Category: church growth


Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at www.christianpiatt.com. You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Peace,
Christian Piatt

 

 

Here’s an interview I did recently with Zachary Bailes of the website, “Crazy Liberals…and Conservatives.” We talked about the State of the Christian Left and much that faces organized religion in a challenging century ahead.

Listen as I interview Christian Piatt author of Banned Questions About the Bible and forthcoming book Banned Questions About Jesus.We discuss the power of questions, progressive Christianity, and the need to share your narrative.
Listen. Enjoy. Engage. Respond.
Link to the original page and podcast:
**On another note you may purchase either volume at Chalice Press for 40% off through June 30, 2011. Use coupon code bannedqj. If this offer is extended you will be notified.

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A little more than twenty years ago, I walked out of a church for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. For a decade, I held to that assumption, but it turns out that God works, even among us heretics.

I’m not going to lean on the whole “everything happens for a reason” cliche because I don’t believe everything does happen for a reason. But the fact that I’m a presenter in Nashville at the New Evangelism Workshop (NEW) on Friday, July 8th and Saturday the 9th with my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt is enough to convince me that God can use nearly anything for good.

What’s most interesting to me is that my entire ministry has ended up being built upon those years I walked away from church. What once appeared to be my stumbling block is now the cornerstone. God is good, and God has a pretty sick sense of humor.

Anyway, if you’re going to be in or around Nashville, TN on July 8-9th, come check out what is sure to be an exciting two days of folks coming together in conversation to discuss and discern just how the church can be relevant in a 21st century world. We’ll be joined by folks like Bill Easum, Bill and Kris Tenny-Brittian, Heather Patriacca Tolleson, Geoffrey McClure Mitchell, Wayne Calhoun, Bill McConnell, Gary Straub, Dick Hamm and lots of others who will come together to share what they have learned about this common mission.

CLICK HERE FOR A FULL ROSTER OF PRESENTERS AND REGISTRATION INFO

As for Amy and me, we’re sticking to what we know best: teaching people how to learn from our mistakes. Seven years into a new church start, we’re alive, well and vibrant, but the road was rife with Strategic IEDs. If we can help others find a smoother path by sharing some from our host of screw-ups, far be it from us to let our egos interfere.

Also, if you’re part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and will be attending the General Assembly in Nashville following the NEW, come check out the groovy Missional Church learning track facilitated by Brian McLaren, Sharon Watkins, Amy, myself and others. We’ll talk about what “emerging church” or “missional church” actually mean, why they matter and what it means for our work as ministers. The setting will be dynamic, interactive and enriching, I’m sure.

CHECK OUT MORE ON THE MISSIONAL CHURCH LEARNING TRACK AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY HERE

Hope to see many of you there.
Peace,
Christian

I’m happy to let you know that both BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS are available for pre-order on Chalice Press’ website. The BIBLE book will be shipped later next month, and the JESUS book in June.

Here’s a link to both books on the Chalice site:
http://www.chalicepress.com/search.aspx?k=banned%20questions

You can also go to www.chalicepress.com and search the keywords “Banned Questions” if the link doesn’t work.

If you order either or both books between now and the end of February, you can get 40% off of the cover price by entering the discount code “Banned QB” when prompted. It’s not until closer to the end of checkout that this pops up, so don’t worry if you don’t see it right away. There is no limit on the number of copies for which this discount applies, and you can share this code with other folks interested in pre-order.

Also, note that you will not be billed for the books until they ship, but you still get the discount for ordering in advance.

Next, I’m excited to let you know that, so far we have endorsements from both A.J. Jacobs and Brian McLaren! Very cool to have bestselling authors behind the project.

And finally, keep an eye out for an upcoming promotion that Chalice may be running to give away a few of these books prior to release date.

Thanks for your interest in, and support of, the BANNED QUESTIONS series. I can’t wait to hear what you all think of the books, and in the meantime, please help spread the word on your Facebook pages, blogs, podcasts, etc about this special promotion.

You can check out the article online and more about this great magazine at www.sojo.net

Can I Get A Witness?

Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics, edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, Brandon Gilvin. Chalice Press.
Reviewed Jess O. Hale Jr.

In the U.S. it seems almost every policy matter gets entangled in a war of partisan politics from which little emerges, too often only a shadow of what is needed. Just look at the results of health-care reform, immigration, and climate/energy initiatives.

With anger from the tea parties — and to a lesser extent the left — challenging both Republican and Democratic politicians, political ferment bewilders and frustrates many citizens of Christian faith who seek the welfare of the city in which they dwell. We do not find a deliberative democracy. Instead, people speaking out of a faith perspective to issues of national importance, such as health reform, are frequently vilified as partisan, even if those outside the partisan and media echo chambers would consider their participation quite tepid.

To speak to this poisoned atmosphere, Split Ticket’s Amy Gopp and her fellow editors have assembled several often powerful essays from faithfully committed 20- and 30-somethings. They sketch a response from younger voices to the challenge of living faithfully as Christians in a broadly conceived politics in American society. As a 50-something in public service, I found this effort to be both powerful and encouraging.

From a progressive yet distinctly nonpartisan perspective, the editors have brought together essays covering a spectrum of policy issues — including health care, gay marriage, immigration, human trafficking, and abortion. Their concerns of method touch on the morality of voting, the theology of empire, and the role of clergy in policy advocacy. In these essays, evangelicals and theological liberals make a common cause seeking faithful politics. Marches, liturgy, legislator visits, and many of the other tools of community and political organizing naturally give expression to these efforts. Men, women, Asians, Latinos, African Americans, gay and straight people — they are all part of this conversation.

Although geared for young adults and a popular audience, the voice of rank and file lay folks regrettably does not find a significant place (oh, for a William Stringfellow!), as the contributors are mostly seminary-trained clergy. Also, I yearned for the honest reflections of at least one young public servant or politician.

A few chapters stand out. Amy Gopp writes of her experience with an interfaith choir in Bosnia, wrenchingly showing us that Christians must embody the practices of peace, reconciliation, and justice that will allow a politics of shared community. Kharma Amos laments the lack of connections that many activists make between “their issue” and the broader spectrum of justice issues, yet curiously she does not seem to contemplate that coalitions within political parties are one way of making those connections. Former lobbyist Kat Banakis makes real the notion behind the Greek word politeuomai as “live out your political life,” because politics matters as a part of the prayer and work of Christians. In “Exodus,” Brandon Gilvin poetically captures the tragedy of trafficking.

Making clear the necessity of a faithful Christian witness to the politics of our time, Split Ticket argues for one that naturally flows out of the embrace of both God’s love and justice. It expresses an independent faith for our partisan times — but it fails to go the last mile to discuss the prudent politics that employs negotiation to bring in at least half a loaf. In the civil rights movement, the black church brought along other people of faith and joined politicians who practiced their craft to enact laws that brought some real fruit of justice to American society. Today, politicians will still have to exercise their craft — but can our faithful witness bring forth a similarly fruitful politics in our more partisan times?

Perhaps Split Ticket’s voices are willing to leave the political end game to the working out of God’s wisdom. However, while effectiveness is not the final word on our work in God’s eyes, a polis where there will not be infants that live but a few days (Isaiah 65:20) is God’s kingdom. For the hope of that polis, I look forward to where the political witness of Gopp and her compatriots takes us.

Jess O. Hale Jr. is an attorney who attends Eastwood Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

Do we even need religion any more?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no secret that organized religion in America has slipped dramatically in the public eye during the past several decades. Though just as many people claim to have some sort of faith in a higher power, since the 1970s we’ve witnessed a steady decline in church attendance.

This isn’t exactly the case across the board. Large churches, with membership over 500 people, are still pretty strong overall, and the more conservative evangelical churches tend to maintain their bases of folks more than the moderate, so-called
“mainline” churches.

There are a handful of reasons why this downward trend has continued for nearly two generations. First, an increasingly mobile population, held together more by technology than by geography, has dissolved many of the physical, social centers that helped make up communities in the past. After all, why go through the painstaking effort of getting the whole family out of bed and dressed when you can just hit folks up on Facebook, or Skype grandma, who now lives more than a thousand miles away?

Second, there’s been a pervasive suspicion of all things institutional that took hold particularly around the Watergate/Vietnam era. Prior to this, most people held something of an inherent trust of the systems of governance and authority, assuming they had the best interests of the general public at heart. But with the scandals, protests and violence of the ’60s and early ’70 came a cynicism about powerful institutions that we’ve never shaken since, and, perhaps, with good reason.

Add to this the breakneck speed of the distribution of information and the lack of filters to contain and/or verify what’s true and what’s garbage before it reaches consumers. On one hand, this explosion of the information age has democratized the information-sharing process; on the other, it’s created more opportunities for gossip, scandal exposes and even outright slander.

The all-seeing eye of the interconnected world misses little these days, and there few things that it loves than watching the mighty fall, especially when there’s also sex involved. So when ministers are caught getting a massage with benefits or predatory priests are found to be molesting boys, it’s sure to make headlines.

Some folks assume that early Christianity was all about establishing churches, but the institution we now see as organized religion didn’t come along until much later. Jesus himself didn’t spend much time in the synagogues, opting instead for small gatherings in homes and traveling the countryside to talk with whomever he came across.
It wasn’t until three centuries later when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the empire that the community of believers began to seriously get both organized and powerful. Though Constantine’s motives for converting to Christianity are arguable, most historians believe the move was more about consolidating power than it was about his faith.

Over the following centuries, the powerful combination of church and state helped spread Christianity to all corners of the world – often at the point of a sword – while the church willingly sanctioned the conquest of nations by rulers who claimed fidelity to the church. It was a convenient, if unsavory, marriage.

So, given the fact that the earliest church was more of a movement than an institution, and considering that, later, the real strength of the institutional church was built upon the backs of millions it forced into claiming loyalty, perhaps the institutional church as it stands actually is a bastardized version of what an otherwise peaceful and life-giving community of faith had to offer.

What if, after all the time, money and effort that’s gone into propping up our religious institutions, it’s actually those very institutions that are keeping communities of faith from doing the real work of positive social change to which they’re called?

In the end, every faith community has to continually take its own pulse, asking if the effort and resources being expended are primarily intent on keeping a building or power structure in place, or if those institutions and systems are, as they ideally should be, simply a means to a greater end.

Meanwhile, house churches and loosely networked faith groups continue to spring up, much like the seeds of early Christianity before religious barons ever thought about buildings, polity, conquest or empire. Many would see the collapse of the institutional church as we now know it as a failure of faith and humanity. But what if, after all the dust settled, we were left with something more genuinely focused on mission rather than on institutionality?

It’s hard to comprehend now, but perhaps we’re witnessing an evolution of human faith, shedding one older, rigid skin for a more pliable, adaptable one. Regardless, humanity’s resolve to maintain belief in something greater than itself has endured far worse than a weakened system of authority and some crumbling buildings. We’ll continue to seek an understanding of the divine, with or without the church.

WHERE’S THE FAITH ?

New series of books tackles questions, issues that challenge young Christians

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/JOHN JAQUES Pueblo author Christian Piatt talks about a series of books he is collaborating on with a variety of authors from throughout the country.

Have you ever questioned the believability of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Ever wondered why, if Mary conceived as a virgin, the Bible traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph?

Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and many others about the Bible or Jesus, but never discussed them with other Christians — and certainly never in church.

That’s what gave local author/editor Christian Piatt and partner Brandon Gilvin the idea for WTF (Where’s the Faith), a series of books that pose such questions to a wide variety of religious, agnostic, social justice and other leaders and thinkers — some of them well-known in religious and spiritual circles. The books are published by Chalice Press. Gilvin is the associate director of Week of Compassion, an international relief and aid ministry of the national Disciples of Christ organization, based in Kansas City, Mo.

The books are aimed primarily at young adults — a demographic that churches are struggling to hold onto as their congregations dwindle in all age brackets.

The first book in the series, “OH God, Oh GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality,” was released earlier this year and provides “honest and open dialogue about the beauty and gift of sexuality while understanding it in a mature way, including the risks and consequences” but without the moral and doctrinal overtones of most Christian books on the topic, Piatt said.

He and Gilvin edited the book, and Piatt contributed an essay about abortion.

Two more books, which address questions that many Christians ponder but rarely explore  in depth or among each other, will be published next year — the first, “Banned Questions about the Bible,” in February and the second, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” in August 2011.

All of the books “take a more emergent-church approach. There’s no focus on denominations or creeds so much as on content and providing a variety of information, including other sources to study, to help people make up their own minds. We’re trying to present multiple perspectives so people can choose for themselves. It’s about seeking your own understanding of various issues through prayerful seeking, and trusting that if you take the first step, God will meet you halfway and help you find the answers you’re seeking,” Piatt said.

“Churches are dying everywhere, and I believe it’s because there’s been a disconnect between the lives of most people and what they hear in church on Sunday.

“These books are intended to break down the taboo of ‘We don’t talk about that in church.’ In a healthy church, there should be no boundaries, no limitations about what is explored. We’re supposed to bring our whole, human selves to the church and to our faith.”

Another book due out this August, “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” addresses the interconnectedness of faith and politics and explores how Christians can be part of the process without violating their faith or turning their backs on social justice issues and the political process for fear of conflict. Piatt is a contributor as well as co-editor of this volume.

“You People: Faith and Race,” will follow “Split Ticket.” All of the finished books are available through the Chalice Press website or its catalogs, at Amazon.com or through Piatt’s website. Some also are available by special order online from Barnes & Noble and smaller national booksellers, and all are stocked at Cokesbury Christian book stores nationwide. The works in progress will be as well after publication.

Piatt, who founded Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church six years ago with his wife, Amy, who is pastor there, said the “Oh God” book already has sold more than 1,500 copies — to individuals and to churches that are using them in youth groups and young-adult book-study groups.

“The content is heavy enough that we wouldn’t recommend just throwing these books in a teen’s lap and saying ‘have at it.’ It needs to be navigated with the help of an adult leader,” Piatt said.

Despite brisk sales and many positive reviews in Christian and mainline publications, negative reaction from some conservative Christian groups has surfaced, too, Piatt said, but his response is always the same: “Why is it that sexuality can’t be discussed in the context of faith unless the whole focus is abstinence, which we all know doesn’t work?”

He gets few responses to that question, he said, and doesn’t worry about the criticism because “the people who react that way aren’t the target audience for our books.”

The same critics no doubt will see the “banned questions” books, and “Split Ticket,” as too frank and “not nice,” he predicts.

“But we believe it’s more important to be authentically relevant than it is to be nice. Jesus wasn’t always nice. He challenged the status quo and he didn’t tolerate injustice. He encouraged frank discussion about difficult issues. But some Christians can’t tolerate controversy or confrontation at all, and others only get involved — often in an angry, intolerant way — with all the things they are against.”

Piatt said he and his partner in the WTF series, and authors who contributed responses to questions or essays — despite their widely divergent religious beliefs — “all believe that our responsibility is to get actively involved in these things we’re afraid to talk about” so that younger Christians, especially, will be more inclined to form deeper commitments to their faith and to service than to abandon their church, or religion altogether. They can only do that if they’ve reached their own conclusions rather than having beliefs force-fed to them.

At the end of life, Piatt said, what will matter most is not how many souls someone has “saved” or how many foreign missions were conducted, or how big and beautiful the church is because believers were willing to give cash but not their time.

What Jesus will want to know of every individual, he said, is “What did you do for the poor, for the oppressed, for the imprisoned — for ‘the least among us’?”

Doing nothing, he said, only condones the suffering and injustices that humans inflict upon each other.

“Not getting engaged, not dealing with these issues, is not an option if you consider yourself a person of faith.”

For more information about the WTF series, upcoming books, or past titles by Piatt, go to: www.christianpiatt.com, which also provides links to videos of Piatt and some of the other authors and a link to his blog.

We have folks ask us all the time what worship is like at Milagro. And although we usually podcast Amy’s sermons on the church podcast, we don’t usually record the whole service.

But since it was Easter, we decided to do the whole thing, edited down for time, and share it here:

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com

Let us know what you think, or better yet, come join us some Sunday morning.

For more about Milagro, visit www.milagrocc.org.

Peace,
Christian

Smells Like Spirit
Is faith hiding in the closet?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

For a long time in American history, it’s been relatively taboo to admit you’re an atheist, or even an agnostic. In some ways, the bias favoring people of faith still holds. Imagine an atheist candidate for president trying to get nominated, much less elected, and the storm of controversy that would surround it.

Though some positions of political power may be out of reach for those who claim no faith, it has become more acceptable in recent years to admit agnosticism or even atheism. In fact, there’s even a bit of counter-culture hipness to confessing it.

While the relaxation of social strictures that allow people to speak freely about their faith – or lack of it – has opened up public dialogue in arguably healthy ways, the pendulum also has swung the other way, at least a bit. In a recent article on Salon.com, Ada Calhoun writes about an experience where a friend of hers caught her dressed up on the street on a Sunday morning, joking with her that she must be headed to church. She laughed it off and sheepishly continued on her way to Catholic Mass, too embarrassed to admit it to her friend.

“I’m not cheating on my husband, committing crimes or doing drugs,” says Calhoun. “But those are battles my cosmopolitan, progressive friends would understand. To them, my situation is far more sinister: I am the bane of their youth, the boogeyman of their politics, the very thing they left their small towns to escape. I am a Christian.”

Part of this is likely a normal social cycle, back and forth along the spectrum of the sacred and secular. However, Christianity in particular carries sufficient weight for the embarrassment these reticent faithful exhibit.

“Who wants to be lumped in with all the other Christians,” asks Calhoun, “especially the ones you see on TV protesting gay marriage, giving money to charlatans, and letting priests molest children? Andy Warhol went to Mass every Sunday, but not even his closest friends knew he was a devout Catholic until his death. I get that.”

So do I. As one who is seen both in our local community and in larger literary circles as a figurehead for postmodern Christianity, I spend as much time and energy responding to these negative connotations attached to my faith as I do speaking positively about what a community of faithful, committed to causes of service, compassion and social justice, can do to make the world a better place.

It’s important to understand how far and wide this disaffection for organized religion runs. There are huge groups of people who, though they study and practice the teachings of Jesus, choose not to call themselves Christians because of the baggage attached to the term. Instead, they prefer the term “Christ followers,” both because it is less encumbered with negativity, and also because it speaks of what they do, rather than define what group to which they belong.

There are lots of books on the subject too, such as “un-Christian,” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, or “They Like Jesus but Not the Church,” by Dan Kimball. One common sentiment throughout these texts is that the image of God, or more specifically, Jesus, should not suffer because of the crap that humans do in their name.

Not surprisingly, there’s a healthy amount of blowback from the institution of church as well. While some faith communities see the writing on the wall and seek to learn from history’s lessons, others are building defenses still higher, lobbing verbal salvos from the other side.

Authors like Peter Rollins, who wrote “The Orthodox Heretic “and “How (Not) to Speak of God,” among others, have been labeled as brazen heretics, masquerading as Christ followers simply to further the mythical goal of reducing church to rubble.

Meanwhile, people like Ada Calhoun skulk in the shadows to practice their faith, worried that being associated with those with whom she strongly disagrees will be a social albatross around her neck. Though it will take much time and no small amount of effort, it’s my hope that Christians once again earn the respect and appreciation of the public, and that Calhoun and her peers can come out of the closet and be proud to openly call themselves “Christian.”

Parts one and two of my three-episode chat with Brandon Gilvin, my co-creator and co-editor of the WTF? (Where’s the Faith?) young adult books series are now posted. Episode one is about the context of Young Adult culture in today’s culture and a bit about how in the hell we were ever given the opportunity to create a book series together.

The focus in the third episode is on the first book in the series, coming out in February, 2010 (Chalice Press) called Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD about faith, sex, sexuality and embodiment among young adults.

We also talk about the challenges, fun and risks involved in producing a potentially “controversial” series of books.

Check out both podcast episodes, as well as all archived podcasts, by searching “PIATT” on iTunes and other podcatchers, or BY CLICKING HERE.