Monday, January 22, 2007

alt.worship and the poor

Noted the following (10) comment about alt.worship on tallskinnykiwi.

Actually Andrew, I came to believe that Alt Worship (of which I am generally very appreciative) actually is quite exclusive of the poor and those lacking in aesthetic graces. At its worst its quite elitist even if it never intends to be.

I will leave the charge of “elitism” for possibly another blogpost, but in terms of the relationship between alt.worship and the poor:


1. From where I sit, the most prominent exponent of alt.worship in Australia is Cheryl Lawrie. A feature of her blog is discussion of her work among refugees and prison. Isn’t that the poor?

2. In 2001, as part of my PhD research I visited about 12 alt.worship communities in the UK. Part of my interest was sociological: what types of people were part of these communities. A recurring feature of the communities I visited was the number of participants who were social workers. Where do social workers tend to work? Amongst the poor and marginalised.

3. The majority of my PhD research focused on one alt.worship community, Cityside Baptist Church and included surveys of 48 participants, participation in worship over a 3 month period and two focus group interviews. One of the questions I asked at Cityside was this: “As a result of being at Cityside, to evaluate a range of statements on a five-point scale of “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree.” The statements included the following:
• I feel that my faith is more integrated with my workplace
• I feel that my faith is more integrated with my culture
• I have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian
• I am willing to express in actions, my Christian faith
• I am willing to express in words, my Christian faith

Here is a summary of the results:
“Of Citysiders, 69% “agreed” and “strongly agreed” that, as a result of being at Cityside, their faith was more integrated with their workplace … Most (79%) “agreed” and “strongly agreed” that, as a result of being at Cityside, their faith was more integrated with their culture … Most (79%) of Citysiders “agreed” and “strongly agreed” that, as a result of being at Cityside, they had a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian … 65% “agreed” and “strongly agreed” that, as a result of being at Cityside, they were willing to express in actions their Christian faith [and] 67% of Citysiders “agreed” and “strongly agreed” that, as a result of being at Cityside, they were willing to express in words their Christian faith.”

“These last two figures, while high, are lower than the others. Focus group discussion revealed significant unease at Cityside with their [Evangelical/Pentecostal/Charismatic] heritage … [One] spoke of moving from a very negative Evangelical experience of God to an integration of their spirituality that included a verbal dimension.

“My personal evangelism, which to me means talking about spiritual stuff with people, with my friends, has just gone through the roof in the time I’ve been at Cityside. Because all of a sudden I’m not ashamed of God because it used to be the last thing I wanted my friends to do would be to become a Christian because it would just ruin their life. And now I feel like it is a positive thing if they have something to do with God. But it’s like nowhere near the sort of outreach, formal mission thing. It’s just that I like God and it’s a natural thing now.””

So that is some research data in relation to alt.worship and the poor.

Posted by steve at 09:10 PM

8 Comments

  1. I think your point is well made. I think this post (Hirsch and TSK) is begining to reveal the split between “practioners” of alternative worship and the practioners of emerging church, and the observers who have no personal base in communal practice.

    Its weak becuase it presumes that one can only “participate” in worship by being involved in “leading” whereas skilled leadership of worship is about enabling all present to participate. Its weak because of TSK’s confusion between preaching and teaching – he cites sermons as preaching when in their normal mode among alternative worship groups it is about teaching and often is highly partipatory to the extent of being open to the charge of “sharing ignorance”.

    Its weak becuase it presumes protestant or evangelical modes of worship (which were/are suited to the “modern” era) and which perpetuate the split between the religious and everyday secular, whereas alternative worship is instinctively drawing on Catholic, Orthodox and reformed traditions which more readily provide a cultural context for the post-modern era and integrate the everyday.

    Comment by Tom Allen — January 23, 2007 @ 10:00 pm

  2. Tom,

    can you clarify are you saying there is a split between practioners and non-practioners’ ie that Hirsch and TSK “observers who have no personal base in communal practice”? or are you saying we are seeing a split between steve taylor as “practioners of alt.worship” and Hirsch and TSK as “practioners of emerging church”?

    steve

    Comment by steve — January 24, 2007 @ 9:11 am

  3. Steve
    Sorry I have worded a hasty comment badly – its the first – I think the split which is developing is between observers and practioners at least as they “write” things up.

    In the UK alternative worship and emerging church are virtually interchangeable – though some choose to use the terms as a label in a kind of quasi-denominational sense which does draw some distinction.

    I sense what is urgently needed is for the stories of the emerging/alernative church to be written up from first hand accounts or from within – rather than so much energy going into developing theories or analysis of what is happening.

    If you were to try to visit for a PhD in 2007 I think you might meet “reserve” from actual worship groups and emerging churches – some have suffered from analysis and poor reporting which is designed to prove theories rather than reflect (as I know yours did)on what was happening.

    PS for some reason my emails to you are being rejected – could you email me the conference details you mentioned on my blog.

    Comment by Tom Allen — January 24, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  4. tom wrote “I sense what is urgently needed is for the stories of the emerging/alernative church to be written up from first hand accounts or from within – rather than so much energy going into developing theories or analysis of what is happening.”

    – this is exactly what i was sort of hoping to foster with the emerging church postcards series on my vblog. it is also what the allelon mission to western culture project is about – lets start with local people and local narratives. which i applaud.

    steve

    Comment by steve — January 24, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  5. Allelon material has been the most helpful international perspective for me personally combining the best of academic rigour with local experience. I have recently discovered Friend of Missional which is offering a forum for local understandings see http://www.friendofmissional.org/.

    What I find interesting in the American/Canadian context does seem to have the rather apologetic air of some of the emergent groups who seem to spend energy defending this movement of the Spirit from criticism by evangelicals. Maybe if I lived there it might also be important – I guess here in the UK (where the whole emerging church has a much broader theological base) we know that conservative evangelicals will not understand the new experience (they reacted the same way to the Charistmatic Movement and now within the Church of England a vocal minority are busy rejecting anyone who does not think like them)so what the heck. In the UK we have been blessed with forums such as Greenbelt as a meeting place for such developments, and the tradition within the mainstream denominations of “voluntary agencies” (Eg CMS) which enable people to pursue concerns and issues without leaving the Church.

    Comment by Tom Allen — January 24, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  6. I don’t know about this Steve – I’ll stick my neck out here cos maybe I am clueless about alt.worship and don’t really knwo what that means (half the time I am ignorant of these terms)

    I’m not convinced by your reasoning. Your examples above are not about alt.worship and the poor in the way Alan has said it.

    alan said “Alt.worship … is quite exclusive of the poor” – your examples are of alt.worship ministering *to people who* minister to the poor – not a one to one relationship with the poor

    I feel alt.worship is unintentionally elitist too. but as you say that’s for another post…

    Comment by Randall — January 26, 2007 @ 9:19 am

  7. Good on you Randall. I pondered this angle as I wrote the post. However I didn’t want to limit the mission of a church to it’s worship event. Hence I gave 3 different ways of connecting with the poor – that the first example was a direct example of the poor in worship; and the next two were examples of worship resourcing people who in their mission lives can connect with the poor.

    Is that valid? Or should we set the bar as being that our criteria for mission effectiveness is that all the people we do “mission” to are in our worship?

    I have more to say on elitism. In honesty I think the commenter is both right and wrong; alt.worship can be poor. But I object to the totalising nature of the comment – it sounded so sweeping.

    hoping you push back …

    Comment by steve — January 26, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  8. another thought to add .. i think that all churches are on the road … doing some things well, could do others better. in other words, alt.worship ain’t perfect answer. nothing is. i see that in my actions every day.

    but isn’t that where God works, among the imperfection of our human lives? so i think it is time to stop looking for the perfect church or the perfect mission theory. way too modernist. to write off any part of the body of Christ (as “exclusive .. elitist”)doesn’t sit well with me. way to unaware of human reality.

    lets start with what we’ve got, warts and all – whether it’s alt or home church or established or whatever.

    Comment by steve — January 26, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

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