The underbelly of cutting-edge church

Hi, welcome to our virtual coffee shop. Pull up a chair, take the load of your feet. Let’s chat.

So who are you, where you from, what do you do in life?
Hi. I’m Sally Morgenthaler, newcomer to the café. Good to know this second-living room space exists at the click of a mouse! A bit about me. I am founder of, a site for re-imagining worship in emerging culture. I’ve written and collaborated on several books about emerging worship and ministry. I also write about emerging worship for, Rev Magazine, and Worship Leader Magazine, and consult with churches as they transition out of seeker, praise and worship, or traditional into emerging forms that make sense in their context.

Can I get you a drink? Cappucino, earl grey, dandelion and burdock, pale ale?
A Newcastle would be nice, but if you don’t have that, tonic water with lime…

Would you like a doughnut or pastry to go with that?
Uh, no – I don’t think my metabolism could handle it. Not without a major run in the park with my lab, Maggie.

So, if you had to describe the church/project/experiment/thingy you are currently involved with in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Worship/cultural formation for contemporary (otherwise known as “Enlightenment Re-dux”) churches who’ve just realized that their seeker, seeker-sensitive, and/or praise and worship services stopped being contemporary about fifteen years ago.

Are you an instigator? / new recruit? / have absolutely no recollection of how you got involved?
Instigator should probably have been my first name. I think it’s in my DNA. But I had an amazing dad who, fortunately, always let me know that I always had options and that, if I wanted to do something in life, I couldn’t just sit around waiting for my ship to come in. I had to send it out. Again and again.

What do you value most about being part of it?
Two things. One, I love being a catalyst for foundational change so that U.S. churches really begin transforming their communities vs. building large complexes that simply enshrine and protect a “Christian” way of life. Two, I enjoy being a conduit: expressing what others have already been wrestling with, but simply haven’t had the opportunity to express.

What excites you most about it?
Helping the Church name its reality is one of my passions, because, in my view, if we aren’t starting with how things really are, we have no hope of changing to where God is calling us to be. Sometimes I feel like my calling is to be the little kid on the sidelines saying, “Hey, Mommy, that guy doesn’t have any clothes on.” Not a glamorous or popular role, for sure, but then, somebody has to do it I.

Has anyone ever turned up out of the blue not knowing what to expect?
What did they say?

Well, that happens quite a bit. I wrote a book a while back called Worship Evangelism and some people still think it’s about starting a seeker service. Of course, they only have to read through the first chapter to know I’m talking about everything but that.

I also think that my gender throws people off. I don’t teach or write books about women or children’s ministry and those, in many evangelical circles, are the only areas within which women are encouraged to operate. Don’t get me wrong. They’re very crucial areas. Yet, to have a passion for other issues that are thought to be outside the “female” domain – culture, theology, church history, ecclesiology – that kind of focus for a woman is typically not well understood and therefore, not well received. And so, as with other female leaders I know, we tend to get put in the back rooms at conferences or scheduled as the “token” women on stage to introduce the male plenary speakers. Or, maybe we are asked to co-lead seminars with male speakers because someone might object to our teaching the seminar ourselves. Even in the emerging church movement, old stereotypes seem to die hard. I know, because scores of women (many in their twenties, working in emerging church situations) have quietly taken me aside at conferences or written me e-mails and told me unbelievable stories of what actually goes on in their supposedly enlightened and congregations. Most often, it takes the form of a quiet but well-understood repression. For women who happen to be gifted with leadership skills, however, the opposition is not so quiet. Some of these women have stories that range from teasing and belittling in open meetings to stonewalling of their ministries and outright rejection. It’s an “underbelly” of the supposedly cutting-edge church that no one likes to talk about.

Three words that describe your attitude to ‘being church’ in the big wide world: Centripetal, Embedded, Present

Three words that DON’T:
Building, Event, Program

You have this weird dream – you meet Jesus face to face.
Where does it happen, what does he say to you?

I’m in the waiting room of the county jail. I’m there to see my pastor-husband who is there on $150,000 bail. All around me are women, none of whom have my skin color. Jesus comes to me there. I am complaining that I shouldn’t be there. I grew up in a nice neighborhood and went to college. I’m a respectable person. This shouldn’t be happening to me. This wasn’t in my life contract. Jesus speaks through the voice of a young, Latino mother whose husband is also in jail. She has three children and no job. She’s wearing second-hand everything. S he can’t read the waiting room instructions, because they’re in English. She glances helplessly at me as the officer at the check-in desk tries to explain the visiting procedure for the third time, this time at double forte. She is asking me to help her, to intervene. I forget, for a moment, about where I grew up and what my supposed rights are. I take her hand, and we sit in the waiting room together. When our turn comes, she just follows me – through the three locked chambers, down the interminable cinderblock hallway and into the room where we talk to our husbands in orange-jump suits through the glass. Our fifteen minutes is over, and she walks back with me. Tears are staining both our faces, but the gift we give each other is our silence.

What’s the big secret you’re itching to share with everyone?
I’m really a displaced, out-of-the-box Lutheran. Go figure.

What would your ’emerging church survival kit’ contain?
A postmodern-ease translator; a candle-snuffer (industrial -sized); a large bottle of “Get Over Yourself” lotion; a key to the local bar; and a big roll of duct tape for pasting over the mouth. (Emergent churches need to be full of people who listen a whole lot more than they talk.)

Anything else you’d like to share with us before you have to rush off?
Love your site…and thanks for letting me spend part of my afternoon drinking Newcastle. Being a displaced Lutheran, I felt at home.

Thanks! Good to see you, have a good day!

A new edition of Sally’s book ‘Worship Evangelism’ is out this month. You might also like to read “More than a talk show” by Sally from the October 03 edition of this website.