Thinking Out Loud

March 10, 2012

GCB: Great Commission Baptists?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:05 am

I’m not a regular reader of the Baptist Standard website, but I have been following attempts by the Southern Baptist Commission (SBC) to change their name to something more marketable, in light of declining attendances, memberships, and — what matters most — baptisms.

But as the article points out, this is a denomination where splits can occur over the color of the carpeting or the money spent on the new church organ:

There also were strong currents running against a change, however. Some objections were rooted in an emotional loyalty to tradition and culture that can make a debate over repainting the church walls into an occasion for schism.

“We believe that the equity that we have in the name Southern Baptist Convention is valuable,” said Jimmy Draper, head of the SBC task force. “It is a strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality and ethics, compassion, ministry and mission in the world. It is a name that is recognized globally in these areas.”

In other words, “We’ve always called it this way.”

The article mentions a few other brand changes including some that are pending:

Campus Crusade for Christ, the worldwide ministry started in 1951 by the late Bill Bright and his wife, is this year introducing a new moniker, “Cru,” that some worry could become the “New Coke” of evangelical Christianity.

Elsewhere, evangelical leader Tony Campolo has taken to calling himself a “Red Letter Christian” because he worries that the evangelical brand has become too politicized. The rock-ribbed Christians at Bob Jones University in South Carolina have been looking—so far in vain—for an alternative to the “fundamentalist” label they once wore so proudly.

Mormon leaders are also making a push to have the church called only by its formal name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because they feel the “Mormon” label can be derogatory or raise undesirable associations with polygamist splinter groups.

But then the article strikes gold.

The word “Mormon,” like “Southern Baptist,” has strong name recognition and immediately conveys a clear image—both valuable assets. If that image is not the one you want to project—for example, a …survey showed 40 percent of Americans have a negative impression of Southern Baptists—then you have to figure out why rather than just slapping a new label on the same old product.

(emphasis added)

At which point, we’d be done with this story, except for this delightful ending, the kind of thing some writers wait years for:

In the end, all the Southern Baptist task force could do was offer an unofficial alternative, “Great Commission Baptists,” for congregations that want at least something a little different.

It seems unlikely the “GCB” moniker will win out, but an evolutionary approach to re-branding can work; International Business Machines effectively reinvented itself as IBM, and General Electric did the same by switching to GE.

Uh…was nobody watching ABC television last Sunday night? Or reading about it in the newspapers?

You can say GCB stands for Great Commission Baptists if you want to, but launch it right now, and all you’re going to hear is Good Christian Bitches.  Why any Baptist insider would include that paragraph at this time — the post date is Thursday, March 8th — defies logic.

July 8, 2011

It’s Hip to Be Un-Hip

Remember that episode of Seinfeld where his girlfriend keeps manipulating the position of friends on her speed-dial so that it resembles at Top Ten chart?  Well, Rachel Held Evans has moved really high up on my blog speed-dial.  You really need to be bookmarking her blog.  I hesitated to reprint this in full until I saw Pilgrim Scribblings get away with it, so I figured forgiveness is easier to ask for than permission.  She called it, Blessed Are The Un-Cool.

People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church—you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a  fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app, and a pastor who looks like a Jonas Brother. 

While none of these features are inherently wrong, (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.  

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants, and…brace yourself…painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks. 

But more importantly, I want to be part of an un-cool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus, and like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool. They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people, and crazy people.  

Cool congregations can get so wrapped up in the “performance” of church that they forget to actually be the church, a phenomenon painfully illustrated by the story of the child with cerebral palsy who was escorted from the Easter service at Elevation Church for being a “distraction.” 

Really?

It seems to me that this congregation was distracted long before this little boy showed up! In their self-proclaimed quest for “an explosive, phenomenal movement of God—something you have to see to believe,” they missed Jesus when he was right under their nose. 

 Was the paralytic man lowered from the rooftop in the middle of a sermon a distraction? 

Was the Canaanite woman who harassed Jesus and his disciples about healing her daughter a distraction? 

Were the blind men from Jericho who annoyed the crowd with their relentless cries a distraction? 

Jesus didn’t think so. In fact, he seemed to think that they were the point. 

Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced? 

In Bossypants (a book you should really go out and buy this very instant), Tina Fey describes working for the YMCA in Chicago soon after graduating from college. This particular YMCA included, “a great mix of high-end yuppie fitness facility, a wonderful community resource for families, and an old-school residence for disenfranchised men,” so Fey shares a host of funny stories about working the front desk. One such story involves one of the residents forgetting to take his meds, bumping into a young mom on her way to a workout session, and saying something wildly inappropriate (and very funny—you should definitely go out and get this book). Fey writes, “The young mother was beside herself. That’s the kind of trouble you get when diverse groups of people actually cross paths with one another. That’s why many of the worst things in the world happen in and around Starbucks bathrooms.”

Church can be a lot like the Y…or a Starbucks bathroom. 

We have one place for the un-cool people (our ministries) and another place for the cool people (our church services). When we actually bump into one another, things can get awkward, so we try to avoid it.  

It’s easy to pick on Elevation Church in this case, but the truth is we’re all guilty of thinking we’re too cool for the least of these. Our elitism shows up when we forbid others from contributing art and music because we deem it unworthy of glorifying God, or when we scoot our family an extra foot or two down the pew when the guy with Aspergers sits down. Having helped start a church, I remember hoping that our hip guests wouldn’t be turned off by our less-than-hip guests.  For a second I forgot that in church, of all places, those distinctions should disappear.

Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside. 

But we’re all broken. 

We’re all un-cool. 

We’re all in need of a Savior. 

So let’s cut the crap, pull the plug, and have us some distracting church services… the kind where Jesus would fit right in.

~Rachel Held Evans

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