AFFINITY CHURCHES - EVANGELISM OR ESCAPISM?
By Paul Proctor
August 27, 2008
It would appear that affinity churches have become the new chic in Sunday services. The two most recent examples I found in the news have Christian worshippers in cowboy hats on horses meeting in riding arenas or wearing tattoos and leather straddling motorcycles at Sturgis.
In an L.A. Times article titled Cowboying up for Jesus, E.A. Torriero, with the Chicago Tribune, reported the following:
Wearing a white cowboy hat and preaching atop his horse Coby, Pastor Steve Hamson gives a modern-day meaning to "sermon on the mount." With a Bible in one hand and reins in the other, Hamson strikes the fear of God in his parishioners -- more than a dozen of them listening on horseback in a humid riding arena.
The cowboys put their hats over their hearts when Hamson prays for those who are missing because they "had to do hay."
Men chew tobacco and the horses kick at the ground. And no one minds. This, after all, is cowboy church.
Then there was a story from The Tennessean by Bob Smietana titled Motorcycle ministries roll to share God's love, about the elder of a local Christian biker group whose chosen church attire includes torn jeans a black sleeveless shirt and leather vest � an outfit that obviously complements his tattooed shoulders, Fu Manchu mustache and Harley Davidson:
"These are my church clothes," said Drake, while sitting on the porch of his home in Mt. Juliet on Tuesday, drinking coffee and talking about Jesus.
Drake is the newly appointed elder of the Middle Tennessee chapter of Bikers for Christ, one of a growing number of motorcycle ministries popping up around the state and nationwide. Some are riding clubs, aimed at bringing weekend warriors to church while others try to reach hardcore motorcycle clubs like Hell's Angels.
At first glance, this sort of thing might seem harmless and even a clever way of attracting certain individuals to church who might otherwise not show any interest. Using a favorite hobby, theme, pastime or lifestyle as an eye-catching novelty or motif to lure in likeminded prospects is certainly not a new concept � especially among seeker-sensitive churches. It obviously attracts a lot of attention, excitement and enthusiasm and encourages participation � but to what end?
If the pastor of either church did an alter call from a Harley or a horse and invited those gathered to come ride for Jesus, what would they be coming for � the recreation, the relationships or the Redeemer? And if a member�s bike breaks down or their horse founders, what then becomes of their worship, service, faith and fellowship?
I�ve known people over the years who attended church primarily for the music they offered; and when they lost their favorite music minister to another who had a different style or emphasis, their faith was shipwrecked. It was as if they were unable to function as a follower of Christ without a certain kind of music or performance to inspire them. You might say they were musical Christians; and when the music stopped, so did their worship and witness.
If you consider the long-term implications and shortcomings of a designer church, I believe the fruit it produces might prove to be inconsistent with the intent of scripture and even counterproductive to the cause of Christ as evidenced by a �Christian� motorcycle gang out in California called the Set Free Soldiers who recently had a half-dozen of its members arrested on �suspicion of attempted murder� in a Newport Beach bar brawl with the Hells Angels.
Of course, that�s a rare and extreme example; but the inherent pride and misplaced priorities of such high-profile groups should at least cause us enough concern to give them a second look and not just take them at face value.
Before I go any further, let me just add that I have spent enough of my adult life around cowboys and bikers to safely say I don�t have an aversion to either; but in reality, claim friends and family from among both groups. In fact, I own a Harley myself and made my living in Country Music until about 10 years ago. So, you might say, I am reasonably familiar with both lifestyles. Even still, I don�t throttle my hog to bible study each week in hopes of attracting other bikers � nor do I saddle up for Sunday services wearing Wranglers, ropers and a Resistol.
Jesus didn�t die on a cross to make me a Paul-like Christian � but rather a Christ-like Paul. A Paul-like Christian brings Jesus with him into his own interests and activities. A Christ-like Paul surrenders to Jesus and follows Him wherever He leads.
Our churches today seem to be filling up with people who have merely made Christianity a part of their lives, instead of Jesus their Lord.
As I understand the Christian faith, we are not called to graft Jesus and His followers into our colorful and adventurous lives in order to make the church look more like us or the crowd with whom we choose to run. Instead, we ought to be grafted into His Life and run with those who truly love and follow Him in spite of our own personal preferences. Before joining an affinity church, maybe we should ask ourselves just who it is we�re trying to identify with � Jesus Christ or a Jesus clique?
I haven�t found anything in the New Testament that encourages Christians to refashion the church from the outside in into something more culturally relevant or aesthetically appealing to the lost. There are, however, numerous scriptures that warn us about loving, befriending and imitating the world and its ways. My understanding is that we are to be transformed from the inside out by the power of His Holy Spirit and the study of His Word � to be less like our sinful, selfish and silly selves and more like our sinless, sober and self-sacrificing Savior.
Did Jesus dress up like a Pharisee and adorn Himself with frontlets and phylacteries in order to attract attention and identify with the overtly religious? Isn�t that what the religious leaders would have preferred � that He look and act more like them? No, the Lord came without costume or comeliness and called them to repent, telling Nicodemus that he must be born again!
And did Jesus follow Simon Peter and his brother Andrew out to sea to make them more effective Christian fishermen � or did He call them out of their boats and away from their nets to follow Him and become fishers of men?
You see, there is a very important distinction here about the Christian life that seems to have escaped the 21st century church. Does this mean Simon Peter and Andrew never cast another net? Certainly not; but their values and priorities were drastically changed along with their lives � and they were never the same again.
Think about that the next time you see the term �Christian� preface a particular organization, group or pastime and ask yourself who it is they are really following, promoting and identifying with.
I was reminded of something very important last Sunday as my church celebrated the Lord�s Supper. After taking the communion cup commemorating the shed blood of Christ, it occurred to me that Jesus didn�t pour the contents of that cup over the heads of His disciples in the upper room as if to symbolically bathe them in it. Instead, He had them drink it because the filth, wickedness and vanity that need His cleansing blood, come not from without, but from within.
�Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.� � Matthew 23:28