January 12, 2004

Derek Webb Column

The Official Website of Derek Webb

I don't want to do this too much, but I thought a reprint of Derek Webb's column from Release magazine was an appropriate post. He's entirely right.


The Identity Crisis of the American Church

It�s hard to do your job when you don�t know who you are. It shouldn�t be any wonder that stories like The Ugly Duckling resonate so deeply. What a frustration to want to be and do as God created you, yet to have no idea who or what that is.

This is the root of many problems we seem to have in American churches. We don�t know exactly who we are, so we don�t know exactly what to do. And when we don�t have the vision to do the thing that�s right, our default is just to do the thing that works, which can quickly become a dangerous practice.

Living in Christian community is rarely practical and almost never efficient, which is, incidentally, exactly how it was designed. Therefore, choosing the option that simply works in our churches with no transcendent vision for our communities can be a steep and slippery slope.

All too often we find ourselves living by the rules of pragmatism rather than by the law of freedom found in the gospel. We are content to encourage all kinds of consumerism in our church communities rather than living in a way that identifies us more with our brothers and sisters throughout time and across the world than with our 21st century American culture.

The real trouble is that we often do this in the name of either evangelism or the Church�s favorite modern idol�relevance. I�m not talking about true relevance, the kind that affords us opportunities to speak into an ever-changing culture. Rather, I�m referring to the ways we spend our time constructing platforms upon which we might speak the truth of God but never ascend them.

The Church has traded in its identity as the true counterculture for the lesser role of a subculture, playing by all the rules of and taking all its cues from consumerism and pop culture. We criticize and boycott companies and corporations for their practices, and yet we use their marketing techniques and strategies to evangelize the lost.

After 10 years in Christian music, I�ve seen a lot of this firsthand, and it seems to be sending terribly mixed messages. I�ve seen churches that warn their students of the dangers of secular music and MTV, and yet invite them to a weekly youth gathering that is more postmodern and sensationalized than most MTV programs.

I�ve seen ridiculous, if not blasphemous, T-shirts that use secular marketing slogans but with a Christian twist in some effort to evangelize youth. This becomes especially distasteful and confusing when it�s mimicking a company clearly frowned upon by the Christian community�the Christian version of the Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt, which reads �A Breadcrumb & A Fish.�

Can we who are always about three years behind the latest pop culture trend no longer recall the time when the Christian culture led in innovation and creativity? Because of Jesus, we are freed to do the hard work of engaging all kinds of people rather than simply catering to the felt needs of target audiences in our churches. Because of Jesus, we can explore what it looks like for God�s people to reclaim culture for His glory. And because of Jesus, we can be truly relevant in an ever-changing culture. Not because we are focused on being relevant, but because we are focused on the gospel. This is our job, and this is who we are.

Posted by at January 12, 2004 11:20 AM | TrackBack