That’s the summary provided by Damian Williams, pastor of Steel City Church (you’ve got to take a look the pic on their homepage). What, you might be asking, is unorthodox? Well, Steel City Church meets in The Altar Bar–a venue that is transformed from “a popular, smoky night club to a sanctuary–in the heart of Pittsburgh’s strip district.” Williams explains,
“We chose this location because it’s a place of identification for the people we’re reaching.”
The article (“Church by Day” in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Outreach magazine, 26) goes on to share what the atmosphere in the services is like.
“During Sunday night services, people are encouraged to respond to questions by text messaging their thoughts, which are then projected onto one of the six flat-screen TV’s mounted above the bar. On another TV, you might find a Steelers football game.”
In preparation for worship services, volunteers are said to be “cleaning up vomit, broken glass and cigarette butts–as well as throwing a sheet over bottles of vodka, whiskey and rum in hopes of not tempting worshippers with alcohol addictions.”
So is this what is means to be a missional church? According to Williams, indeed it is. Under the church’s values of missional living, he writes,
“While Christianity can be (and sometimes is) built around isolating ourselves from evil doers and sinners and creating a community of religious holiness and moral purity, it can also be built around this: joining with broken sinners and evil doers (that would be all of us) and crying out together to God, hungry for his grace and mercy. At Steel City Church, we desire to see the latter lived out in our midst.”
A caveat: The website states that SCC’s mission is to be an Acts 29 church. I checked to see if they are listed in the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and noticed that they were not affiliated with the network though they their mission appears very similar.
Now, I would like to take a look at this model of doing church. First, I would like to commend Williams for wanting to reach sinners where they are. I am often bothered when I go to church and I only find white middle-class Americans with refined morality. There is a legitimate criticism to be made that the Church has often isolated itself from the world it is trying to reach. Being at arms length goes a long way into “reaching out” and embracing the opportunities before you.
With that said, there are more problems in this article than I have time to address. As you can see by the title, it appears that the basis for his ministry lies in effectiveness, not orthodoxy. I am not saying that all churches should have a steeple and be located in gated communities, but the ekklesia is comprised of the “called-out” ones who are to be set apart from the world in order to reach the world. It appears that the philosophy Williams adopts is assimilating into the world to reach the world contrary to the biblical call to be holy, above reproach, and credible witness while lovingly confronting the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that being missional also requires that one must be unrelentingly biblical and robustly theological. If one looks at the life at Paul, he did “all for the sake of the gospel” by “becoming all things to all men,” but he certain did not take short-cuts or trivialize the essential matter of biblical fidelity and theological necessity.
Second, itis one thing to be on mission in the sense that Christians are being sent to love the lost and build a meaningful relationship with them; it is altogether another thing to set up camp in the heart of Sodom. I know, I know. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and had dinner with them in their homes. I believe that wholeheartedly, but is this a faithful and accurate picture of the Church and what it means to be the people of God?
Finally, I don’t if I am to chalk this one up to my traditional ways, but since when can one participate in a worship service while watching a Steelers game? The text-messaging thing already happens in church (I see it all the time), so it might as well be plastered on TV’s. No seriously, where is the talk about instruction and Bible teaching? Exposition of Scripture? Or anything remotely related to a regulative order of worship?
Like I stated, there are some things I appreciate about what SCC and Williams want to do; however, as a Christian and minister, I do not feel comfortable ministering in a strip bar and familiarizing people with a place which they may be tempted to check out when it is not a sanctuary but a strip tease. And for those who used to be teased, continuing to attend in a place where there would be so many old memories of sinful practices, would not the simple attending of church be a struggle and temptation? I am afraid that this method of doing church is more effective than Williams realizes–and why I prefer to do church the orthodox way.
What are your thoughts?