Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Attractional Versus. Missional Debate

I was looking through my notes tonight and found this discussion about the nature of many of our traditional or institutional churches. They function in a "come to us" mindset whereas a missional mindset is about going into all the world and making disciples. Alan Hirsch blogged about it on The Forgotten Ways site.

Some comments by Alan Hirsch.
I think the use of the term attractional is a tad ambiguous, but because I am partly responsible for introducing it into the broader conversation I have to stick with it. What I am trying to get at in using the term attractional is what I call the missionary mode or primary posture of the church in relation to its context. An attractional church is one whose primary stance towards those it seeks to reach is couched in the expectation of a come-to-us mentality. And this expectation as it plays out in the US, Europe, Australia, etc. was basically formed in a time in history where the church had a central position in the culture and people naturally came to church to be cared for, to hear the gospel, and to participate in the community life.

The problem is that adopting such a mode is at the cost of fundamentally altering our understanding of ourselves as a ‘sent’ people. (Incidentally, the word missio, from which we get our word mission, comes from the Latin word meaning sent.) And this is further exacerbated by the fact that we live in what historians and theologians rightly call a post-Christendom era. In other words, an attractional church can work in a Christendom context, but in a missionary context it actually undermines our efforts to reach people meaningfully with the Gospel of Jesus. It is literally out-moded! A ‘sent people’ no matter how you configure it implies a going of sorts. And when combined with the other primary theological metaphor in the bible of how god reaches the nations, namely the Incarnation, it clashes head-on with the primary expectation built into attractional forms of church. Hence the conflict–they are basically two different conceptions of church vying for our loyalty in our day.

But another ambiguity can be explained by saying that while a more missionally defined church moves from a come-to-us mentality to a go-to-them mentality, nonetheless all expressions of church should be attractive. That is, we should always be culturally compelling. Don’t mistake not being attractional for not being attractive.

Comment from Alan’s readers:

Comment # 1
This has become a hot button for me - and all because I read The shaping of Things to Come. I believe that churches need to avoid the danger of “Attractionalism” - the belief that creating an appealing church service and programs will attract unbelievers to come to church. The majority of members in attractional churches have abandoned personal responsibility for showing and sharing the truth of the gospel. Instead, they expect the church services and the paid professionals to accomplish the evangelistic ministry of the church. This abdication of personal responsibility to join Jesus in His mission, coupled with churches that design church services to attract unbelievers to church, are significant obstacles to missional activity.

Comment # 2
As Ed Stetzer states, “attraction is not enough.”
In American Christianity there is a growing tendency among churches to believe that if they change the worship service to be more appealing or attractive to the unchurched, then unbelievers will start coming to church. Making changes because you believe it will get unbelievers to go to church is at the core of attractionalism. To truly be missionaries in their neighborhoods, Christians must not focus on attracting people to church. Instead, efforts must focus on incarnationally displaying the gospel to everyone everywhere.

Comment # 3
I agree in principal with the argument against attractional etc. However, I don’t think the case has been made convincingly enough with regards to deconstructing how post-modern culture operates. The culture I live in Australia still revolves around attractionality in all forms of life.
Our kids go to schools in the local community, along with hundreds of others. People belong to a raft of different interest groups in our community and congregate together in order to pursue these interests. People join sports clubs, pay huge fees, conform to uniform and behaviour standards.
We congregate in stadiums in our masses to watch sports or entertainment.
The case against attractional fails to overcome the reality of how people [in the West]live their lives. We happily GO to things, we happily BELONG and CONFORM to codes.
Or work habits mean that we have to go and conform. This is an everyday experience for most of us. Attractional does not run against the grain of modern culture. We are surrounded by advertising, pummelled by marketing, and harrassed by telesales people. We are surrounded by an attractional world vying for our attention and our dollars.
Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with it all, it does show that the notion of what the post-modern world is for emerging ecclesiologists, is purely romantic.

My Comments
In responding to the assertion that “attractional” is part of our culture and that non-Christians willingly allow themselves to be attracted to events, we need to ask the question: “What are they being attracted to?” Concerts and sports events are entertainment. That is what is fundamentally wrong with the attractional model. It seeks to attract people so that they are entertained. It is a consumerist model. “Come and see the great church we have so that you can be entertained by it for one hour a week!” I’m not sure that this is what Jesus had in mind.

I’m not sure He ever tried to attract a crowd. He at times tried to send people away. They came because He had something they desired. But when the cost of discipleship was emphasized and when it came time for the cross, the crowds dispersed. I think the main danger of the attractional church is that it is almost by definition linked with marketing the Gospel (doing whatever it takes to get people to come and try out your services) instead of preaching the Gospel which is always linked to the cross and the call to die to self.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Practicing the Presence of God

I remember how influenced I was when I first read Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” It was close to 20 years ago and I still refer to the concept in my messages and in my personal devotions. I came across them again while reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost and thought I would post them here – both for your reference and for mine. A website has been established that has collected some of Brother Lawrence’s letters has been set up here.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610 in Herimenil, Lorraine, a Duchy of France. At mid-life he entered a newly established monastery in Paris (called the Order of the Dicalced [barefoot] Carmelites) where he became the cook for the community which grew to over one hundred members.

A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight. It was not until after his death in 1691 that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, counsel to the Paris archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet. The following year, in a second publication which he titled, 'The Practice of the Presence of God', de Beaufort included, as introductory material, the content of four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence. 
In this small book, through letters and conversations, Brother Lawrence simply and beautifully explains how to continually walk with God - not from the head but from the heart.

Practicing the presence of God is to be done continually – especially in public where the wonderful aroma of Jesus can be sensed. Brother Lawrence’s practice involved five simple skills that lead to a deep awareness of God’s presence. They are simple to explain but not always simple to master.

1. Seek God’s Presence – guarding your heart with care to retain purity.
Brother Lawrence understood that it is impossible to seek God’s presence while also seeking after sinful human desires. So in order to experience the presence of God we must regularly confess our sin and recognize that His presence is available in spite of it. In order for us to fully experience this presence, we need to be ruthlessly honest about our sinfulness, keeping short accounts with God, while being sharply aware of the constant availability of God’s tender and unearned grace and mercy.

2. See God’s Presence – keep the soul’s gaze fixed on God by faith.
This step is about cultivating a capacity to see God’s presence shining through even the most mundane or profane of life’s activities. This sacralizing of the everyday allows us to see that God doesn’t live in church buildings or cathedrals but he can be seen in every element of the world. We are thus freed to see God in distinctly nonreligious categories and to help not-yet-Christians to connect to a God who can be encountered even if they have never been to church.

3. Live God’s Presence – do all for the love of God.
The practice of Christian spirituality does not demand isolation or retreat. All of our everyday activities hold the potential to become what Brother Lawrence called “little acts of communion with God.” Every single activity of our lives is a chance to glorify God – it charges all our activities with glory. Sanctification isn’t based on the actual activities we perform, but on our preparedness to do them for God rather than for ourselves. For him, performing the ordinary task of cooking, was as wondrous and beautiful an opportunity to experience God as was prayer or the Eucharist. He said: “We must never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.” So our daily lives, whether as lawyers or labourers, doctors or domestic workers, CEO’s or secretaries, ministers or mechanics, are opportunities to serve God.

4. Speak in the Presence of God – offer short prayers to God.
Brother Lawrence offered these suggestions: “To those who set out upon this practice, let me suggest a few words, such as “My God I am wholly Yours,” or “O God of love, I love You with all my heart,” or, “Lord, make my heart even as Your own,” or other such words as love prompts at the moment. Before beginning any task I would say to God with childlike trust: “My God since You are with me and since I must apply myself to these duties by Your order, I beg You to give me the grace to remain with You and keep You company. Even better, my Lord, work with me, accept my efforts and take possession of all my affections.” Moreover as I worked, I would continue to hold familiar conversation, offering to Him my little acts of service and entreating the unfailing assistance of His grace.”

5. Treasure God’s Presence – value the presence of God more than anything.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
When we value the presence of God more than anything, we will set our minds and our hearts on pursuing this one thing above all else. But our primary motivation for pursuing God is not our own pleasure but because that is what God wants more than anything else! It is God who desires our attention and who derives such pleasure from it. It is God who initiates relationship and intimacy and desires it in the most regular and everyday activities of our lives.