The growing population of church critics out there disheartens me. I’m not talking about the reform-minded leaders who actually love the church of Jesus and work to make it stronger. I’m referring to the so-called leaders who cloister themselves in a corner and proclaim how horrible the church is. Everybody but them is doing it wrong!
As a young leader—and by that, I mean under 40—I have been around a lot of younger guys who preach the praises of the missional church model. The premise is excellent: We need to be in the trenches, in the communities, and be God’s change agents in the world! We will “go and serve.”
Organizing a church community around that premise is also a good thing. Yet, the conversation does not end there. These young, mostly inexperienced leaders I’ve talked with take the conversation a step further by completely dismissing the attractional model of ministry.
They state that creating a church environment focused around great worship services, dynamic preaching, and ministry programs isn’t going to get the job done anymore. “This is an outdated, behind-the-times model that needs to be done away with. The younger generation is no longer drawn to churches like this!” Then, they proceed to explain to me how missional is the only model to pursue, and to think otherwise is “missing it.”
Really? I’m not seeing it. Where is the proof?
Show me the Missional!
Dan Kimball, who has been a national advocate for the missional church movement, wrote in Leadership Journal, “I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory. I hope I am wrong. . . . Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people ‘come to us’ isn’t going to cut it anymore. But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.”
Kimball went on to explain how he sat on a panel where he heard a missional church leader bash the megachurch and dismiss the attractional model. “What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city—in droves.” Its worship services drew thousands with modern music and solid preaching. That church estimated half the young people were not Christians before attending.
Meanwhile, this missional leader was leading a self-titled missional church of 35 people. The church had been missional for 10 years, and it hadn’t grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people.
Kimball wrapped up by saying, “Given their unproven track records, these missional churches should be slow to criticize the attractional churches that are making a measurable impact.”
It takes all kinds of leaders and all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. It’s not one model versus the other; it has to be a both/and scenario. Andy Stanley says, as leaders, we need to decide if we mainly want to make a point or to make a difference. If we want to make a point, we don’t need to pursue, know, or love someone. We can simply sit back, create a caricature of them, and shoot them.
Winning arguments might be fun. Winning people to Jesus is more fun. There are too many lost people out there to spend our time attacking and criticizing each other.
The Loving Arm of Jesus
And, by the way, the most interesting thing to me about this conversation is that a snapshot of the ministry of Harvester Christian Church, where I serve, would look very missional. Attractional does not equal seeker-driven. It’s a misnomer to think that attractional churches don’t “go and serve.” Long before I arrived at HCC, Ben Merold and the church’s leaders established a climate of service and community infiltration. We are not “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Harvester Christians are known in St. Louis for being the loving arm of Jesus Christ in this community. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested each year in our community—outside our four walls. More than $600,000 is given away each year to global missions and church planting—outside our four walls. Thousands of man-hours are devoted to working in our city and on the mission field each year.
In the past 2 ½ years we have baptized nearly 800 people, but not because we’re trying to build a crowd. We have not, nor will we ever, compromise the doctrine of the church or water down the teaching of God’s Word to build a crowd. Sure, we invite our friends, and just like Philip said to Nathanael when he was introducing him to Jesus, we say, “Come and see!”
Sure, our ministry is driven by our weekend service experience focused on praise and preaching. We definitely seek to “bring ’em in,” yet our full model seeks to “bring ’em in” so we can “build ’em up and send ’em out!” And we spent more than a year revamping our discipleship model to truly “build ’em up.”
Taking the attractional model to the extreme can be dangerous. And I would be the first to admit there are some churches with big crowds that have watered down the gospel to get there. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Taking the missional model to its extreme can be dangerous as well. Sometimes what you see when you get there is just as disconcerting. Sometimes you see a little community of critics, cynics, and church-haters who spend more time writing books and blogging against the church than reaching out with the love of Jesus.
I’ve wondered recently: When some of these brothers get to Heaven, will they be surprised to discover that their criticism of the church was perceived by Jesus as persecution against his church?
Let’s avoid the extremes. Let’s together embrace the redeeming qualities found in both models. And let’s demonstrate the principles that brought us together in the first place: “In essentials, unity. In opinions, liberty. And IN ALL THINGS, LOVE!”
In a presentation on the missional church, Alan Hirsch stated, “We have to open our minds and hearts to the idea of a church which is FOREIGN to our experience.” No we don’t, friends. We need simply open the pages of Scripture and look at the model established by Jesus and his followers. It has worked for 2,000 years, and will continue to work until Jesus returns. Be culturally relevant, yes! But, let’s restore New Testament Christianity, not try to reinvent something that was right all along.
“Come and See!”
Let me tell you about a guy named Chris I was honored to baptize on New Year’s Day 2012. Chris is a paramedic. He was one of the first responders at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. On that fateful day, he went into a Catholic church to pray with a few other paramedics. It was the first time he’d been in a church . . . and the last time he would be in one for almost 10 years.
This past year we held a 9/11 memorial event at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri. Chris walked into our church four weeks before because he heard about the event. The first day he showed up, we had a pool in the middle of our worship center; we were having one of our spontaneous baptism services, like the one where 209 were baptized over two weekends the year before.
Chris told our outreach guy, Kevin, that he thought he might “burst into flames” if he walked into a church. Kevin replied, “Well we’ve got a pool there we can throw you in!” They laughed.
We started spiritual conversations with Chris. He allowed us to interview him about his experience at Ground Zero; it was something he had not talked about with anyone in any detail. More than 7,000 people heard Chris share his story on that Sunday, September 11.
It was a day of healing and hope for Chris, his family, and many others. God allowed us to love Chris into the kingdom.
And friends, it started with “come and see!”
Brian Jobe serves as senior minister with Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri.