I Stay Near the Bar

Is it time to revise Sam Shoemaker's poem?

keith drury


Keith Drury said...

Your comments are invited but I’m not interested in focusing on visiting bars or drinking alcohol. I’m especially interested in discussing the relationship of Christians and the world. In my lifetime I’ve seen three general postures relative to the world.

The first posture was my childhood’s “holiness posture” where we focused on “going deeper” or “climbing higher” into the things of God. In this posture the church was a “lighthouse” and separation from the world was the emphasis. The church was almost like a monastery.

The second posture rose to prominence when the boomers took over. This posture was focused mostly on “bringing others in” so Sam Shoemaker’s poem was widely used to deride the monastery model and to urge people against being, “so heavenly minded they were no earthly good.” Evangelism was the goal more than holiness. Christians who “stayed near the door” were the greatest heroes.

I now see a third posture emerging, perhaps a “yeast model.” In this emerging model the stage of God’s work is not so much the “door” or even the porch of the church but somewhere else—down the street, in the office, and even at the bar. This is what prompted me to rewrite the Shoemaker poem.

So what do you think about these models? What do we gain with the third model? Lose? Which model do you lean toward?

Chris said...

It certainly seems that the third posture is most in line with Jesus' example. While we do see Him in the temple from time to time, personal growth doesn't seem to be top priority with Him. Neither do we see Jesus knocking on doors inviting people to the synagogue. For the most part, He seems to be out living among those He came to save.

The risks are obvious. When you walk the precipice of living next to the world, there is a danger of making a misstep and plunging over the cliff. While we ought to exercise wisdom in our dealings with the world, the question really comes down to "Do we trust the Holy Spirit to keep us while we embark on the mission to which He has called us?"

Steve Elliott said...

Keith ...

Sometimes I grow tired of the either/or mindset... instead of the both/and mindset.

Why do some throw stones at those who, like Mary, want to spend time each week sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Why do some throw stones at those who, like Paul, go into the market-place to share the love of Christ.

Why do some throw stones at those who, like Andrew, go and get the lost and bring them to Jesus.

I just grow tired at the either 'my way or the highway' mindsets... the looking down the nose ... the air of superiority expressed ... the distain expressed by those who believe there is only one way to live and express the kingdom of God.

I think there is room for all three in God's great kingdom. Loving God AND Loving our neighbor.

Bob Gray said...

The third posture may be emerging, but it's certainly not new. In the 80's evangelism explosion boasted of how many were save OUTSIDE the church and claimed to be the best and most Biblical model. But, apparently it didn't work long term? Probably 'cause I'm a boomer, I still think the second posture will continue to work best. It's less confrontational, which is going to be even more important in a postmodern era. A postmodernist will not make a decision on the spot. He's got to work into it gradually. Go to the "bar" and build a relationship, but invite him to church for a special event or (better) to your homegroup before you invite him to Christ.

::athada:: said...

I think the Church desparately needs all three.

Some people will be able to blend 2 of the 3, or shift during their lifetime, or stay in one place their whole lifetime. Good. The danger comes in thinking there is only one answer, or one is better than the other.

Jennie-Joy said...

I agree. There should be no dichotomy or spectrum here.

The risks come when we begin to either sequester ourselves in the pursuit of being good and "self-improvement"- which is utter nonsense... none of this holiness stuff will come from our effort- or to throw ourselves into the world without truly having first been transformed and submerged in the presence of the only answer to the world's needs.

I think as we (individually and collectively) go deeper in holiness (by holiness, I mean being transformed into Christlikeness- perfect love) and knowing God, we BECOME the lighthouse wherever we place ourselves. It's not the church building or programs that will draw people into the presence of God, but the church people- the living, breathing church. And if we are being made into the likeness of Christ, we will be found in the places where He found Himself... with those who needed a doctor.

All fruitfulness in this Christian life will flow from intimacy with our God. (John 15) Together. Intimacy and fruit.

Pastor Rod said...

First of all, these three postures are (at least to a great degree) mutually exclusive. This means that we can't have a "blend of all three." There is no overlap between the first and third postures.

In addition, the third position is not a method to "bring people to church." Boomers and people indoctrinated by "boomer Christianity" can't imagine an evangelism "strategy" that doesn't have as its goal to get people involved in "church."

While I have lived most of my life in posture number two, I now see it as the least defensible of the three.

The first posture has the danger of becoming legalistic (among other things). The third has the danger of identification with the culture to the degree that one is no longer able to speak a prophetic word against evil embodied in the culture (though I think this danger is grossly over estimated). It also has the danger of attracting believers who are taken by its trendiness but miss its real point.

The second posture has the greatest danger, the danger of substituting institutional goals for kingdom values. It also carries a great temptation for ego-driven "leadership."

In my opinion, your third posture puts greater pressure (positively) on followers of Christ to demonstrate a different quality of life that is not based upon an entirely different culture.

I find myself asking, "In what real way is my life different because I am a Christian?" Most of what I used to think made me different was really just a factor of the different culture I lived in. And much of what I thought of as "biblical principles" were just self-help affirmations that had been branded with the name Jesus.

While I feel strongly that the third posture is much more in keeping with the example of Jesus, I don't think the Church should try to force everyone to adopt an "emergent model."

Much damage was done to the kingdom and to individual believers by the attempt to retrofit every congregation in North America with "contemporary worship."

The irony is that many poor souls are just starting to get used to singing "contemporary choruses" that were written decades ago and are no longer appealing to the "unchurched."

One other thing, most of your readers have no business visiting bars unless they spent a great deal of time in bars before coming to Christ. We've emphasized the word "go" in the Great Commission as if it is the most important part, when it is best translated "as you are going."

My point is that we don't need to go looking for a "mission field." We should instead pay attention to the work that God is doing right around us. And when people come to Christ we shouldn't work so hard to isolate them from their "native culture."

Ken said...

keith, we've been emphasizing and attempting to live out a particular ethos at our church. it is to 'deepen the soul, find relationship, and join the mission.' i think this captures the three postures you reference, and i agree with steve elliot that it needn't be an 'either/or' discussion but rather a 'both/and' (or in this case, 'both/and/and') conversation.

certainly we need to go deeper (deepen the soul), but we also need to bring others in (find relationship - with God and each other) and spread yeast (join the mission). We emphasize this third posture (join the mission) as 'living SENT,' but agree that you can't fully embrace the mission/spread yeast/live SENT until you've first deepened the soul and found relationship.

i guess i say all that to say this: it's hard to step toward this third posture if one hasn't first adequately (and consistently) invested in postures one and two.

but the upside is that Christians could potentially begin to see that God intended for us to take his message beyond the walls of the church building, and that there's potential ministry down the street, in the office, and yes - even the bar.

when Christians begin to see themselves as the church rather than church being a place they attend, things can get pretty exciting. (this is old stuff you've heard a bazillion times, but indulge me...)


gained? if we're thoughtful, a sense of ministry outside the walls of church buildings that seems amazingly organic and incarnational. and a whole new level of reliance on the Holy Spirit's leading.

lost? if we're NOT careful, slides into compromise and failure, or worse - a good time with friends and acquaintances that never leads to us making the "ask." hanging out with no intention, purpose, or strategy whatsoever. (i know some will say, 'but you've gotta be Spirit-led,' and i agree. but i also need to be a good steward of my time, energy, and resources, so some measure of a plan/strategy seems healthy... right?)

Pastor Rod said...


The big change in my thinking is that I no longer feel like I "need to be a good steward of my time, energy, and resources."


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Duke said...

This morning I was walking in our church's gym and listening to NPR. A story came on about happenings in Gaza during the latest round of "war". The particular story spoke of Hamas' attempts to retain its power within Gaza and to circumvent Fatah from regaining influence. To do so, there were some 30-40 reported incidents of beatings and gun shots to the knee caps of people associated with Fatah.
As I walked unencumbered by the elements, never fearing for my safety, and in the midst of the worst economic state in the USA, I began to wonder if I'm not a long way from the door/bar of the world that Jesus explored.
If I'm near the bar it's with those of the half-way covenant - often believers in God who differ in mores, or dogma, but I fear I'm a long distance from the bar of human suffering that Christ came to redeem and recreate.

Hugh said...

I also think all three postures have their place, but as unique individuals, we have a tendancy to gravitate to one of them to the exclusion of the others. Perhaps the real key is to do what we do and celebrate others who do what they do. Like when Jesus asked Peter "what's that to you? follow me."
As I read this post, I couldn't help laughing as I thought about my favorite scene from the Simpson Movie, where the city of Springfield is in danger and there is a church situated next door to a bar. All the people from the bar and from the church run into the street in panic, then the people that came out of the bar go running into the church and the church people go running into the bar. Could we perhaps learn something from each other?

Keith Drury said...

These are some of the most thoughtful comments I've read on a column..thanks to all who have already started off this post with insights for us all!

The AJ Thomas said...

The pattern of Jesus seemed to be go to the bar for as long as you can hack it (being among the crowds, ministering to their brokenness, and pointing them toward the Kingdom) and then head to the inner room to refuel (went to a quit place, prayed all night, etc). Seems to me that a life lived completely in the inner room risks falling short of love for neighbor and a life lived entirely at the bar may soon lose focus of love for God. The bar is the natural outflow of the inner room and the inner room provides the substance for our work at the bar.

As an interesting side note: My church is one of two evangelical churches in our neighborhood. There are 54 bars.

ScarredWarrior said...

You nailed it. It is not (or should not be) drinking or not drinking. It is a question of impacting culture where culture is. So many Christians LOVE to tout "in the world but not of the world" but they are so out of touch with the world they may as well live on the moon.

BTW, my new blog site www.roseontheright.blogspot.com, not only is a new address but you may find... um... more generous than my last. Blessings and peace.