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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

torn...

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If you know me, you know that I'm often torn.  On the funny side, I went to Michigan State for my undergrad, then worked for 8 years on the campus of the University of Michigan.  I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), then switched to the Reformed Church of America (RCA), then went to Calvin Theological Seminary (of the CRC) for 3 years, then transferred to Western Theological Seminary (RCA).  Often people ask me who I back during the MSU-UofM games or the Hope-Calvin games or I find myself in battles between the CRC-RCA (an oft held rivalry, unfortunately, in West Michigan.  FYI... the CRC broke from the RCA long ago). Another way that I'm often torn (and you can see it in these pages) is between the new emerging church (I prefer emerging - encapsulating many movements like Emergent, Missional, the New Monasticism, Radical Orthodoxy, etc.  For a good primer on a couple of these movements, cf. Tom Sine's The New Conspirators) and the Established Church.  I find myself particularly situation in the contemporary expression of the (dutch) Reformed Church of America in West Michigan in a small, attractional mega-church.  I previously pastored what I would consider a revitalizing missional, emerging church on a college campus.  I've said some pretty unfair things about the Established church and have often been known to be down on the attractional church as well.  Having now worked in one for awhile and wrestled with these ideas (cf. previous posts on David Fitch here and here).

Well, there are some more posts on Out of Ur addressing this again.  Here's Dan Kimball's Missional Misgivings questioning the effectiveness of the misisonal church (and this post seems directly in contrast to David Fitch's earlier questions challenging the Attractional Church.)  You can find Alan Hirsch's response here.

Let me quote Hirsch from his response:

 I certainly don't believe that attractional is not working. What I have said is that it has appeal to a shrinking segment of the population, and that persistence with a church growth style, attractionalism, is in the long run a counsel of despair. Are you suggesting that we simply stay with what we have got? Surely not bro?

While at the RCA's One Thing Conference a year ago in January 2008, I listened to Hirsch in some sessions with church planters.  I was struck by something similar that he said there, and it began a turning point for me.  He was drawing on a flip chart, and on the left, he drew a shape depicting the current forms of church, and then gave a hypothetical number of people being reached.  The attractional church would be one of those.  Then, he spoke passionately about the many people who are not being reached by our current forms of church.  His passion, it seemed to me, was to see the people of God developing alternative forms of church to engage for Jesus these people who are not currently being reached.  He didn't bash the established or attractional church.  Far from it.  He said it was important.  But what he did say, and this is key, sounds like bashing but it's not.  He said something like this, which is not all that profound and we've heard a lot from many folks  (I'll see if I can find my notes on this): 

"The culture is changing.  The current forms of church work well to reach people who are a part of the Constantinian world, or what we call 'christendom'.  But we are increasing finding more and more people who are existentially a part of the post-Constantinian church and know nothing of our forms, have very little knowledge of Jesus and the church, and need to be spoken to in their own language."

Ok, that's not how he said it, but that's the jist.  It's not only a missional statement about incarnational living, but about  inviting the church, or people of God to be the mission in the post-christendom (or post-modern if you please) world.  His missional passion, in my estimation, is about how to be on mission in our changing world rather than doing the same thing that reaches less and less people as the culture shifts.  One of the great things I took from this was that it's not an either-or (so let's stop beating each other up, or saying our way is the only way) but start living more creatively both-and ministries of multiple forms to reach people for Jesus and have a transformative impact on the world in which we live.

In addition, also at the RCA's One Thing Conference, and at a follow up leadership event of the RCA Synod of the Great Lakes, Reggie McNeal challenged our denomination to think about different metrics as we move towards becoming more missional.  Hirsch hits this as well in his response when he says the two following things:

If we persist with our standard measurements for mission, we will miss the point. The issue is what idea of church is more faithful to the Scriptures. Genuine fruitfulness, surely, cannot simply be measured by numbers but by 'making disciples.' How does one measure that? By all accounts, current churches are made up largely of admirers of Jesus but few genuine disciples/followers—this is not a biblical idea of fruitfulness!

 If we stick with the prevailing measures, we will miss the level of incarnational engagement with quantitative measures alone. How do we measure that? Incarnation takes time and loving presence (witness) among a people. Working with post-Christian folks ain't easy because we have lost our credibility and have to work darn hard to regain it. I think there is much work to do here.

So, here's the cool thing for me.  Our leadership has been not only thinking about new measurements (fyi... Leadership Network has an article about some large churches doing this), but there has been much talk with Reggie and others about how we create missional metrics in addition to numerical metrics.  (As a pastor overseeing discipleship and a member of the RCA's Discipleship Team, I think metrics on our spiritual growth like Willow Creek's Reveal are necessary, too.)


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