The Holy Crap Must Go
Published on: February 14, 2010
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  • Busterdog

    In other words “Back to the Future!”

  • AndaO

    A very thoughtful piece. The core spiritual ideas of the Society of Friends would work very well in the kind of local, people centered approach.

  • JasonH

    I think this kind of restructuring is well underway and occurring outside of these types of mainline churches when ever a new non-denominational church starts up and is successful. The rise of non-denominational praise and worship churches has a lot to do with the decay of mainline churches. I for one have noticed a big difference in the level of concepts taught in sermons from mainline churches and sermons given in praise and worship churches. So for my time on Sunday morning I hope some seminaries will stay open in the future.

  • Dennis Sanders

    This was a very good, but hard post to read. I’m an ordained pastor in the Disciples of Christ. I’m an associate at an urban congregation in Minneapolis, but I work bivocationally. It’s funny because people tend think that because I work in two jobs, I am not a “real pastor.” But the fact is, I am doing ministry and to be honest, the church could not afford me full time. Very few churches could these days.

    While I think a lot of what you said makes sense, there is one thing that bothers me. I come from an evangelical background and while there was much that was good about that, there was a climate of anti-intellectualism among some. How do we make sure that leaders whether or not they are ordained are not just made pastors willy nilly?

    Again, thanks for the post.

    • Michelle

      My pastor also has a day job, and our deacon is, I think, a volunteer. Their commitment and effectiveness is orders of magnitude more profound than the old model “professionals” I knew as a young person. A lot of the work of the parish is done by us as part of the faith commitment, and it seems to me that this is how churches ought to work. I agree with another poster that the Mormons are an excellent example. Faith is among other things an on-going and highly personal spiritual learning experience, not a prescriptive event like seeing a lawyer or a surgeon. There’s nothing wrong with having an advanced formal degree on the university model, but the education world is now stuffed with more effective ways of acquiring a solid grounding in a subject. I don’t think it is the degree that makes a good shepherd.

  • Glen

    Agree with the piece.

    Like with most institutions which are decaying, if people have the option of exit, then they will exit. The rise of non-denominational churches is the response from churchgoers to these problems.

    I’m a fairly recent christian in my mid-20’s, and my only church experience is with nimble, non-denominational churches. I think that will become much more common, with the mainline churches not a viable alternative.

  • Paul

    There is much truth in the post and in the responses as well.

    I am one of the tens of millions of Americans who was raised in a mainline denom (UCC), was born-again in my twenties, and have attended only non-denom, evangelical churches ever since. Our churches, as well as the non-denom seminaries, are thriving…jammed with people like me.

    There IS an element of anti-intellectualism in some evangel churches but my sense is that it is fading.

    I would also say that there is a strong and growing anti-intellectualism in the mainline denoms of the sort that causes or is caused by political correctness.

    People come to church to learn the eternal verities. Not hearing them, they leave.

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  • Emil

    Interesting post.

    Having recently moved to the Bible Belt, we looked at a number of churches. One with ministers holding non-church jobs tended to have evangelical preaching that really involved the very same sermon every time—the text was different, but little specifically about that text was mentioned.

    Others were small with trained clergy, but the sermons were not very interesting. Some focused on loud music. We stumbled on a church with a highly educated leader, highly educated members, extraordinary music and very conservative. That is where we go—I feel that the members do not realize how unique this place is.

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  • Joseph A. Cannon

    What an interesting and thoughtful post.

    I have no desire to offend or alienate friends of other faiths, but a good, existing, model for Mead is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

    Except for the leaders at the general Church level, all leaders are lay and hold other daytime jobs. The local congregations (wards) are led by bishops (like pastors or parish priests). Groups of local congregations (stakes) similar to dioceses are led by stake presidents. Each of these leaders is assisted by two counselors and serve, respectively, for approximately five or ten years.

    This service is voluntary. These local congregations also fully staff with volunteers, children’s, youth, women’s and men’s auxiliaries. Each ward may have five to seven Sunday school classes which are also staffed by volunteers.

    The “volunteer” thing may sound a bit messy. One doesn’t actually volunteer, but the local bishop or auxiliary head prays, and in response to inspiration, calls a ward member to the particular calling such as Sunday school leader, youth leader, etc.

    There is no formal training for any of these callings except what is provided by manuals and on the job training (and a lot of prayer).

    Though the Mormons have a very significant investment in chapels, there is little or no expense for formal seminaries and salaries at the local level. (The Church does provide an early morning and, in some places, released time seminary/religious instruction for high school students and the teachers there are paid.)

  • William L. Harnist

    It is not only the “mainline” denominational churches, but also the so-called “non-denominational,” sometimes callled “evangelical churches that are suffering from the same maladies.

  • Wendy Laubach

    I also wonder about all that national admin staff, but I have to say that my little local Episcopal Church is not a bloated, expensive, overstaffed physical plant. The building is simple, old, and dignified, suitable for holding eucharist services for a fairly small congregation. Our annual budget is modest. No doubt our rector went through a good bit of formal study, but we appreciate the grounding it gave him in the Church’s teachings over the last 2,000 years.

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  • Joshua Hill

    some good thoughts here, but….


    I offer that the problem is not our model (which is not crap,but a statement of faith and expectation) so much as our lack of faith. This is reflected in the fact that almost none of us take tithing seriously.

    In a nation where money is sacred, there’s no more effective a way to learn Christianity than tithing. We must stand firm behind the tithe as our goal. We must create tasteful incentive structures in our parishes to reward tithing.

    The church should be big and powerful in order to stand in for those with no power. Let’s not give up on the vision of the kingdom, for Christ’s sake.

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  • DriveByLutheran

    Pastors should have at least a masters degree. The Hebrew term for “pastor” is “rabbi” or teacher. I would want an articulate and educated pastor for my church.

    However, it does not make sense for a seminary graduate to have $40,000 in student loans. If there were only a way to have seminary grads enter the ministry debt-free. Is this realistic?

  • J. Steadfast

    “Curious parishioners can get many of their religious and theological questions answered on line — just as Americans are turning to other sources for answers to legal and medical questions.”

    …but do they perform the procedures themselves?
    …act as their own legal council?

    just because they go and do some research, that just makes them better informed patients who can ask better questions…

  • JP Blickenstaff

    Thank you for speaking up. For my two cents: if a congregation is not led by the Holy Spirit and exhibiting the love of Christ, it is dead and full of dead works. Intellectualism tends to smother the Spirit with Man’s ideas and therefore the anti-intellectualism in people. Worshipers are seeking to worship a High and Holy God not some tinplated PC liberal idea. They are looking for the Awesome not the commonplace. If the leadership at whatever level does not seek to know God and does not lead that search, the seekers will leave and only the comfortable will remain in the pew.

  • Don Loritz

    But what will become of the non-profit tax exemptions churches enjoy? Should the government make tax-exempt every priest who has not attended seminary and every home that hosts a service on the Sabbath? There may be something to be said for this plan, but at the heart of both Luther’s churches and our churches is the fact that church and state have never been all that well separated. As a result, churches are often repositories of wealth (whether gold or holy cadavers of Bernie Madoff junk bonds). All this “holy crap” has monetary value, and that (often to our shame) has, in significant measure, made our churches what they are.

  • rev gene

    all these things must happen as we approach the last days until HE returns. ” having a form of Godliness yet denyning the power thereof”, seems to be at the heart of the issue. There will always be a holy remnant in the old structure calling prophetically to look out the sky is really falling. The form is tending to deny the power of it’s reason for existance. I recently left the employment of one of the most successful non profit Christian orgs in the world and their organizational structure exactly mirrored the US gov. in DC. They spent inordinate amounts of $$$ flying staff all over the country and never accomplished zip. The problem with all this crap is that it stinks because it is dead! Men, to the ministry and the word of God we don’t have much time left till all the angels come.

  • Great thoughts. Much of the religious trappings that surround the church are no only not helping to advance the mission of the church, they are in many ways impeding it.

    BTW, regarding the comment from Mr. Cannon:

    “a good, existing, model for Mead is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).”

    That would only be true if we were willing to abandon the Gospel. Plus, the mormons may not pay their clergy but they invest enormous sums in ornate “temples”, cattle ranches and shopping malls in Utah.

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  • I think what you are describing is happening already and the process will only accelerate. I also doubt denominations are capable of making the changes needed because what’s happening is basically the end of denominations–who works themselves out of a job? I have more thoughts at my blog:

    Thanks for this post!

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  • John

    So much in this article truly resonates with me, however, I have one reservation. I believe that our culture has over-democratized wisdom and education. The wisdom tradition of the Bible does and the university tradition of the church supports the need for a well educated leadership as well as one well formed morally and spiritually. Although I think we fail on the later, we do still try to do the first. Fundamentalism is a “flat” version of faith. This could vision of where religion should go could also become very flat intellectually, spiritually, morally.

  • Garth

    I agree with you on the over-professionalization of churches. One does wonder how people in the past managed to do so much more with (allegedly) so much less.

    However, I have to call you on one of your statements. If you’re going to take swipes at someone else’s religion, it would behoove you to get your facts straight: The ‘years’ attached to indulgences had nothing to do with the amount of “time off” from Purgatory. Rather they were a reference to years of penitential practice in the early Church. (Nowadays we’ve ditched ‘years’ to avoid this point of confusion.)

    A few seconds with Google can turn this up.

  • Lizette Larson-Miller

    I’m never sure what positive effect insulting various constituencies in the church actually causes, but the article does grab one’s attention. I would take issue with a number of things mentioned, but I bring two to bear on the “let’s dismantle the whole system.” One is, in spite of an agreement with the criticism of top-heavy administration, I think the last thing we need is an uneducated clergy. “Going on line” is not the answer, many people in current generations have no expertise in theology and related issues and want (and need) to have someone who is contextualized to ask the questions of and dialogue (and argue) with. Second, and perhaps more fundamentally, what is the ecclesiology, the actual theology of the body of Christ, in which these suggestions are to take place? This seems to be the product of a syncretistic and individualist spirituality that reflects not God but only ourselves – where is the prophetic challenge and the theological context?

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  • Ann

    Walter Russell Mead should look at the new models of ministry in Wyoming, Northern Michigan and other places in the Episcopal Church

  • It is clear to me that you have a point — the old structure is dying and will be replaced. One look around any major church will I think convince an impartial observer that this is going to be messy. The precise people that should go are the ones running the current structures. In places where the Episcopal Church is moving towards its very exciting “Total ministry” model, the diocese are facing the end of the old road. Everywhere else the professionals cling to the old structure because it is the only game they know.

    Revolution is a bloody business.



  • Morgan Hunt

    As thought-provoking as anything I’ve seen written about the Christian Church in a long, long time.

  • Meggan

    are you serious??? this is the kind of anti christ crap that is going to take us right into the end of days you sir are a known cult member and will not poison my mind JESUS is the one true god, and the only way into the kingdom of heaven your poison will not take my soul to HELL with yours!~!!! you need Jesus and i will pray for your soul

  • The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

    Very helpful, thoughtful and thought provoking — and EXACTLY in alignment with the work our vestry and staff were doing this very weekend on laying foundations now for the church of 2020. And quite the connection with this Sunday’s Gospel on recognizing that that at the end of the day if the tree doesn’t bear fruit, it needs to go. Thanks for the challenge and the opportunity presented by this reflection.

    Lenten Blessings!

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  • Dave Matz

    Interesting piece, but it raises several concerns, chief of which is this:

    If you break your arm, for example, you’d want to be treated by a professionally trained, qualified physician.

    If you need help with your taxes, you’d want to be assisted by a professionally trained, qualified financial consultant.

    If you’ve got a toothache, you’d want to see a professionally trained, qualified dentist.

    But in matters of the soul, you wouldn’t care if your pastor had seminary training or not? As long as the pastor is “on fire for the Lord”, that’s good enough??

    I would not attend a church which was pastored by someone who lacked mainline seminary training, regardless of that individual’s faith statement or people-skills.

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  • My blog doesn’t support trackbacks, but I added a blurb referencing this post. Very interesting commentary. I thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • Johannim

    “IN THE SPIRIT OF MARTIN LUTHER” oh ya the apostate Augustinian monk first and formost was a schismatic that rather than the likes of the gentle Francis of Assisi remained in and cleaned up a corrupt church martin luther rendered asunder the body of Christendom in the West a crime against God, his people and the Church that Christ established “the One, Holy Catholic and Orthodox Church. The worst part of martin luthers nature was his Jew hating rabid anti semitism, his sermons that encited million in their hatred of Jews, culminating in the 20th century Holocaust.If Anglicanism is in the spirit of martin luther it deserves to dissappear, after all was the first anglican POPE notcalled henry the 8th, all four hundred pounds of him and his legacy of murder and tyranny??? IN THE SPIRIT OF MARTIN LUTHER, GOD HELP US.

  • I’m impressed, I must say. Actually not often do I encounter a blog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you may have hit the nail on the head. Your concept is excellent; the problem is one thing that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very joyful that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

  • Glenda

    Best article yet that I have read to characterize the church decline. Goes along with the feeling that many people have that “less is more” and “keep it simple”. Instead, church government continues to make religion more expensive and complicated. The marketing, branding, licensing, copyright, publishing effort is a HUGE turn-off. And it’s much more efficient for me to go directly to a charity website to donate than funneling my money through your church budget.

  • that i find it difficult to waint to look glastonbury 2010, the nation’s about to function as a preferred festivity ever.

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