alternative alternatives

i’ve been thinking this through a bit since i came back from the UK. it arose out of a conversation we were having about how the term ‘alternative’ seems to be used to describe many different approaches to worship, some of which seem to be at odds with each other. i think the church here uses the term interchangeably, and gets pretty confused in the process. i wonder if some of the different approaches can be described like this:

contemporary – using the tools of contemporary culture and putting our theology into those forms [clearest example would be most worship songs]

contextual – using the media and cultural artifacts within a community as a way of exploring faith [we find expressions of our theology in the culture and media]

indigenous – waiting to see what theology and expression of faith emerges from within the cultural context; and letting the stuff of the culture interact with and challenge our theology and faith.

i wouldn’t want any of these to claim ownership of the ‘alternative’ label… though i certainly privilege one of them. it’s just helpful for me not to assume everyone means what i mean when i talk about alt worship.

we can’t use the language of ‘indigenous’ here, it rightfully needs to be reserved for another purpose. i’m still searching for a more appropriate word


  1. Mike

    I still kind-of like the language of “organic” in a similar sense to “indigenous”. However, it does sound a bit like something you see on a cereal packet…

  2. Cheryl

    i like organic – it’s when i come to the practical examples of it that i trip up with that label.. i think it’s worship out of a constructed environment that’s anything but organic – worship in the middle of belfast, for example, or in port philip prison – calling it organic just feels kind of wrong.

  3. I was in a lecture once where the lecturer expounded that “Theology” was the written record of the lived experience of the people. If there is any truth in this, then the theology should change as we learn & grow.
    At the moment I’m heavily involved in contemporary worship expressions, but personally I would rather sit in my room with my guitar & the good book & meditate on what I read.
    As someone who has planned more than my fair share of church services, the question I have always tried to ask has been “who is this for, what is going to allow the to people gathered to connect with each other & the divine. But the line I think I walk on is the one that responds to the culture & the one that sets the culture.
    I guess that this is the organic vs constructed line. I think that people are looking for something that has enough structure that there are handles for people to grip. But it is organic enough to challenge the status quo

  4. Agreed about the environment not feeling at all organic, but I still like the idea of life flourishing in a concrete, constructed place…

  5. Cheryl

    mike, i like that too – and i don’t think the other approaches rule that out either.

    i think i need to work on my language a little more!

    mick – i think what i’m realising is that there are many people who like structure with handles to grip… and there are quite a few who don’t, and we’ve not given them spaces before… they tend to leave the church and do their own thing.

  6. Do you have any anecdotes that demonstrate the “no Handles” space? I remember reading about M Scott Pecks community building weekends that just started with “coming together” & he worked with what evolved from that. It seems to me that structure whether minimalist or extreme is a natural progression that can’t be avoided. For e.g. My wife & I lived in a small Christian community for 15 years. We started having these “non-denominational” nights but try as we might just to come together, structure, albeit small, always came to the fore. I think even Scott Pecks weekend ended up with structure around them.
    As an aside, during our 15 years in community, we ran 100’s of retreats for 1,000’s of people. Virtuallky every small group I ever facilitated saw participants (teenagers) sit in exactly the same seat at every gathering. A curious observation of the human condition wouldn’t you say?

  7. Cheryl

    mick, Ikon do it best – if you’ve seen Pete Rollins’ book ‘How not to speak of God’, there’s a collection of liturgies at the back of that which make sense of the concept.

    i think the sacred spaces we’ve done at different times in this project – particularly the easter saturday ‘Dead Man Waiting’ and ‘Break of Day’ spaces are also examples – search under easter in the categories for descriptions. there’s nothing in either of them that would be familiar to most people, but the spaces find a resonance with a lot of people who haven’t had a church background.

    Blair – i like incarnate!

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