Many epic battles have been fought among the pews of our churches. Many walk away wounded from the piercing sword and stabbing blade. Battle lines are drawn. Sides taken. Weapons selected.
This is no gentleman's war. Underhanded, shameful crimes take place. Fellowship lunch becomes a battlefield of malicious conversation and banner-waving.
Of course, not all battles have been this way. The first century saw great and noble 'church wars' take place. Paul, and others, fought valiantly for the purity of the gospel. Their willingness to go into battle, and the many who have followed their example over the centuries that followed, have left us a legacy worth —well—worth fighting for.
While we've all heard of ridiculous battles over such things as wall colour or a songbook, in the last few years, a new battle has emerged.
'Missional' v 'Attractional' Church
For a number of years now, a plethora of books have been released, calling us to arms. We are being urged to make known this day who we will serve. The numbers on either side are swelling and the field officers are marshalling their troops. Those undecided on whose colours they'll wear are being labelled as 'nominal'. We are told we must choose. It must be one or the other!
Really? Must it really be 'one or the other'?
Both parties have enticed me with their propaganda. I have heard the earthy, organic message of the missional movement and dared to dream of a multiplying movement of house churches. Then, just as I was about to sell our church building, an envoy arrived from the attractional regiment. So now I falter at the brink. Which path do I choose? Which direction do I move in? Both roads, I am told, move off in opposite directions. I am informed that this is a T-Intersection, I must either choose left or right, but I cannot stay where I am.
Here's my concern.
In this battle, I'm worried about the reputation of the gospel. As either side use the terms 'missional' or 'attractional' you can almost see the derision dripping from their lips as they speak. Theological abuse is flung across the room and all the while the pristine, beautiful image of the gospel is tarnished. A watching world not only shakes it's head in confusion, but now wags it's head in mockery like an amused cat watching a dog chase it's own tail.
There is much at stake here brothers. This is not about which conferences you attend or which blog you subscribe to. This is about real people heading for a lost eternity. This is about the message of the Gospel. This is about both the display and proclamation of God's glory.
The Problem with Demarcation
One of my problems, and I suspect its an inherited problem with humanity, is that I love to draw clear lines.
I love bullet points and categories.
I love boxes.
The problem is, when I went looking, I could only find one.
It was clearly labeled: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ". It was a very big box, bigger in fact than I had expected. I searched diligently for other boxes, but I couldn't find any. I went back to the gospel box and explored it, hoping I might find smaller boxes hidden inside like those little Russian dolls my sister used to play with. Nothing. No other boxes.
I climbed into the box.
I sat quietly. Waiting to hear what Jesus would say.
Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Thank you Jesus. I know which way to turn. I will be missional.
As I turned to leave, I heard Jesus whisper gently again.
Matthew 5:14–16 (ESV) — 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Alright, I'll be a light on a hill. Yes, this little light of mine, I'm 'gunna let it shine. I'm attractional!
His voice rings out again.
Luke 9:1–5 (ESV) — 1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”
Umm... ok? So, what do you want me to do?
Jesus, what did your ministry look like? I saw you send your disciples out, is that what I should do?
I just want to do it like you did—help me Jesus.
Matthew 15:30–38 (ESV) — 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. 32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
Oh, so it's attractional. Gather the crowds and feed them!
Matthew 17:17 (ESV) — 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?...”
Oh LORD I believe, help my unbelief!
Planting My Flag
So this is where I take my stand. I fight for neither side. Only the gospel.
There are attractional models that have abandoned the gospel. They don't need to be more missional. They need to be more gospel.
There are missional movements who have lost their way and wandered from the narrow path that leads to life. Brothers please, return to your roots and lay hold of the gospel once more.
Multiply the Church
The gospel is a 'told' story, and we are a 'sent' people. This means that those who came before us were our benefactors; now we must be the same to the generations who follow. The gospel did not start with us, and though we seek our Saviour's imminent return, we must view the gospel as not ending with us. We must labour to multiply the local church. We are not solely satisfied with the pleasure of Christian fellowship, as sweet as it may be, but instead are compelled to widen the boarders of God's Kingdom.
The church must grow. And when we no longer fit within our meeting places, we will continue to grow. We will continue to 'tell the story' and be the 'sent ones', gossiping the gospel wherever we go. We will be both a light on a hill, uncovered and unashamed, as well as those who take the light out into the darkness. Both are necessary. God's covenant people should be attractive to a world that longs to know what it means to belong. Yet God's covenant people should always be on a gospel mission to impact the communities around them.
I endeavour to embody both realities; attractional and missional.