My Quadrant is Missing!

22 04 2020

In the spite of the number of years I have spent in the Church of Jesus Christ, 34 of them as an ordained pastor in the PC(USA), I still find myself without a tribe. And the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have only magnified my sense of aloneness! As I, and countless other pastors, attempt to figure out what it means to “be the Church” when people can’t “go to church,” I have felt like I’m on my own to figure out what what worship looks like in these days of physical distancing and state-wide quarantines. And here’s why.

One of the ways churches around America might be grouped is according to their theology and their worship style. So on the graph above, if the x axis represents the theology of a church, those communities that are more conservative and evangelical will fall further on the left, and those more liberal and progressive will fall further on the right. If the y axis is for a church’s worship style, congregations that are more formal and liturgical will find themselves towards the top, and those that are more informal and contemporary will find themselves near the bottom.

Now in my experience, there are large numbers of people in churches that fall in quadrant III. They label themselves as evangelical, and their worship style is clearly contemporary. And without distracting readers with biased descriptions, they tend to be Biblical literalists and love ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ kind of music played on electric guitars and drums. Statistics would have us believe that this is where the largest number of Americans can be found, likely because this is where most of America’s mega-churches can be found!

My experiences would also lead me to believe that there is a smaller and relatively equal number of people and churches found in quadrants I and II. In quadrant II are those conservative churches where the pastor and the people are still dressed to the nines, and where the choir still sits up front and sings about grace saving “a wretch like me,” and that “God, his son not sparing, sent him to die” for the sins of mankind! The people found in these churches tend to be older than those from churches in quadrant III, and they are generally found in the more rural areas of the south and the mid-west.

People and churches in quadrant I are far more liberal in their theology, but they are still tied to the old hymns of the faith, and embrace a style of worship that, and again – please don’t be distracted by my descriptions, reeks of the kind of ritualistic traditionalism that sucks the very life out of my soul! Many so-called ‘mainline’ churches are found here, and quiet a few are from my own PC(USA).

But where are the churches in quadrant IV? Where are the churches that recognize the “reformed and constantly being reformed” nature of the Church applies not just to our theology, but to our worship? Where are the churches full of people who love Jesus, but who also believe that just as the Spirit has shed “more light” on the issues of gay marriage and ordination, perhaps more light might also be shed on how and what we do on Sunday morning between 11:00 and noon? Where are the Churches that are not just pushing the church’s boundaries when it comes to the role of woman and our complicity with American racism, but that are also open to new ways of thinking about the music of worship, the sacraments of worship, what is read in worship, and how we pray in worship? And please, don’t tell me to go to a seminar on Taize, or to a story-telling workshop! Because if that’s the best the Church can do, we’re in big trouble. I spent 20 minutes at a major denominational workshop last year listening to a debate on whether it was acceptable for pastors to not wear robes!

In spite of my sarcasm, I’m not so much interested in condemning churches in quadrants I, II, or III. I simply want there to be enough room in the Church for someone like me, in quadrant IV. I’m convinced that this is where more and more people are today; so why aren’t there more churches here? Maybe the restrictions of COVID-19 can help us figure this out! I think our future depends on it.