Uncool People Need Jesus Too

UPDATE: This post was ill-advised on not written well. I’ve written a follow up to it that explains more of what I was trying to say – please go read it first and then read the original post.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE UPDATE FIRST.

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Through my work with the Acts 29 Network, I get the privilege of assessing a number of potential church planters each year. I also get to hear about dozens more from fellow pastors as well. When I guy comes in to get assessed, by the time he gets to the interview stage he’s already submitted a lot of paperwork. Resumes. Plans. Budgets. Demographic Analysis. Dental history. (Ok, just kidding on the last one).

And as I’ve looked at some amazing plans from church planters, I’ve started to notice a trend. They all sound the same.

It seems as the unique vision that God’s given so many church planters is almost identical. Phrases like “gospel-centered”, “missional”, and “cultural renewal” are littered throughout their proposals. It seems that the phrase “In the City. For the City.” or some variation of such has become church planting boilerplate.

Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

Why is that? I can’t offer a definitive answer. It could be that God is legitimately calling an entire generation of young pastors to turn their focus to a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do.

Or it could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.

Just thinking out loud…

Comments

  1. says

    Bill, good words of reflection for the Acts 29 Network. I am happy to say that I don’t fit the mold. I am in Acts 29, I have never been cool (especially here in Hawaii where being tan is more important than oral hygiene), I am planting in a dumpy rural hippy town, and my church is full of mostly blue-collar construction workers and alternative lifestyle 20-somethings who are rebelling against “The Man” by living in a tent on a commune and selling coconuts for a living.

  2. Josh says

    I go to a 5 year old church plant in downtown Raleigh, NC and reap many of the benifits of being in an urban church. I’m surround by believers who love God, know the Gospel, and never cease to remind me during times of discouragement how close God is to us in Jesus. Many of the people around me went to seminary and have been believers for a long time, so I’m growing constantly.

    It’s like living in an incubator – its warm, cozy and makes me feel great!

    However, I have recently felt an incredible burden for pastors of churches that don’t have any community at all – and I’ve been specifically thinking about rural pastors. I have been praying that God would be close to them as they fight in solitude and with little encouragement.

    It just dawned on me that I have been blessed with the benifits of community and one way I can be faithful with this gift is to pray constantly that pastors who don’t have this community would know the closeness of Christ.

  3. Chuck says

    Congratulations on hitting a nerve! Hudson Taylor didn’t have to be Chinese to serve but by the reasoning of some comments here, the cool seem too cool to be ‘all things to all men’!

    Ajith Fernando in ‘Jesus Driven Ministry’ asks why it seems God doesn’t call more people to obscure places and seemingly squander their gifts in insignificant places. You’ve asked this in another way.

    Another factor is money – it’s hard to be a cool conference attending pastor when you’re working 40 hours a week in a boring secular job to finance ministry to the uncool.

    Thanks for stirring the pot!

  4. says

    I agree with our brother Bill

    Here in Rome, I reach out to lower middle class people on the outskirts of Rome, some Italians, some foreigners, definitely not the “cool” people.

    Andrew from Rome, ITALY

  5. Trey says

    Ironic… No one after my post wanted to address the 14 questions that I laid out.

    Apparently, the more spiritually enlightened and focused church planters of our day must now turn their attention to the “blue-collar,” parts of the world in order to be really spiritual and focused on God’s plan for the United States.

    Not to mention you guys are over looking one major principle when you throw out, “I became all things to all people.” Nearly the entire known world spoke greek in Paul’s day and contextualization looked much different back then. When you can go anywhere in the world and experience very similar cultural practices because one empire was ruling everywhere, contextualization is much less complex.

    What is being argued for by people like Jon McIntosh I believe is that it is perhaps more strategic and wise to plant in areas that you can more easily speak the language of the people, identify with their culture, and bring the gospel into their world.

    Of course a white dude can go into a predominantly African American neighborhood and plant a church. Of course he might even see people converted.

    Just like when the colonial missionaries brought the gospel to Africa… There was conversion. However, who is the better church planter in Africa? An American or an African?

    Be honest.

    Therefore, perhaps contextualization is not such a dumb idea after all?

    All things to all people doesn’t mean to plant a church that has a salsa band, a hip-hop band, a blue-grass band, and an indy rock band leading worship on a Sunday morning. It means, whoever you are currently ministering to… You should reach them at their level.

    Some guys will plant in urban areas amongst predominantly white people and they should… Become all things in that context.

    Not all at the same time… You would have a circus show.

  6. Phillip Johnston says

    I was surprised to see this post. Granted, Driscoll is super-hip and I think he banks on that aspect of his persona a bit too much, but unlike Hybels & Warren, he preaches the firm and honest gospel in words that are not in any way sugar-coated.

    I grew up in a rural church populated by the people Phil speaks of above in his second point (Hank Hanegraaf, the “Bible Answer Man”, NIV, “free will” and the “sovereignty of God” in the same sentence), but remained cold to the things of Christ for years until I began listening to Tim Keller (among others in the Reformed tradition). Keller taught me how the gospel is not moralism or relativism, how Jesus is the goal of all scripture, and how hidden my life is in his. There is so much more, too. In short, I discovered the depth and breadth of scripture for the first time and, in that light, I began to realize how much of my spiritual upbringing depended on doing good deeds by rote as not to stir up the wrath of God. This isn’t what my church said they believed, but it is what they communicated.

    The difference (that many of you probably already know) between Hybels & Warren and Keller & Driscoll is that the former have become notable because of an attractive easy believism and the latter (especially Keller) out of a care for communities they see as dying. They have been called to the city. Others are called elsewhere.

    Read Keller’s course “Preaching the Gospel in a Postmodern World” (http://bit.ly/98qyxy) – the approach is universal and is as true for the hipster as it is for the NASCAR fan. The Gospel remains the center.

    One last note: I’m currently living in Chattanooga, Tennessee where there are many Reformed church plants popping up all over the place using the buzzwords you speak of. More than any other city I’ve visited, I am consistently stunned at the variety of people who come to these churches from different ethnic, economic, and spiritual backgrounds. Yes, there are hipsters too. But these plants are for everyone, because the Gospel is for everyone.

    Be gracious.

  7. says

    When it comes down to it I’d rather plant a church among like-minded people because I don’t want my idols revealed and challenged, and I want my ego stroked. God help me.

    Here’s an exception that comes to mind– a new missional church seeking spiritual, social, and racial reconciliation in an impoverished area: http://www.eastendfellowship.org/

  8. Raleigh to Rural Ohio says

    I’ve found the cool people tend to not care if they are cool or not, thus making them cool. John Piper=not cool but he is. Elliot Grudem=not cool but doing God’s work in Raleigh in the shadow of Vintage 21 as an Acts 29.guy whom is treated as a Tyler Jones or a JD Greear.

    I am not Acts 29 but did go to one after the being parting ways with a ministry position. While I was trying to figure out what is next, the guys at that church (Vintage21) did nothing but encourage me and challenge with the Gospel. While they pushed urban planting, they rarely said it was for everyone and simply wanted the Gospel proclaimed. While looking at a possible internship with A29, one pastor whom I’ve never meet (Jon Ryan) was willing to take a few minutes over the phone to speak with me about my next steps and be a coach to me. While I took a lead minister position in a rural town in my home state, the humility of these men greatly influenced me and still do. It was God’s use of these men to show me I was called to Rural Ohio and make a difference with the Gospel there.

    Great insight but I would say it was because of A29′s influence that I decided to replant a missional Church in the very scenario you described in this post. While they are not being assessed, they are being influenced.

  9. Chris says

    Blog posts like this one really create more cynicism and dissension than they do unity in the body of Christ.

    Suppose you have a church planter who is broken for the young, artsy, post-post modern people in his city. Now most everyone who has read this blog will hold that church planter under more contempt than they most likely would have prior to reading these posts.

    This doesn’t edify the body. This holds potential godly young church planters under more scrutiny than they should merit.

    Now if a guy wearing caterpillar work boots with a can of skoal in his pocket wants to plant a church in Podunk, Arkansas everyone will applaud him, while the guy who desires to start a church in the urban center of Boston will be held subject to negative opinions and suspicion.

    Is this blog post anything more than a rant and a stereotype? I think not.

  10. Victoria says

    It doesn’t surprise me that you’ve not encountered any. But, I’m here to tell you that they DO exist. I am one! At this point I’m a single, young woman who has grown up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I see the needs around me. I live in a town where most everyone appears to be “good” and claims to be a “Christian”, yet they do not live for God on a day-to-day basis.

    There is a need, God is working in my heart and I trust and pray that He is working in other hearts too. We need Church planters in areas like this. I long to be one, and by God’s grace, perhaps I’ll join a man and be one someday!

    I would venture to say that so many have a passion for the city because that is the “easy” ground. In the city people KNOW they have a need. Many have dealt with the consequences of drugs, greed, etc. In small town, middle class America people think they’re “just fine”. They have not seen the horrors of life. They’ve grown content with sitting on the front porch drinking tea and sharing the neighborhood gossip. After all, “It isn’t gossip….Everyone does it! She’d tell you herself if she was here right now.”

    All that to say: My heart reaches out with the Gospel of Christ. The need IS urban, suburban, and rural. The Church needs to make disciples in every group!

  11. says

    Chris,

    I think you are missing the point. I *think* Bill’s point is simply that in his experience of reviewing potential church planters, they all seem similar. What I get from this post is that every church planter out there wants to be Mark Driscoll Jr. No offense to Mark–I love the guy. He’s not to blame. What potential church planters need to do is BE THEMSELVES and be on GOD’S MISSION–whether that’s at a church in downtown or way out of town.

    I don’t think he’s being hyper-critical. Just honest.

  12. says

    WOW! I was a part of a rogue group that decided to do this EXACT thing in Dallas. These were NOT my intentions, and I am NOT cool, so when the group nixed praying and Bible-reading to hang out with people that fit into this group exorbitant amounts- along with other issues (go figure)–..there was no way I could continue with them.

    I am not amused that they are not the only ones targeting this people group. It is such evidence that its not a vision from God and their own desire to remain attractive in the world’s eyes.

    Comment poster Chris, two above me–I wish you knew the pain and disservice that groups like this do when they neglect the poor and despised. I live in an relatively dangerous/impoverished neighborhood, and there are SO many people that just NEED HELP, and were deliberately overlooked by the ‘leaders’ of my group because they were not the hip crowd that was their target. This is a true and genuine issue in progressive church movement.

    Bill, thank you for sharing your experience.

  13. Joseph Turner says

    For the record, Bill Streger is my hero.

    Now to address some of the responses on here…

    As a church planter in an urban part of the city of Houston I have no shame in my game. I am broken for the people in the urban scene of Houston and I have every intention of learning more about the culture here, serving the people here, and even learning the lingo down here.

    If God had called me to a cow-town in East Texas I would have gone. I would not fit in too well with my North Face fleece, Asics Shoes, Black rimmed glasses, Macbook Pro, and my iPhone. But nonetheless I would have gone.

    But plain and simple…I love the city and I want to see the people in the city redeemed by Christ.

    I must confess that I do use phrases like missional, gospel-centered, in the city for the city, etc. I use them all with absolutely no shame whatsoever. I might even make a t-shirt that contains all of those phrases and sell it at Lifeway so that all of the soon to be converts in rural areas can buy it and wear it to the next Nascar event or Casting Crowns concert.

    I am probably just too lazy to think up new terminology so I will just keep using what is trendy to describe the conviction that the Lord has placed in my heart for the city.

    Anyway, I love everyone on here. I hope you all have a gospel-centered, missional, day while focusing renewal in the city for the city.

    I know I will!

  14. says

    The answer is easy Bill.

    Acts29 evangelistic strategy (as presented in San Diego last summer) was to focus on urban college cities where they feel American culture could be changed.

    The strategy is that the “down stream” culture (as rural America was referred to in the A29 bootcamp) will change if the “up stream folks” change culture. Hence, Acts29 WILL NOT be planting churches in rural america with, as you say, “uncool people” as their focus.

    I understand but disagree with the network wanting to get the “biggest bang for the buck” by focusing on influential demographic areas over focusing on “50-something administrative assistants” with no voice.

    I myself, am a rejected-Acts29, “down-stream”, uncool-people pastor in a small agricultural community. Be encouraged because rural pastors are out there planting, but be informed that Acts29 just doesn’t want to network with them.

  15. says

    Bill,

    While I hear your heart for the uncool people as a response to Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations (ethnos; people groups; socio-economically; linguistically; politically; ethnically; geographically; religiously; cool factorially), I find your comment, “we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll” to be offensive, ill-worded and void of good judgment.

    Acts 29 assessments do not measure “cool,” but rather 1) Personal walk with God, 2) Theological Clarity, 3) Strong Marriage and Family, 4) Leading a life as a missionary, 5) Emotional Maturity, 6) Disciple-Making skills, 7) Leadership, 8) Calling, 9) Relational Health.

    By including the last paragraph, I did not find your post helpful for church planting as it demeaned some godly men, generalized too much and gave undue fodder for those critical of the ministries of certain pastors.

    Be cool and show more grace.

    Scott Thomas
    Acts 29 President

  16. JR says

    Great post.

    However, I visited Redeemer Pres. in NYC this weekend. What did I find there? First of all, the service was packed (1200-1500), and Keller was not preaching. There was a spartan platform with no concert lighting, media screens, or a hipster worship leader. The worship service included one instrument (an organ played by a 70 year old man), three hymns and a special music performance that was in Latin. The sermon was great (Sauls), the crowd was fairly diverse, but predominately young/young asian. and there was really nothing cool about the whole vibe at all.

    What am I saying? This was not cool for sale. This was a movement, and people were on board. Isn’t that what we are aiming at?

  17. says

    My wife and I have been working in Europe and concerned for Europe for the past 8 years. We’re moving back to Europe (to Portugal) in May which only has .08% born-again population according to the last sociology census. The sad/ironic thing is that we’re trying to scrape money together for our project and at the same time have been told that if we were considering planting in Las Vegas or Salt Lake that we would have an all expenses paid church planting career if we wanted it. I know a group that is pouring over 1 MILLION dollars into this project alone. There are more Christians in Mormon Salt Lake than in the entire country of Portugal and we can’t get $2000/month in support.

    Am I missing something?

  18. says

    Just re-read my post and it sounded like a big whiner. Sorry. I think the frustration is that we’re so prone to follow fads and markets that we don’t step back and look at the larger picture. I’m glad for Acts 29 but not every church planting movement needs to look like them either.

    (Check? *Sigh* Still sounds whiny. You get my point)

  19. Trey says

    This has officially become the post for all of the jaded people who would like to point fingers at the urban church planting movement to justify their anger, failure, or frustrations.

    I am out.

  20. Chris says

    I agree with Trey. This post has become a forum for all of the kids that got picked last to play kickball at recess in elementary school.

    I wonder if we would have been mad at Jesus for “setting His face toward Jerusalem” while in the Samaritan village in Luke 9. I am sure that Christ was also trying to be cool by reaching the upwardly mobile in Jerusalem.

    Or could he have just been on the mission that the Father called Him to?

    Besides aren’t you a part of Acts 29 Bill? Isn’t your church in an urban area full of white folk? Just curious?

  21. says

    Guys, I’m going to go ahead and shut down the comment thread at this point. I am honestly humbled and blown away by the response this post has gotten on all sides of the issue.

    I’m planning to write a follow up to clarify my thought, as I didn’t choose my words as carefully as I should have and there has been some misunderstanding. Watch for that tomorrow morning, and I hope we can continue the discussion about Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Bill Steger, a pastor in Houston and leader in a church planting movement, gives us a glimpse into that approach of new church planters in a post today that pushed me to think it through some more. And as I’ve looked at some amazing plans from church planters, I’ve started to notice a trend. They all sound the same. [...]

  2. [...] Bill Streger wrote about today discussing the idea of how we need to reach out to many groups of people and not just the cool 20 something aged people, but everyone!   The idea that we should reach “important” people first — as a strategic bid at influence — is about as antithetical to the Sermon on the Mount as I can imagine. [...]

  3. [...] Bill Streger, an Acts29 pastor: I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now. [...]