Summary: Casting the vision for a culturally relevant, twenty-first century church

The Catalytic Church:

The Culturally-Relevant Church

Scripture Reading: Acts 17:16-34

Dave and Diane had just moved,

because of Dave’s job,

to the small town of Catoosa, Oklahoma.

The young couple had been struggling

in many ways before,

but the move made things worse.

Diane had no friends in Catoosa;

and in addition to the keen loneliness she felt

in their first months there,

she was experiencing morning sickness,

and was already resenting Dave’s long hours at work.

Though they’d recently celebrated four years of marriage, the bloom was definitely off the rose. And they felt keenly aware that they needed friends,


and maybe even God.

So they made a decision.

Diane and Dave--

though they had never done so as kids,

and found the whole idea kinda foreign and scary- decided to “try church” that weekend.

The couple were among the first to arrive

for the church’s 11 a.m. worship service that morning.

They parked squarely in front of the church’s white-wood frame sanctuary, in front of an old fashioned “hitching post.”

They entered the sanctuary, which smelled faintly of mildew and Old English wood soap.

A few steps into the sanctuary, a man smiled at them and extended a mimeographed bulletin with the order of service printed on it, that clearly indicated that when such things as the “call to worship” and the offertory were scheduled to occur.

As they sat on the fourth pew from the back, they observed a pulpit,

a podium,

and a stained glass window.

Someone droned out a “prelude” on a massive organ, a robed teenager lit some candles, a robed pastor entered, and a robed choir of eight people filed in behind him.

In time, about 75 people had assembled. Diane noticed that she was the only woman not wearing a dress.

After the pastor welcomed everyone and announced the “pot luck supper,”

the upcoming rummage sale,

six committee meetings,

and that week’s board meeting,

everyone stood as if responding to some secret signal, and sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” from hymnals that included the music for each hymn.

A few readings from a large King James Bible followed the hymns, and a sermon, urging loyalty to that denomination’s distinctives and warnings about evils like movies and rock music, ended with an appeal to be “more committed.”

A few moments later, Dave and Diane sat in their car and stared out the windshield . . . .

wondering what had just happened.

It would certainly have been different if they had been raised by church-going parents, but that day Dave and Diane were mystified by the kinds of things that “first-timers” notice,

the features that reflect where the surrounding culture used to be, but is no longer--

except in traditional churches that seem driven to perpetuate the period between 1930 and 1950.

In fact, Dave and Diane’s case, which I’ve borrowed from an article by Dr. George Hunter III in The Asbury Herald, includes many features or practices that are neither prescribed or modeled in Scripture nor are they reflective of contemporary society.

For example, once upon a time, the hitching post was placed in front of churches for people who rode horses and wagons to church, and the 11 a.m. worship hour was set for the convenience of dairy farmers.

The hymn I mentioned, while a classic that many “church folk” love, was written in the early nineteenth century. The architecture, the pews, the pulpit, the windows, and the organ were all furnishings that had once been very contemporary and highly functional but had long since largely disappeared . . .

except in church buildings. . .

and antique shops.

And other practices,

like the unwritten “no slacks” rule

or the seemingly secret cues that caused

everyone to stand, sit, or kneel in unison

were apparently preserved to make sure

that no visitor or newcomer ever felt comfortable!

The case of Dave and Diane’s first Sunday in church reminds us that

all churches are contemporary,

but that many are contemporary

to some earlier generation;

all churches are culturally-relevant,

but many are relevant

to some culture other than the one they occupy and to which they try to witness.

Good morning. My name is Bob Hostetler, and

this morning at Cobblestone Community Church we’re continuing a five-week series of messages from the Bible, entitled “The Catalytic Church.”

Now, I want to explain, for anyone who’s visiting or who’s here for the first time this morning, that we here at Cobblestone Community Church are preparing to launch

a new, distinct, and dynamic church

here in Oxford

on Palm Sunday, April 8, 2001.

And in the meantime,

we are doing two things simultaneously:

1) we are meeting here each Sunday morning at 10 a.m. to worship together and build the community and structure and resources we’ll need to be in place before our launch Sunday, and

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