Recently, I was in Denver CO and visited the “Scum of the Earth” church. It’s certainly a name for a church that catches your attention doesn’t it?
I had previously heard about the church via a few facebook postings from Doug Groothuis (he has preached there) and so I figured it would be a good church to go to, and I figured it would be an experience!
I enjoyed the service quite a bit and was surprised by a few things as well. First, I knew the subcultures that they were trying to reach so I was expecting to see those sorts of people there, so that wasn’t really shocking or anything, especially since I could probably have fit right in for a number of years. I appreciate the fact that the church exists (they are currently out of their normal building for renovation, so pray that they can get back in quickly!) because most of the people there would’ve probably never set food in a “normal” church, even if said church would’ve accepted them. An interesting point there is that both sides are somewhat to blame at that part. There are a large number of churches who wouldn’t want “that” type of person in their building, and so there’s certainly an un-Christlike attitude on the part of those churches. However, I’m willing to bet that a lot of the people in attendance probably wouldn’t attend those churches as a matter of principle. After all, they would feel out of place and would presumably be quite misunderstood. So really, those two are the different sides to the same coin.
That said, the people were quite friendly, as when I walked in I was greeted by a pair of Jesse’s, one of whom had quite the impressive green mohawk. However, I actually felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable the second I walked in because I had brought a bible. This leads me an interesting question, and that would be, how accepting would they be of a typical businessman? What would the reaction be if someone from one of the “normal” churches decided they were going to start coming? Unfortunately, I was only there for one service, and it was the morning one whereas their night service is the main one. Based on what I saw, I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they would do their best to make the person feel welcome, but it would undoubtedly be an issue worth thinking about.
Personally, my awkward feelings were helped by the fact that as I sat down I looked over and saw renowned New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg sitting a few seats from me! Turns out, he was one of the founding members of the church, and he’s also not a bad tenor as I was able to sit next to him and his family during worship. The seating was also something that was a bit awkward. As you might expect, the church was a very laid back sort of service so that there were couches and typical coffee-shop type furniture. The awkwardness came when there was a circle of chairs in the middle and since there was no identifiable “pulpit” I wasn’t sure where anything would be taking place. As it turns out, I chose to sit directly in front of where the main pastor was. This wasn’t a huge deal as there was an empty seat a couple away and I was able to move. Also, this could be simply a peculiarity of them not being in their normal building and having to set up with what they had. Still, it would’ve been helpful to have someone explain where things would happen.
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was how the service was structured. The pastor passed out some papers around to everyone that included the order of service and some scriptures for reading and the lyrics to the worship songs that were going to be sung. The surprising part is that this church actually uses liturgy! This was surprising for a number of reasons, especially for someone who grew up in protestant churches of various stripes. Liturgy is really something you don’t find in many protestant churches today, and is generally termed “old” and in our society, old is equated with bad. There have certainly been more serious reasons to come against the use of liturgy throughout church history, but as far as I could tell, this church wasn’t falling into error. It was strange hearing/seeing things like “eucharist” and “doxology” and the call and response type service coming from the hardcore/emo/goth/etc crowd, but it was also really cool in a way. Here were people that hadn’t been (presumably) raised in the church, and so therefore were able to take a more face value look at a liturgical approach to a church service.
Something that also impressed me was the fact that, while most didn’t have bibles, many were eager to read the scriptures. The pastor handed out pieces of paper which had several scriptures to be read and simply asked for volunteers. This is a common practice regardless of what church service/ministry event you go to, but there was a major difference. With this church, it wasn’t awkward. In most every other situation I’ve been in, whether that be a church service, small group, campus ministry etc. when the leader asks for someone to read scripture it is always an awkward experience. Nobody makes eye contact so as to not be chosen, nobody volunteers and it’s perfectly silent. This goes on for a few minutes and then someone finally starts reading. I think if Christians really believed that the Bible really is the very Word of God, then we should be much more eager to actually read it. Yes, reading out loud and in front of groups is probably a scary experience, especially for some of the more shy people, but that is something that needs to be worked through, not hid behind. There are some strong lessons to be learned from their example.
I’m not to keen on the fact that the first song that they did to sort of get people’s attention was a Bob Marley tune…though I’m not entirely sure if it actually was or if he was kidding, I’m not too big into the guy. The worship songs themselves were songs you would hear anywhere else, such as “We Fall Down” and “Here I am to worship” as well as an old hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus” and was entirely acoustic with one guitar/singer and a guy on the djembe. I enjoyed the worship.
I’m not sure what the usual pastor is like since this particular message was delivered by a guest pastor. He preached on the gifts of the spirit, with a particular emphasis on the gift of tongues. Since I spent several years in high school in the Assemblies of God church, this topic was of particular interest to me. I was right with him in pretty much everything he had to say, though he was definitely a topical preacher instead of an exegetical one. He addressed some of the errors on a couple different sides when people talk about tongues; those being that there is a second infilling of the Spirit, tongues as evidence for salvation, tongues as evil, and attitudes from people who have the gift or who don’t and how they look at and treat others.
One other issue that you are bound to run into when having a church like this, is how to address the dress code. I understand that what you don’t want to do is tell them they have to look “normal” but at the same time, there are certain types of attire that could be stumbling blocks to others in the church. One young lady had a barely-there skirt and though she walked by quickly, it was a distraction, especially as one who knows all too well how powerful the temptation of lust can be. Truthfully, I’m not sure how you would address something like that, but I would say it is something that is important and needs to be addressed, especially in a church dynamic where that probably isn’t an uncommon thing.
Overall, I really enjoyed the service and believe that the ministry is doing some great things for Denver. If you happen to be in the area, go check them out. You might just learn a few things from being around “scum”.