worst biblical metaphor abuse of the month award, or, walking out of church for the first time in my life
Sunday November 27th 2005, 8:28 pm
Filed under: church, personal

for the very first time in my life (at least that i can remember), i walked out of my own church.

but let me back up 30 minutes.

my church is in the midst of a series on the art of god — good stuff. i’ve missed the last two or three weeks, but was stoked about going to church this morning. i got there just as the singing started, so didn’t notice what was on stage until i’d found a seat in the middle of a row, near the front. then i noticed the large cylindar of clay on a wheel. i remembered that we were having a potter for one of the services in this series, and instantly felt dread. they’ve been at our church (it’s a husband/wife team; he throws pots and talks, she sings) more than once in the past, but i’ve always missed it. i’d heard that people love seeing this scriptural metaphor played out, and that there are lots of great things about their presentation. but i’d also heard it has a bit of schlok-factor, and i was bracing myself for that.

but a funny thing happened. when the couple first came out, and she instantly started singing, and he instantly started shaping the clay, i suddenly got all emotional. i choked up and couldn’t sing along; tears formed in my eyes. i was reminded of god’s clear word to me this past may that he was in the process of shaping my heart. and the whole molding, shaping, leaning, pressing, and forming process was so resonant for me — such intimacy between the potter and the clay, such force. nothing delicate about this process. with this, i settled in to look past the schlok and listen to what god wanted to say to me.

but this didn’t last long.

i wish i’d had my noise-cancelling earphones, so i could have watched while listening to gavin bryars’ “jesus’ blood never failed me” or johnny cash’s “god” cd.

but halfway through the wife’s second song, i could tell the whole thing was a schtick for them. he had worked the clay up into a tall cone. and as she wound down her second song, he shaped it right back to it’s starting point. this wasn’t throwing a pot: this was acting. the potter stopped potting, and started preaching. it’s hard to remember a time i’ve heard so many christian cliches strung together. his wife laughed and looked startled on cue (but in a way that looked like someone off stage was cueing her). oh, and brian ferry was calling from the 80s and asking for his hair to be returned.

i know this sounds terribly shallow. and maybe i should have been able to look past all of this and listened to god. if only the guy had kept his hands on the clay. but what he was saying was so opposite of what i’ve come to love about my church. i love that my church does not encourage people to retreat from culture, but to embrace the world and be a transformative presence. i love that my church doesn’t spend much time drawing lines between “us” and “them”, but, instead, focuses on god’s grace for all of us, wherever we are in our journey (which happens to be the name of my church). this message was the opposite. he camped for a while on how the wrong company will corrupt us (not a wholy untrue statement if ‘can’ is subsituted for ‘will’), and went so far as to re-iterate: “if you spend time with people who do bad things, you WILL end up doing the same things — there is no way around this.” many of the people (most) in my church are fairly new believers, and they swalled this hook, line, and sinker. i was as frustrated with the speaker as i was with my fellow church-goers for their audible agreement.

the potter started telling their “testimonies”, filled with every cliche in the book (well, not in “the book”). in the process, he started poking fun at those who don’t believe, using humor as a way to sew a badge of ignorance onto those not in the way of jesus.

i was still thinking i could make it through — if he would just get back to the clay. he almost did: he walked around the wheel and picked up a smaller lump of clay, asking the congregation, “what do you see here?” he must not be used to audiences that speak (like ours does), because he looked startled when half the room said “clay”. he said, “ha — usually people don’t answer.” then he continued with the script: “just a few weeks ago, i asked that question, and the whole congregation looked at me silently, wondering what trick question i was asking. but a little boy in the front row said ‘clay’. folks, it’s the faith of a child that can speak the truth.”

“when you look at this, you see clay,” he continued. his wife nodded, thoughtfully. “but when i look at this, i see…” (at this point, he reached — without looking! — under the black draping surrounding the wheel, and pulled out a beautiful water jar, brightly colored and glazed, just as he dropped the punch line: “i see THIS!” the congregation actually gasped, as did his wife. “and the reason i see THIS, when you only see clay, is that I AM A PROFESSIONAL POTTER.” ok. i can see where he was going with this. and it’s not contrary to the biblical metaphor. but he was working awfully hard to put himself into the god-role. i should tell him that a magician’s cape might add a nice touch of flourish to that moment.

then he got to the part of their story where his wife ‘backslid’ for seven years. he said, “i’ll tell you how far she’d backslidden — when we first got married, she was into eastern religion!” she chuckled. the congregation gasped. i held my breath. he continued — with timing that only comes from 1000 deliveries: “i’d walk into the room, and she was all dingy, dingy, dingy, dingy” (at this, he assumed a meditation pose and swiveled his head around while making the dingy-dingy sound). huge laughter from the audience. the wife threw her head back and laughed hard. the husband smiled victoriously. and i began to shake. literally. i couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. and i noticed i was clenching my teeth so hard my jaw hurt.

this wonderful church is passionate about helping people experience the love of god. but this jerk was mocking people for their pursuit of god (even if that pursuit of god will leave them short of the fullness of life god wants for us), turning them into a comedy routine. my church loves to laugh (which is another thing i love about my church); but laughing at those we are trying to reach with the love of god? i couldn’t take it. this is a holiday weekend, and i’m sure our church was full of friends and family members nervous about being in church (our church is full of people like that most weekends!). i almost invited my spiritually-seeking (somewhat new-agey) cousin to join me this morning — grace of god that i forgot. any spiritual, but not christian, person in the audience — i have to believe — would never want to set foot in our church again.

i quietly got up, excused myself past the people in my row, and walked out. i’ve walked out of christian gatherings before — general sessions at conventions, seminars. but i’ve never walked out of church — especially my own church. i stood, shaking in the lobby, writing an email to my friend the teaching pastor, who was out of town this weekend. i couldn’t believe we would have these people back, knowing this is what they teach (he emailed me later today, telling me when he has seen them in the past, they’ve not done this).

i walked across the campus to the middle school room. my people. the middle school pastor had just begun talking about how god is more interested in our motives than our actions (taking the time to expertly unpack what a ‘motive’ is). ok, i could stay put.

bad speaking, i can live through. boring, i can deal with. passionate-but-simplistic, i can have patience. but rehearsed lines of theological damage — that i can’t tollerate.

wish i coulda seen the potter continue shaping that clay, like god continues to shape my heart.

31 Comments so far
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I don’t think there’s anything harder to stomach than when those who call themselves by Christ’s name act contrary to His teachings. I’ve been struggling through some things here dealing with people who claim the name of Christ, but live like they never knew Him.

Comment by Sean 11.27.05 @ 8:59 pm

So, is it safe to say they won’t be doing anything at NYWC 2006?

Comment by adam 11.27.05 @ 9:55 pm

that’s funny, adam.

Comment by marko 11.27.05 @ 10:05 pm

did they try to sell you any snake oil after the service?

Comment by josh 11.27.05 @ 11:06 pm

sounds like a bad saturday night live skit.

Comment by Deana 11.28.05 @ 12:01 am

thank you so much for being you, and for sharing this.

The line that caught me the most was this one,

“such intimacy between the potter and the clay, such force. nothing delicate about this process.”

What a poignant truth.

thanks for being brave enough to walk out. “Jesus blood never failed me yet,” indeed.

Comment by renee 11.28.05 @ 12:11 am

josh, they were selling stuff; don’t think they had snake oil. lots of pots and stuff, though!

Comment by marko 11.28.05 @ 12:55 am

thanks for paying attention to the subtle or not so subtle ways the church can make fun of others. i’m encouraged by your noticings and your willingness to stand up and make a statement about them. seems honering to me somehow.

Comment by sevita 11.28.05 @ 1:24 am

ugh! but i know myself and many friends have gotten caught giving a forum to someone who has gone a direction they had no idea for. let’s hope God works good through the mess

Comment by gavin 11.28.05 @ 1:45 am

I find ‘Us & Them’ to be an intriguing name for your church.

Luv ya Marko!

Comment by john 11.28.05 @ 3:32 am


If you’re looking for a new church there’s always room over here in the UCC. We’re so “them” we fogot who the “us” was.


PS. If you’ve got the resources…go back a few years and listen to Ken Medema’s “potter and clay”.

Comment by steve 11.28.05 @ 6:04 am

Any “us and them” mindset rubs me the wrong way- as if “we” are without sin!

Anyway, I thought you handled this pretty well; hopefully there wasn’t too much damage done in this “service.”

Comment by Lukas McKnight 11.28.05 @ 11:33 am


I got thinking about this more and more. I watched last nite Rob Bell’s Bullhorn and that (How does Rob put it?) “Heaven weeps for Creepy people like You” (Got me thinking about how Heaven is weeping over this potter) And we’re called to love even those Jerks who have an agenda.

Comment by Gman 11.28.05 @ 11:48 am

Marko- I appreciate your realness. I think that your wrote well and expressed real feelings without being too harsh. You are in an enviable position by many because you can do that without much repercussion. Me they’d probably make me do a liturgical dance the next week. Oh wait I work at a Calvary Chapel. “Insert a pithy remark here” :)

Comment by Lars 11.28.05 @ 12:12 pm

Lame, sad, sick, offensive….just a few words that come to mind when reading this post. I hate that this is the norm in most churches, at least in my own experience. I feel so uneasy going to church as it is, but when someone then comes and slams my own spirituality in a place that is supposed to be an open door…that just becomes another match to throw into the already raging fire that exists about church in the first place. Sorry for the rambling….Good for you to walk out and stand up for those who may not know any better.

Comment by Mary Fran 11.28.05 @ 2:44 pm

It does sound like the 6th grade music teachers skit on Saturday Night Live.

And I can see how the eastern religion thing would bother you especially with what you have been through.

I tell ya what bothers me. More and more, liturgical or traditional, church just seems to be a game, a show, and all that.


Comment by Clint Walker 11.28.05 @ 4:12 pm

let me echo Gman’s comment. Yes, these folks are idiots (my favorite word) but God loves them too.

Just doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. Good for you for walking out.

Did that elicit any comment?

Comment by Jay P 11.28.05 @ 4:13 pm

The one time I ALMOST walked out of church (and I regret that I didn’t) was when we had a fund raising drive with professional fund raisers - the pastor actually stood in front of the congregation and stated to the penny how much money he was going to give to the campaign. And mentioned that others would do the same over the next several weeks. (Whatever happened to the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing….?) I attended a different church for the next several weeks and the pastor never noticed. The fund raising drive accomplished 2 things: we exceeded our goal, and lost 5% of our membership.

In the same drive, I was invited to a meeting that I DID walk out of - when I was handed a list of people in the church who were the top 10% givers of the whole congregation (my name was on the list) - these were the people the fund raisers were going to “target” first. Whatever happened to confidentiality? And oh, btw, you just totally dissed the givers who tithe their social security and welfare checks and unemployment checks because that don’t pass that 10% threshold. It was very hard for me to stay in that congregation.

Comment by Carl 11.28.05 @ 4:49 pm

it’s hard to remember a time i’ve heard so many christian cliches strung together. his wife laughed and looked startled on cue (but in a way that looked like someone off stage was cueing her)

the potter started telling their “testimonies”, filled with every cliche in the book (well, not in “the book”). in the process, he started poking fun at those who don’t believe, using humor as a way to sew a badge of ignorance onto those not in the way of jesus.
This is exactly why I do not go to church when I know they’ll be there. Well, that, and the fact that I’ve seen the pottery show about ten times now.

Comment by DavemSmith 11.28.05 @ 5:05 pm


For the most part I am usually encouraged and spurred by your entries, however this one was discouraging.

You have been discouraged when other blogs write negative things about you or YS. I’ve never seen or heard of this couple, so I can’t defend or even speak to what they do, I just wonder if disparaging them on your blog is the best way to react to this (and now about 20 others have rallied around your comments).

Not exactly the same thing (because he didn’t speak), but even this year I was wondering about the “routine” of “The Jesus Painter” at the convention. Wondering if the “routine” was from the heart or just his job. Ultimately, not for me to judge.

Again, I’m sure I would have been discouraged in the same ways you were Sunday morning, but ultimately I am equally discouraged that it is being dealt with on the blog.

I do thank you for this blog, for the funnies, and for the way you share your heart with us (and encourage us).


Comment by Brian Aaby 11.29.05 @ 1:31 am

sorry it was discouraging for you, brian. believe me, it was discouraging for me. and my blog — i hope you’ve seen — is truly a reflection of what’s going on in my life. being so discouraged by what was happening in my own church that i felt compelled to walk out was certainly a significant thing in my life. you will notice, i did not mention the name of the people or ministry, because my post was not an attempt to hurt them.

Comment by marko 11.29.05 @ 2:13 am

It would have been interesting for you to have enquired of some of those “seekers” that make up a large percentage of the congregation at Journey
as to their response. You are responding from the place of veteran Christ-follower who thinks carefully about communication (a gadfly of sorts:)). However- do you wonder how “they” heard and experienced it? It would have been interesting to investigate that.

About 6 months ago, one of the girls in our 20Somethings group shared with me that the turning point in her life last year was the ministry you are describing. It was her first time in church EVER that weekend. She at that time had been in the exotic dancing industry for 5 years. God spoke powerfully to her that day and
her life has been transforming ever since. Imagine that!

Just something to consider. Although I didn’t personally love the service, it meant much to me knowing that these people had reached exactly the type of person Journey hopes to reach, one year ago from this last weekend.

Comment by Linda Noble 11.29.05 @ 3:39 pm

Oh- and by the way- my former exotic dancer friend loves Rob Bell too- just so you know that she isn’t one of those “geeky” exotic dancers that are roaming around out there in Seekerland.

Comment by Linda Noble 11.29.05 @ 4:42 pm

linda - in the past you’ve thought i was mischaracterizing you (which may have been fair in some of those situations). i think, this time, the reverse is true. i know god uses these people to have an impact on those who attend our church. i know they have had an impact on people in the past. that’s why i wish they’d stuck to the clay! that’s why i wish they’d stayed true to the metaphor. it’s a beautiful metaphor, and they have the opportunity to powerfully unpack it for people. but, unfortunately, so much of what he was saying was contrary to what i understand our church to be about! seriously, i really thought you would feel the exact same way about this, because you are — i believe — so wonderfully committed to reaching people with jesus’ love, as well as to watching out for the subtle messages we send out that are contrary to that.

Comment by marko 11.29.05 @ 4:52 pm

All I’m saying is that sometimes I wonder what the people we are advocating for are really thinking. Do we know unless we talk to them? It’s not about me- it’s about them.
I don’t think I was commenting on you- only on the interesting point that a real live exotic dancer who is only 25 was reached by their message. I feel like I have nothing to say about my personal reactions when her life was changed.
I think her reaction informs my thinking about their message and its relevance to seekers.

Comment by Linda Noble 11.29.05 @ 4:59 pm

it’s NOT just about them, linda. the message itself (well, parts of it — not all of it) were just plain wrong. whether your friend HEARD it as wrong or not is only a fraction of the issue. as i said: i hope and pray the “wrongness” slid right off her soul like teflon, and she only saw jesus. but an damaging theological message that’s the opposite of what our church preaches every other week is still wrong, whether people immediately notice it or not. the presenters were skilled presenters — i’m sure most people didn’t notice this stuff. that doesn’t mean lousy and destructive seeds were planted that will create less than fullness of life in the future (like, if and when your friend decides she can ONLY have christian friends, because she heard that from someone at our church once; or when she subtly starts thinking her buddhist friend is a complete ignorant dork for what she believes, because that guy who had such a huge impact on her with the clay thing made that very clear).

Comment by marko 11.29.05 @ 7:27 pm

oh, and i’m thrilled your friend was reached by their message. but that doesn’t validate it. i’ve seen god use some really wacky messages to truly reach people.

and again — i think their clay molding stuff was great (what i saw of it). i just wish they’d stayed there.

Comment by marko 11.29.05 @ 8:56 pm

Thanks for the continued dialogue. I guess what I am still struggling with here is that if you think it is “wrong” shouldn’t you go to the actual offenders? I know (and appreciate) that you didn’t mention them by name, however, it is clear that many know who you are talking about and for those who don’t it wouldn’t be too tough to find out who they are (amazing what you can do with a couple google searches).
If they were wrong I would hope that someone would try to help them understand their error so that it is not reapeated.

Comment by brian aaby 11.29.05 @ 10:55 pm

well, you may be right there, brian. two things: first, i actually thought no one would know who i was talking about! silly me, i guess. i think there are many people who do the same kind of presentation (i’ve seen several in the last few years), so assumed i could make it anonymous. so i didn’t intend this post to be a “airing my complaints about so-and-so”. it was supposed to just be my internal processing about the troubling (for me) fact that something in my own church made me mad enough to walk out. second: i felt my first responsibility was to the leadership of my church, who brought the presentation. i have connected with them and shared my concerns (they’re used to me being a bit of a pain in the butt, as i’m sure you can imagine — amazing, truly, that they still let me preach once in a while!).

Comment by marko 11.29.05 @ 11:47 pm

a youth worker… pain in the butt? What? Never!!! I thought our reputation was stellar?

Thanks Marko.

Comment by brian aaby 11.30.05 @ 12:26 am

[…] where they are on their own spiritual journey. As Jim was saying this, I was reminded of marko leaving his own church because of a similiar thing - insulting those who are on the journey. Unfortunately, […]

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