Recently a friend of mine, Tyler, wrote a post entitled My problems with the missional church. The title was intentional to stir dialog and debate. But it highlighted for me how we can tend to find ourselves in camps. And when we set up camp, defining our own boundaries, we involuntarily exclude someone, who then must set up camp to defend their point of view. In this case, it’s the missional vs. the attractional camp. And we’re supposed to pick sides.
What if everyone is right AND wrong at the same time?
For the last three to four years I have been watching the missional conversation develop. Much of my desire has been in finding language to describe a more wholistic approach to the Gospel and to effectively engage what Jesus was doing? This is what I do at Thrive. It is my work to look at the spiritual formation process and develop discipleship systems in response to that. I actively hold that Jesus created a model for engaging His fathers mission. And it included both an attractional and missional structure.
The term attractional, to me, is an organization that primarily attracts people to a building for services and programs. For the sake of this post, that is the definition I will be using. Much of my concern with attractional is that structurally it creates a way of operating that rarely creates maturity in terms of the engagement of love. The audience structure creates a banking structure of education where the perception of maturity is based on knowledge of information, not the practice of the Great Commission. It typically (but not always) does not focus on discipleship, which creates an unnecessary dependency on the leaders. I grew up in the model of the ecclesia and have seen it flourish and flounder.
The missional approach and dialog is still in debate. Wikipedia defines missional, at least from my perspective, in more traditional terms but includes dialog of a more present understanding of being sent. Ed Stetzer wrote a significant five part series on the word missional. There was the 50 person missional Synchroblog back in June. From my perspective at least, the word is beginning to find meaning. Reggie McNeal defines missional as going out. Stetzer defines it as being sent. For this post, I am using their understanding to define missional. It’s being sent out there.
Unfortunately both terms take a lot of criticism and abuse. When we set up camps it doens’t take long for someone to lob a criticism, which Tyler did. I for one find an exclusively attractional or missional model to be wanting. The original Reveal study at Willow Creek, suggested and even confirmed that participation does not equal growth. The heavy criticism of the missional camp is the lack of converts. And I think both of these models miss the more wholistic approach to preparing people for what it means to be missional.
What if each model serves its purpose on a more traditional spiritual formation timeline? If we look at Jesus’ own model of spiritual formation it was both attractional and missional.
Jesus began by inviting people inward. He attracted people to Himself. And then for three years Jesus did all of the speaking, invited his disciples to participate in only a few of the outward elements, and he modeled for them what they were to do. He focused on a small group of people. But then and only after THREE YEARS Jesus sent them OUT, which is more missional. He avoided the leadership trap and released them. Their responsibility was the Great Commission, or to go and make more disciples.
So what it feels like to me is this:
Neither is better than the other. In fact they support each other in the spiritual formation process.
The problems arise when we set up camps and dig in, when we try to validate the position we find ourselves in by invalidating the other. We say things like:
Missional: “Your not sending people out enough.”
Attractional: “Your not producing enough converts.”
Well duh! From different points on the spectrum, both of those arguments are valid and concerning. And what we fail to do is see the spiritual development process as a journey. Both camps typically fail to see the in between space that joins the two: discipleship.
When the attractional camp forgets that they are to disciple people, the have no structural component that brings people to maturity which then leads to a missional mindset. AND, when missional people forget discipleship they miss preparing people for what it means to bring love to a hurting world. They haven’t had time to address their own development in a wholistic way. So when they go out, they are left wondering if this is all there is. Jesus understood that it takes time to develop people before they are ready to be sent out.
The truth is both camps are different sides of the same coin. They support each other. The end purpose of missional is to start the continuum over again. Jesus instructed his disciples to go OUT to bring people back IN. It was a very defined leadership development process. He didn’t just send them out to restore the world around them, with missional projects. Evangelism wasn’t just a script they had memorized but an invitation to a different way of life. He sent them out to create more followers of the way of Jesus through the practice of love. And He didn’t just invite them in to pretend they were living in a little bubble. He engaged the world around them through ministry to the poor, the oppressed, the sick and the brokenhearted.
And I can’t help but mention how the world sits on the sidelines and watches us fight. It laughs at our arrogance and wonders what all the fuss is about. It still digs Jesus but it waits on the sidelines for someone to realize that maybe Jesus did really know what he was doing when he said, “I will build my church.”
So my desire is to create dialog betweent the camps and help each find the space in between. If you are a pastor or leader looking for support or help in creating that middle space for you church, lets talk.