“Unorthodox, yes. But effective.”

That’s the summary provided by Damian Williams, pastor of Steel City Church (you’ve got to take a look the pic on their homepage). What, you might be asking, is unorthodox? Well, Steel City Church meets in The Altar Bar–a venue that is transformed from “a popular, smoky night club to a sanctuary–in the heart of Pittsburgh’s strip district.” Williams explains,

“We chose this location because it’s a place of identification for the people we’re reaching.”

The article (“Church by Day” in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Outreach magazine, 26) goes on to share what the atmosphere in the services is like.

“During Sunday night services, people are encouraged to respond to questions by text messaging their thoughts, which are then projected onto one of the six flat-screen TV’s mounted above the bar. On another TV, you might find a Steelers football game.”

In preparation for worship services, volunteers are said to be “cleaning up vomit, broken glass and cigarette butts–as well as throwing a sheet over bottles of vodka, whiskey and rum in hopes of not tempting worshippers with alcohol addictions.”

So is this what is means to be a missional church? According to Williams, indeed it is. Under the church’s values of missional living, he writes,

“While Christianity can be (and sometimes is) built around isolating ourselves from evil doers and sinners and creating a community of religious holiness and moral purity, it can also be built around this: joining with broken sinners and evil doers (that would be all of us) and crying out together to God, hungry for his grace and mercy. At Steel City Church, we desire to see the latter lived out in our midst.”

A caveat: The website states that SCC’s mission is to be an Acts 29 church. I checked to see if they are listed in the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and noticed that they were not affiliated with the network though they their mission appears very similar.

Now, I would like to take a look at this model of doing church. First, I would like to commend Williams for wanting to reach sinners where they are. I am often bothered when I go to church and I only find white middle-class Americans with refined morality. There is a legitimate criticism to be made that the Church has often isolated itself from the world it is trying to reach. Being at arms length goes a long way into “reaching out” and embracing the opportunities before you.

With that said, there are more problems in this article than I have time to address. As you can see by the title, it appears that the basis for his ministry lies in effectiveness, not orthodoxy. I am not saying that all churches should have a steeple and be located in gated communities, but the ekklesia is comprised of the “called-out” ones who are to be set apart from the world in order to reach the world. It appears that the philosophy Williams adopts is assimilating into the world to reach the world contrary to the biblical call to be holy, above reproach, and credible witness while lovingly confronting the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that being missional also requires that one must be unrelentingly biblical and robustly theological. If one looks at the life at Paul, he did “all for the sake of the gospel” by “becoming all things to all men,” but he certain did not take short-cuts or trivialize the essential matter of biblical fidelity and theological necessity.

Second, itis one thing to be on mission in the sense that Christians are being sent to love the lost and build a meaningful relationship with them; it is altogether another thing to set up camp in the heart of Sodom. I know, I know. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and had dinner with them in their homes. I believe that wholeheartedly, but is this a faithful and accurate picture of the Church and what it means to be the people of God?

Finally, I don’t if I am to chalk this one up to my traditional ways, but since when can one participate in a worship service while watching a Steelers game? The text-messaging thing already happens in church (I see it all the time), so it might as well be plastered on TV’s. No seriously, where is the talk about instruction and Bible teaching? Exposition of Scripture? Or anything remotely related to a regulative order of worship?

Like I stated, there are some things I appreciate about what SCC and Williams want to do; however, as a Christian and minister, I do not feel comfortable ministering in a strip bar and familiarizing people with a place which they may be tempted to check out when it is not a sanctuary but a strip tease. And for those who used to be teased, continuing to attend in a place where there would be so many old memories of sinful practices, would not the simple attending of church be a struggle and temptation? I am afraid that this method of doing church is more effective than Williams realizes–and why I prefer to do church the orthodox way.

What are your thoughts?

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Growth Movement, Missional

11 Comments on ““Unorthodox, yes. But effective.””

  1. Joe Thorn Says:

    Timmy,

    Like you I am excited about a lot of what they are doing, but also have some real concerns. I find Last Supper recreation on the website to be odd at best, and honestly – keeping the game on during the service is a ridiculous distraction from worship (the point of gathering). Then again, I don’t know the details. Are they meeting when the bar is open and therefore that TV must be on for the patrons? It doesn’t look like it. I also have issues with how they have worded some of their “beliefs.” Then again, these may simply be what they throws out there for the unchurched to get a very basic grasp on where the church is coming from, while having a more detailed and accurate statement of faith.

    At any rate – you said, “As you can see by the title, it appears that the basis for his ministry lies in effectiveness, not orthodoxy.” I am not sure of this is fair because 1) “orthodoxy” here does not mean “Orthodoxy” (the catholic faith all Christians embrace), but traditional. And 2) I just don’t know if he would even say that the basis of his ministry is effectiveness. It may not be a fair deduction. It could be, but I am not sure.

    You also said that “I do not feel comfortable ministering in a strip bar and familiarizing people with a place which they may be tempted to check out when it is not a sanctuary but a strip tease.”

    1) Altar Bar is not a strip club/bar, it is an upscale night club.

    2) I don’t think the Bible teaches that the church should have a building that is truly a “sanctuary.”

    And do you really mean it when you imply we shouldn’t “set up camp in the heart of Sodom?” I mean, to be generous I would assume that you do not mean what you said (we should avoid immoral cities and regions), and that you mean something else. But I believe God calls us to every city and region to preach the Gospel.

    Timmy, you know I love you man, and we may just disagree on some of this stuff. But it seems like you have some objections to what’s being done here that are fair, and others that are less so.

  2. Steve McCoy Says:

    Timmy, I have to agree with Joe on this one. He makes very good points.

    It seems you are missing the point in several places. Joe mentioned how you take “unorthodox” and make it “not orthodoxy.” Man, you need to be careful when dealing with “orthodoxy” issues of other people/churches. You can be a gossip starter.

    Another mistake you make, and I’ve checked their website for this, is that I don’t see anything that says they claim to be a part of the Acts 29 Network. They are just saying they are a continuance of the book of Acts. They are using “Acts 29” in the general sense that all churches can and at times do.


  3. Joe,

    Points well taken. I did not make the distinction between what is orthodox and orthodoxy. Concerning The Altar Bar, it may very well be an upscale night club, but from the little research I did on it last night, it was very hard for me to not think that it was more than that. I would have provided the links but the content was not something I want to promote on my blog. I will just leave it at that for now.

    My point about setting up camp in the heart of Sodom and the strip tease concerns what I said in the subsequent statements, namely that I believe it would be really difficult for anyone who was saved out of an environment such as The Altar Bar to actually have church there. From the alcohol to the sex and the drugs, the memories and/or possible addictions would in my mind place the location in a very unstable place for new Christians seeking to see “all things become new.”

    I never said that we should avoid immoral cities or regions. Actually, I said just the opposite when I mentioned my frustration with so many churches who are comprised of nothing more than “white middle-class Americans with refined morality.” We should go to every region and inch of this world, the darkest and most remote parts with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not come to save people we think are “manageable” or “save-able” from our perspective. We preach an indiscriminate gospel. With that said, I believe it would be healthier for a church to be a “sanctuary” for those who come out of such darkness and evil. That was all I was trying to say.

    For what its worth, I chose to use “Sodom” to bring the example of Lot to our remembrance. If I may recount, when Abram and Lot first departed ways, Lot “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Gen. 13:12). A little later, Lot was said to be “dwelling in Sodom” (Gen. 14:12). Even still, we find Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (Gen 19:1). My point is that we should reach those in Sodom as those who are “sent” (missional), but that does not mean that we have to move our tents into Sodom.

    Joe, I love you too brother, and as you know, I am not as up on this stuff as you guys are. You have spent much more time thinking through these matters than me. I have my convictions but am willing to listen, learn, and change should I be shown otherwise from biblical perspective and sound words. My fear is that we can get so anti-traditional that we see just how far we can go in being “unorthodox” as a form of protest against the way we used to do church. When I read articles or hear church leaders talk about their unusual way of doing church, it becomes their bragging point (“we more missional, more relevant, more worldly, etc.). Again, I truly appreciate your feedback and want to know where and how you would disagree with me so I can better wrestle with these matters.


  4. Steve,

    Thanks for your comment brother. It may indeed be the case that I am missing the point, and I am glad you are willing to help me see where I am wrong. As I stated in my comment Joe, I concede the point about orthodoxy and orthodox. There is no intent to being a “gossip starter.” Regarding the orthodox matter, I would be interested in hearing from you and Joe about what you guys think about the regulative principle and how that would relate here.

    If I may say, Steve, you are mistaken about my mistake concerning Acts 29. I said exactly what you said in my caveat. Here is what I said:

    The website states that SCC’s mission is to be an Acts 29 church. I checked to see if they are listed in the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and noticed that they were not affiliated with the network though they their mission appears very similar.

    In the text I provided this link http://www.acts29network.org/churches/united-states/east-region/
    to show that indeed they were not a part of Acts 29 network.

    You said:
    Another mistake you make, and I’ve checked their website for this, is that I don’t see anything that says they claim to be a part of the Acts 29 Network. They are just saying they are a continuance of the book of Acts. They are using “Acts 29″ in the general sense that all churches can and at times do.

    Are we not saying the same thing here?

  5. Steve McCoy Says:

    Timmy, the way you stated the Acts 29 thing made it appear that you thought they claimed to be an A29 Network church. To bring it up one way or another didn’t seem relevant, and made it appear you were implying something. If you didn’t intend to imply anything, my bad. But bringing up the network in the first place seemed unnecessary and odd.

    I’m not really interested in discussing this church and the regulative principle. From their website it appears they are working redemptively to reach their community. I’d rather not spend my time picking on someone who appears biblically faithful. I’ve spent the last 3 years of my life trying hard to stop doing that.

  6. Mark Rogers Says:

    When I looked at the site and saw them talk about Acts 29, I wondered if they were a part of the network. So Timmy’s research and explanation of that matter was helpful to me.


  7. Steve,

    Thanks for the explanation. There was no intent to be confusing. I felt it was a particularly relevant caveat because SCC’s mission looked like something straight from the A29 network page, so I wanted to see if they were affiliated with the network. When i saw that they weren’t, I simply made the point that their mission appears to be similar to the A29 network though they are not affiliated with it. I hope you see that I was not implying anything there.

    The reason I asked about the regulative principle is because I would like to hear from guys like you and Joe where and how you draw the line between what is orthodox and what is unorthodox. In the pursuit of being relevant to our culture and minister in a redemptive fashion, I am concerned that contours of orthodoxy is being stretched if not moved to places many evangelicals would call into question. I am all about looking for creative ways to reach people with the gospel of Christ, but what I am hearing from magazine articles and blogs in the church growth movement is a pursuit of innovation which is fueled by pragmatism (“what’s effective”) more than anything else. I would like to see more churches be grounded in a confessional tradition and biblical exposition as a basis for their mission and message.

    In the future, I hope to better explain my questions and work through these issues. I hope that you would be interested in continuing this discussion in the future.

  8. John Botkin Says:

    timmy,
    by way of encouragement, i think the issues you raise need to be at the forefront of our discussion about how to do church today. lots of things are done in the name of being ‘missional’ that are not biblical. but we should be both! we should have a passionate, biblical mission-mindedness. unfortunately, some do not want to think through how ot be biblically missional, which means sin is excused in the name of reaching people, and pragmatic methods are embraced even though they are not antithetical to the gospel.

    i think there is a difference between being picky and being thoughtful about how we engage the culture with the gospel – something we desparately need to do! as long as our critique does not descend to the level of name-calling, but leads us to more faithful ministry in our own lives (and perhaps in the lives of others).

    i say let’s lose the wimpy, wounded syndrome and start holding one another accountable as pastors for what we do in the name of Christ. all of that to say, keep up the good work.

    blessings,
    john

    http://deadtheologian.blogspot.com


  9. John,

    Thanks for your input. I think what you are saying is that if we are to be redemptive in our mission, we could be fast approaching a time where we need to be redemptive to the whole concept of being missional. If by missional we mean, “Let’s see how much we can get away with and still be considered orthodox,” I think we need to be redeem the whole idea of being redemptive and missional. Now, for those in this discussion, I know this is not the case, but that is not to say that there is not a significant pull (especially in the emerging church movement) to use these terms to justify practices and even endorse beliefs which many evangelicals would not accept. Just take for instance Spencer Burke’s (Theooze) recent book A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity for example. His espousal of universalism and treatment of the Trinity is indeed heretical. Furthermore, you can go to Generous Orthodoxy’s Think Tank and find that Keith DeRose has spent the majority of the summer of ’06 on the GOTT blog making a case for universalism. Those are just two examples of many which could be offered by those who saying we are just having a “generous orthodoxy” while seeking to be “redemptive.” On a positive note, I have been really encouraged by men like Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller who are offering a much different (and might I add much more biblical) view of a missional approach to kingdom living. But as one would see, Driscoll and Keller are not liked very much by many in the ECM.

  10. John Botkin Says:

    …yes, i agree. i think driscoll may push the envelope a bit, but i still love him – his sermons are on my podcast and in my car right now. i enjoy his very straightforward style that doesn’t compromise biblical truth. keller has also been a very helpful voice in thinking about how to biblically engage culture. we can learn much from both of these men!

  11. Leigh F. Says:

    Good morning! I was searching the web for references to Steel City Church and I found your blog. I am a member of SCC and have been since we first began back in Sept. 2006. Although we no longer meet in an nightclub, I wanted to clear up any confusion about the services that were held at the Altar Bar. First of all, this nightclub was originally a big, beautiful church that was eventually turned into a club. Our services were on Sunday night when there were no bar patrons in the club. Yes, on Friday and Saturday nights there were people dancing, drinking, and smoking, but Sunday, we were praying, worshipping and having Christian fellowship. We did watch football games, but only before worship began. And lastly, our beliefs, actions and worship services are based on the Bible.

    In the past few months, we have moved our services into a Christian-based coffeehouse in the heart of Oakland. If you are not familiar with Pittsburgh, Oakland is home to many colleges including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. You might be suprised how “normal” our services are.

    The great thing about SCC is that God is changing our lives. I’ve seen people give up addictions, accept Jesus Christ as their savior, get involved in their community, and worship the Lord with true love and adoration. I’ve been to many chuches in my life, and have never seen this evidence of tranformation anywhere else. When our services end, you don’t see people running for the door. You see groups of people praying for each other, getting involved in volunteer activities, or discussing the message we have just heard. We are genuinely excited about Jesus!

    If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, please come and visit SCC. We welcome all!


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