What In The World Should The Church Be Doing?

At a recent lunch with a colleague I was given the book, ‘The Shaping of Things To Come.’ This is one of those bold reads where you find yourself strongly agreeing with the author on page one and strongly disagreeing with the author on page two (I’m only 30 pages in so far). The authors, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, have my attention as they seek to convince church leaders to abandon their ‘attractional’ model of church ministry in favour of a ‘missional’ approach to ministry.

Simply put, the attractional model seeks to attract people to a particular location where ministry is being carried out. Attractional ministries vary immensely in style, but the common denominator is the commitment to the notion “if we do ‘A’”, or “if we do ‘B’ people will come to our church.” The challenge for the attractional church is to discern what the people are looking for, and to offer those things. The attractional church, by the way, isn’t necessarily a ‘seeker-driven’ ministry. The attractional church often includes congregations where worship is quite formal and traditional. A congregation can have a high view of God’s sovereignty and hold Scripture in the highest regard and still be attractional. Determining whether a congregation is attractional is easy to do. Simply examine the nature of the congregation’s outreach. If there is a concerted effort to invite, bring, or attract people who are outside to come inside, that’s attractional.

Missional, on the other hand, is a ministry that goes out. Missional ministry does not happen in a single location. Missional ministry seeks to engage the outsider on ‘their turf’ and does not seek to compel them or bring them to a place that is foreign to them (i.e. a church).

The authors of ‘The Shaping of Things To Come’ believe that, in the Western context, only the missional approach will suffice for our day. Frost/Hirsch argue that “it is a flaw for the church to be attractional” (19) and maintain that the “Come-to-us” approach to ministry is “unbiblical” (19).

It’s not found in the Gospels or the Epistles. Jesus, Paul, the disciples, the early church leaders all had a Go-to-them mentality. (19)

I’m with Frost/Hirsch……but only partly. I agree that, in recent history, the North American Church has been largely governed by attractional principles. I agree that many congregations have bent over backwards to attract while seldom venturing out from the safety of their own Christian context. I agree that the contemporary church has bought into the ‘Field of Dreams’ principle: Build it, and they will come. In my view, however, the only way that approach can be faulted is when there is an absence of ‘Going out’ principle.

I love how Frost/Hirsch are describing a missional approach to ministry. I’m on board! (so far, anyways). I’m struggling though, to buy into the notion that a missional approach and an attractional approach are mutually exclusive. Why can’t a congregation be marked by both approaches? Should we not be marked by both approaches? Jesus goes out to Simon Peter and Andrew, and having gone out to them, He invites them, “Come, follow Me” (Matthew 4:19).

Yes, I see a lot of going out in the Gospels and the Epistles. Yes, the ‘Great Commission’ is a call to “go” (Matthew 28:19). Certainly, every Christian, and every Christian congregation, ought to be marked by going. And yet, I also think the “Come, follow me” principle remains. In the Book of Acts we find that the result of Christian disciples going out was that communities/gatherings were formed. These gatherings were marked by certain characteristics (see Acts 2:42-45). And as a result of the manner in which they gathered, others were attracted to them and, by God’s grace, were added to the gathering (Acts 2:47).

I still have 193 pages to go. I’m curious about where Frost/Hirsch will take me. I look forward to them pushing me on the missional side. I probably need that. But do I really need to abandon my conviction that those outside Christian communities should be invited to come listen in and observe as we worship?

My view is that coming into an authentic Christian gathering is tantamount to a thirsty person coming to a well. When a congregation is marked by the Word of Christ, the Spirit of Christ and the aroma of Christ, we have every reason to expect that those coming in will have their spiritual thirst quenched (Romans 1:16, 2Corinthians 2:15).

What do you think? What in the world should the church be doing? I look forward to reading your responses.

72 Days To Launch!

Ongoing updates for the launch of The Well can be found on the group page for The Well on facebook. For the benefit of those not tracking through facebook, I have listed our ‘To Do List’ progress below:

Painting of Sports Hall: COMPLETE

Video Equipment: Awaiting Install

Audio Equipment: Awaiting Delivery

Purchase of Chairs: Awaiting Delivery

Purchase of MacBook & Pro Presenter software: COMPLETE

Purchase of ‘Coffee Corner’ equipment & furniture: Not yet completed

Purchase of Promotional Material: COMPLETE, ready for distribution

Refinishing of Maple Floor: To be completed in mid-late July

Message Preparation: Still planning & praying……Thinking about launching with a series about the teachings of Jesus (gleanings from the Gospels). Want to suggest a title for such a message series? I’d love to hear your ideas via the Comments section.

Is Anybody Listening?

I don’t fly very often, but this past year I have had the privilege of taking a couple of fantastic trips. Last month I was in Bermuda, visiting the Presbyterian Church there (the congregation in Bermuda is officially a congregation within the Presbyterian Church in Canada).

Perhaps strangely, one of my most vivid memories of this trip was on the airplane as we prepared for take off. The crew began their usual safety drill explanation beginning with seat-belt fastening tips and ending with instructions on the use of oxygen masks and how to exit the plane. At one point during the flight attendant’s presentation I looked around and observed that I was the only one paying attention! I suspect that my observation of indifference is not unique. The veteran travelers reading this post have likely seen this many times before. Clearly the flight attendants were used to the indifference, and this translated into an apathetic presentation of their safety drill.

But let’s think this through. The drill is largely about what we should do in anticipation of an emergency landing! (I want to say ‘crash’, but my pilot friends would be quick to correct me). This is serious stuff. Fastening a life jacket, applying an oxygen mask, finding the emergency exit……this could be the difference between living and dying.

The reason I was particularly attentive on this occasion is because it occurred to me that I had never paid close attention to the safety drill before. When I was traveling by plane as a child I assumed my parents would know what to do, and that would be enough to keep me safe. As a young adult, who flew only periodically, I had fallen into the trap of following the masses in ignoring this standard presentation. So this time I was going to listen up. If something were to go awry during the flight, I would be prepared.

Now, I sort of get the apathy on this. For some, they’ve heard the drill so many times, they just tune it out. Others have done the math. They recognize that the odds of something going awry during the flight are minuscule, and so they tune out the presentation expecting to never be in need of the information being imparted by the flight attendants.

I think the reason I’m so empathetic to the flight attendants on this is because, every week, I deliver a message that has eternal implications. Each Sunday, I articulate from Scripture a kind of safety drill, pointing those gathered towards the one thing that can save them: a relationship with Jesus Christ. And, I often wonder, ‘How many are listening?’

Has the message become so familiar that some have begun to tune it out? Has the message become so familiar that some have chosen to stay at home? … go shopping? … go golfing? … do the gardening? … go to Tim Horton’s?

I confessed some understanding of why we might ignore the airline safety drill. The odds are in our favour; there is a 99.9% chance we’ll never need to apply that information. But what about the ‘safety drill’ outlined in Scripture? Last time I checked, the death rate was exactly the same: one per person.

There will come a day when each of us will come before the Lord to given an account for our life (Revelation 22:12). I’m not talking here about coming out on the right side of the ledger. Clinging to the hope that our ‘good deeds’ will outnumber our ‘bad’ isn’t going to work (see Ephesians 2:8). At the end of the day (quite literally!), what will matter most is whether we have been listening along the way.

There’s a passage in the Bible, from the Gospel of John, where Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd to describe Himself. He then goes on to say, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27, 28).

Listening once to an airline safety drill might be enough. Listening once to the message of Jesus is not. Jesus calls us to be in a relationship with Him. Like sheep following a shepherd, we need to be ever-attentive to the direction we’re given. We need to listen for the voice of Jesus everyday. As we pick up our Bibles and read, and as we give our attention to the exposition of Scripture, we have the opportunity to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.

But this begs the question: Is anybody listening?

Purpose Driven Painting

I was reminded today of the account where a man approaches three brick layers and asks them what they are doing. The first responded, “I am laying bricks.” The second man responded, “I am earning $17.50 an hour.” The third said, “I am building the most beautiful church building in the city. When I’m done, people will come here to worship the Lord.”

All three responses were true and accurate statements but, by every appearance, only the third brick layer was captivated by the ultimate purpose and destination of his work.

I can’t say that I’m entirely purpose driven. I’d like to tell you that whenever I put my hand to a task that I’m thinking of ‘the bigger picture.’ I can’t. Today, however, was different. Today was the 6th time in the last four weeks I’ve done something I detest. I can’t stand painting. Painting ruins clothes. As a teenager, painting was something my mom made me do. Even as I type this, my hands and fingers are covered with paint that did not come off in the shower. And yet, there I was……painting…….again.

Why? Because I can’t stop thinking about what God might be planning to do through the soon-to-be-launched (September 7) ministry, The Well. Over the last few weeks, I haven’t been painting as much as I’ve been dreaming. I’ve been imagining the people who might soon come through the doors and into our ‘church’ for the first time. I’ve been thinking about what their impression will be of the physical environment, the people who greet them, and the God who is proclaimed here.

I am amazed at what a compelling vision does to people. I’ve had over a dozen people help me with painting our Sports Hall (if you’re one of those people and are reading this, THANK-YOU!). I asked most of my helpers, ‘When was the last time you painted?’ None could remember. Clearly, they didn’t care for painting either. And yet, all conveyed to me what a positive experience it was for them to help paint. They got it. This wasn’t about paint. This wasn’t even about volunteerism. This was about being a part of something special. This was about investing time and effort in something that will pay eternal dividends.

I’m thrilled with how many get this. I’ve got folks lining up to paint walls, park cars, pour coffee, teach children, press buttons on a computer, and so on. Why? They see purpose beyond the task. They envision the destination……They envision creating an irresistible place for people to meet Jesus Christ.

I am so encouraged by those who have helped us prepare for The Well. I count it a privilege to be a part of such a dedicated team of people. Thank-you.

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If you would like to more closely track the ministry of The Well and, if you are on facebook, you can join The Well fb group at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=17585913226&ref=mf

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

A funny thing happened to me the other day. We had an arborist come by the church to take down some dead trees and, when he was done, he asked me if I needed any mulch. Without giving it too much thought, I responded, ‘Sure! That’d be great!’ I then wandered over to my driveway where their truck was backing in. A few moments later the truck tipped over its entire load of mulch on my driveway. Now, I’m terrible with estimating measurements…10-15 yards worth? At any rate, I had been given about ten times more mulch than I could ever hope to sensibly apply!

Four hours, and several dozen wheel barrow loads later, I had half the mulch moved off of my driveway. The monotony of shoveling, as you might imagine, gave me plenty of time for contemplation. I hope you won’t find it ridiculous for me to say that the enormous pile of mulch on my property inspired me to reflect upon the nature of God’s grace. It would seem, at least, that my unusual analogy places me in good company as I recall that Jesus once compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31).

The first comparison I made related to the price paid for the gift. This massive pile of mulch on my driveway didn’t cost me a penny. Moreover, I did nothing to earn this mulch, it was entirely a free gift provided by a generous arborist. Similarly, God’s bestows His grace without any reference to merit. Grace is a free gift provided by a merciful God (Ephesians 2:8).

Secondly, the quantity of the mulch exceeded my expectations. I, too, find this with God’s grace. Time and time again I experience what is taught in the Bible, that God does for us “immeasurably more than what we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

After identifying those similarities, I began to notice some contrasts between the two. The gift of the mulch was a one time gift. I have no reason to expect that I will receive any more mulch from the arborist. I am so thankful that God’s grace doesn’t work like that! The gift of grace, which saves us, continues to be poured out to followers of Christ (James 4:6). In an effort to explain to ‘the woman at the well’ that God’s grace does not come as a fixed quantity, Jesus likened grace to “a spring of water” (John 4:14). One of the best books I have ever read on the subject of God’s provision of ongoing grace is John Piper’s, ‘Future Grace.’ If ever there were a ‘required reading list’ for Christians, this book would be on it.

Thinking still about quantity, it was patently obvious to me and to all of my neighbours who walked past my house that night, that I had way too much mulch. I needed just a fraction of what I was given. Not so with God’s grace. It will never be the case where I could say that I have too much grace. Nor could I ever say that I have less grace than what I need. My personal experience has matched exactly what God has promised in His Word, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2Corinthians 12:9).

God’s grace is enough. God gives the perfect amount of grace. It’s sufficient; it’s satisfying; it’s all I need. I’m so thankful for that. God’s grace is also timely, and its disbursement is divinely adjusted to accommodate our circumstances. This was the discovery of the apostle Paul who noted that whenever he was most weak, he became strong by the power God’s grace (2Corinthians 12:7-10). That reality comforts me immensely. We need not be anxious about the prospect of challenging times, having the assurance that when the day of trial comes, sufficient grace will be poured out.