Missional Vs. Attractional 5

Last week, we took a look at Jesus both/and approach to mission through mapping where he went and where people came from. We saw Jesus employ whatever methodology was needed at a given time to help people cross any barrier or obstacle to getting into the kingdom of God.

Now let’s zoom in a bit.

In this post, we’ll briefly look at two narratives that tell the same story. Jesus’ primary goal in seeking and saving the lost was to connect them with God, whether he crossed cultural barriers to get to them or gave space for them to cross barriers to come to him. The two stories come from Matthew 8 in detailing Jesus, a cross cultural worker, on mission and in attraction to those who yet do not know God.

In the first narrative, we see an example of attractional force through the life and ministry of Jesus as we meet a mercenary soldier, likely hired by Herod for “peacekeeping” in the region. He is a Gentile and a ruler over 100 tough-as-nails fighters. Yet, he has a heart to know God. In Luke’s account, we see him employing great cultural sensitivity (something we have learned living in Asia) in sending an advocate to Jesus on his behalf. He sends some Jewish elders to let Jesus know that he is a good guy, and in fact the synagogue here in Capernaum exists because of his generosity. Basically, Jesus, he is worth your time.

Whew, isn’t it a good thing that we don’t need an advocate to give God reason to listen to us?

Jesus sincerely listens to the centurion’s request. The tough military man comes with concern for his sick and dying servant, likely someone he considers like family. After hearing the plea, Jesus immediately responds by desiring to go to the Gentile soldier’s house, but the military leader stops him. He explains how he understands authority and asks Jesus to just say the word, which leads to one of Jesus’ greatest attractional statements regarding the Mission of God.

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:11-12)

In the same way, we should allow space for people to come to us and interrupt our routine. It is not about creating a space that attracts them, but creating a presence in who we are as a church and ministry that draws people to see what God is doing in this community of faith. I know when people in Thailand change their life, sometimes their friends and family are so curious about what took place in them, they want to come and check out this thing called church.

The second narrative illustrates Jesus crossing barriers to get to those that are pushed far to the edges of society. Here he is on his way to the Decapolis, a Greek haven comprised of ten small cities. When he disembarks with the disciples from their boat, they are on the fringes of this area in a place known as the Gaderenes. Here Jesus encounters two demonized men who are confined to the tombs and even the chains cannot restrict them. No one wanted to walk near them afraid of the fanatics living in the shadows among the spirits. As my imagination runs with the story, I picture a setting that could birth a super scary movie. It is in this context that Jesus crosses barriers to help the Gentiles who are far from God. He casts out the demons, giving them new life, but due to the pigs running off the farm into the sea and drowning, the town’s people demand Jesus go.

However, later when they realize who Jesus is and what he can do, they mob him wanting more of what he has the next time he travels through their area (Mark 6:53-56).

What Jesus shows in crossing barriers to get to all the people of his world, is that some may never cross the threshold of a place of worship or join a gathering where Jesus might teach and minister. Even if our churches work to peak capacity, we will never get all the people God wants us to reach to enter our world. There are times, and more than seldom times in which we have to get onto the streets of our communities or even cross over into other communities to bring God’s love and transforming power to people desperate for a touch of the divine.

How do you see the both/and principle of missional and attractional working in your life? Or where is it lacking?

Missional Vs. Attractional 4

In this series, I have dived into the milieu of a recent discussion among church leaders and strategists on the church being missional or attractional. In previous posts, I unpacked this is a false dichotomy. Often, the missional guys point to Jesus as our example to be on mission as he was constantly moving and going to people. So I want to look at Jesus’ ministry to further point out that it is both/and.

Jesus did come and live on mission (missional), yet he did not do that at the expense of drawing people to him (attractional). When we jump into this discussion, we often feel like both sides want to pull on the Bible to say their way is more accurate. As we look at Jesus let’s notice that Jesus uses multiple methodologies throughout his ministry.

Jesus attracted crowds…simple as that…but that’s not all he did…

People flocked to him from the cities, the rural countryside, the hills, and regions beyond Palestine. People from all backgrounds, the sick, the poor, children, women and the working class, the broken, the despised, the sinners and hurting came to be near Jesus…Something about Jesus stepping into our world with the kingdom of God sparked a move of people crossing whatever barriers they could to see Jesus. Some even broke through a stranger’s roof to get their friend a front row seat with Jesus (Mark 2). And the people who came to see Jesus were not always the people most like him. People came from all over to see Jesus: Gentiles from Syria, the Decapolis, Phoenicia, and non-Jewish soldiers, and more.

Yet, Jesus never remained satisfied that people were dogpiling over each other to get near him, as the word picture in the Greek implies in the narrative of Jesus by the shore (Luke 5:1). Jesus never contented himself or allowed for what we might see in today’s culture to set in—a sense of celebrity. That is because he always knew when to move on (Mark 1:38). The crowds began filing in from everywhere, but Jesus was up early praying. When the disciples found him, he said, I have to go; more towns need to hear the gospel. Jesus constantly was on the move going from town to town and people to people to bring the good news of the kingdom of God.

In this, Jesus was the best example of mission…and attraction. He crossed cultures and drew men, women and children unto him. In his ministry, Jesus allowed for both forms of connecting with people, because discipleship was his primary focus. Jesus was always moving out and stopping to allow people to come but moving out again at the right time. He kept a keen ear to the voice of the Spirit as he lived out mission and practiced the appropriate methods for the current task. Here is a map (Jesus’ travels and followers-maps) that gives a picture of where Jesus went (the first map) and where people came from to see Jesus (the second map).

People crossed cultural barriers to meet with the one believed to be the Messiah, a great man among the Jews who also could affect their lives. Let me illustrate this point with a look at Mark 3:7-8. Imagine people descended from Esau, and the Edomites, now living in Idumea, nearly 500 km south of Galilee down by the Dead Sea. These people were overlooked in the time of Jesus due to their background and status. Yet some from there came to find Jesus. Why?? How? Perhaps a neighbor or relative saw him while north on business. When they returned home, they likely grabbed their friend or cousin and got them on the next bus north. Well, not a bus, but a long walk to see this teacher who taught with authority unlike any they ever heard. The crowds we picture on the mount where Jesus preached his famous story likely comprised a multi-ethnic crowd, some drawn in to Jesus and others that Jesus found.

As we seek to do mission in Bangkok, we want to first listen to God’s voice, and in everything pour our life into the people we work with to make disciples as we walk together with Jesus. We won’t be here forever, but we want to leave people behind that are lifelong disciples of God. I am less concerned with how we connect with them than I am with having meaningful connections with the people we serve.

Missional Vs. Attractional 3

My thoughts continue rolling out like a slinking rolling down the stairs about the great debate of missional vs. attractional. If you didn’t read the previous posts, can do here and here. Now I want to look at what Jesus did, the most superb model.

Jesus was the greatest example of the both/and principle, confounding the intellectuals and practitioners of his day as well as embracing everyone with the slightest amount of interest in his message, repent, the kingdom of God is at hand. (Side note: Maybe we have moved to far away from his core message in trying to be more like U2, the most beloved figure in the world rather than like Jesus who stirred things up.) It wasn’t just the Pharisees who didn’t like him…unrepentant sinners didn’t give him much time, nor did a handful of other segments of society. Maybe, Jesus was the best contrarian as well.

Jesus knew the culture and at times moved seamlessly within the culture, but where the cultural norms and customs either played such a small part in people’s thinking or contradicted the way of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus flaunted the cultural rules such as no one could. In this greatest story of mission, Jesus crossed barriers and stepped right into a situation in Samaria that allowed him to be missional and attractional.

Rather than walking around the region of Samaria, pungent to any upstanding Jew, Jesus ventured right through the area with his disciples. I can only picture them murmuring among themselves, doesn’t Jesus know where he is going. We can’t stay here. Let’s just keep our head down and we’ll get through this land of half-breeds quick enough.

Now, to make matters worse, Jesus stopped right there at a well to rest in the middle of the day. At this point, the hungry disciples took their order to go to town and pick up food. Oh, that had to be a cross-cultural episode of epic proportion that I wish the writer and participant of the story would have shared. Meanwhile, as the twelve ran to In&Out, Jesus waited patiently at the well for a woman who also hoped no one would be around. She hoped to sneak out while no one was looking and avoid the gossip.

With her head down and keeping to her business she kept clear of the Jewish man who surprisingly entered her neck of the woods. Yet, Jesus did not ignore her. He initiated conversation with her that led to him sharing about the living water of the Holy Spirit and salvation. He led her through a conversation that piqued her interest, and then looked directly into her soul…the heart of who she was and called her out. He said, I know who you are and what you have done, and yet I am willing to still be with you and call you into relationship. This blew her away.

This woman who had five husbands and now lives with another man not her life completely transformed in that moment from shy to inquisitive, from bashful to bold. She found Jesus and wanted to be with him…and share this story with others. This is where the great story of mission turns into mission and attraction.

She goes into town, so fired up that she met Jesus that she leaves the jug of water by the well, and tells the town folks that loved gossiping about her to come see a man that told me everything I ever did. I am not sure how attractive that is…come see this guy who knows the deep, dark secrets of your life. He is amazing…but it worked and the whole town came out and saw Jesus.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42

Yet, her mission to the people in town was not enough. She could not just tell them she found the messiah. That initiated the interest in the townspeople, but they still wanted to meet Jesus for themselves.

As we are on mission, let’s not discount the ways that we can attract others to meet Jesus. Let us also turn loose these people with their lives changed to be on mission to the places we don’t go, but not discount the ways that we can create space for them to attract people to meet Jesus with us.

Missional Vs. Attractional 2

Last week, I began unpacking my musings on this ongoing conversation of mission or attraction. Hmm, the more I read scripture, the more I see both sides modeled.

Beyond the false dichotomy of Missional v. Atractional really being about the missing element, I see several other things I want to bring out in this series as I have spent a lot of time pondering this question. I love the missional guys for asking good questions and pressing the church to move. They just sometimes overstate their case. Either way, let’s get out there and let people see Jesus in us.

I see a second principle that I want to draw out over the next several weeks in upcoming posts. I’ll call this the both/and principle. This idea doesn’t often sell as many books as the either/or principle. Nonetheless, we often get caught up in the church looking for formulas and ways to do things better. This is where the church growth movement most errored as they crystallized the teachings to become a quick and easy way to grow the church. People took the teachings and began to find ways to make their ministry bigger and better. We even got to a place where people didn’t ask questions about how they got big, but essentially said, they are big, and so they must be doing something right. In the past decade, we have seen the move expand to include not only building a mega ministry, but onto franchising one’s brand with multi-site churches. The CEO Pastor has melded corporate abilities with Ray Crock’s ability to take two brothers named McDonald  and branding their quick and easy burger into a fast food movement, Times brief history of McDonald’s. The principles of church growth have morphed from the missiology to begin church planting movements and bring the kingdom of God with us everywhere we go into a way of building our own kingdom. Now we have consumerist churches fighting to get the transfer growth and out churching one another.

The missional movement rightly brings a critique, but has oversimplified the argument and set up a subtext that one way is inherently better than the other.

The missional argument puts it this way in following Jesus example. The church should always be on mission and moving out to where the people are. Jesus went to the homes of tax-collectors, walked the alleys, ventured through Samaria to meet the woman at the well, and so on. As the church, we need to get out of the building and take the church to the people. In other words, God sent Jesus who in turn sent us into the world.

First, I want to say that this is a good corrective to have us thinking more on terms of mercy, compassion and mission as a church. However, this view neglects the both/and nature of Jesus’ ministry. As I unpack the principle in future posts, I will look at Jesus, the cross cultural worker, who used both methods depending on the situation.

So often in the church we become divisive and pit one side against the other creating heated discussions and arguments. Rather than calling the church back to mission through refining who we are as the church, we end up witnessing to the world our great ability to feud. When Jesus said the world will know us by our love in John 13:34-35, that began with how we love one another.

Instead of infighting, let’s embrace one another and push each church to be on mission and attracting people to Jesus. Let’s not worry so much about the methods, but about making disciples and multiplying churches.

Missional vs. Attractional

I want to jump in with both feet to a common, recent debate about how the church should be/function. Some say that the church should go out into the world to the people –they call themselves missional. Others say that even though we are all out in the world, the church needs to draw, or attract, people inside their walls so that they can taste and see God firsthand before accepting him. I don’t know why it needs to be one way or the other, why is there a dichotomy pitting missional against attractional?

Should we think of evangelism as happening solely outside of church walls? Or should people observe Christians worshipping God and in community as a way to start their journey of faith? A common saying thrown around today is this statement on attraction. It goes something like this…

“What you win them with, you win them to.” That is if you entertain them to get them in the door, you have won a disciple to entertainment. Perhaps this over simplifies everything…

Donald McGavran, who gets unfairly Caricaturized and blamed for beginning this attractional method with his books and teachings, studied to show the ultimate way churches keep people has nothing to do with how they win them. McGavran may not have had a complete answer to mission, the homogeneous principle has come under great scrutiny, especially for Missiologists who want to apply the scriptures to what he is saying. However, McGavran set out to research the key to churches that grew and found out no matter how people got in, the only way they remained a part of the church came through follow up. No matter how people became Christian, the only way they stuck with the movement came through intentional follow up. This research caused Billy Graham to reevaluate and work hard to get the grass roots churches involved with his campaigns in order to have intentional follow up on his campaigns and those who came forward to meet Jesus.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you win them with. One might come because a cute girl with a short skirt, high heels and a pretty smile caught their attention, or a hot guy with a six pack and cool hair stood just inside the door. Another might come for the ripping music, or the speaker, maybe a fun day at the park, or a service project in the streets of Chicago, perhaps a friend sat with them through a crisis moment, or a different friend said come with me, I am getting baptized. No matter what draws someone to a relationship with Jesus, the only way to root someone into the community as a belonging participant is through discipleship.

Perhaps it is not missional or attractional, a false dichotomy, but the missing element–discipleship.

Missional vs. Attractional Churches

I love to think about the discussion on church philosophy between attraction and missional folks. I am convinced more and more that the church must be both. We need to train and equip those in the church to be the church as they go into the world on Monday morning and throughout the week. Jesus often healed people in the market place. Peter and Paul went seeking people outside the church building. Jesus sent the disciples out.

At the same time, we need to live a life that makes Jesus attractive to others. The church, when filled with the joy and freedom that comes with Christ and the kingdom of God, full of life and power might just become naturally attractive. Maybe what many are missing is the how we are attractive. The goal of attraction should not be to organize everything around one meeting, do everything we can to grab as many people as we can to gather a crowd and hopefully give them something that rivals the movies, theater and a nightclub. Jesus turned the world upside down. The church, led by contrarians such as Paul, was accused of turning the world upside down, Acts 17:6. We often get caught up in doing something so much better than the show down the road that we forget what people are really seeking. Jesus wasn’t just a better Rabbi than everyone else; he flew in the face of conventional wisdom. The church stood out as different.

As I study Acts for my class, I am more convinced than ever that the ministry Jesus began and the disciples continued shared a centripetal and centrifugal force in tension. God used everything at his disposal to get them out, to get them out of Jerusalem and around the world with his story. The early disciples, when filled with the fullness of God could do little but boldly proclaim his message wherever they went, Acts 4:31. A few verses later (Acts 5:16), Luke describes droves of people from the surrounding towns coming to Jerusalem to encounter the living God.

Meanwhile, something drew men to the church with such force that the ruling powers did anything they could to prevent the disciples to speak of Jesus. Yet the divine nature of the new movement could not be stopped, Acts 5:35-39.

For me, I see the church and those who are part of the people of God are always on a mission. We need to seize every opportunity to draw people to know God. As St. Francis famously said, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.”

However, as the church, we are called together to worship God and encourage one another. We need to hold in tension with the ongoing mission the unstoppable attraction of God. We are not using gimmicks to attract people to a great lineup of TV Shows on NBC each Thursday night. We have something far more attractive. We have the source of life. We have one who offers eternal life. We have Jesus, who said I have come to give life and life more abundantly.

Let me explain this further with a quick example with Jesus in Samaria to show a both/and view of how the church impacts the world they find themselves in. When Jesus brought his ministry to the Samaritans we often see the narrative used to enforce the missional side of the argument. Certainly, Jesus illustrated a missional approach to evangelism. Jesus connected with one person around the water cooler and made life changing impact on that woman of ill-repute, but he remained at that well as the rest of the town came to him. What Jesus offers will attract people. Jesus offers living water.

What I see in the life and ministry of Jesus as lived out by the church in Acts are people both filled with the spirit and characterized by the fruit of the Spirit that a nation and empire were forever changed.

How can we hold the two essential values of the church in tension practically today? How can we live holistically as the church and not be pulled to one end of the spectrum or the other?