Chuck Knows Church, But I Wish He Knew Jesus

Jason Micheli —  June 19, 2013 — 30 Comments

chuck_knows_church_JCRYTPLTI’ve tamed my tongue. I’ve holstered my rhetorical fire and ire. I’ve kept my thoughts to myself. But I can’t see another ‘Chuck Knows Church’ video ‘liked’ on Facebook without venting my own deep-in-the-bowels dislike of Chuck and the things he likes about the Church.

Up until now, Church Knows Church has been akin to Farmville or people’s personal Spotify playlists: something slightly annoying for which you could care less but your social media peers persist in posting with evangelistic fervor.

But like Farmville, if not Spotify, Chuck Knows Church is a cloying annoyance that ultimately warrants a smackdown.

In case you don’t already know, Chuck Knows Church is a PR campaign produced by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. It’s a series of online, informational videos ‘about stuff in the church.’

The ‘stuff in the church’ is explained to us by ‘Chuck,’ the host with a floppy head of hair and the harmless, vacant expression of Huey Lewis.

Some of the urgent ‘stuff’ in the church Chuck feels the need to explain includes: the symbols on paraments, candles, collects, stoles, robes, doxologies and (prepare for to vomit in your mouth) ushers.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of things Chuck knows about the Church, it is representative. So my question is a fair one:

Notice anything missing in that list above?

Like….Jesus.

Or maybe…God.

In this respect, Chuck Knows Church is similar to the multimillion dollar ad campaign the United Methodist Church pushed a few years ago: ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.’ In addition to being a campaign that verged on false advertising (I can think of plenty of friends who don’t think we’re that open-minded and my church has all but door #3 locked), it spent millions pushing the institution of the church without ever making mention of Jesus and his movement.

Providing further evidence that mainline Christians never met a cultural trend they weren’t safely and inoffensively behind, Chuck Knows Church begins with an opening montage that hearkens back to the lead credits and theme song of Friends (albeit with hints of Chopped).

The viewer is then greeted by Chuck, who, despite looking like a naif, appears to know quite a lot about things in Church that don’t matter.

In truth, it’s not Chuck’s fault.

He’s assigned his topics and fed his lines by the people behind the camera.

This Charles isn’t really in charge; he’s just a professional actor.

You read that right.

More false advertising.

Though we’re led to believe Chuck is real life preacher man, he’s really a (apparently down on his luck) thespian. So the stuff Chuck knows about Church that doesn’t matter is chosen by other real life pastors and church professionals who don’t know what matters about Church: Jesus.

I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. That United Methodist pastors are collectively such poor communicators a professional actor is required for 3 minute online films is all the indictment the Church needs.

I mean…a video explaining everything we need to know about stoles? This when 2/3 of the nation know not Jesus?

A video about ushers?

Usher isn’t even a religious category. The Kennedy Center and Nationals Park have ushers.

It’s a matter of function not faith.

And maybe that’s the most revealing thing about Chuck Knows Church and what irritates me so. It’s concerned with the function of church but not its faith.

Chuck Knows Church majors in the minors precisely at a time in the life of the Universal Church when millions are choosing other majors.

Chuck Knows Church works to explain why people should be interested in our institution and its habits rather than exhibiting any evidence of having reflected on what we can do (different) to interest people in Jesus.

As scores of business experts have written, once an institution needs to explain and justify its practices (rather than offer the product) to customers, the institution is already in the throes of irreversible decline.

And as Stanley Hauerwas likes to say, once you need to translate a language into modern terms (doxology, collect) its a sure sign the language you’re speaking is a dead one.

Chuck may know Church but, so far at least, not many people seem to know Chuck. The only people I see ‘liking’ him are pastors and church nerds. People who already know everything Chuck knows and most likely are excited by the unchurched getting to know Chuck.

But I don’t think that’s happening.

And I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

Jason Micheli

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30 responses to Chuck Knows Church, But I Wish He Knew Jesus

  1. Nailed it.

  2. John Copenhaver June 19, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    I’ve only watched “Chuck” a couple times, but your list of topics is damning. How about Chuck knows the Sermon on the Mount!

    • Jason Micheli June 19, 2013 at 9:22 PM

      Yep, I guess the rebuttal could be Chuck is for church folk to better understand stuff in the church, yet your point is even more on point then. Just as many people don’t really ‘know’ the sermon on the mount as don’t know ‘ihs’ refers to.

      • But these folk are two different audiences. Shall we only serve one audience and tell the other we don’t care about them. If there was no one trying to introduce people to Jesus or the Sermon on the Mount I think you’re criticism would be a lot more important. But there are, so your criticism is really just evidence that you possess a critical spirit. Jesus spoke a bit about that as well, maybe Chuck should talk about how that isn’t appropriate behavior for Christ followers? Or maybe you’ll take my word for it here and give Chuck a break.

  3. Love that. More Jesus is always better. After all, aren’t we in church to worship him and grow our faith? The rest is insignificant.

  4. And sadly, the 101 course the United Methodist Church does offer about what we believe includes only a small section on beliefs and theology. It is heavy on history and governance. And it’s not free. Chuck has gone viral in the absence of engaging online substance from the UMC.

  5. I’m not sorry that I never heard of Chuck. Would you agree to being labeled evangelical, as long as you’re never called a Baptist?

  6. Love your blog, love most of your posts. You write with passion and theological depth and you are a great voice for the next generation. And some, perhaps most of your issues with “Chuck” are fair and deserve a hearing. But your valid points are somewhat diminished by the rather snarky and unnecessary comments regarding Chuck’s hair, expression and voice (and the rather classist assumption that he is “down on his luck”). I also don’t see why Chuck would need to be an ordained pastor in order for these videos to be more helpful. I checked and it turns out that Chuck is actually a Christian, and he is using his gifts and talents to serve. I am not aware that being ordained is a necessary quality for this purpose. Yes, I agree we shouldn’t major in minors and the denomination should focus more attention on bringing people to a transforming relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ. But the church also speaks a language of symbols and sacred acts, and these need to be explained in a way that is both easy to grasp and somewhat entertaining. I think Chuck does that. You are on to something when you ask if this is the best use of time, money and effort, but I am not sure that snarky is the best approach to offering a corrective rebuke, especially when you already have really intelligent and insightful things to say.

    • Jason Micheli June 27, 2013 at 8:19 AM

      It’s a fair and appropriate push back, and I agree sacred acts and symbols are a part of our faith, I just don’t think a lot of the things Chuck speaks about qualify as such. I don’t think he has to be a pastor; I just take issue with the way the videos lead us to believe he is. I’ve seen a lot of folks on FB thinking he is. You’re probably right about the snarky tone. Guilty. It creeps out when, as in this case, I’m especially angry or passionate about something.

  7. I did not know until I just watched another unrelated video that Chuck is not a pastor. I’m so disappointed.

  8. Hello Jeremy,

    I am the creator and senior producer of Chuck Knows Church (one of about 20 staff and volunteers). I just wanted to post here to say that there are real people that work hard each week to bring these short messages. I can assure you we are all very devout Christians who love Jesus and certainly have God at the center of every one of our conversations as we produce the series.

    The series, like any on 250 cable networks and more than a million YouTube channels, is not for everyone. I get that. We are trying to reach an audience not normally captured with traditional methodologies. In that regard, it’s rather unique I guess.

    And I also get that the success of any series or effort often has backlash. It’s to be expected. I’ve produced videos and films for the denomination and secular studios for more than 20 years, and that’s always the case.

    As far as “where is Jesus” and “where is God”, I suggest watching this week’s episode on Transfiguration Sunday. You will find God and Jesus at the center.

    I’ll stop there, but thanks for letting me post a comment.

    I thought your comments were clever! I wish you the very best in your ministry.

    • Diane Jeffries April 12, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      Thank you for producing “Chuck”. I am a 61 year Methodist and appreciate being reminded about the origins of church customs and history. My 81 year Methodist Mother enjoys the segments very much also.

    • Dan Wiebesiek March 7, 2016 at 9:36 AM

      AWESOME response! The Pharisees are the ones who kept throwing stones at other ‘preachers’ where as Jesus just kept loving them, and everyone else. NO one agrees with with anyone else 100% on Theology, so when the church keeps throwing stones at each other, the world just laughs and we wonder why they don’t want to come to church.

  9. Some of your points are very valid in that the several of the things talked about are not the heart of Christianity. HOWEVER, as someone who grew up in a different faith I often had no clue why the Methodist church (or others in some cases) did the things they did and I find the series interesting. Will it will converts tot he faith, probably not, but is that the ONLY POSSIBLE reason for doing something? Educating the already faithful is a worthy goal as well.

    What’s more you are suggesting that more God and Jesus be in the clips and yet you seem to have missed that mark as well. Criticism is normal but your comments came across as very hateful and negative rather than filled with love and grace. Open yourself up a little more and see all the needs that are a part of the greater church as well as the unchurched and I think you will decide this just isn’t that big of deal and that you can gracefully live with its existance.

  10. There are many people who are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to seek God from a simplistic perspective, who may have been alienated by high church theology. Jesus used simple teaching, along with the parables to encourage seekers to study, listen to God through their hearts and not just through the direction of the priests. He also passed His authority to each of us with the Great Commission. It makes no difference if Chuck is a Pastor, only that he is doing something. As Apostles of Jesus, we are His royal priesthood. Keep it simple, and thank God for this ministry. And may God bless yours. As the Spirit works on the hearers, they will come to know God more.

  11. Charles Michael Smith March 25, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    As a retired pastor/DS/DCM/sometime teacher of Worship at Duke Divinity School, I can vouch for how much these helpful videos are needed in many UM congregations where through no fault of their own many laity haven’t a clue about the meaning of their church’s liturgical symbols, and that often means they have received little or no instruction in these matters or the Sacraments from their supposed theologian-in-residence, their pastor. This points out a lack of awareness of the importance of such among our clergy. By the way, Stanley Hauerwas is a good Episcopalian and has been for years as far as his weekly worship is concerned, and his wife holds a joint appointment with that denomination and the UMC serving in a Chapel Hill Episcopal Church, so I think he believes pretty strongly in the importance of matters liturgical as well as theological. And his good friend and partner in writing RESIDENT ALIENS (re-issued lately) is a former Professor of Worship, Bishop Will Willimon. So, keep Jesus and the rest of the Trinity at the center, but don’t denigrate these well-done attempts at explaining to our people in a clever, attractive format what the things they are seeing and doing in worship mean.

  12. First off, you’ll never find Christ in a church nor should you look for him there. . .That search is something personal, something sought. . .and found. . .in one’s soul. I love being a Methodist because of tradition and formatted ideology. . . I can read and study the Bible at home, and pray at home and think at home or on the road or in the woods or wherever. . .Church brings us together and helps cement our beliefs in the company of Fellow Travelers and there are certain protocols, or should be anyway, in a church setting and these are what the “Chuck videos” are all about. . .In this era of cherry picking doctrine and trying to sell youth belief via bad (and copied) watered down pop, it is nice to have tradition in the church setting and sometimes it is nice to understand those traditions or answer questions we may have concerning something we do or why “things” are as they are. . .Again, if we need to find our beliefs in a church before a very human pastor in the company of others, we’ll never find that something and if we do we’ll never be able to retain or hold onto it. . .Of course, this seems to be where Christian churches are headed; crutches for people unwilling or unable to face life with just their Faith. That and bully pulpits to condemn others. . .Church should be a social setting where Christians can feel comfortable expressing faith, not snake handlin’ cult leaning social psychology centers. .I don’t need, nor will I ever need a pastor to lead me however I enjoy church for a message, a different prospective, to discuss perspectives, meet friends, ritual and tradition. . .I am comfortable being who I am and willing to “roll with the punches” and my faith is found in good, bad, weak and strength. . .Just as I can watch an R-rated movie or listen to a hard rock band and not loose my Faith, so I can watch and enjoy “Chuck” and still feel like it is just frosting on the cake, in that it has absolutely nothing to do with my beliefs or the Foundation of my Faith. . .I don’t know if you’re uptight or did too much crank in a “former life” and need to wear your beliefs on a shirt-sleeve, but perhaps if nothing else. . .lighten up!. . .And you suggested finding other, better ways to draw people to Christ?. . .How about being Christian? How about pastors feeding the hungry instead of condemning people or secular laws? How about having churches with maybe a little tradition and a real message instead of useless testimonial dribble from another “weak” individual that can’t cope or appreciate the beautiful life they have been given? How about giving people the chance to come to church when they feel comfortable, or when they have time for such a formal social act, or while in church feel good for coming and having some fun, like Chuck ,since again, our beliefs should already be established when we walk in the door or sought in that private place we all can go to in our hearts and minds.. . .

  13. The topics I have seen on”Chuck knows Church” are helpful to me.
    I hope I can use them to better understand my faith and help connect other to Jesus.

  14. I agree that many people assume Chuck is a pastor. But I also know that in at least one video he talks about that he is not a pastor.

  15. Spot on Jason. I was an usher at church in high school and we handed out bulletins before we collected the offering. Rarely have I seen a church usher actually usher someone to their seat. More often than not I’ve experienced ushers being the least welcoming people on Sunday morning, as if they are the gate keepers shouting “You shall no pass!” I wonder, with most people giving online and churches getting rid of bulletins, has the era of the church usher gone by the way side? To steal a trendy phrase, are ushers relevant today?

    Now as for Charlie, these videos are ridiculous. I can’t believe the UMC actually paid money to produce these, You and I have made cinematographic magic with an iPhone and a toilet, AND actually brought acknowledged that Jesus was part of our conversation.

  16. I do not normally reply to post but I feel I must throw my two cents in on this one. I feel that this blogger has missed the point, “Chuck knows church” is not for the the unchurched, it is a device designed to help equip the Methodist saints in knowing more about our heritage and doctrines, having come to Methodism late in life I can attest to these being helpful in a certain context, for years as I was searching for a church home, becoming a Methodist never entered my mind, I knew OF the United Methodist church, but I didn’t know anything ABOUT them, what they believed, what kind of services they had, nothing! Now that I am a pastor I find that many members are not aware of why we do this or that. I have often said that the united Methodist are the best kept secret in the religious community (please don’t start a rant on religion verses relationship), point is when people are investigating an United Methodist church, especially one which which participates in “high worship” it is important that they understand what we do and at least some of the reasons why we do it, and to assume our members understand what we do is a grave mistake, I know personally, long time members who did not understand why we change colors, use acolytes and many other traditions of the church, while I personally don’t usually watch “Chuck knows church” (although I have watched a few) I think the type of rant that was in this blog is mean spirited and narrow minded, “Chuck knows church” is not an evangelism tool, it is an educational tool, evangelism is up to the Christians.

  17. It’s weird to see a business argument and a Hauerwas argument side by side. I don’t think what the CKC videos are doing is translation; catechesis would be more accurate. If something loses meaning you don’t jettison it (people don’t understand the Trinity and find it confusing, but that doesn’t mean we get rid of the doctrine), you teach. And I will echo others who say that just because these videos don’t do something central (JESUS) doesn’t mean they don’t do something important. That said, I really enjoyed the Easter video this year and have used them in my own teaching a lot. But on the whole, your post mostly strikes me as something straight from the Player Hater’s Ball: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzSUo8iPp4M

  18. I agree with what some others have already said. You’ve totally missed the point. These videos are an entry point into a larger conversation about faith. The people who produce these films care passionately about people coming to know Jesus. Does this not pass your test because Chuck doesn’t do an altar call?

  19. Sorry, Jason, I don’t think you know whereof you speak. “Chuck Knows Church” has never billed itself as an evangelistic tool. If that was it’s goal, then your critique would be spot on. However, there are plenty of those resources available.

    What CKC does so very well, and that nobody else is doing at all, is educate those already a part of the church regarding some of the lesser known aspects of daily life in the church that one often encounters without fully understanding. No, CKC isn’t focused on the core that the church is built on; it’s goal is to explain the peripheral to the inquisitive. And while it may not be the most important thing we do, if those colored candles leading up to Christmas are significant to use on Sundays, then its worth explaining why we use them.

  20. BTW, it is no secret that “Chuck” is played by an actor. The “Chuck Knows Church” website gives us “Chuck’s” name as Josh Childs (specifically avoiding identifying whether he is clergy or laity) and Linked-In has his resume for all to read.

  21. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tF6_ANb54ps
    I mean, I thought this was pretty meaningful and touched on what we’re called to be as Christians. Easter people; people who live in the truth of the resurrection. People who know death does not have the final say. I love Chuck!

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