The Demise of the Religious Rock Star and Rise of the Village
by Becky Garrison
Marketing driven PR blitzes like the Rob Bell “Love Wins” campaign notwithstanding, my ongoing pilgrimage that I began in Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ chronicles the demise of the author/speaker religious rock star show. In fact, when I was sitting in the press section for Rob Bell’s New York City show, I noticed there was still some available seating in this 812 seat auditorium. Also, the massive Bell v Piper battles waged by their respective camps seem to has died down.
Throughout my travels, I keep hearing from folks how moved they were the first time they heard (insert name of latest holy hipster here). But upon repeated viewings, they noticed that these self-appointed leaders became more focused on marketing their message instead of exploring where the spirit might be speaking. (One could conclude that it doesn’t matter what they believe but rather what they can sell to the missional masses.) In the process, their original voice became American Idolized and they keep hitting the same holy notes until eventually their followers tune out.
International missiologist Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi) predicted the end to the Christian Conference carnival back in 2008. He reflects, “Let’s move away from celebrity based speaker-fests towards something that is relational, communal, sustainable, accessible and worthwhile. Using homes, kitchens, couches, campgrounds may sound terribly invasive to some who would rather pop into a Sheraton and go home again but a conference should and is an opportunity to experience church on a deep level. The recession might open the door for this to happen.
Toward the end of Jesus Died for This? I started seeing Tall Skinny’s predictions come true as I witnessed this implosion of grassroots communities exploring what it means to be the church in the 21st century. In particular, I was struck how the US and UK Anglican emerging stream that the Rev. Karen Ward brought over to the US started to pick up momentum and was in becoming a river. But could this new water actually birth new forms of church that went beyond cool candle church and quasi-queer friendly holy hipsterdom into producing truly inclusive communities that strove to welcome all into the body of Christ?
Gatherings like Episcopal Village confirm my hunch that there’s a strong desire to move away from the attractional model of church that’s looking for the “next big thing” and go deeper. Ancient wisdom proclaims: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Episcopal Village, a grassroots community and initiative, resourcing Episcopal dioceses, parishes and leaders for emerging/fresh expression mission with an Anglican ethos and ‘village’ (diocesan approach) was formed to explore applying this wisdom to the Church.
Jon Myers (a postulant and pioneer missioner in the Diocese of Olympia), who is planting Beacon Hill Church in South Seattle reflects on why he decided to co-envision Episcopal Village along with the Rev. Karen Ward, founding church planter of Church of the Apostles.
On March 5th, a group of Episcopal lay and ordained leaders gathered in Boston for Episcopal Village’s third learning party. During a pre-event gathering at Episcopal Divinity School, The Rev. Ian Mobsby, missioner with the London based community Moot, asked if in this post-secular culture how the church can reach those in who would describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.
My role in this was to conduct a series of interviews with a selection of New England based church planters focusing on street ministries and intentional communities of young adults and moderate a panel of emerging church pioneers. The feedback indicated that this shift away to a more relational model really helped to connect those who participated in this event with the stories in a way that’s not possible in the typical author/speaker power point presentations. As I’ve indicated on my website, I’d like to encourage this model whereas a writer functions more as a storyteller to report on what they’ve discovered instead of placing themselves in the center ring of the Christian circus.
What emerged from this interactive event was an Anglicanism that could connect with those spiritual seekers who have been burned by religion. Yet they still feel this desire to seek out something beyond themselves which they find by connecting to an aphophatic theology grounded in ritual.
Those looking to learn more about some of these communities should check out Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition edited by Steven Croft, Ian Mobsby and Stephanie Spellers and my book Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-Shaped Ministries on a Shoestring.
Episcopal Bishops and Dioceses interested in sponsoring an Episcopal Village Mission Event, sending Pioneers for Missioner Training, or the new School for Congregational Mission (SCM) can contact the Rev. Karen Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.