Was Jesus Missional?

Is church missional or attractional? Two buzzwords that frame an important debate about the calling of the church.

A few weeks ago I attended a fascinating conference on Disciple Making Movements (DMM). At the conference there was a strong rejection of institutional or attractional models of church. It was argued that these models of church hindered multiplication, exponential growth and the development of disciple making movements.

Instead the church should send out teams of disciple makers just as Jesus did in Luke 10. Teams of two will then locate ‘people of peace’ in the local community or culture. These people of peace are then discipled through a simple bible study method called the ‘Discovery Bible Study’. These studies essentially ask three questions; what does it say? What does it mean? What will you do? This must be a replicable process that is not dependent on knowledge or expertise. The person of peace then begins discipling others. In this way, new disciples is not asked to leave their community or culture and neither are those they disciple. This, it was argued, is the true definition of missional.

So David Broodryck who leads a movement of over one thousand communities says “Inviting others into a community they don’t already belong to, whether a service or gathering, a missional community or a cell, is by definition attractional. To be missional is not to invite someone into a new community, it is to redeem their existing community.”

In stark contrast, I’m currently reading ‘Deep and Wide’ by Andy Stanley, the Lead Pastor of Northpoint Community Church in the US. He sees a regular Sunday attendance of 33,000 over several sites. He is also passionate about making disciples but goes about it in a completely different way. In his book he says, “We are unapologetically attractional. In our search for common ground with unchurched people we discovered that like us they are consumers. So we leveraged their consumer instincts. When you read the gospels it’s hard to overlook the fact that Jesus attracted large crowds everywhere he went. He was constantly playing to the consumer instincts of his crowds. Let’s face it: it wasn’t the content of his messages that appealed to the masses. Most of the time they didn’t even understand what he was talking about. Heck we’re not always sure what Jesus is talking about. People flocked to Jesus because he fed them, healed them, comforted them and promised them things. Besides what’s the opposite of attractional? Missional don’t think so!”

One is “unashamably attractional”, the other is exclusively missional. Perhaps this reflects a third conversation I had this week about sodalities and modalities. Missiologists such as Ralph Winter argue that the church has two dynamics which must be held in tension for it to grow. The first is the local church (modality). This is the place to belong. Winter argues it is a place of first decision. People choose to attend, to belong and that is enough. The second is the sent church (sodality). This is the place of mission and disciple making. Those who make up the sent church have made the first decision to belong, but they have also made the second decision to become disciple makers. This is the place for those who do are frustrated by the local church. Traditionally these two dynamics have expressed themselves as parish churches and monastic orders. Winter argues that people are one or the other. To try and introduce one into the other will simply produce resistance or frustration. So, the argument goes, don’t try and create a missional local church, instead locate the ‘radical few’ who are naturally part of the sent church, disciple them and release them to make disciples in the communities and cultures around the local church.

I wonder though whether this is a false dichotomy. This analysis leaves me with a number of questions. Can you create a missional culture that attracts people into a new community? Can you mix sodality and modality or will you simply produce resistance?

Do you have to let go of the local church, acknowledging that they will only ever be places of first decision and find the ‘radical few’ willing to make the second decision to make disciples, or can you cast a vision and create the necessary structures that allows the local church to be the sent church?

It seems to me that Jesus refuses to choose one or the other but holds the two in creative tension. In one sense, he is clearly attractional. Not only does he attract crowds with his preaching and teaching, he calls his disciples to follow him. He takes them out of their community and culture and creates a new community, a new Israel. According to Broodryck, we must also call this attractional disciple making. Having said that, Jesus also sends out disciple makers into towns and villages across the region, establishing indigenous communities of disciples that Paul quite possibly encountered on his missionary journeys a few years later.

Paul also appears to maintain this tension. His whole mission was to new people groups. In one sense he refuses to ask them to abandon their communities and cultures. But in another sense that is precisely what he does. In his letter to the Ephesian church, he speaks of the creation of the one new humanity out of the two. The church was to be neither Jewish nor Gentile, it was to be a third thing. In Paul’s thinking the church is a new community, an alternative city or ‘polis’ that is different and distinctive, citizens of heaven, aliens and strangers in the world. In fact, one can argue, persuasively I think, that most of the metaphors for the church in the New Testament assume the attractional model. Paul speaks of the temple and the body, Peter speaks of living stones and the kingdom of priests

The New Testament describes an ecclesial rhythm that includes come and go, invitation and challenge, community and mission, breathing in and out. Lets transcend this false distinction and create highly attractional worship experiences and plant missional communities and cells throughout the community and workplace.

One Response to Was Jesus Missional?

  1. S. Wesley Mcgranor December 17, 2012 at 1:56 am #

    How ridiculously postmodern of you.

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