Posted by: watchman | August 10, 2009

Tempted By the Dark Side

something, something, something... Dark Side

something, something, something... Dark Side

(The)Matt Scott has recently become tempted to get (back?) into ministry in a church. He asked for feedback on returning to the Church in youth ministry. I gave it to him and so did others.

What do you think? Too harsh? Are we being too hard on the Church? Is it really that bad?

My comments:

Hi. Don’t do it.

Listen, there is a lot that is appealing about an institutional clergy-type job, but it is lipstick on a pig, man. Be careful and look out for you and your wife. The four walls of a church provide a wonderful place to hide villainous dysfunction.


Nobody in the institutional church likes to hear critiques of the institutional church. Nobody. Not even the mainline liberals like to hear it. I about had a [edit] guy crying once when I criticized his giant church building. So, when you start teaching kids that church is a great distraction that funnels important resources away from the real needs of the world and squanders them by providing a big building where spoiled church kids can have a lock in once a month, nobody will be happy with you.


Have a nice day!

Q. “Do you find that your theological standpoints garner negative reactions from your church/ministry?”

Sweet Lord, yes.

Q. “Were the thoughts you had on your blog investigated and interrogated before being offered a job?”

Nope, but they were as soon as I started ruffling feathers. Investigations like that are merely used as pry bars. If a jerk on a church board wants to fire you, he/she will find a reason to.

Q. “Have you felt like you needed to censor yourself any because of your ties to the UMC?”

I’m not a Meth Head, but I would guarantee that almost any denomination will require some significant self-censorship. I doubt you will have to censor your theology, though. More likely it will be about stupid crap like rated “R” movies and beer drinking. I had an old church lady that tried to get me fired because our youth group’s my space page had an automatically generated horoscope sign. “He’s teaching those poor children the occult!” rawr rawr

Q. “Do you feel like you can be a bit of an agent provocateur and help bring those you work with a bit farther outside of the mainstream?”

No. Institutional mainstream religion is a giant, comfy pyramid scheme. The people at the top are clergy and the people on the bottom are uber comfortable knowing that Jesus can’t get in. Why the hell would we want to get out? Things are dangerous out there!

Q. Finally, would you actually recommend a ministry job to anyone else?

Yes. Relational masochists.



  1. Wow. It’s not like I don’t think that institutional churches can be screwed up, but is it really fair to tar them all with the same brush? Surely there are mainstream churches out there where people are open to learning, open to new ideas and genuinely concerned to follow Jesus? I’m currently doing youth work for a Salvation Army church,and though I’m all too aware that some SA churches are horrendously institutionalised and stuck in their ways, the place I’m at now is one of the most radical, grace-filled communities I’ve ever encountered. Although I’m probably in quite a different place theologically to most of the people there, I’ve never yet felt pressurised to pretend to be something I’m not.

  2. Corey,

    I love your creativity and elequent frankness. Very few have the ability to perk my interest the way you do with your posts and comments, and in our conversations.

    This one got me laughing, likely because if I didn’t, I might have been crying. In a full staff meeting, a senior pastor of a church, and good friend of mine, once asked me if I see a lot of demonic oppression or possession in my practice. His youth pastor, also a good friend of mine, jumped in and mentioned that I would probably see less of that because a lot of people who are coming to me are likely looking for help. He figured that there would be a whole lot more of that going in with people in the church. Sadly, I think he’s right on.


    First, thanks for commenting. Great words to chew on and digest. I don’t want to speak for Corey, but I do want to note that I don’t think either of us are trying to “tar them with the same brush.” I personally believe there are likely some wonderful loving gatherings of Christian people in institutions around our world. Unfortunately I whole heartedly believe that’s not the norm, or possibly even a significant fraction. Part of the reason why I think that is the case is because we don’t like the mirror. We would much rather put the focus on someone else, or on our idealized perspective of God or faith and allow that to be a distraction from our own sinfulness and dysfunction. If we can seal a tight enough bond on that kind of ship, then we can float that boat for a long time and never have to look at anything that might be screwed up in our lives or our church. I would say a good majority of institutional churches run that way. When there are signs that there may be cracks in the hull, it’s easier to throw someone overboard and pretend like he/she is the problem, than it is to turn the thing around and go deal with the real issues.

  3. Marika,

    You are my favorite English theology student.

    Certainly there are people in institutional churches that are doing it right. However, they are following Jesus in spite of the institution more than because of the institution. Clergy work is mostly smoke in mirrors. I am finding that more of a difference is made without the strictures of institutional clergy.

    Jamie, the Greek word for demon is actually two words: “homeschool mom.”

    I’m kidding!!!

  4. Surely both institutional and non-institutional churches have their own strengths and weaknesses? I know that the UK church situation is pretty different to that of the US, but I have noticed here that, while the more institutional churches can be difficult places, bound to tradition, unwilling to change, they also have real strengths: educated clergy, systems for dealing with conflict, checks and balances in recruitment. The less institutional churches have the advantage of greater freedom, members who have joined because they share the vision of the church rather than because it’s ‘what you do’; but they also suffer because they don’t have those safeguards and they tend to be less rooted in the wisdom of traditions.

    Any church will always have leaders: that’s how groups of people work, and part of my worry with the idea of de-institutionalising it is that rather than carefully choosing your leaders and training them up, what happens is that the most forceful people end up running things – and they’re no less likely to be flawed, selfish, egotistical people than the leaders who have been selected and trained. Sure, there’s life outside of the institutional church; but there’s also conflict, sin, laziness, failure and unwillingness to be challenged. I don’t think it’s enough just to argue that institutional church is bad and de-institutionalised church is good.

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