we pull away from defining ourselves by what we aren't I'd like to propose another idea. Let's not even define ourselves by what we are for, but rather who He is."

Brandon Ambrosino

4

Brandon Ambrosino commented…

That's insightful to say that the factory church vibe felt so reactionary that it didn't feel like the Church (capital C).

I also like the idea that things being done differently should be a more peripheral way to approach how we do church. This is why I like liturgy. I like that each week, I confess creeds and prayers that millions of others around the world are reciting at the same time.

Eric Chandler

1

Eric Chandler commented…

Jesus asked people to think outside their box, and try new ways of thinking. He was asking people to throw away much of what they knew about God and their own spirituality for a different way of accepting each other and God. Does it matter how people gather to study and meditate the teachings of Jesus?

With that said I agree with you, Brandon. I do believe that church is the Father's house and no one else's, and I don't believe people should think about or define themselves by what they are not.

Really enjoyed your article! Thank you for writing it.

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