David Fitch, who has constantly been a helpful voice in this EMC conversation, recently wrote a good post on this issue referencing to Zizek's "decaffeinated belief:"
Zizek argues that when we say “I enjoy my religion” this implies that I don’t take it TOO seriously. For we really don’t want to take it too seriously (this is what the fundamentalists do according to Zizek). We keep it at a distance so to appear to be a Christian with all of it comforts and accoutrements yet not requiring any great disruption to a comfortable way of life. This distance, between the subject and the Symbolic Order, is what allows the subject’s Christianity (or religion) to be subsumed by the existing order.The existing order that controls Western culture is the power of the spectacle produced by consumer culture. We commodify everything including our faith. Sunday becomes about receiving religious goods. Pastors are recognizing this growing trend and
…agree that a growing number of worshipers are talking or sitting through the congregational singing writing notes during the special music, showing up 10-15 minutes late, not worried about interrupting anything or anyone. One pastor shared that a congregant stopped attending worship opting to stay home and worship with a church on television. When asked about this, the congregant responded, “Why does it matter where I watch the service?” Another pastor commented that people treat everything in the service as if it were a movie preview and it is not until the feature presentation (the sermon) that people really start paying attention. Or in other churches with a more contemporary style of worship a pastor stated, “Once the ‘concert’ is over, they just settle in waiting for a sermon.”Most church plants are in the business of Christian reconfiguration, they steal Christians from churches in the area instead of leading people to faith (and this is NOT an overstatement). My growing concern for the "emerging church" is that it preys on the sensabilities of its consumer culture, thus utilizing culture uncritically or being used by culture.
The power of consumer culture and the commodification of everything is that religious seekers can take objects, beliefs, and pieces of traditions and lift them out of their context to be used in whatever way they like. They can have their cake and eat it too, because they simply cut off the baggage from where those traditions arose.
In some respects, I believe this weakens the ability of emerging churches to form people for Kingdom work, because the main tool for combatting commodification is immersion in a religious community who emphasizes its deep religious tradition (baggage and all) for the formation of disciples. I know this is a generalization, but emerging churches are heavily influences by the culture of consumerism because they tend to be planted by those on the cutting edge of consumer culture.
Of course, I've excluded from this conversation "seeker churches," who attract people to church Sunday mornings by having a great rock show and a funny preacher (because I'm sympathetic to EMC). Sunday morning should be about formation:
Deep traditions like lectio divina, intentional community, monastic practices, authenticity, and vulnerability are all very important, but so are the communities, traditions, and histories they have grown up in. Much of the EMC conversation is reactionary and deconstructive (which is fine, I understand), but there is something unhealthy about simply cutting ties with communities of faith that tend to have baggage because they've been around for 50, 100, or 150 years. Of course, this critique works in the inverse. Communities with baggage need to be listening to churches who are concerned about doing and being church differently.
I think this is a mistake. For the missional church communities require a regular practice for the shaping and forming of a people into the Life with God, the Mission of God. Missional people do not grow on trees. If then we would see people formed into the Missio Dei we must order our worship so as to be encountered by the living God. We must learn how to preach not as information but as proclamation and invite people into the Mission. The real presence at the Table must be the center of our gathering, our lives and our community. If we would see people formed into the Missio Dei, our gatherings must take on liturgical shape, a way of inviting people into the prayers, confessions and affirmations of the alive relationship we have with the living God of Mission. We must learn how to listen, interpret Scripture for what God is doing among us and in the world, hear God and then respond to God. This should be the character of our Sunday morning gatherings.
This kind of gathering should be both easier and harder to plan than any kind of programming approach we have hitherto been used to. It should be simpler and less focused on excellence of performance. It should not cost near as much in time, resourses and planning. It should be able to be done in a living room with three to thirty people or in a larger sanctuary with 200. Yet this kind of gathering takes more discernment of the Spirit, theological wisdom, historical sensitivity than we have been used to in the protestant church of our evangelical past (we haven’t paid attention to theology of worship in evangelical church). This way can lead us out of the wilderness of decaffeinated worship.
My main concern though, is that churches critically engage culture so that contextualization is healthy (meaning the gospel doesn't get subsumed or overpowered by the culture). Our culture is a product of late capitalism, consumerism, and commodification; so we need traditions and narratives that will equip us to live counterculturally. We need Sunday mornings baggage and all to be unenjoyable, uncomfortable, and formative.
If you've made it this far, you might also be interested in Fitch's conversation over the epistemology of missiology and ecclesiology.