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MISSIONAL VS. ATTRACTIONAL
All great missionary movements begin at the fringes of the church, among the poor and the marginalized, and seldom, if ever, at the center. —Alan Hirsch
The seeker model practiced by so many of our churches in the last few decades unintentionally lowered the bar on what it means to make the radical commitment to become a Jesus follower. Some of our superficial theology is the residue of evangelistic methodologies that sold grace at wholesale prices. We cajole people into making decisions for Jesus rather than truthfully challenge people to calculate the cost of following Jesus in a lifestyle of sacrificial service. We invite the uninitiated to become members of a movement they don't even understand without clearly laying out the expectations of the movement's revolutionary leader.
There has been a growing restlessness in the church during the first decade of the twenty-first century. The models of the last decades of the twentieth century are no longer adequate to address the questions and needs of younger generations. Many of those who are disenchanted with the church, however, have a more positive image of Jesus. Their experience and understanding of the church are counter to the Jesus of their expectation. We in the church are perceived as being very unlike Jesus in our priorities, attitudes, politics, and lifestyles. The emergent movement has grown out of this disenchantment by those who are part of the church but feel that the church has neglected Jesus' emphasis on the kingdom of God and its redemptive influence in the world. The proponents of this movement rightly emphasize the Messiah of Isaiah who will bring God's justice and righteousness to the poor and marginalized. Others in the church refer to the emerging influences as "missional church," which emphasizes the attempt to reconnect to the apostolic DNA of the original movement. (Authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch are proponents of this perspective.) The missional church is actively moving out and engaging the world in the places of greatest need rather than marketing the world into the church. I refer to this throughout the book as rediscovering and reclaiming the message and mission of Jesus.
The Kingdom on Earth
The Jewish people of Jesus' day were expectantly awaiting the dawn of the messianic kingdom. The prophet Isaiah foretold "the year of the LORD's favor." Jesus read from this passage in his inaugural message in his hometown of Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me ...
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor ...
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion. (Isa 61:1-3)
This expectant kingdom was not a disembodied heaven that people would ascend to in the afterlife but a righting or restoration of God's created order on earth. Isaiah stated,
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations. (v. 4)
Jesus proclaimed the arrival of this new kingdom order. His message was clearly focused on the kingdom of God's present influence in the world rather than on going to heaven when we die. Rather, heaven has come to earth, or as Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (1:15).
From his prison cell, John sent word to Jesus asking if he was truly the one who had been promised through the centuries by the ancient prophets or "should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:18-19). Jesus did not go into a theological discourse but pointed to the physical evidence of the presence of the power of God to complete the works of God: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor" (Luke 7:22). Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah whose presence would signify the presence of God's kingdom and the restoration of all things. The evidence of his claims was not in his words but was demonstrated through the fruit of God's works. After he read the passage announcing the messianic presence (Isa 61) in the synagogue in Nazareth, he dropped the big bombshell: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). The evidence was the direct intervention of God's heart and healing purpose in the lives of the poor and broken. The people of the messianic kingdom don't escape from the world's diseased brokenness but engage the world and all those in it at the greatest places of need. Jesus followers are not waiting for heaven but are actively rebuilding, restoring, and renewing the lives of broken people and the shattered communities of despair. Yes, we are waiting for the return of the King. But it is not passive waiting!
The church described in the book of Acts (notice that the book is named Acts and not Doctrines) was continually moving beyond all institutional walls and doctrines to faithfully demonstrate the good news of the Kingdom. It was a major deal for Peter to move beyond the Jewish laws of defilement to include "unclean Gentiles." And the church was not beyond the frailties of divisions. We could say that the first church split was the denominational formation of a Jewish church and a Gentile church. But we read about a visible sacrificial lifestyle that demonstrated a radically different core value. The believers embraced a countercultural lifestyle that caused those outside the church to pay serious attention:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
They were being a visible expression of God's right-side-up values in an upside-down world.
Who we are and why we are here are realized as we live and serve God together in community under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. The values of this community are not established by trends in media, arts, politics, or economics. Those values change with every generation. The values of the kingdom of God are eternal.
Ministry with the Poor
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name to whom you belong? (James 2:5-7)
Our churches reflect the economic homogeneity of our culture more than they do the priorities of the kingdom. James pointed to the fact that we are guilty of economic favoritism. How many people in your church think like you, vote like you, and have been nurtured in a similar economic value system? Our churches more frequently resemble exclusive fraternal organizations than they do the body of Christ. How do we determine and assign human worth? The world makes this determination based on what people have (for example, education, money, position, influence). In the kingdom of God people have value because of who they are, children created in God's image.
Most of the poverty in the world is not the result of initiative or the lack thereof. For two-thirds of the world's population, poverty is the consequence of latitude and longitude. Bono of U2 fame said that the determination of whether a person lives or dies should not depend on the accident of latitude and longitude. You are not more valued because you have been born in a first world economy with all of the luxuries it affords. Romans 2:11 reminds us that "God does not show favoritism." Why then does the Bible give such priority to the poor? Jesus affirmed this priority in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Who ultimately becomes God's guests at the party? Invite "the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."
Every parent is guilty of showing favoritism at times to one child over the other. Which child can appear to get the most attention from a parent? It is often the one who is struggling the most or most troubled at the time. One of our children is most like me. She is strong willed and determined. Those years between eleventh grade and her sophomore year in college were challenging, to say the least. Our son is more like his mother. He was very obedient and never really rebelled. Just because Kristen had our intense focus didn't mean that we loved her more or less than her brother. For a time she simply required more focused attention.
There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor. The global economic crisis that began in 2008 has only accelerated the erosion of the middle class. My hometown newspaper reported that Dayton, Ohio, lost 33,000 jobs in manufacturing between 2000 and the summer of 2008. The median income in our area dropped 10.5 percent in one decade. The poverty rate in Dayton for children ages five to seventeen was 24 percent in 2000 and 32.8 percent in 2005. What an opportunity for the church to rebuild, restore, and renew in devastated places! This is a time not for retreat but for engagement! Out of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion are living in poverty. That is nearly half of the world's children! This is why Ginghamsburg Church and our partner churches are actively working in Darfur. Since 2005, we have invested more than $4 million in agriculture, child protection and development, and safe water projects. These funds come primarily from hardworking blue-collar folks who are living simply and sacrificially in one of America's fastest dying cities. We are restarting inner-city churches that had ceased to be relevant to the needs of the communities in which they stood. We are seeing vibrant growth in these restarts that are now reaching and serving the working poor and homeless. Our nonprofit ministries are working to engage, encourage, and empower for life and employment.
Poverty of the body can be fixed. There is a deeper level of poverty that has eternal consequences, however: poverty of the spirit. A medieval sage bluntly stated, "The want of goods is easily repaired, but the poverty of the soul is irreparable" (Montaigne, 1533–1592). Those of us in the church have been guilty of creating a gospel that is self-serving and other-judging. We spend our resources and energies on building structures and creating programs for ourselves, and then call it mission! In the name of Jesus we have idolized earthly valuables over kingdom values. Like the rich man who walked past Lazarus, we have become callous, indifferent, and insulated from the needs of our brothers and sisters lying at our doorstep. Church, we need to lose our sense of self-importance and remember: "Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:26-27).
We are facing challenging times. This is not a time to fear or to insulate ourselves from the human pain and suffering around us. If the world is ever going to take the good news of the gospel seriously, then we must take a serious look at our paradigms for ministry, repent, and realign our priorities and resources with the message and mission of Jesus.
The Shift: To Missional Evangelism from Attractional Evangelism
The predominant methodologies that drove strategic planning and programming during the height of the church growth-seeker era were based in "attractional" evangelism. The mantra was "build it and they will come." We built quality programming for every age and life stage. It was well targeted to meet the needs of the young baby boomers and their growing families. The church mastered slick marketing campaigns that scratched the itches of the "me generation." We built buildings that resembled the shopping malls they frequented and pioneered contemporary worship styles that rivaled the bars from their college days. The megachurch became the idolized model of success, and numbers in the pews, the measure of effectiveness. But somehow in the cycles of programming, capital campaigns, concerts, and Bible studies we forgot an important truth: curious crowds don't equal committed disciples. Many of us in our well-intentioned efforts had done well in attracting crowds who were bringing Jesus into their soft-secular worldviews instead of being transformed into his. We thought it was working, yet all the while the church as a whole continued to decline at escalating rates. And many who had come into the church continued to worship at the altar of self-indulgence, materialism, and indifference to the poor and marginalized.
The church must make a major paradigm shift from attraction evangelism to mission evangelism. In simplest terms, this is what Jesus meant when he said that all people would see that we were his disciples through the demonstration of our sacrificial love.
Attractional evangelism parallels the marketing strategy of a vacation cruise line. A cruise ship is a self-contained fortress of programming for every age and interest. The Disney World architect who Ginghamsburg hired in the mid-1990s drew up a long-range plan for our 130 acres. The design was complete with a Market Square, lake, and conference center–retreat hotel—sound familiar? Have you ever been on a cruise? The experience is intensely planned and organized. It has a hierarchical staff-driven structure (captain and crew). A cruise is a hedonistic experience of extravagance and excess. Okay, so maybe I have never been on one, but my parents have gone on thirteen cruises in the last ten years. I feel vicariously bloated every time my dad talks about the buffets.
People choose a cruise for the experience of vacation and retreat. You expect to be served. After all, no one leaves a mint on your pillow in the evening or makes your bed in the morning when you are home. You work so hard all the other weeks of the year. You deserve to be pampered! Go on, get the massage! On a cruise your involvement is totally based on self-interest. You can select from a seemingly endless menu of activities. Explore the interior of a mystical tropical island, whale watch among the glaciers, or swim with the dolphins. Lie on a beach or snorkel among the plethora of exotic fish along a living coral reef. If you prefer, you never need to leave the boat. Rock climbing, golf lessons, theaters, bowling alleys, and swimming pools are just a few of the opportunities that invite your time.
Who are the customers that become the focus of resources and programming for the cruise line? They are the people who pay money to be on the inside of the ship. Any wagers on the income levels and ages of those who choose to take cruises? I guarantee it is not the poor and marginalized! And why is it that the majority of people who frequently cruise seem to be more closely aligned with my parents' generation? Do you see any similarities with the mainline church?
Mission evangelism, on the other hand, parallels the priorities and focus of a mission outpost in a challenging place of great human need. Unlike the self-contained programming model that has been practiced by many growing churches in the past, the mission model depends on networking. The missional church is actively creating partnerships with social agencies, public schools, government and nongovernment organizations, as well as other faith groups.
Similar to cruise ship programming, attraction evangelism is intensely planned and organized, it is staff driven, and it can tend toward extravagance and excess. Mission evangelism (like the mission outpost), on the other hand, is experimental and flexible. Like Lewis and Clark mapping an uncharted route to the West, missional churches plan and resource as they go. Catholic theologian Hans Kung put it this way: "A Church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling.... [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment."
Excerpted from Change the World by Mike Slaughter. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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