Thursday, February 22, 2007

celebrity pastor match: taylor and tamaki

A few weeks ago I was phoned and interviewed by a Christian newspaper about people leaving the church. The article has now appeared. I get the first 2 paragraphs, and am then juxtaposed against TV info-gospel-man Brian Tamaki.

Taylor: “The worst thing we can do is call these people backsliders. It is not the function of the Church to draw these ones back into fellowship, but it is our responsibility to support them.”

Tamaki: “There is no room for the belief that you can be believers outside the Church… How can I watch over them as a pastor if they are not connected to the church? They have no accountability and are susceptible to mistaken versions of the Christian doctrine. They are like lost sheep and we need to have a sense of inclusion, to welcome them back if possible.”

Taylor is very happy to be quoted and juxtaposed against Tamaki (The full article is here).

A Scriptural reflection
The parable of the “searching shepherd” (a better name than Lost Sheep) occurs in two places in Scripture: In Matthew 18:12-14 it is in the context of searching for little ones, those who are struggling because of the actions of Christians believers. In Luke 15:1-7 it is told in the context of the prostitutes and sinners that hang around Jesus. Luke seems more outward focused on the oft-called “non-churched”, Matthew seems more focused on the “dechurched.” Both groups receive the care and support of the searching shepherd.

Practically, at Opawa we support and celebrate a group called Spirited Exchanges, which meets monthly and aims to provide a support for people struggling with church. We also work hard at providing spiritual resources (for example, Lent and Advent art postcards) so that people can be nurtured without having to turn up at church.

Place of technology in our contemporary landscape
The article caused me to ponder the place of technology in our contemporary Christian-scape. Here is a quote from an Ian and Phyllis Ford,who pastorally visit people who feel called out of the structured Church.

“I met a woman in the South Island who had been out of church for seven years, but she radiated Christ,” said Mr Ford. “You can’t tell me it’s impossible to grow in God outside the Sunday church.” He said many people he visited used Radio Rhema’s Word for Today devotional and DVDs to get their spiritual feeding.”

Help me with the logic here: So if you are visited pastorally by a pastor and attend church where you get input from a sermons … you are churched.

But if you are visited pastorally by Mr Ford and get input via sermon on DVD … you are unchurched?

Which leads to a multi-choice quiz for you to answer:
Are the resources of Christian radio being used to
a) sustain believers
b) keep the body of Christ isolated and fragmented
c) both
d) another option.

I wonder if we are seeing the use of technology to liberate practices – sermon listening – from a local, embedded community. 80 years ago you had no DVD and no Christian radio in TV, so was it much harder to survive outside a local, embedded church community? I wonder what the long-term place of embedded relationships will be in our increasingly technology-saturated world. I wonder if Rhema, when it was founded, would have been happy to see their resources used in this way. I wonder, when Steve Taylor produces Lenten and Advent resources, if he is happy to be used in this way?

Thirdly: the practise of a individualised faith
What is the place of the practise of an individualised faith (whether sustaining by lighting a candle in a cathedral or reading blogs or listening to Christian radio or TV), in a Christian understanding of God as Triune and relational? and for being church (ecclesiology)?

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM


  1. Thanks Steve

    Interesting, and funnily enough I was called a “back-slider” in the weekend – not really very helpful, and certainly not accurate.

    Also, for interested readers, there is the work and reflection of Alan Jamieson on the subject. His book “A Churchless Faith” and several articles which can be linked to via

    p.s. hope you enjoyed the cricket…

    Comment by Paul Fromont — February 23, 2007 @ 5:52 am

  2. Can I come at your questions from a different angle?

    When Hebrews says “Let us not stop meeting together”, it does not limit meeting together as all getting together at the behest of a pastor and doing (sort of) the same thing.

    You write of a relational God, so how can we do relating that encourages us to take another step, to learn a little more and to be assured of love?

    I value the questions you ask, and whilst not being convinced of the value of the ‘gathered church’ still I suspect that we need relating ‘with skin on’ so to speak.

    fear I haven’t answered your questions, just posed more, oops .. sorry

    Comment by Caroline — February 23, 2007 @ 6:47 am

  3. Hiya Steve,

    Seems to me that the problem is a terminological one. This from a blog entry of mine in Dec 2006:

    Anyway, on the subject of ‘church’… a listserv I subscribe to recently posted Alan Jaimieson’s ‘Ten myths about church leavers’. I have a bit of a problem with this… not with Jaimieson’s ten points, rather with the banner they are presented under. How can a Christian not be a part of the divine ekklesia? Granted, Jaimieson uses the term ‘church’ in the popular, institutional sense. But are we here throwing out the bride with the broth (baby with bathwater)? The church is a central NT theme, and its early years and establishment are the core message of Acts. Of course, ontologically each Christian IS a part of the church as the body of Christ – and to say that you are not a part of the body yet still a Christian is a nonsense. So how do we resolve this? Do we ignore the problem (which, incidentally, is also an issue when discussing e-learning which can mean almost anything to different people using the word); reclaim the word ‘church’ to its true, original meaning; or do we create a new term altogether?

    Perhaps we could use the terms ‘institutional church’ and ‘ontological church’ deliberately… but does this make things too clumsy? The distinction is surely important.

    Hope this helps…


    Comment by Mark Nichols — February 23, 2007 @ 7:21 am

  4. But the “body of Christ” is not just the thumbs! In fact I often wish they were not there, we little fingers are so much more elegant 😉

    The essence of church as “body of Christ” is community. Without community no church – not even in a fine building with data projectors and polished wooden crosses… But is it also true that outside the body of Christ no Christian?

    Comment by tim bulkeley — February 23, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  5. It’s much easier to work our faith out watching a DVD than letting iron sharpen iron in community. I can turn the DVD off and say “that was crap” and move on. When someone who I respect or love, eat with, pray with and who’s kids play with mine, but who’s very different to me, says something I think is crap it’s much harder to switch them off and move on. I think if we were all given the choice we’d belong to “my” body of Christ that had me and anyone else who I deem acceptable to be a part of “my” church. But if Ephesians is to be believed that’s not displaying the wisdom of God to the cosmos. It’s in the church where slave and master, young and old, Jew and Greek, Maori and Pakeha, conservative and liberal, pentecostal and Lloyd Geering, unemployed and PhD…. unite together as one in the name of Christ, dispite their vast differences, that the wisdom of God is displayed to the world. It’s hard, it hurts often and we limp our way home, but is that the way God likes it? Does that somehow reflect God’s image and God’s glory? It doesn’t often feel like it!

    Comment by Andrew — February 23, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  6. I’m sensing a false dichotomy in your questions, Steve. If some of us are “liberated” from the congregations we might have been part of, are we becoming more or less individualized in our faith and practice? In the modern evangelical church as I’ve experienced it (several “flavors”) in the US, there is ample opportunity for a very individualized faith, sustained by worshiping shoulder to shoulder with casual acquaintances and listening to sermons that focus on individual applications of biblical texts. I find myself drifting away from the institutional church as I’ve known it in search of more authentic experience of community.

    Comment by Maria — February 23, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  7. Maria,
    before responding to the “false dichotomy”, can i check that you have read the challenge article – my dichotomy emerges from that article and wanting to probe the claim that someone can “leave the church”; yet can be sustained by “radio and dvds”; and are not radio and dvds actually still a production of “church”?

    Mark, i am sure that definitional terms are making us slip and slide all over the place: church as theology (which you and Andrew engage with – and so you play the “pastor card” of presenting an idealisation). Then there is church sociologically (a group to “leave” as in the Jamieson material, or in Maria’s example to leave because it is not sustaining her individual search for community ).


    Comment by steve — February 23, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  8. I’ve found that taking away the labels has helped me a lot; both in terms of relationships within and without the “church” as well as for my spirituality and self.

    Comment by Craig (mars-hill) — February 24, 2007 @ 5:53 am

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