Speaking of stigma and churches, a pre-teen with cerebral palsy was booted out of a church “service” on Easter Sunday.

Later in the week, when the mother asked to start a ministry (she is resilient and blessed, for sure) for families with disabilities, she was turned down by the church, Elevation.

Elevation employees say the church focuses on worship, not ministries. And in a statement, a church spokeswoman said “it is our goal at elevation to offer a distraction-free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”

Funny how that works. Their focus in on “worship,” not ministries. Much can be said of just that little phrase. Their focus is on worship, by which they mean, “an experience of prolonged pleasure and ease which they find when they love God.” Or, as the church put it on their home page: “Elevation Church has a passion to see those far from God filled with life in Christ. It’s an explosive, phenomenal movement of God – something you have to see to believe.”

A few problems with this attitude are highlighted by this example:

1) You cannot love a God you cannot see yet fail to love the one nearby. It’s the very heart of Christianity. I’ve said so much about this topic, but it’s so crucial to what Christianity is supposed to be, and yet very nearly fails at much of the time. A humanist can love people without loving God. But a Christian cannot love God without loving his ikon, people.

And when people, who are already shunned by society, are shunned by our approach (or lack of approach) of dealing with those who are so visually broken, how can we claim to love them, or that we desire to see them “filled with life in Christ”?

Urban rejects - gone out and bought Ikeaphoto © 2008 Nonie | more info (via: Wylio)
2) This approach is indicative of the therapeutic worship mindset of contemporary American Christianity. We believe that God’s love for us means we get the finer things (for instance, a nice horse-drawn carriage for our wedding), that we don’t have to endure or even put up with suffering, that church service is an emotional session on the couch with our therapist, God*, that we can be rescued and delivered from not just evil, but evil’s touch. Which is why our end-times beliefs are so sacred in the American church, whereas orthopraxis is limited to warnings to our neighbors. We dream of being rescued from the hopeless sinners and from the effects of fallen and broken creation- especially from fallen and broken (and warped, and burned, and twisted, and frail, and barely literate, and loud, and ugly…) humanity.
The type of “service” that churches such as Elevation offers make us feel good for the time in its efforts to conjure up God. By “conjuring up God” I mean, “Conjuring up a feel-good, ‘spiritual’ experience.”
Yet, God showed up there. In that service. On Easter morning. Unexpectantly. But not silently.
And then God was physically moved to the overflow room.
God is present in community, in trials and tribulations, in the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the imprisoned… And these people ushered God from the sanctuary because God was a distraction to their meditation on God.
I searched a little bit further to see what Elevation says they believe about their fellow human beings. The words are right, for the most part. But their actions and their worship service show that these are just words, and they are failed.

Man is made in the image of God and is the supreme object of His creation. Man was created to have fellowship with God but became separated in that relationship through sinful disobedience. As a result, man cannot attain a right relationship with God through his own effort. Every human personality is uniquely created, possesses dignity, and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

“Every human personality (not sure what this means) is uniquely created (YES!), possesses dignity (I would argue that they are WORTHY of dignity, but ok), and is worthy of respect and Christian love.” This church, and every one of our churches that chooses to eschew out the poor, the hungry, the disturbed, has disobeyed this central tenet of Christianity: God is Love.

Now, as Rachel Held Evans points out the obvious floating question, How have I – myself – failed at this? How many times have I thought we shouldn’t have distractions in church? Smelly homeless, muttering old women holding on to the last vestiges of memory, mentally handicapped, screaming infants...

Don’t they bother me? Don’t I sometimes wish they were gone? Don’t I occasionally long for quiet solitude in the midst of the mass?

What are your thoughts?


*I actually don’t think that there’s something wrong about this approach inherently. The Holy Spirit is our counselor, God sometimes does console us and bathe us in love. And Jesus certainly welcomes us when no one else would, and forgives us when we can’t forgive ourselves, and sometimes heals us where the doctors can’t touch. That’s also a central part of Christianity. But the focus has become so self-centered that, well, we end up worshiping the worship experience as an end of worshiping ourselves.

9 thoughts on “Ikonoclast

  1. I don't post that link above to negate your main point, Jason. I do believe self-centered worship is a widespread problem and I think this whole situation might have been handled better. I just want to present another side to how we see the particulars regarding Elevation and the woman in question, that's all.

  2. First of all, thanks JMS for posting the link – I also like to hear all sides of any story. I still don't think that Elevation should be completely off the hook for their actions – neither that of the individual who ushered the boy out of the main church into the "overflow" room, nor the response of the leadership after the fact.In my opinion, the line about the church focusing on worship rather than ministries smells like BS to me, when a quick look at the church's website reveals that they offer the typical mainstream ministries (children, student, etc.) and other connection and outreach groups. The bottom line is this…if Jesus were in that church service, in the flesh, can we imagine him NOT being outraged about the injustice of a child being removed from the arena? This same Jesus who said, "let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these"? Apparently Luke forgot to mention the part where he said "…but only the perfect, healthy ones please." Jason, I love how you put it: "You cannot love a God you cannot see yet fail to love the one nearby." When will the church see that if we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we need to value the things that Jesus valued? As I read of this incident (both here and on the Ministry Matters blog) I couldn't help but think Great, they met their goal to "offer a distraction-free environment" to worship a Jesus they don't even understand.

  3. Part of why I love my church is that they are so accepting. We have a guy with partly-controlled schizophrenia who sits in the front row. And a kid who is in his own world who loves to make music – so he uses an electronic drum with earphones and plays along with the musicians.

  4. "it is our goal at elevation to offer a distraction-free environment for all our guests."I hadn't even noticed that phrase there before. It sounds more like everybody is a passive visitor – like a phrase used in entertainment and leisure. Interesting. Thanks for the thought, MaryO.

  5. " Great, they met their goal to "offer a distraction-free environment" to worship a Jesus they don't even understand."XACTLY, Rachel!I can't stress how often, though, I want the same experience. Oh, darned distractions distracting us with their distracting humanity and frailty. !!!! LOL

  6. "a kid who is in his own world who loves to make music – so he uses an electronic drum with earphones and plays along with the musicians."Sounds like worship to me, Anon. LOL

  7. James-Michael,Hey, post away. Personally, I was a bit offended by the tone of the article (as you well know). But I thought the first commentator really provided perspective that many of us are missing. And besides, it's not like I'm just finding fault with this one church. It's a systemic problem – but elevation just happened to provide a (im)perfect example of everything that's wrong with the contemporary state of the American church (not contemporary worship services, mind you. Or mega churches, per se. The problem is seen in small and mid-sized churches. And, I venture, house churches as well).

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