Are You All In?

A person whose family worshiped at our church for a few years came by this morning to inform us that the family has been attending a different church for awhile and that we won’t be seeing them anymore. It didn’t come as a total surprise, since they have been absent most of the fall and since two members of the family actually peeled off for that other church a year ago. And I respect the heck out of the move to come and tell us face-to-face, as well as the move toward church participation as a shared family experience and not one that is divided.

Something this person said about the difference between our church and the new one really hit me, though. After describing worship as “Christian Rock” and the sermons as “a little more literal,” she added, “Here it’s more of an intellectual experience. There you’re all in.”

All in.

I know exactly what she’s saying. Without resorting to broad generalities, the cultures of mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism differ markedly in this respect: evangelicalism wants all your heart and some of your head; the mainline wants all your head and some of your heart.

The mainline wants you “all in” but in a different way. It wants you all in for the demands of living the gospel in the world today and engaging the cultural, political, and systemic injustices for which the gospel is the antibody. It wants you all in for critically engaging the Bible as a transformative resource for public and private life. It wants you all in for worship that is as mentally rigorous as it is emotionally appealing.

I’ve written here before that church needs to be the thing that backs down. But is backing down the opposite of being “all in?”

10 thoughts on “Are You All In?

  1. So many poker allegories leap to mind! If you go all in and lose in poker (hold me tournament for example) you’re out of the game. No second chance. My faith is the opposite, I may go all in and lose but I am guaranteed a second chance, a new dawn, an opportunity to get it right. Perhaps for me church is less all in than a series of new hands in a long time friendly game. I hope I’m always getting better at playing but even if I’m not there’s always a seat for me at the table…

  2. As you and I came from the same kind of religious tradition before we met the Mainliners, I agree with you strongly. But I still wonder if we need to adjust.

    Leadership literature (whatever that is) has taught us for the last few years that trustworthiness is more important than competence when it comes to folks following us wherever we think the crew needs to go. Is there an analogy for this situation? I think so.

    When we say “we want all your head” are we just trying to prove our competence? If so, that’s a losing battle according to the literature.

    To have “all your heart” screams to be interpreted as an emotional connection. That’s gonna win every time.

    1. Maybe it’s more useful to say that we preach that all your heart or all your head is what God wants. Lots of mainliners are leery of Christian leadership that appeals more to emotion than intellect. Do we need to get over that?

      1. That’s fair, and I think we do. Part of my beef with “Church” is that we do bad art, and art is all about being arrested emotionally, transformed emotionally, empowered emotionally.

        Educators have been crowing about this for years. I still can’t understand why it hasn’t become a prominent part of our vocational culture.

  3. My idea of what it means to be “all in” is similar to yours. I have family members who participate in a church like the one your former parishioners describe and, when I attended with them, I was struck by the lack of prayers for the world and for people in need outside the skin of the people attending. The lights in the auditorium are dimmed throughout worship so you can “feel comfortable” and focus on what is happening on stage. The music is intentionally loud so “you only hear yourself and can feel comfortable singing even if yo sing off-key”. I missed being able to see the people with whom I was in worship and hearing other voices. It didn’t feel like community to me.
    On the other hand, these family members are now participating in local mission projects, have gone to South Africa on a medical mission trip, read the Bible, and contribute financially to a ministry that helps women and children escape sexual slavery. I am troubled by the literal nature of their faith experience and the me-ness of their worship, but also see lots of good changes in their lives. It feels confusing!

  4. Your mainline tries to guide people intellectually to find the way in where evangelical reaches out, grabs them, and pulls them in. Everyone learns differently and the Christian life is no exception. For me mainline has way too much wiggle room around the edges. I think that ,which ever way you prefer, as long as you stick to what God teaches in the Bible and don’t add or take away according to your personal thoughts you’ll do ok.



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