Balance and tension are two keys in the discussion of attractional and missional ministry. Too often we get stuck defending a point of view and fight for one way at the expense of seeing the other side may have a valid point as well. Invariably we paint an extreme portrait of the other side to make our side look better. Yet, Jesus had a way about him that caused his critics, and hopefully us, to pause and moment and hold our positions loosely.
If we paint with a broad brush the missional view or the attractional view, neither looks so great, but if we hold them in tension and walk a balance of both as we in the church touch this world at all corners, we can begin to see dynamic things happen around us. Jesus, the ultimate in paradox, used missional and attractional approaches from the beginning as he called his disciples.
Let’s dive into how Jesus held in tension missional and attractional in how he called the apostles. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), but he couldn’t leave until the future of God’s people was in good hands. And if the real crux of the argument has little to do with missional or attractional but with discipleship, let’s take a gander at how Jesus connected with these disciples in which hands he left the future of God’s mission.
We don’t know all of their stories, and some have more drama than others. Some Jesus found and called, like Phillip (John 1:43), while others came from a third way after John the Baptist pointed him out. One of those, Andrew, grabbed his brother Peter and connected him with Jesus (John 1:37-42). Still there are two narratives from the disciples first connecting with Jesus that can help us balance our view of missional or attractional, and these are stories of Nathanael and Matthew.
Nathanael embodies the classic seeker or attractional philosophy of ministry. This type of church builds a ministry around Phillips answer to Nate’s skepticism when he first hears that his buddy Phillip has found the one they have all been waiting for. The messiah is here, and sheepishly Phillip adds that the son of David hails from Nazareth. Raising an eyebrow, Nate asks, can anything good come from that place? The classic cynic has put his friend off and now feels that he can go about his day with no more of this messiah nonsense being talked about. That is until Phil lays on him the epic line, “come and see”. John lays out a great description
Nathanael encountered Jesus and forever was changed. In Thailand, the Thai people refer to coming to faith as literally knowing God. Before they did not know him, but now they do. At some point along their journey to faith, they encounter God either through answered prayers, miracles, or a feeling of his presence with them.
If Nathanael came to Jesus, because his friend somehow attracted him enough to check him out, another guy connected with Jesus in quite the opposite way.
Matthew, reviled in his community for his chosen profession of greed, becomes a great antihero as Jesus sees beyond his flaws and calls the tax-collector to follow him. The Jewish people despised these Cretans as the lowest of the low for selling out their countrymen as they chase the almighty dollar…oh I mean denarius. They worked for the evil empire of Rome and were characterized by their pure greed and manipulation. Now enter Jesus. Rather than avoiding the tax-collectors booth, Jesus walks boldly up to the swarthy extortioner and calls him out of his current lifestyle into a new way of life (Luke 5:27-29).
Jesus captures something that we all could practice a little better, and let me add a big thank you to our Lord for this one. Jesus has an ability to see us for whom we can become and not limited to who we have been. A reputation matters, but with Jesus, we can have a golden opportunity to start again.
As we serve in ministry, some of our best disciples will seek us out as they learn about who we are, while others must be found. We often like to look at the cream of the crop from each year’s Bible College grads to find the next person to mentor, but maybe our future reside in our community. All we need to do is start seeing them how Jesus does.