The People Formerly Known As The Congregation

by Sarah Bessey

Jay Rosen created the meme of The People Formerly Known as the Audience – those of us who are no longer content to be content consumers – but have become content creators ourselves.

The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.

Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were.

Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?

The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers!—is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

Let me introduce you to The People formerly known as The Congregation. There are millions of us.

We are people – flesh and blood – image bearers of the Creator – eikons, if you will. We are not numbers.

We are the eikons who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues. We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no point sermons – attempting to tell us how you and your reading of The Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us – it just doesn’t seem to jive with yours.

Money was a great concern. And, for a moment, we believed you when you told us God would reward us for our tithes – or curse us if we didn’t. The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace. My goodness, if you told us that the 1st century church held everything in common – you might be accused of being a socialist – and of course, capitalism is a direct gift from God. Please further note: Malachi 3 is speaking to the priests of Israel. They weren’t the cheerful givers God speaks of loving.

We grew weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies – building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood…or in your pews. It wasn’t God telling you to “enlarge the place of your tent” – it was your ego. And, by the way, a multi-million dollar, state of the art building is hardly a tent.

We no longer buy your call to be “fastest growing” church in wherever. That is your need. You want a bigger audience. We won’t be part of one.

Our ears are still ringing from the volume, but…Jesus is not our boyfriend – and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in, the powers and principalities we confront, or are worthy of the one we proclaim King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You offered us a myriad of programs to join – volunteer positions to assuage our desire to be connected. We could be greeters, parking lot attendants, coffee baristas, book store helpers, children’s ministry workers, media ministry drones – whatever you needed to fulfill your dreams of corporate glory. Perhaps you’ve noticed, we aren’t there anymore.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time – engaged in generative conversations – teaching and being taught.

We live amongst our neighbours, in their homes and they in ours. We laugh and cry and really live – without the need to have you teach us how – by reading your ridiculous books or listening to your supercilious CDs or podcasts.

We don’t deny Paul’s description of APEPT leadership – Ephesians 4:11. We just see it in the light of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 20 – servant leadership. We truly long for the release of servant leading men and women into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We believe in Peter’s words that describe us all as priests. Not just some, not just one gender.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted. Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power – yet still members of our family. (Though some are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

And, as The People formerly known as The Congregation, we invite you to join us on this great adventure. To boldly go where the Spirit leads us. To marvel at what the Father is doing in the communities where He has placed us. To live the love that Jesus shows us.

Contributed by Bill Kinnon: a television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium. This post originally appeared on Bill Kinnon’s blog in 2007. A real conversation starter, as you can imagine, you can read the original post – and its many updates, comments, and follow-ups – here

7 Responses to “The People Formerly Known As The Congregation”

  1. kelliwoodford February 12, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    “We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted.”

    my experience validates this statement. and especially, though slowly, i am nodding at its completion:

    “Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power – yet still members of our family.”

    thank you, this is it. exactly.

  2. Bridge February 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    “The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace.” So very good. Amen!

  3. Dani Kelley February 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    As someone struggling with faith and unable to go to church for the panic attacks…this resonates with me. Thank you.

  4. Jaye February 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I totally appreciate the affirmation of the marginalized of the church (a group I am a part of as an artist, a single woman, and one who has attended church only sporadically in the past two years.); yet the negative, critical adjectives speak to not only hurt, but bitterness and bias. Churches are broken people ministering to broken people, however many mistakes they have made. The words and phrases “supercilious” “intoxicated by the power”, and etc., are grossly generalized. I’ve seen churches like this, and I’ve seen churches who, despite being imperfect, are not.

    Marginalizing all church-based ministry in response to being marginalized ourselves is not a fully adequate answer. A call to change does seem necessary, but I can’t help but feel that it should be an empowering call, and this one seems more condemning than empowering.

    • Jane Barlow February 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

      Jaye, thank you so much for saying the words I was thinking. I am one who has loved and benefitted from organized religion. It is a great sense of strength and comfort for me. Our family has suffered great hardships over the past 6 years, and although we do not give much money to the church, they have always been there for us-loving on us and bringing hope when we had little hope. I am always saddened when people have a bad experience from church, but that doesn’t mean all churches and church people are bad. As we say in the nursing profession-no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. My thought on this is-if you need a different spiritual journey, then follow a different path, but don’t condemn the path that others take toward their becoming one with Christ. As for so many youth no longer participating in organized religion, I understand that trend, I really do, but part of it has to do with the cultural trend to do what I want to do now, and not with the church itself. Room for all of us in the body of Christ!!!!

  5. Lisa February 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    Personally, in my own experience, I’ve only known of two or three churches that didn’t have some kind of bias (and power trips) so if one has known what it is like to go to a different kind of church they should consider themselves most blessed! It reminds me of when the New Testament church argued over who they were from Paul, Apollos, etc. Only now it is the ‘brand’ of church, or the main leader of the church. The church is His body, but when leaders get more stuck on programs/books/projects/expansion and forget about the people, there is a problem. It’s the people that make up the church. The people, and that is what makes it broken, yet also what makes it beautiful. I guess I don’t see bitterness in this. I see a whole hunk of truth. Thanks, Sarah Bessey!

  6. Kirk from Nerk February 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    It would seem your inner Quaker is showing.
    But that we could look at the monuments of our past with an appreciation that they were erected in a different place and time with love and honor, as misunderstood now as as female equality was then. Yes, looking at things now it seems so wrong. But who among us can say the methods that we choose to follow our Savior are guaranteed to be correct when looked under a microscope 50 years hence?

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