Middle Ground is Not the Answer

The goal of a church is not to be missional or attractional. Then again, MIDDLE GROUND IS NOT THE ANSWER.

If you are just joining this conversation you are in the middle. Check out Lee Coate‘s blog, then visit Jonathan Lee‘s blog. Hopefully Aaron Snow or Dwight Watson will be able to add a blog from their perspective soon.

As Jonathan has so eloquently put it, we have been here before. 

My dad (an SBC pastor and denominational exec) told me at that point that he had seen this kind of movement before, in the 60’s, anti-institutional, the young having their day. I, of course, thought my dad was missing it, stuck in his tradition, bound by his denominational ties that bind.

I think this was in response to the church becoming sectarian and exclusive, more worried about preserving it’s culture than reaching the lost one around it. I also believe there were two primary reactions to this: the attractional movement and the para-church movement. There are many avid defenders of both movements and I neither intend to defend or attack these movements here. What was obvious and connected with these movements was this: they sought to fill an obvious deficiency within the church.

For educational purposes, we have moved beyond the attractional/missional, modern/post-modern and emerging/emergent (with the final blow coming with Tony Jones recent jump the Shark moment on GLBT inclusionary post). We now, from an ecclesiological standpoint are dealing with simple/house churches and corporate churches. Now we have to ask ourselves the question: are simple/house churches seeking to fill an obvious deficiency within the church? If so, what is that deficiency?

These are tough questions to answer because of the glocal (Bob Roberts reference) nature of the conversation. Take Alan Hirsch for example: from Australia, uses the house church movement in China as an example for how we should do church in America? Also, take Jaeson Ma as well. How many minorities and people groups we involved in the “how we do church discussions” of the 60’s? This is not your daddy’s ecclesiological discussion.

What we can say is that a unintended side affect of the attractional church is it’s consumer nature. It is also intuitive that consumerism is an opponent of true, authentic community. Now if you work for an attractional church you will say that your church is the exception to the the rule. Note: you all can’t be the exception to the rule. You need to accept the short-coming so that you can most effectively work against it. In this aspect the simple/house church movement is filling a very real void: the need for authenticity and community.

Problems arise within the church when we point to the other side and question their validity. Quotes such as this don’t help anyone:

Im a big fan of Alan Hirsch’s writing (we even exchanged text messages once) but honestly I’m not convinced he actually has done anything missional except write about it.  I can’t believe I just wrote that (just being authentic).  There has got to be more to this discussion than merely the appearance of the “shop around the corner” bookstore calling the big Barnes and Noble evil because everyone would rather browse books, buy coffee, and shop there.  Just being the small, intimate, shop around the corner does not make you more authentic, effective, or true.    Get over yourself.  Ok, I’m done

Well Lee, you might be done, but that just isn’t helping anything and is quite ignorant of many ways that God is using these movements to both stretch the church and serve as the church for thousands. It would seem that the answer is somewhere in the middle, but see, that demeans all sides of the equation.

Middle Ground is Not the Answer:

Acceptance, Empowering and Partnership are.

I believe that there are three main expressions of the local church: as corporate units, as community units and as family units. When I say I believe a local church exists as a corporate unit, as communal units, and as family units, I give credence to each of those units as actually being church. As the Trinity is each fully God, yet God is one. So are these three modalities each fully the church. Remove a member of the Trinity and God is incomplete. Remove a modality of the local church and it also is incomplete (Churches that start with either a MC model or a large gathering model must be aware of their incomplete nature at the beginning stage of their formation). In every level of teaching the equality of the modalities should be pushed, and it should be considered when time and resources are in question. 

I have written extensively of what this Tri-Perspectival View of the Local Church looks like here. And will repost it anew in a few days.



12 Responses

  1. Wow this convo makes me wish I was on twitter and facebook so I would be more plugged in. I will let this marinate then respond.

  2. Good post Matt as I would have expected from you.

    Here’s why I called out Hirsch. I am a huge fan and ongoing reader of “Shaping of Things To Come.” It would be a potential textbook for any class I was teaching on post-christian, emergent church (probably used the wrong term there so…fire away). As well, I have read Forgotten Way and refer back to it occasionally. Here’s the deal. In Forgotten Way, Hirsch argues for a structure, a missional approach, that he then admits failed and failed badly. So we are left with a book that is full of incredible insights, but based on a model that has no proven long-term outcomes. That is my overall criticism of the house/simple church movement (see Joe Boyd, Shannon Spillman, Matt Hudgins).

    Question: Compare the “mega”/attractional weekend gathering with all its fanfare in the hope that God will break through in someone’s life as we hopefully partner with the Holy Spirit in creating space for God to move WITH the guy running the shoe store in downtown San Francisco hoping to have the opportunity to influence a potential buyer with the gospel (see Hirsch/Frost “Shaping of Things To Come”)? Is one more “cool” than the other, more “hip”, more “edgy”, more anti-establishment and so we applaud the efforts at creatively reaching the world while avoiding the harder question… are we really seeing kingdom transformation? (Man, that was an incredibly long, run on paragraph)

    Also, I am still waiting for a fact, stat, or something to support your statement that “In this aspect the simple/house church movement is filling a very real void: the need for authenticity and community.” I hesitate to demand it, but that is where this conversation began…over fruit. So though we may argue the shortcomings of the “mega” which are many and espouse the grand idea of the simple/house church… again I ask…show me the fruit. I would argue that you have found much more of the tri-modal aspects of the church in the last year than you had previously in any of your house church models (but you would be better to respond to that question).

    I do agree that all aspects/modes of the church in operation are extremely important and need to exist. I believe that the success of many of the so called mega is based largely on these actually connecting at different levels. Though we often only see the weekend “show”, the internet campuses, the conferences, etc., I would argue, that there is more…much more. And the house/simple church movement has its own set of conferences, books, and celebrities. And for the “missional” church to arrogantly adopt the missional banner and yet not take a hard look at exactly how missional it is being is arrogant, flawed, and dangerous.

    Side note… did you ever get the breast pump assembled?

  3. I absolutely love that you referenced the San Francisco shoe store in “Shaping.” I remember ranting about that very example when I read it.

    With the statement in question “authenticity and community”. It is not a hard sell, it is easily the biggest shortcoming of large, attractional churches (I would even argue that Mars Hill(s), Imago Dei and Redeemer Press even fall into this shortcoming). It is not a quantifiable stat, but once again I implore you to make the connection between the consumeristic nature of the service and the consumeristic nature of our society. There is a fine line between being missional and capitulating. If churches do not constantly examine how they have conceptualized the gospel and question whether they have adopted or have started to look like the world (1 John 2) then they have left themselves vulnerable to capitulation. To ignore the obvious shortcoming of the attratcional mega-church (consumeristic lack of authenticity) leaves a church vulnerable to capitulating to the world’s standard.

    I am just as excited about a network of 25 house churches as I am about 1 mega-church. There are too many tribes and people are too different to assume that we don’t need both. Especially in Vegas where people come from everywhere with different backgrounds.

    And yes, I am an expert breast pump assembler.

  4. Whew. Feeling very overwhelmed by the crazy amounts of reading I have done in the past week revolving around Dan Kimball’s blog, and Neil Cole/Alan Hirsch’s response to it. I started following the conversations that erupted in the comments sections and finally read this post. I can’t say I have anything to add. Everyone has their mind made up. =) Everyone has their strong and solid points that prove this way or that. I feel no need give a long explanation here. I also have no energy left to try and convince any Christians why we do things the way we do. I could spend the next hour writing an elaborate comment response….or I could go spend some time with one of the disciples in our community or our next door neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus….=) Anyhow, this statement by Frost pretty much sums up how I feel:

    “Our christology should lead to our missiology which in turn will lead to our ecclesiology. In other words, the way we understand the gospels and the character of God revealed to us in Jesus will affect our way of thinking about our mission in the world. If we get our christology right, it will lead to a right missiology. If we engage missionally in a godly fashion, issues such as how to ‘do’ church (ecclesiology) will take care of themselves.” -Michale Frost-

    Also, I would encourage ALL of you who are actively pursuing this conversation through the blogs and comment sections to visit Neil Cole’s blog if you haven’t already. (http://cole-slaw.blogspot.com) Start at “Misguided Misgivings 1”. They are all very short. Dan and Neil get into a very healthy discussion in the comments section. Read those. They are very informative, and show two very great sides of the spectrum. Some of you ask for fruit: Neil shares it. Thanks.

  5. I’m no theologian. I don’t have a clue where to begin. Couple thoughts. When I was reading jdlee’s blog, he mentioned that the various forms of church that he experienced left him wanting.

    Isn’t that sort of the point?

    What I mean is, sn’t what we experience here supposed to only whet our appetite? Isn’t this just a glimpse of the glory to come? Is there really any church, from the underground in China to the persecuted in India to the house church in Austrailia to the mega church in America, that can say, “We did it. We got it absolutely right and are 100% satisfied with our structure/values/5 E’s/Life Path/Church Network.”?

    I too have felt this wanting. This feeling that ,”It’s not supposed to be like this”. And I have a feeling that no matter my christology, missiology or my ecclesiology, I will still be left wanting, because I will never get it right.

    Last thought: I’ve read your tri-perspective view before and found it very thought provoking. I tried the link to re-read it tonight but it didn’t work so I can’t remember if you address this next issue or not, so if you didn’t before, can you? When it comes to the family stage, what of those who choose to not have a family? There are many Christ-focused followers who choose or are called to singlehood. What of them? Do they then not experience Church in wholeness?


  6. I do not have the answers to these questions but I am left wondering why there is not more conversation about the fruit that church models produce. It might be worth our time to ask question like;

    1. How have people in our church been reorienting their lives since joining our community?

    2. Have our members been more consummeristic or less consumeristic over the last year?

    3. Are we seeing people love Jesus in spite of circumstances (tithing when the economy is booming) or are people beginining to love Jesus in spite of circumstances?

    The church seems to be failing at the deep level of embedding faith in people, especially the attractional model, because it allows for anonymity. Faith is really just another word for trust and many church people do not engage in community and entrust their time, treasure, ambitions, and beliefs to those in proximity. If beliefs do not manifest themselves in trusted convictions then they have not moved past simple agreement.

  7. Whoa buddy. Careful using the word modalities in the same paragraph as the Trinity. ; )

  8. Hey Matt,

    I really like your post here but I am left wondering why the church is largely still so ineffective at getting people to change their lifestyles, beliefs, and convictions.

    Even the attractional churches which do better than missional ones in buildings, bricks, and budgets, have people that are largely consumptions focused and grinding out the same life with the same ambitions as their neighbor.

  9. Let me try and avoid all the jargon and trendy language that often accompanies these missional discussions and speak as plainly as possible.

    I believe we live in the busiest and loneliest culture in the history of humanity. Most people are severely broken and carry great baggage and fear that inhibits them entering into what they desire most; relationship. We are a people of locked doors and locked lives, we cut ourselves off from others and then yearn for the inspirational stories we fall in love with in movies and television shows.

    My point being that we most people are tourists, who flitter about life from experience to experience, place to place, relationship to relationship, looking for self-actualization. Telling these people to transition from tourist to sojourner is a daunting task. And what makes all of this even more difficult is that we can never just convert people to ideas, we must be, and involved in communities that embody what we preach and believe.

    The missional church has tried to do this to a greater degree but for many who have long ago dismissed church and are content to chase the pleasures of this world, there must be something tangible, there must be a city and not just blueprints of it for them to be compelled. Now to argue between missional and attractional misses the point. The question is how do we more embody the kingdom and have deeper community so that others may be able to taste and see.

    This is why the grocery store sample is so much better than even the most articulate speaker. Let the articulate speaker describe all day how wonderful and tasty the buffalo wing is, and let the mute man hand them out, who do you think will be more compelling. Now just imagine if we could be great articulate speakers with the buffalo wings!

  10. “The question is how do we more embody the kingdom and have deeper community so that others may be able to taste and see.”

    My two cents: great up until ‘so that’. After that, we have it very very wrong. It would look better to read:

    “The question is how do we more embody the kingdom and have deeper community.”

  11. Merry Christmas Adam.

    Not sure I understand your point. Are you saying our community and its witness to the Kingdom should not be attractive to non-believers around us?

    Yes I agree community is no solely for missional purposes, but I think the point stands that if you are going to tell someone how great and amazing something is, it must be tangible, at least as some level, for them to see.

    Tangibility is the fruition of ideas. It is what separates a crazy homeless guy who mutters about the streets of an inner city claiming to be President, and Hitler’s racist fascism. Tangibility.

  12. My point is this: when you tack a very subjective (not tangible) “end result” onto something that has been commanded or mandated, you have suddenly opened that thing up to all kinds of abuse and misuse through the very nature of interpreting the subjective “so that” statement. People skip the first portion because they think they can get the same result, and they think it is the result that is important.

    Your statement as it stands is a consumeristic statement. It can be read as’ “I do these things SO THAT this thing happens.” It is an end/means proposition. Try these other modifications out and see if that doesn’t make sense:
    “I love and honor my wife SO THAT she will have sex with me.”
    “I raise my children well SO THAT they will take care of my when I am old.”
    “I study hard in school SO THAT I will get good grades.”
    See what I mean? Any of those SO THAT statements are subject to abuse, and the original “good” phrase loses its inherent goodness. I study to LEARN, not to get good grades. I love and honor my wife because she is a child of God entrusted to my hands, not just a sexual outlet. My kids are more than just a retirement backup plan.

    This is where I think so much “missional/attractional” goes wrong. It is one huge implicit SO THAT proposition either way. Do I share the gospel SO THAT people come to Christ, or because it is good news? If the former, then simple multiplication of message becomes attractive, and at what price? Likewise with community…do I foster community SO THAT others can see and grow, or because the Spirit is found even more richly in the context of others so filled?

    What is my alternative? Here’s where I am stuck, because I don’t see too many, and I don’t have any ideas. I too have been saturated with this thinking, this consumeristic insistence that bigger is better, that appeal is somehow glorifying to God, that doing things one way will be more effective or better or more accurate or more orthodox or more ______. All are materialistic assumptions. All are SO THAT.

    Anyway, have a great day everyone!

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