attractional incarnational

For years I have been part of a church culture that employs an attractional approach to ministry. For too long we have relied on programs and uniformity to determine our worth. The tradition of the local church, in many instances, stems from an internal focus. We have mastered the art of entertainment, and we are extremely predictable. This model excels in pastoral service and in edifying believers as we often find ourselves taking care of our own, while paying little to no attention to the hurting world around us. In many ways we have become sectarian, we are in the world, but we are not engaged in the redemption of the world. We have discovered if we implement the right programs our year end statistics make us feel good about what we are doing.

Over the past few years I have noticed a shift in the traditional understanding of missions. More than ever, the church demonstrates an understanding that size has nothing to do with its ability to focus beyond itself and be authentically missional. This can be done whether your church’s average attendance is twenty-five or twenty-five hundred. As a congregation shifts toward an externally-focused paradigm they organically transitioned from an attractional to an incarnational focus. In other words, they begin to ‘flesh out’ the mission of God. Ultimately, the goal is for this mindset to spill over into individual lives, because missional thinking is more about ‘who we are’ than ‘what we do.’

Incarnational

As the understanding of what it means to “be” the church shifted in my local setting, I anticipated leading the congregation to a deeper awareness of what it means to engage outside the walls of the church. The intent is to develop lifestyles of sacrificial service that becomes a new way of living in the world. As time passes the missional language becomes more ingrained in the DNA of the church. Developing this type of atmosphere includes speaking the missional language in such a way that a rhythm of being externally-focused creates momentum and leads people into a unified future.

This lifestyle encourages individuals to literally become the “body” of Christ by volunteering their time beyond the walls of the local church and getting involved with agencies that exist to serve the community. The shift requires the church to remove itself from being the central focus to allowing itself and all its internal trappings to be replaced by a kingdom mentality. In other words, Missio Dei includes much more than we have traditionally realized and transitioning from an internal to an external focus requires realignment of how we think about church.

Missional-Church-3

Shifting from a traditional to a missional focus proves to be complicated, and my church’s transition did not come without its share of difficulties. As the leadership team committed to developing a deeper understanding of mission, they also realized the importance of shaping a perspective beyond that of their traditional underpinning. In their commitment to become increasingly missional, they demonstrated a natural alignment with the biblical narrative. Sequentially, they learned to view the redemptive story of God in a different way. God changed their hearts as they began serving the margins of the local community rather than waiting on people to show up on Sunday morning.

Tradition often teaches us to reach out with our wallets instead of our head, heart, and hands. The consequence is that reaching out monetarily without personal involvement forsakes genuine servanthood and miscommunicates the mission of God in the world. A proper understanding of the missional approach helps people become the hands and feet of Jesus in the community and not merely wait on someone else to take care of communal necessities. The issue then becomes how to preserve and reproduce a missional vision in traditional church culture. I think that missional momentum is only preserved through genuine love for God and neighbor.

The test of our genuineness in God’s eyes is found in how we express our love for one another. How we represent the kingdom in the local context is critical, because if we can’t do it well in the church, we don’t stand a chance in the world. For us to come to grips with the idea that the church is a contribution to society, and not merely a place to get our needs met, we need to understand that the gospel is the good news of reconciliation for everyone.

Every person is invited to take part. God wants to rescue people from the kingdom of darkness and transfer them to the kingdom of light. God’s desire is that he should lose none. That means that people do not have to earn a seat at the table, instead their seat has already been purchased by Christ. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and it includes everybody. This is an action item.

Church is a verb. I do not want to stand before God one day and say “We didn’t do anything.” In the end the question will not be, “How much have you obtained?” but “How much have you given?” Not “How much success have you achieved?” but “How much have you provided for others?” Not “How much have you saved?” but “How much have you sacrificed?” The missional mindset understands the church as a group of ambassadors who will not take no for an answer when it comes to serving the world.

Reconciliation means that God has declared that there are no obstacles in Christ. As God’s voice in the world we proclaim, “There is nothing standing in the way.” Our calling consists of being Christ-followers who offer the world a taste of what the kingdom is really like. Our goal is to make compassion fashionable: to make grace mainstream. This includes being faithful to the call of distributing goodness to whoever needs it. And it doesn’t matter if someone’s life is wrecked beyond comprehension, kingdom ambassadors connect the world with the goodness of God in such a way that anyone has the potential to become new.

When followers of Christ become God’s visual aid in the earth, they show others what heaven is really like. When people learn to think properly about the kingdom of God anything is possible. God calls them “The Body” and Christ’s Body must be noticeably different from all other bodies.

God loves everyone. When we believe that, it liberates the way we process all of life’s happenings. What we believe about God is the most important thought we will ever have. Identifying people outside the Christian faith as “pre-Christian,” instead of “non-believer”  will help us view everyone with potential to become part of the Body, because the Father is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

America's Smallest Church

People leave churches for a variety of reasons. Financial difficulties, leadership transitions, ministry programs, etc. are the wrong reasons to leave a church. Others complain about the lack of children and youth ministries without ever getting involved and trying to help make a difference themselves. Other exit strategies include the following: “The worship leader refused to listen to me about the music,” “I wasn’t being fed,” “I was not about to support the building program they wanted,” “I was out two weeks and no one called me,” and “They moved the times of the worship services and it messed up my schedule.” All of these are pathetic reasons to ever leave a church.

No church is perfect. So, forget the grandiose idea of finding the flawless place of worship; it doesn’t exist. Besides, if the perfect church did exist and you show up it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. I’ve always been an advocate for sticking with your church during the good times and the bad. However, I also believe there are ‘right reasons’ for leaving. As a matter of fact I’m going to give you three reasons, not only to leave, but to run.

1.) Lack of Vision. “Where there is no vision people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18). If a church exists without an articulated vision, without a vision that leaders can tell you about, without something being the focal point for pointing people to a future with Christ, I would leave that church. Vision is essential for the spiritual growth. Vision encourages unity as it signals where the church is headed and what it is trying to accomplish.

A common vision says we are working together toward the same goals. A vision also creates energy. Not much happens without an inspiring and compelling vision for people’s lives and the life of the congregation as it moves into the future. Vision happens when we begin to see the world through the eyes of Christ. Vision gets you on God’s program and off your own. A church without a vision is never going to grow. In fact, the opposite will occur: it will perish.

2.) Living in the Past. I’ve always encouraged people to respect the past while looking toward the future. I believe foundations are important for any movement. However, remembering the past and trying to recreate it are two very different things. All churches have a period of time they would consider the ‘glory days.’ This period is probably characterized by building a new facility or experiencing substantial growth. For many people, those are the good ole days and they want to bottle them up for use at a later date. The problem is that God keeps moving and doing new things. Yet many churches, instead of moving into new territory, fight to keep the glory days alive. In turn, instead of bearing fruit, they seal their fate.

Let me remind you, the disciples didn’t go back to the Upper Room to experience the Holy Spirit; they had the Holy Spirit in them as they went into the world. Also, when the Israelites followed God in the wilderness, he led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the glory cloud moved, people packed up camp and followed God into the unknown. It doesn’t take long to recognize a congregation who is stuck in the past. If it looks, sounds, smells, and acts like it is two decades old, then it’s probably five decades old. I would leave any church that refuses to move forward and reach out in relevant ways. Numerous churches continue to circle the wagon because it’s easy, not because it’s right. Run from these churches.

3.) Inward Focus. Every leader wants to attract a crowd. It’s easier to preach to a packed house than it is to empty pews. When the church is full of people, excitement fills the air. However, many churches have turned Sundays into nothing more than an hour of entertainment. Lights, cameras, and productions are okay, but when we forsake servanthood for the sake of putting on a good show, we abandon the call of Christ. There is never a time when inward focus trumps outward service… never! The church is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to provide opportunities for people to plug-in to places where they can serve the world.

I would certainly not attend a church where a missional focus on serving was not evident at every gathering. I would leave any church whose message consisted of “come and see what we are doing,” without an emphasis on what it means to “go and be the church in the world.” This is not to say we shouldn’t strive to have high quality worship experiences; I believe we should. Nonetheless, during times of corporate worship, and I mean every time, we should be able to clearly see, hear, and identify ways to get involved in the ministry of the church that is going into the world with a towel and basin. The church is Christ’s rescue mission in the world and we are called to take the hope of the gospel to our communities, not merely wait on people to show up in our sanctuaries.

Conclusion: There are a lot more reasons to stay in your church than there are to leave. I would be careful if you’re looking for a reason to leave. If you determine that you’re in a place where you need to move on, there are right ways to do it. Communicate your decision to leave with the appropriate leaders. Tell these leaders the truth about why you’re leaving. If you have legitimate reasons to leave, then you have nothing to hide or worry about. Then, appropriately transition or conclude your ministry commitments. If you’ve been an active part of a ministry, your role will need to be transitioned. Leave graciously, which means you refuse to speak evil of those who remain in the church. In the end, remember that Jesus loves the church you’re leaving and the one you’re going to. Even if the one you’re leaving has lost its focus, God still loves it and you should too.

jesus-is-afflicted

“God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable” ~Shane Claiborne. It happens throughout Scripture. I’ve learned this firsthand. I was comfortable in ministry in a beautiful city, with a loving congregation, when suddenly God said, “It’s time to go.” It didn’t surprise me, because in my suburban comfort, I increasingly felt uneasy as I grew in my relationship with Jesus. In other words, I knew it was coming, yet the reality of leaving my comfortable place to go somewhere else caused a lot of anxiety when it came right down to it.

My reality was that I became very uncomfortable in my comfort. I’ve always considered myself a man of adventure. What I love most about following Jesus is that you never know what God is going to do next. It is an exciting way to live. However, if we’re not careful, before we know it we get comfortable, stop growing in our faith, and not even realize it’s happening.

I became increasingly restless before moving from North Carolina to Illinois. As I sought God on a deeper level, I realized there was more cost involved in truly being a disciple than I had paid up to that point. The beautiful thing was my discomfort arose not from a critical attitude toward my church or community, but from a desire for something more. I decided that I did not want to settle for comfort, but still didn’t realize what that meant for my life.

I never want my life to be detached from the needs of the world. Nor do I want to play a part in the machine of organized religion, or merely entertain people on Sundays. Instead, I desire to be part of a revolution that was started 2000 years ago: to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. I want to continually be transformed from the mind of consumerism to the mind of Christ. Sadly, I do not believe a large portion of what we call the church really gets what this revolution involves. The more I read the Bible, the more I feel my comfortable life interrupted.

‘What we do’ is not nearly as important ‘as who we are.’ The question is not whether you will be a teacher, doctor, or lawyer, but what kind of teacher, doctor, or lawyer you will be. What would a twenty-year-old Jesus have said if they asked him, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” Maybe something like, “I’m going to turn the world upside-down. I’m going to hang out with prostitutes, outsiders, and tax collectors until they kill me.” Or what would Peter have said? “Well, I was going to be a fisherman, but then I met this guy, and he messed all that up.”

Mother Teresa said, “Do not worry about your career. Concern yourself with your vocation, and that is to be lovers of Jesus.” That’s the call, to be a “vocational lover.” Are you okay with that? It requires that you surrender everything. It requires that you abandon the way of comfort and stability in order to fully trust God with your life. A vocational lover of Christ allows God to crash into their lives and mess things up so that they can grow in their faith and follow him into a greater purpose. And if along the way we annoy people by disturbing their comfort, then praise be to God.


(Sources: Shane Claiborne; Mother Teresa; Jeff Goins)

mission of love

A church on mission is forward-thinking. Though it is respectful of the history and traditions that have been created behind it, it always looks to the future with great anticipation. It’s like hiking a high mountain; there are various campsites on the way up, but the goal is to reach the summit. We must move onwards and upwards. To have a view of distant landscapes, even if shrouded in mist, is to be aware of the terrain that has to be crossed to reach the summit.

Engaging mission is like traveling. It is being on a journey. It is a restless moving towards the time when God will be all-in-all with his creation (1 Cor. 15:28). Missional churches understand that Christians are in transit. They have not landed at their final destination in life. Missional churches recognize that there is no vacation from the calling of the Gospel. They know that the only thing in this world that “cannot be shaken” is the kingdom of God (Heb. 12:28). Therefore, the Church exists because of God’s mission: missio sit ergo ecclesia sit. To be the church is to be on mission; to not be on mission is to not be the church. Period. There is no church without mission.

Because the church collectively is missional by definition, we must teach and equip every member individually to be missionaries in the world. Because our mission includes the world, we understand the importance of God’s mission being the driving force behind all we do. Missionaries are at home everywhere, but not quite at home anywhere. They are persons who can move easily from one place to another, from one culture to another, and not become confused, or lost, or incapable of action. This means that there are no “no go” areas when it comes to what God is going to accomplish in the world. The Gospel knows no boundaries or limitations.

God’s mission is our mission and his mission starts with love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). If God loved the world (you and me) enough to lay down his life through Jesus, then our calling to the world included loving sacrificially. Mission starts and ends with love. Love must be the centerpiece in all we do. It is foundational in the work of the Gospel.

My prayer is that the church will love their city, the people of their communities, the families and children of their congregations, and the people they’ve yet to meet unlike they’ve ever loved before. Let’s love people to the point of response, meaning either they love us back or run away frightened because of the radical love we have for them.

Let’s sacrifice more time, energy, money, and resources than ever before to loving people. The command to love is a command based on the hope of Christ and our satisfaction in God’s great promises. We must be persuaded in the midst of our sacrifices that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Loving people doesn’t earn you the reward of heaven; it gives you the peace and joy of the Lord. May it be ours as we engage God’s Mission of Love!


(Sources: Kirk J. Andrew; Shane Claiborne)