Velvet Elvis

by Lesley on May 18, 2008 · 2 comments

in books,christianity

I never go to Starbucks on the weekend. In fact, I rarely go to Starbucks at all because my husband made me read a Suzie Orman book last year that talks about how much money you can save over the course of the year if you cut out little things like trips to coffee shops. But, I felt this weekend called for a little pick-me-up treat, and so I packed up my bible and a book and walked over to the neigbhorhood java fix. Since I don’t drink coffee, I choose Starbucks over Peets because there’s a better selection of tea drinks.

I’m reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. By reading, I mean that I’ve been grazing slooowwwwlllllyyyy over several chapters since January. I really haven’t been able to get into the book, probably because I had negative ideas about it before I started reading. I like books that are more rooted in scripture, but I also don’t like making conclusions about people before I give them a chance. All that to say, I busted out Velvet Elvis at Starbucks and started lightly flipping through the fourth chapter while keeping my ears, and eyes, open for good people watching.

As background, Rob Bell started Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. On its very first Sunday in existence, with no marketing or advertising, 1,000 people showed up to worship. The church now, less than 10 years later, has 10,000 worshippers every Sunday.
In talking about why he started Mars Hill, this is what he said:

“The dream actually began years before when Kristen and I were living in Los Angeles. We heard about a church called Christian Assembly, so we visited it. What I saw changed everything for me…This community was exploding with creativity and life—it was like people woke up on Sunday morning and asked themselves, “What would I like to do today more than anything else? How about going to a church service?” I could not get my mind around this at first…. Not, “I have to” but “I get to”. Not obligation but celebration. Not duty but desire.”

I immediately started thinking about how Rob Bell’s observations were nothing new. “There a thousands of churches across America where celebration reigns over obligation,” I thought. Rob Bell thinks he’s such a hot shot. Hmmmf.

Then I started people watching again. A mom and daughter run into another mom and daughter. Their exchange:

“Oh you caught me. We were running 10 minutes late for church so we just thought, ‘it’s not worth it—let’s grab Starbucks.’”

“Oh, well we went to mass last night so we’re free this morning.”

They exchange more conversation and then say their goodbyes. Another mom and daughter walk up and say hello. They’ve just gotten out of the nearby service and mom mentions how it was nothing new and that her husband stayed at home.

I glance back at my book. Yes, maybe Rob Bell is on to something. I think about why I’m at Starbucks on a Sunday morning and not at my own church. I tell myself it’s because the 11 a.m. service is right when I need to be at work. But really, I could have gone to the 9 a.m. I don’t prefer the 9 a.m. service because it’s more formal. In fact, I’ve never even gone before. I prefer to sleep in. I wonder if maybe I haven’t gone because I’m starting to see church as a habit, an obligation. I hope this isn’t the case but I have a hunch it might be.

I’m not sure how to make it different. Do you? We’ve attended our church for a year now and they haven’t made any dramatic changes. The sermons are interesting. The worship is powerful and beautiful and all that. The people are kind. They have all the programs and events and bible studies anyone would ever need. I don’t think it’s their fault that I might be in a little funk about how I feel. And my funk isn’t enough to make me not go, it’s just that I feel funny every time I do. I feel like I’m not “right” somehow. How do I make it right? I’m not convinced I’ll find the answers in a Rob Bell book, but I’m sure glad he helped call me out. It’s going to make me pray, and pursue and read my bible with deeper questioning and a strong hope that I’ll find out how to find the passion that I’m longing for.

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Thanks for bringing up the thought-provoking issue. I too find myself incredibly skeptical of Rob Bell and although I don't agree with him on some things, he does raise some good points about church. I was actually just thinking about this issue on Sunday as I sat in church and was yelled at for 40 minutes. Yes, yelled. Apparently Mozambican preachers are only effective if they scream their message but this just made me cringe and stop listening and I diagrammed my offense for next year in my notebook. I definitely wasn't changed by this service but I don't think that's the only reason I should go. Granted, I want to go to church to learn and grow spiritually but I also go to worship and offer a SACRIFICE of praise- some days it really does feel like a sacrifice. However, I did get to worship my God with my brothers and sisters and that made the service worth it. It's hard not thinking "what am I getting out of church?" I'm trying to look at it more as, "what can I bring to church?" and stop placing all the focus on myself.On Sunday nights we meet at the ambassador's home for what we call "fellowship." It's a time of praise, prayer in small groups, watching a dvd and fellowship around a table of goodies. It is my favorite type of church and I actually look forward to it every week. We've been watching dvds by Andy Stanely about wisdom and recently he spoke about how to invest your time wisely. He said that small investments of time over a long-span of time become incredibly significant. Example: working out for a 1/2 hour 4 times a week over a year will yield significant results. And missing just a few of those chunks of time will not cause a major impact. Example missing one workout won't have a huge impact. Apply this principle to quiet times and going to church. Small investments over the long span yield HUGE results! Missing a quiet time here and there won't drastically hinder your relationship with God but if you are faithful in investing those small chunks of time daily, you will grow a ton spiritually. So too with church. Sleeping in one Sunday won't change anything. But investing that time weekly will. People who go to church on Easter and Christmas won't see the benefits of those who go weekly. We won't be transformed and grow a ton each service but by investing that time, we will see growth in the long-run. I confess that at times I've gone to the International Church here solely because I have the label "missionary" on my forehead and will get crap if I don't go- great motivation huh? I have learned practically nothing from any of the sermons here but I have learned about worship and fellowship and sacrifice. Plus, this has forced me to search out on-line sermons and I have learned and grown a ton from listening to Francis Chan and Mike Erre. Ok, sorry that my comments are so long.


I just love reading your blogs. They are so well written! If you find an answer to this church issue please let me know. My church here is Redding is interesting because they let you drink coffee while in the service. To me, its a blast! Is that bad??