Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Glory and Grit

Psalm 96:9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."

Our church culture tends towards extremes and absolute divides. Perhaps that is just a characteristic of the American temperament. We have a hard time with "both/ands," and usually opt for the "either/or". An example: either a church is concerned about teaching the Word and doctrine, or it is concerned about the poor. The word and doctrine crowd think the poverty crowd are simpering social-gospelers. The poverty crowd thinks the word and doctrine crowd are the dead orthodox. Well, why not orthodox people who care about the poor? Why is it so hard for us to avoid what smart people call neo-Platonic dualism? Why can't we love doctrine and those for whom life is very hard?

I find the same thing true in terms of worship and ministry model. Churches tend either toward grit or glory. The gritty church assumes that everything has to be raw to be authentic. It is like NYPD Blue, a show of unparalleled brilliance in terms of grit. The police were as flawed and volatile as the perps. The lives of the heroes were as tragic as those of the villains. The camera took it all in with unblinking eye. The gritty church assumes that worship should be as raw (and sometimes as vulgar) as life itself can be. There is little beauty, and a lot of very straight talk. I am not offering a blanket condemnation of that --I think straight, pointed sermons that are as explicit as Scripture itself can be when circumstances warrant are part of real preaching.

The good of the gritty church (and Mars Hill Seattle would be a classic example, I think) is the sorts of people they are reaching --the great unwashed multitudes that would feel very uncomfortable in a church that operated on the "glory" model (more about which below). They see prostitutes and sinners come to Christ and be forever changed. Their pews are filled with the lost who are being saved.

The glory model is different. It isn't about a particular worship style (it could be contemporary or traditional) but about attracting a particular type of person --generally affluent suburbanites. Like Ravenhill (if memory serves) said, "Churches used to be about rescuing the perishing, now they are about recruiting the promising." We need great programs and great buildings in great locations. We need to be shiny and impressive. Production values are the name of the game in worship. We want to recruit people like us --people who are smart enough to get it, and successful enough to pay for it. The church locates where life is easy (at least on the surface), and aims all it does on serving the people. Though the church (like all churches) engages in service, the ethos is more about catering to the people, rather than pressing them into the gritty areas of life. The service core of such churches, one might suspect, is rather small.

The glory church is good in that it seems to recognize that God is pleased when we do what we do as well as we can, when we are dissatisfied with shabbiness or shoddiness in music, in preaching, in teaching, in our buildings, etc. Churches do not have to be dank, ugly and serve industrial grade coffee. We can put out nice brochures and have great instrumentalists and erudite and compelling messages. All this is good.

My argument is simple: we should have both. The church should be excellent, have great worship, do all that it does with an eye towards its Master, and it should be in the prisons, on the streets, in the undesirable neighborhoods, with the addicts and the refugees and the homeless.

Can a church do both of those things? I think it must. It is not optional. A church cannot be a church and fail to seek to serve the needs of the community around it as well as the world. In many ways, it is easier to reach the world than the community. The "undesirables" across the sea are far more palatable than the ones sitting in the pew next to you --this recalls a classic scene in "The Help" where the same ladies who won't let their domestic employees use their restrooms are collecting funds for the starving children of Africa. This does not mean worship should or must become gritty. We need glory too. We need to have our eyes lifted, if only for a few moments, off what is ugly in the world and focused on what is beautiful about God in Christ.

May the church not shun the grit even as it embraces the glory.


  1. This is a "cut, paste, save, print, use in new members classes and officer training" keeper. This is the sort of church I want for my family and me (and for everyone I know, frankly). Thanks so much, Ken.

  2. "recruiting the promising" - convicting

    Good words, bro!!

  3. Ken, through our personal dialog, you know this is very important to me. We've discussed some other issues which certainly reveal an "either / or mentality" in our churches today.
    Ken, certainly you put this concept together in an article much better than I could have done. Thanks for your fine work.