And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Church Without Pants

New churches are so dime a dozen. I live in a relatively small city and six new churches have opened in the last three years just in our little downtown. Seriously. They try to come off as unique and distinct but they're all doing the same things: Marketing consultants and demographic surveys, "branding," distinctive logos and signage, mass mailings, glitzy websites, young (white) male pastors with either shaved heads or pointy hair, passionate (but totally hierarchical) leadership with no venue for accountability, "Biblical" teaching and "dynamic worship experiences", names like Connected, River of God, Path, and City Church, gritty bands, color coordinated storefront locations, no denominational trappings, big goals, and a target audience. I wonder what that sixth and latest church thinks they're going to do in our downtown that the five previous iterations aren't doing. Maybe they think they'll be our own local version of Elevation (Please stop here to check out "The Code". It's a glitzy presentation of Elevation's story and viewing it helps the rest of this story of The Church Without Pants make a lot more sense). Maybe they imagine that they'll do for the church what The Beatles did for music.

But except for maybe the glitzy websites, we've been there and done that. The fact is there are so many of these cool churches out there using words like dynamic, single minded, purpose driven, dominating, and unapologetic to describe themselves, that I wonder if they might not be losing their edge. ("The Edge" - Now that might be a cool name for a church.)
But when I get a vision for something new I can count on three things: 1) it's not going to be The Beatles of church, 2) it certainly won't be considered "cool," and 3) it probably won't really be new. Maybe that's because it was more of an hallucination than a vision. But just imagine, if it was The Beatles of church, what might it be like ...

... In my vision/hallucination, it would be The Church Without Pants.

I think the whole "pants" thing comes from the fact that I keep outgrowing mine. Which makes me think of expansion. Maybe I should I call this new thing Expansion Church. The name borders on cool. It conjures images of growth and substance rather than bare tushies. But it could also just be a reminder of some kind of unwanted swelling or the fact that my ass is already bigger than my brain and it is still expanding.

And instead of using words like "compelling," "dominate" and "audacious" this Expansion Church will use words like "we," "ordinary," "dorky," and "zing." And we'll use lame phrases like "We am ..." Expansion is dorky followers of Jesus whose vision (and whose asses) are too big for their pants.

So here's part of our secret code, 11 of the expansive secrets of Expansion:

I We live an outrageous faith - This makes it possible for us to make up words (see secret VIII below) and sing Beatles tunes whenever we want. Most church folk think we're downright crazy. And they're right.

II You don't want to be here - Well, maybe you do, but most people don't. Not really, anyway. If you come to church in order to receive something or "get something out of it" there is probably a big box church nearby that is targeting consumers of religious and spiritual goods, like you. Go there. We can get more done if you're consuming worship somewhere else.

III More about the box - Cool people think they think outside the box. The even cooler people think they think inside the box. We recycle boxes.

IV We have a vision that's too big for our pants - God never changes but our vision of God does. Our vision isn't for a 3D or XL God or even the 2X version of God. We want all of God. Give us the God of 5X. And when we've met God 5X we'll want the 7X God. Give us the Big God, The One we can't totally figure out.

V You don't get it - Actually, no one gets it here. You only get it by giving it away. Faith and worship are not about us receiving. God gives us everything we need whether we worship, or not. Faith comes alive and worship happens when we start letting it go.

VI We am what we am - An expansion of a truth made famous by Popeye the Sailor. Some communities are like hives with thousands of drones. They are efficient and usually guided by a dominant personality with a simple and singular vision. At Expansion, "We" is everyone. Expressing our passions, personal preferences, choices and opinions is what makes us a community. It makes us what we am. It also makes us different from a hive.

VII We are guaranteed unprofessional - Turn down the house lights and turn on the fog machines then scream, applaud, capture video, tweet or text your friends, and wave your cell phones as much as you want. Just don't pretend that's what worship is. Stop being a schnorrer and cough up the bucks for a ticket if you really want to see a show or a concert. Worship isn't a show. Worship is literally "falling down" before God and we have no professionals leading us in face-plant rituals from the stage. (But perhaps we should ...) Expansion is just "we" offering ourselves to God. If a dazzling presentation accompanied by shouting, jumping and Christian mosh pits (Sanctified feel-up sessions) is your idea of worship see secrets II and V above.

VIII Our community has some added "zing" - Besides making up words (see Secret I), we are constantly de-monumentizing, un-inertiatizing, re-initializing, momentumizing, missionizing and transformizing because we are constantly making huge mistakes (zing), discovering new things about ourselves and God (see secrets IV and VI above) and becoming a new-improved version of what God is doing with us. (Zing. Zing. Zing.)

IX We are united by the dream of God's dream - "... Your will be done on earth as in heaven." Really? Jesus wants us to pray that the earth will be like heaven? If that's true, we had better get a better glimpse of what heaven is like. Hint: Heaven is not full of churches where cool people are entertained while children, homeless, hungry ... (feel free to add to the list) are either paraded in to put on a show to make us feel better about ourselves, or are made to feel unwelcome, stupid, out of place, unworthy or untouchable.

X We should expect this - God may make the rules and God has graciously let us in on some of them, but by no means can we presume to know all there is to know about God and how God wants things done. And so we are not surprised when God does something surprising. We expect the unexpected.

XI Leave your fancy pants at home - Just bring yourself: your plain, ordinary, sinful, dorky self. The self that God sees and yet still invites to the party. The self that God is saving and bringing to life. We believe in that self, too.

Expansion Church - For those whose asses are too big for their pants but who still want to grow in every known and yet-to-be known dimension. It's the Church Without Pants.


  1. Part of me wants to laugh and the other part feels deeply sorry for anyone who couldn't get past the intro before dismissing it.

    I am going to hell.

  2. They now have BOMBS on their website!
    I recently shared this story with small group of worshipers. We gather in our homes on Sunday evenings and share stories about where God has been taking us. As we read this blog entry we went to the Elevation Church website to read "The Code". The website has been re-glitzed so that the "code" is no longer simply readable. Each section of the "code" now has its own cute icon (I think I like the Bomb icon the best) and contains an audio file with a pleasant Britishly accented female voice. British accents and bombs may be very appropriate for South Carolina, but I found the whole thing quite inconvenient if one is trying to read a story...


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