a rant by a runt about the american church, part 1

in the december 1974 issue of the wittenburg door (cover: woody allen named theologian of the year), mike yaconelli, the late founder of youth specialties, interviewed himself about a planned move away from youth specialties to being a small town pastor (he ended up not leaving ys, and started doing both). here’s an excerpt from that ‘interview’:

mr. y.: mike, the wittenburg door has learned through informed sources that you are leaving youth specialties. is that correct?
mike: yes, it is.
mr. y.: in light of this development, even though you are a close personal friend, i’d like to ask you some hard questions.
mike: go right ahead.
mr. y: why are you leaving youth specialties?
mike: if you have read my articles in the wittenburg door in the past few years, you would have noticed my rather strong disillusionment with the organized institutional church. it has been very difficult to be optimistic in the face of a structure that has allowed the american culture to define it. by that i mean it continues to espouse a theology and practice that has been culturalized to the point of impotence. the ‘liberal’ response has been to emphasize a weak social platform based on an anemic social gospel while the ‘evangelicals’ have countered with a sentimental doctrinal isolationism. both are repugnant. both are so structuralized that change is almost impossible. that, in very general terms, is the source of my disillusionment.
mr. y.: wow. would you like to say more?
mike: well, yes, thank you. i use the word disillusionment purposely. i could have used disgust, disdain, or rejection. but disillusionment suggests shattered expectation or better a frustrated hope. because i’ve always had hope for the church. i love it. i need it. and although most of my critics read my criticism of the church as dishonest camouflage of my own inadequacies, god seems to have taken me seriously and called my hand….

in the summer of 2004, i gave a seminar at the greenbelt festival in england, called “don’t listen to US: spiritual junk from the states you don’t want to import”. i presented a modified version of that seminar at our youth workers convention in argentina this past september. then, i presented “a rant from a runt on where the church is falling short” at all three national youth workers conventions this fall. several have asked me to post the content of this seminar. so this post is the first of a 10-part series.

Some really critical preliminary stuff:

1. i absolutely love the church. my life calling, deep in my bones and soul and mind and heart, is to serve the church. as such, my comments about where we might be missing the mark are not shots across the bow of a church i have walked away from. quite the contrary, i’m sticking in there with the church and will do whatever god allows me to do to challenge, serve, encourage and course-correct, for the rest of my life.

2. this perspective (as i’ve described in the previous point) has been part of the DNA of youth specialties for a very long time – as you can see in the 1974 yaconelli quote above. i think this is a big part of why i was drawn to ys. i want to change the church, because i love the church. and i think youth ministry is one of the best avenues for bringing that change.

3. i am tired of rants against “those” people. this is a particularly common theme in blogland. this rant is not against “those” people. i’m pointing the finger at myself. ys has played a role in creating, or at least encouraging, some of these problems. i, personally, have played a role; and continue to do so. i’m pointing my small, rather powerless, finger at me, and at us — not them (whoever ‘they’ might be).

4. i realize that many of these problems or tendancies are not unique to the american church. some are more than others. but this is stuff i see us exporting — and that is a great concern.

5. there are a crazy wide variety of churches in america. any generalization i make has exceptions. i’m talking about what i call ‘the pop-culture church’: mostly-conservative evangelicalism, the kind of church we see in mega-churches and TV and popular Christian publishing. the pop-culture church is the church that has the most influence in american culture, that gets the most attention from american media, and does the most exporting to other cultures. that said: i am part of the pop-culture church! so, again, this is not about ‘them’ — it’s about me and us.

next, in part 2: what’s unique about us americans that might give us a hint as to why the church is the way it is?

23 thoughts on “a rant by a runt about the american church, part 1”

  1. a 10-part series ? what are you, rick burns ? zola levitt ?


    can’t wait to hear what my fav runt says – loved catching the GB version of this

  2. marko… looking forward to journeying with you through all ten parts. hope it prompts some good discussion here. it would/will benefit us all.

    just curious… how was it received when you did it all the YS conventions? Give me percentages that add to 100%…

    “Loved it, preach on brother!” = %
    “It was good, but I’m in here because Field’s seminar was closed” = %
    “Kind of agree, kind of dont” = %
    “You are a shorter man than I thought you’d be” = %
    “Dude, I hated this seminar, feel that you are way off base, and think you are a brat” = %

    Just curious on how you felt it was received…

  3. funny question, john! well, the evals were fairly positive in all three cities. and i didn’t have too much antagonism in the Q&A time (actually thought i would, but didn’t). the size varied greatly in the three cities — the first and last were in the early-bird slot, which is traditionally large, whereas the pitts seminar was mid-weekend.

  4. I enjoyed it. I think you mentioned some of this stuff before though (In a Late Nite Forum perhaps in Atlanta?)

    The Yaconelli Interview is classic – almost Pre-Emergent yet …said some to me and where I am at. Wish that Interview was in The Door Interviews edited by Mike Yaconelli. Perhaps there should be a revision and updated version? or a Classic Door issues book put out?

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  15. hey umm thanks marko If I’d known you were going to post the seminar on line like this It might of saved me some elbow grease. Yup! my sem. prof. Marv Penner got me to take notes on your this same seminar for my course this past fall… So now he’s got something to compare my chicken scratch to. So umm thanks Actually. This was a super seminar and i just listened to it on CD so… I hope to take in the big show in Anaheim next year with some of my staff so look out.

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