A Radical New Concept In Doing Church?

I hate church as usual.

There, I said it. I’ll admit I’m cynical, burned out and hurt deeply…by a church that prepares her followers to engage a world that no longer exists.

Even the word “church” conjurs up visions of my tongue licking a razors edge.

Most of my therapy dollars (and there have been thousands) are spent uncovering and attempting to heal the deep wounds caused by this misguided institution.

So imagine my surprise last week when I “accidentally” limped into a church experience that actually seemed, well…uh…real.

JUST LOVE is a downtown church experiment of Gateway Church in Austin, TX ( Twitter: @g8wayaustin).

Each Tuesday JUST LOVE convenes at The Arthouse and features:

ART/STORY/SERVE/FOOD/HANG.

The week I attended it was loosely and beautifully lead by non-alpha leaders Eric, Ramy, Tiffany and the 1211 band.

JUST LOVE features stunningly beautiful and haunting acoustic music, thought provoking short films, poetry and stories in a setting any creative would die for. The time was expertly woven together by impromptu but focused narration.

One soundbite:

“When you don’t know what to do….default to love.”

But, that was only the beginning. It still seemed like a very cool emergent church service.

Until all of a sudden, you’re assigned to a group leader with three other unfamiliar people, each handed three bottles of water and asked to go out on the street and hand them out to people you feel need them—in downtown Austin.

I met Darlene on 6th St.

An African-American woman in a wheelchair with a lot of spunk. She gratefully took the water, told me she just had surgery—so of course—I promptly told her I just had surgery as well. She told me, “Honey, make sure you go down the street to the Austin pain clinic and they will pump you full of morphine. It’s the only way to fly.”

As we all laughed, three other rather fragrant and large homeless men surrounded us and took water. The conversation continued very naturally and for the first time in my life—except maybe one time just north of Afghanistan—I realized I could possibly be doing church the way God intended.

Gulp, the way it’s supposed to be done?

Afterwards, limping painfully back on my knee still recovering from surgery,  hot and sweaty in 100 plus degree weather, we headed back to a downtown restaurant for a hang out together.

As many of the JUST LOVE attenders converged on Congress Avenue all excitedly talking about their experiences—a girl in front of us still had one bottle of water and warmly handed it to a young lady hastily walking by—when suddenly the lady angrily slapped it out of the girls hand, and as it flew through the air seemingly in slow motion, everyone hushed to stunned silence. (To read the first person account of this story, go HERE.)

Fear, anger, disappointment, and myriad other emotions leaped to the forefront of each person’s humanity.

“When you don’t know what to do….default to love.”

Is this a radical new concept in doing church?

Or is it a revolutionary, ancient and timeless concept that we’ve somehow forgotten? Or ignored? Or…?

Question: What do YOU think?

If this post caused you angst, glee or gulp, caused you to think, please share it with others by clicking the buttons below.

52 Responses to “A Radical New Concept In Doing Church?”

  1. One thought only: “Yes!”

  2. Instant reaction:

    Yes, yes, yes! This is real life, real church, real love. Doing what Jesus would do but without the “strategic plan” that most pastors and boards need to make them feel in control.

    I think it’s the ancient and timeless concept that we’ve forgotten; being real with real people and talking naturally about our relationship with our saviour – highs AND lows. He is glorified in all of this.

  3. Agree!
    Agree with your first line “I hate church as usual” and with therapy $ going to undue church damage.

    And this sounds like a wonderful new/old way of doing church!

    Gotta go … need to pack to move to Austin :)

  4. Thanks so much for sharing – closest I have come in the Nashville area is Downtown Pres. in that crazy Eqyptian building – loving their “neighbors”

  5. ChandraHester August 11, 2011 at 09:46

    Randy, Thanks for the post. It’s a great way to do church. It seems like the way Jesus did church everyday for three years while He was here on earth. It’s great to have a church with NO Titles- NO numbers-NO building-NO degrees- NO politics- NO programs- NO membership.

    We plan to start a church ( a New Testament Church) in our home. Set up on the pattern of the early church. The first church. Only 12-15 people in each home in each zip code. With Bible teaching- Prayer- Breaking of bread- Fellowship- Worship- Missions – Accountability and Community service. I guess the church in your post would come under Community service for us. Yes, we all need to be out there with people showing God’s love in word and deed. Church was set up by God for the believer to grow and then GO OUT to win the lost and bring them back to grow and then GO OUT etc. We need to go to where the lost people are and show His love. Not feed on His Word and be fat and happy inside our buildings with our programs etc. Anyway, I better stop preaching and just say thanks for the post.

  6. I have worked for ten years as a full time church employee, and during those ten years, I have been troubled by the contrast between the depiction of the life of the early church in the Bible, and the activities and goals of most modern day American churches, including the church I work for now.

    I won’t say that church as it is today is wholly evil. I am where I am today, spiritually speaking, largely due to the fact that I grew up in a fairly typical American church that had good teaching.

    But it really is time to move on. Especially in America, everyone has already heard about Jesus, and they think they know what Christianity is, and so if they’re not in a church, it’s by choice. They’re not waiting for us to play cooler music or open a coffee bar or have more relevant sermons. They know we’re doing that, and they’re actively saying “no thank you.”

    I’m frustrated most by the notion that real ministry and real spiritual life happens at the church building, especially in light of the fact that most of the Biblical accounts of big encounters with God happened out in normal life! Moses was just tending to his sheep. Samuel was trying to get to sleep. The woman at the well was just getting some water. A crippled beggar was sitting on the road asking for money…etc.

    I’m frustrated by the fact that churches plan events and then say to the community “God loves you, so you should rearrange your life and come see what we’re doing, so that you can experience God’s love,” when what we need to do is follow God’s example, rearrange our lives, and go be a part of what people “out there” are doing, and show them that God is already there with them.

    And I’m frustrated that as a church employee, I spend 90% of my time inside the walls of a church building, planning things that will take place in the building, things which will only benefit (and that’s questionable) people who come to the building – people who already have heard the Gospel.

    My response to this frustration has been 1) to put more effort into turning my side job (creating music for online games) into a full time job, and 2) to try to use what influence I have here to encourage more people to be more active in developing real and meaningful relationships with their neighbors, co-workers, baristas, etc. We need to demonstrate that we follow a God who came to us. It’ll be a slow change, but we absolutely need it. The world needs it.

    Here endeth the rant…

    • @Chris, Your rant is well taken, Chris. Wow! What a quotable rant it is…

      “I’m frustrated by the fact that churches plan events and then say to the community “God loves you, so you should rearrange your life and come see what we’re doing, so that you can experience God’s love,” when what we need to do is follow God’s example, rearrange our lives, and go be a part of what people “out there” are doing, and show them that God is already there with them.

      And I’m frustrated that as a church employee, I spend 90% of my time inside the walls of a church building, planning things that will take place in the building, things which will only benefit (and that’s questionable) people who come to the building – people who already have heard the Gospel.”

    • @Chris, Chris maybe its time you started a movement at your church to change the mindset to an externally focused effort. You can create change!

      • @Lance, Hi Lance. Actually – that’s exactly what we’re doing! I’m the music guy for what has become just another style service offered by a church in Houston, but it was intended originally to be a new church plant. The pastor in charge of this service and I work closely together to plan not just the music, but the outreach, and lots of other things regarding this service.

        He and I have recently come to the conclusion that we need to do whatever we can to influence the people attending this service – and hopefully the wider church – to become more outside focused. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I hope that people will get on board, but, short of a major act of God, it will be a slow process, we think.

        It’s encouraging to have you and Randy and others verifying that we need to move in this direction! We all do!

  7. Sounds like an amazing experience!

    I am not sure I am ready to completely give up on the church as is, even though it is quite broken in many ways and I have been deeply wounded by the shared dysfunction. However, something has been lost. And, it seems our forms are in the way of renewal. We hold to forms too much–even when they lose their original power and purpose. So, I see this form–Just Love–of church as refreshing and possibly revolutionary.

    The only pattern being ” just love” reminds me of it being “just Jesus”. The pattern of Jesus (love in its full fleshly reality) is befuddling to church structures and those desperately holding them together. It is mystically simple but so very difficult when the pull of piety (i.e. being uber religious) is so orderly and paternalistic for those who wish to remain inoculated to real people around them.

    • @Rich Kirkpatrick, Ah, well said, Rich! “It is mystically simple but so very difficult when the pull of piety (i.e. being uber religious) is so orderly and paternalistic for those who wish to remain inoculated to real people around them.”

  8. Wow, Randy, I can REALLY relate – especially to the first part. Healing has been S L O W , but I’m glad to be a part of a church, um, I mean a body of believers, that believes in ministering on the streets with no strings attached. My Connect Group will be “sprucing” up an elementary school this Saturday. Defaulting to LOVE.

  9. This is a great story. Getting outside the walls is good for putting faith into practice. Any of these ideas can seem contrived as soon as somebody does it because so-and-so did it. The key here is discipleship and modeling authentic Christ living. We have vocational seminarians and proteges in our pulpits. The further Christians’ church life is from our daily life leads to less authenticity. We try so hard to emulate early church models with our same old methods. It don’t work. I think our society badly needs organized religious intervention in society –like the Methodists of the nineteenth century. But church cannot replace our walk. When we rely on church, not the LORD, for any sense of identity or function, we’ll be let down.

  10. Curtis Fletcher August 11, 2011 at 20:20

    Hmmm…Not sure I’m ready to convert, I’m missing a couple things. It seems to be more of a convergence of personal experiences rather than community…albeit very cool personal experiences. Other than the fact that as Christians we ARE called to Love I don’t see anything here that would call it out as something that couldn’t be done equally well by Muslims, Buddhists, or Boy Scouts.
    When I think biblical, new testament, ecclesia I lean towards community(=body life) and discipleship. I don’t see much of either in traditional, institutional churches today but I think I am missing them here as well.

      • @Randy, Sigh? :) I’m not against the experience…sounds VERY cool…just not yet ready to call it a different way of “doing church” Why the sigh?

        • @Curtis, Curtis, I agree with alot of what you are saying, but to shift the mindset of a church it requires little steps to change the attitudes and hearts of the members. Its like turning a cruise ship it doesn’t happen fast. So exposing people to the mission field environment is the first step.

          • @Lance, Good conversation. Thanks, guys.

          • Curtis Fletcher August 12, 2011 at 15:41

            @Lance, Completely agree Lance. I guess I’m drawing a distinction, splitting hairs perhaps?, between doing church a different way and doing Christian life a different way. What I see described here could easily turn into a once a week emotional spiritual fix as opposed to the once a week cerebral formal brow beating some people feel most churches are today. In either case it is a once a week experience rather than a lifestyle. Exposing people to this approach to life is GREAT…throw in some community ongoing conversation about it and some ongoing mentoring on how to habitualize living this way and I think I land on “doing church” a different way.

  11. Thanks Randy. This is a good example of what the church should be in action. A quote I came across recently that has stuck in my mind and needs to be worked out in the life of the church says- “The church doesn’t do missions; the church is mission.” For much of today’s church that is a foreign concept. How we need to go back to Acts and completely rethink the church for today before it completely fades out of existence into the realm if irrelevence.

  12. Wow! What a fresh, (sadly) new concept. Just love people. I wonder how many billions we Christians have spent on buildings that encourage people to do everything but that one simple yet profound command. Thanks for posting!

  13. Randy, Randy, Randy! Your blog arrived in my in-box at the perfect time! I attempt, I’ve not been keeping up on reading yours as I’ve unfortunetly have “priorities” to only 24hrs a day. However, I finished two major ones just a bit ago so catching up on email & tada… here’s your blog — “church.” Catches my attention nearly every time because I relate it to Bible & to me Bible is Priority!!! (Not necessarly church is but BIBLE is).

    But, why am I writing? Let me give a brief response to your blog — I relate!!! Here’s why, I’ve attended different churches over the last 48 yrs. tho after moving back to help mom out I’ve gone to the one that I was baptized in, confirmed at, blah blah blah. Mostly because I know the people & it’s been simple to get to. (I’ve no car so ride w/Mom)

    I took the “Membership/Refresher Class” twice. Arranged bus, taxi, car transportation to get there…. I learned some tho don’t remember much. (I’ve learning disabilities) Since then I’ve communicated this often however, getting together one-on-one to learn the Bible is “unheard of” now a days!

    God speed ahead — a month ago, I was conversing with “W” over the phone & asked a question re: her beliefs. She later asked if I’d like someone to come bring me a bk & talk to me about WHAT DOES THE BIBLE Really TEACH (name of the bk).

    Someone coming TO ME? Another unheard of; (unless sick or elderly then Pastor does a members only “quick home visit”).

    I think you know where this going! *SMILE* “K” has been coming to me wkly to teach me what the Bible really teaches AND is so patient & understanding of my learning disability that I’m actually comprehending what we’ve studied!!! She’s even come the following wk with a printed out listing of the Bible verses in which I have several questions to!!!

    As I am JOYFUL for “K” coming to me; I am double JOYFUL to read that “Just Love” is doing what God would want!!! “Going out” to Harvest His Crop!!! AWESOME dudes!!!

    Hugs & Love to all,
    ~Joni

  14. Randy, thanks for the great visual of the interface of art and creativity= God’s love. As disciples we are commanded to go out and spread the good news; showing love and engaging in conversation is the first step.
    Sometimes it is far easier to go out into the community and love a stranger for a few minutes or hours that you will likely never see again, than it is to recognize the brokenness and love the person that sits next to you in the pew each Sunday. Whether a newcomer or an old member, we all have sadness that permeates our life. It may be harder to show unconditional love because you’ll have to sit next to them again next Sunday and ask them how their life really is, not just how it may appear on the surface.
    thanks again for a thought-provoking post.
    Agatha

  15. I think for me this is a stepping stone…showing people “Just Love”. It is a stepping stone to discipleship for some, for others, maybe just a fleeting moment. It’s also growing us all in really cool ways, making us step out of our comfort zones and just do something we may have never done or thought to do before.

    • @Dom, Thanks, Dom. Unfortunately, most “discipleship” I’ve seen is just a legalistic approach to salvation by works. There is usually no understanding or application of grace. And the result is an elevation of the Bible over God.

      This idea as you say seems more in tune with what the New Testament of the Hebrew Bible teaches.

  16. “When you don’t know what to do….default to love.” – Sounds like a good commandment :)

    Ive been a part of “organized” church all my life. My Dad is a Pastor. I grew up in it. I am grateful that even though I have seen the good and the bad in the organization, I still have a deep hope in the organized church.

    With that being said…

    Where today’s church can fail, is that it can look inward and become self serving. Under the mantra of “worship”, we hold up in buildings for an hour a week and feel that this completes us in our faith journey.

    On the other hand, when we participate in something like you’ve described here, I believe the impact it immediately makes on us can be groundwork for throwing everything we’ve known out. This can lead to disregarding everything good about the organization.

    I believe one of the very clear things in the bible is Balance and moderation. I think we have a clear image of an balanced church in the Bible that met together. Ate together. Served together. Studied together. Prayed together. Sang together. Created together. And in doing so, invited others to be a part of what they did. In seeing these things. I believe wholeheartedly in an hour a week of singing and teaching. I also believe that it should be balanced with time spent sharing, praying, serving, studying, creating. These are not exclusive of each other. They are all a part of the Church living life together. We have to stop looking at that hour on Sunday as the point we use to argue for or against today’s church. We need to start looking at the 24/7 living to determine whether we are healthy.

    All this to say, I believe in the organized church… as long as it is balanced and living and growing and loving. Sitting in a pew an hour a week or serving an hour a week are not enough. These things are only part of all we can and should be doing to express love to God and each other.

  17. Hey Randy,
    Great post. Very cool to hear you had a great experience. I have a question.

    I work at a fairly “standard” (outwardly, anyway) church just south of Portland, OR. We are in the heart of suburbia. There are not a lot of immediate “needs” like you’d see on the streets of Austin, San Francisco, or heck, even Portland.

    Our church body is actually incredibly caring, generous, giving, etc… How do you see this model fitting our particular culture? Maybe just less emphasis on large services? Maybe more organized and intentional (and more often) outreach to our surrounding community? (Portland, etc)

    I too at times share the frustration that I spend most of my time “in the church building”, planning events for the building, etc. I remember a quote from John Wimber, wondering where the power of the Holy Spirit was in the church, when he said “When do we DO THE STUFF?”. Sometimes I feel like that.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your thought-provoking experience!

    Aaron

    • @Aaron,
      Something I’ve discovered is that just because I had a house, didn’t mean I had a home. Just because I had material provisions, didn’t mean I wasnt starving, thirsty, naked and depleated of all spiritual and internal resources.
      I really needed community, and I needed it with people that understood me and shared an affinity with me.
      Then I needed a project we could all work on together, a representation of our strength as a unit being much greater then individuals.
      All this I did outside of Sunday morning, but ironically helped me see Sundays service as more of a mission field, rather then a spiritual feeding zone:-)
      All to say Aaron, I think if you get into the living space of the people that surround you in suburbia, and their needs will surface, and God will inspire next steps.
      Just me 2 cents…

  18. cindy carpenter October 6, 2011 at 12:05

    i think the church, like most organizations and governments, try to do the right things. BUT!!! they are so ineffeciant at it….meetings, land, buildings, salaries…..can you imagine jesus dragging all of this around with him?….my sister-in-law was raised in a catholic home and hasn’t gone to “church in a box” for 45 years….she is one of the most christ-like people i know…i asked her why she quit attending services….she said….” i just figured if i wanted to be a christian i should just go be one”….and that she did.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] As I was writing this post, I happened upon Randy Elrod’s new post today, “A Radical New Concept In Doing Church.” […]

  2. “I Hate Church As Usual” by Randy Elrod | Not Like Me - August 16, 2011

    […] Randy Elrod, author and founder of the re:create Conference and Thinktank,wrote an article on his experience with Just Love! our Gateway Central experiment in downtown Austin. Here is what he wrote: […]

  3. “I Hate Church As Usual” by Randy Elrod : The Origins Project - August 25, 2011

    […] Randy Elrod, author and founder of the re:create Conference and Thinktank,wrote an article on his experience with Just Love! our Gateway Central experiment in downtown Austin. Here is what he wrote: […]

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