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Insourcingbringing discipleship back to the local church
By Randy Pope Kitti Murray
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Randall P. Pope
All right reserved.
The Marriage of Dream and Function
The South Portico of the White House gleams for a moment in the midday sun. And then, as I knew it would, a distant, ominous rumbling begins. A shadow falls, and I grip the arms of my seat. A spaceship hovers above the White House, eclipsing all natural light, and thenI didn't see this cominga single laser shot descends like unbending lightning from the ship to the roof of the portico. Smoke pours from the upper windows of the White House. Mayhem ensues. If ever Will Smith needed a good reason to kick some slimy alien butt, this is it.
When I went to watch Independence Day at the movie theater, I knew that none of what I would see on the big screen would be true. But as I watched the movie, my chest tightening with a peculiar mixture of nationalistic grief and pride, the action onscreen seemed real. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called this ability to enter wholeheartedly into a fictional drama as if it is real life the "willing suspension of disbelief." But I didn't discard my disbelief without a little help. In Independence Day, the White House destruction scene took a week to plan, required forty explosive charges, and ended by blowing an elaborate ten-by-five-foot scale model to smithereens. Someone went to a lot of trouble just to make a story come to life.
In the movies, many a drama owes its punch to a model. In a pivotal scene near the end of the movie The Legend of Zorro, a 1:4 scale model of a steam engine was, like the White House in Independence Day, blown to bits. I'm sure most viewers were too enthralled with the film to suspect that a real, life-size train wasn't involved.
It's ironic. When the model maker does his or her job well, no one realizes there is a model maker at all. That's something a model maker can never forget. The model is the ultimate servant. And when the model's service is over, having served both the storyteller and the story's audience, it ends up in the dumpster.
In architecture, models serve both the architect who designed the structure and the people who will live and work within its walls. Once the real building comes to life, the miniature one gathers dust in a storage room. Again, the model is a servant. It plays a very important role, but it gives itself away for its intended purpose.
Models marry dream to function. Months or even years before the first casting call for Independence Day, as the tale was just beginning to take shape, a screenwriter might have dreamed out loud, "Wouldn't it be cool if the aliens blew up the White House?" The model made the dream visible and, in the end, attainable. Or consider this: designers labored for years to figure out how to memorialize 9/11 on the site where the twin towers once stood in New York City. Eventually, a miniature version of their dream was placed on display at Ground Zero, making it available to three thousand visitors every day. The model not only provided one of many templates for the realization of the architect's vision; it inspired a hurting nation with hope.
The Pastor as a Model Maker
Dream and function. If you are a pastor or a church leader, you know what it means to live in the tension between these two. You have a dream, a vision that you hope reflects the heart of the Architect, Jesus, the "author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). The dream shifts and sharpens over time, but if it's from God, it is big and daunting and over-the-top. It reaches out to encompass that overarching dream of believers everywhere: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. If you are a pastor or a leader, and you don't have a dream, it's time to get alone and ask God for one. Leaders need dreams.
And then there's function, the how-to that connects the big, noble dream to real, flawed people in real, limited time and space. That's where models come in. You can't realize a dream without one. If you have a God-given dream and a church that functions, there is a model somewhere in your thinking, even if you haven't clearly identified it. Maybe you've followed the prevailing trends. Or you've reinvented the wheelagainand your church is forging its own path. Or you are a classicist who values the traditional ways. Whether you lead in broad strokes with a near disdain for planning or you are a meticulous detail person who draws flowcharts in your spare time, or you are somewhere in between, you are a ministerial model maker.
The question is, How effective is your ministry model? Is it a servant, a backdrop that slips into near invisibility behind the purpose and the people it serves? Or is it so unwieldy that you feel as if you are serving it and not the other way around? More important, does your model facilitate your dream? If your dream were distilled to the fundamental purpose of humanityto glorify and enjoy God foreverdoes your model get you there?
And what kind of people does your ministry model serve? Is your model made to serve real people with real lives? Think really hard about that one. How effectively does your model help your people glorify and enjoy God? I'm not talking about just the one poster child who is a shining example of the dream. I'm talking about all of the individuals in your care.
These questions convince me that models matter.
This book is about a model I have tested for many years. For more than two decades, this model has served well both the purpose and the people of Perimeter Church. Without this model, I might have given up pastoral ministry long ago. I call it the life-on-life model, and I will describe it in detail later in the book.
But first, let's review three models commonly employed by the church throughout the years.
A Little Backstory on Ministry Models
1. The Pastoral Model
I'll refer to the first model as the pastoral model. You probably think of it as the traditional model, the way you remember church. The pastoral model has served many different traditions. It is a model of ministry whose basic building blocks are a small, stable flock and a loving, multitalented, maintenance-oriented shepherd. Simple means of grace are emphasized, Sunday school classes are taught, churches grow mostly through births and shrink through deaths, and things don't change much. The pastoral model seemed to work well when the world was simpler and the gap between faith and culture was less wide.
When church leaders compare models, the pastoral model has taken the brunt of criticism. However, let me remind you of one of the benefits of this model. In its day, the pastoral model was virtually devoid of consumerism. In times past, the gap between what church members wanted and what they needed was relatively narrow. Most people didn't notice a difference between the two. Today the dichotomy between the wants and needs of churchgoers is as wide as a megachurch parking lot. What people want, they don't need, and what they need, they often don't want. No wonder church leaders are often stymied! There are reasons to question the pastoral model, but consumerism isn't one of them.
In the decades before the 1970s, the evangelical church seemed designedindulge me in a little hindsight hereto preserve its moral, philosophical, and theological traditions. Just as the religious leaders of Jesus' day mistook the extrabiblical traditions that built up around the law for the law itself, the church mistook its cultural patterns for its truth and its code of behavior. That didn't make sense to many of us. Before a new model of church was born, pastors and leaders began to question the old one. Why wasn't it working? Was it effective in connecting the truth of the gospel to the people who had yet to embrace it? Was the church in its current model relevant? These questions led to the conviction that something had to change. And it did.
2. The Attractional Model
Slowly, but not systematically, church leaders took stock of the world around themthe unchurched and dechurched of today's cultureand decided to take a new tack to reach them: relevance. This gave rise to the second ministry model, which I call the attractional model. A new breed of Christians flocked to churches where the message, the music, and the method suited their tastes. Then the gospel, because it does what no model can do, took it from there and drew them in. Established churches advertised their traditional worship services alongside their contemporary ones. Often, because they couldn't adjust quickly or radically enough, many of the pastorally based churches waned as new ones cropped up and grew, sometimes merely by virtue of their newness. Although we wouldn't have called it attractional back then, Perimeter Church, the Atlanta church I have pastored since its birth in 1977, came of age in the midst of all this change. We understood the need to stay relevant to our context, and we worked hard to do so. Without planning to, we joined a few others as the harbingers of a new model of church. Over time we either maintained or reintroduced many of the positive components of the pastoral model, which served only to enrich the attractional focus we had come to embrace. We didn't discard the pastoral model; we fused it to the attractional. The result was a hybrid many churches have embraced: the pastoral/attractional model. What's surprising is how attractional some of the more pastoral features of a church are to outsiders, such as crisis counseling and hospital visitation.
I'm not a church historian. I'm just making some very broad observations based on my experience and the experiences of other pastors and leaders like me. There are some who say the attractional model has been around since Constantine, ever since the church had the means to create an actual placea church buildingto attract people to. While attracting people from the outside in may have been the strategy of the church for centuries, the touchstone of the attractional model today isn't so much attraction as relevance. That's what made this model seem new to most of us. The desire to be relevant drove the church to fine-tune its marketability to the outside world. And that wasn't all bad.
The attractional model spoke the truth to a world that was one generation away from throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As a result, we regained a platform in our communities. We moved church from the fusty rummage sale bin to the fresh efficiency of an IKEA. We caught up with new forms of music, art, and architecture. We found our voice in a culture where voice matters more than ever before. But as models always do, this one gave us a new set of questions to ponder. We drew people in, but how were we going to push those same people out into the world? Seekers, those who might never have visited church otherwise, found inside our walls a place to go for answers. But what about everyone else? The cynics, outsiders, homeless, diseased, poor, oppressed, and abused didn't really fit. There's only so much relevance can do when it is limited to a meeting and a meeting place.
3. The Influential Model
And so, as it has over and over, the church adjusted. We began to look outside our four walls again, but this time we saw the world a little differently. First, we understood that while people need the gospel, they also need food, clothing, shelter, advocacy, education, healing, and dignity. Second, we realized we couldn't deliver those things without going out to where the people who need them live and work. Attracting people to us wasn't enough. In many churches, this shift from the attractional model to what I call the influential model has resulted in an explosion of action in our communities and beyond.
In his book A New Kind of Big, my friend and colleague Chip Sweney tells the story of how Perimeter Church took deliberate steps to become influential. We were well formed in head and heart, but our hand was underdeveloped. As we strengthened the hand of our ministry, we joined with other churches in our community who desired the same kind of change. We became less focused on our own church and more focused on the larger kingdom.
In his book The Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal suggests a new "scorecard" for the church, one that measures our effectiveness by our influential impact instead of the numbers we attract. I believe that God has placed churches in communities and cities where they can become blessings. So when I speak of influence, I am referring to the church that takes as one of its missions to become a blessing to the community and thus gains the opportunity to have influence in word and deed. The beauty of this model is that any church can use it. It doesn't matter if that church is attractional, pastoral, or, as we are, a blend of both models. It doesn't matter if the church is big or small or somewhere in between.
And Yet the Questions Persist
I've surveyed these modelsthe pastoral, the attractional, and the influentialfor several reasons. First, the most recent models grew out of the church's response to a desperate need to shift its focus. I support these models as valid means for necessary change. Second, I am culpable for them to some degree. Perimeter Church was birthed in the receding wake of the pastoral model. I believe, in today's parlance, I would be called an early adopter of the attractional and the influential models. (Although, if I'm not mistaken, that label generally applies to technology, and I'm definitely a bit behind the curve in that department.) Finally, although we support and participate in each model to some degree, I cannot help but consider the questions they provoke:
What if the pastoral/attractional model isn't enough? What if it stops short of the real, deep relevance the gospel was intended to have in every individual's life? What if, instead of being "in the world but not of it," we become of the world? What if church becomes hardly more than a gathering of cool people who listen to cool music and dress in cool clothes, our only distinction being the Christian label we wear? What if, in giving everything we have to be relevant, we forget to become more than that?
Is the influential model the answer to these questions? I think not, at least not in and of itself. This model prompts its own set of questions: What if the influential model begins and ends with do-goodism? What if we create another Red Cross or UNICEF with no real connection to the person of Christ? What if we mirror Mother Teresa's actions without any of Mother Teresa's character or faith? We can all think of at least one ministry gone sour because of the unhealthiness of its leadership. What if, in meeting the needs of the world, we expose the fact that we are no different from that world?
What if we do work that matters, but we don't matter? What if all we build is a model, something that bears the sheen of newness today until it is blown to pieces or shelved to gather dust tomorrow? And what if we become pioneers of nothing more than new models, stopping tragically short of the "new humanity" we were meant to instill in each and every generation that walks the earth?
These questions don't negate the value of the models. I consider it a privilege, perhaps even a historic one, to have led Perimeter Church on the crest of both waves, the hybrid pastoral/ attractional and the influential. But I am convinced the reason these two models have served us well is that we have examined them closely all along the way, and when we saw a gapa huge crevasse, it turns outbetween them, we tried to fill it. The final model I will describe in this book was designed to bridge this gap. I am convinced that without its connective capacity, the other two models have the potential to become at best obsolete and at worst harmful.
Let me rephrase the questions posed above more alarmingly: What if the pastoral/attractional model of church produced an army of Christians who are consumeristic, shallow, and bland? And what if the influential model of church cranked out wild-eyed activists who do loving acts without the love that springs from spiritual maturity? What if the church marched on, resolutely doing many of the right things, but without being the right people?
The Other Model: Life-on-Life
Several years ago, a church marquee in the Atlanta suburbs proclaimed "The Church That Loves." I can't help but cringe at that kind of messageas if no one else loves quite like this one church, or, more arrogant, as if they took the love test and aced it. Neither assertion could possibly be true. And yet I realize how easily this book could sound a little like that marquee. I'm going to talk about something as basic to the Christian life as love, and yet it is something often neglected. Most church leaders will agree that what I propose is indispensable to the life of the church. But some will wonder if it's possible in today's church. They will dismiss it because it sets a bar that they think is too high. But I'm going to share my own story, and the story of Perimeter Church, aspardon the marquee-like bravadoa beacon of hope. Yes, this model is imperative. And yes, it can be done.
As I introduce another model of church, I am also aware that we are neither the first to do it nor the only ones. That's why I hesitate to call it a new model. Because it isn't. The best ideas are both new and old. They are fresh enough to arrest us, to catch us off guard. But they are old enough to cause us to say, upon further reflection, "Oh, I knew that all along." If an idea is old enough to be rooted in ancient truth and new enough to startle us with its originality, it is probably worth our attention.
Excerpted from Insourcing by Randy Pope Kitti Murray Copyright © 2013 by Randall P. Pope. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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