Missional vs. Attractional vs. House Church Models all have the SAME flaw

10 12 2008

311641077777511Tim Keller (admired equally by the missional and attractional church) dropped a bomb shell the other day by commenting on a post about the never-ending debate regarding the fruitfulness of missional vs. attractional churches.  The missional model believes you build the church through being “incarnational” which often means small communities living life with non churched people, enfolding them into community as they move toward a belief in the Gospel.  Attractional churches set up excellent programs usually centered around a worship service that draws the non churched in and slowly works on building a belief as they move visitors through a defined assimilation process.  House churches critique both models believing you build the church by gathering believers together in a shared common life.

All three models miss the point.  We are never commanded to build the church.  We are never commanded to plant a church.  We are never encouraged to develop church building models of any kind.  We don’t build the church.

Jesus has already weighed in on this debate.  Listen to two thing he said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), and “Go and make disciples….” (Matthew 28:19).

Not only is there not a command in the New Testament to build or plant a church there is not a single narrative in Acts where you see Paul or anyone else involved in the activity of church planting.  Thousands of churches emerged through Paul’s ministry but he didn’t build them, they emerged as Paul proclaimed the gospel, made disciples and released the 5-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11).  [Read this for one example of this in the city of Ephesus]

So what happens when we neglect our mission (to make disciples) and, instead take on Jesus’ responsibility (to build the church).  A very strange thing.  Because the church is supposed to emerge organically through the training of disciples, when WE build it, we have to change its basic nature into something synthetic.

Let’s use farming as an example.  Farmers don’t grow plants they cultivate fields.  God is responsible for the natural laws that cause plants to grow.  So imagine going to a farm where the farmer confused his role (to cultivate fields) with God’s role (to grow the plants).  I picture row after row of lego plants and the farmer with a bag of green legos going out day after day to add one more to each plant until its time to start over again.  Synthetic plants bearing synthetic fruit so we don’t have to trust Jesus to build his church or labor at the dirty job of cultivating, weeding and harvesting the field.

And I must say, before you write this off as an impractical theory that doesn’t work, we actually do this and we have seen churches organically emerge over and over.  One quick current example is my friend Stephen who was taking a vacation with his family in August in the Northeast when he was asked by two different groups, who have not been trained, if he would stay and do some discipleship training.  Now it’s December and two new churches are beginning to emerge that no one planted or built and by the time Stephen leaves they will be self-sustaining, training disciples city-wide and able to reproduce.  How, through the training of disciples NOT through the planting or building of churches.



9 responses

10 12 2008
Missional vs. Attractional vs. House Church Models all have the SAME flaw « From Eden to Zion « The Hand of God

[…] Should I call this my Eden 2  Zion series?   I’m reading another post from this website  Missional vs. Attractional vs. House Church Models all have the SAME flaw today, and it has to do with the flaw in focus – all of these “forms” of the church […]

10 12 2008
Bill Kinnon

Though I’d probably debate whether Dr. T actually dropped a bomb shell – he did stir up lots more conversation.

That being said, I see the argument really being between Consumerism and Discipleship. As a boomer who truly hated “discipleship”, seeing it as a controlling concept, I have come to realize the stupidity of my position and the incredible cost that the Church has borne for not raising up disciples, first. “Come join us and recieve all the Jesus benefits” really has little to do with “Pick up your Cross and follow me.”

Good post!

10 12 2008

Great point. Thinking about it it seems that God has the seed growing and the church building under control. Almost like building the church is just something that happens beyond our ability to control, like a seed. And if we get in there we just mess it up.

So God’s got the “easy” stuff down, our job is the hard stuff?

Reminds me of a song:
once planted plastic grapes
the harvest of a lifetime
real bad wine

10 12 2008

Wow. This is a completely new idea for me. I have always thought (probably through my training in church) that building churches is part of our “job”. Thanks for sharing – this gives me a lot to think and pray about – along with all the other stuff I’ve been learning in Story-Formed Life.

12 12 2008
Daniel C

I can completely agree with all theree of the misguided mindsets that you have outlined here. The bible never portrays “the gathering” as the vehicle through which we try and reach the lost… I’ve read lots of material that properly explains how the body is to function (like from wolfgang simson, where I believe you reference to the five-fold ministry comes from), unfortunately, there are a lot of people who get excited about bits and pieces that they hear, and assume that the gathering is the means, rather than a part of the end (which is really our overall new life in Christ) Making disciples is something that happens in a million different ways, in a million different contexts. God has scattered us throughout the world, in our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and like you said, if we are making disciples, then the church will then just arise organically, as God grows it. We’ve had to learn from experience that we need to allow ourselves to reserve most of our time and energy for building up these relationships, with both Christians and non-Christians, instead of having a clearly defined group that meets regularly, that we can stamp as being a “community”. It’s a life that is considered very loose, even to many people within the ‘simple/house/organic church circles’. To many it just looks like you’re not really doing anything, because you’re not putting labels or parameters on anything. You’re just letting God move as you interact with other people…

That being said, once people DO enter the kingdom, once they DO decide to become a disciple of Jesus, it important for us to be able to present an unpolluted understanding of how we as followers of Christ are able to gather. It’s true, we don’t need a building, we can just meet in our homes, we don’t need “professionals” to function as the body. The Holy Spirit is enough. And while the ‘gathering’ or the ‘community’ may not be the thing that we have to get people “into” in order to share the gospel with them, it is incredibly freeing to share Jesus with people, and be able to dispell the common notion that people have about “you’re just trying to convert me to get more to join your church, so that more people are putting money in the offering plate”… It IS freeing to be able to share Christ and not be able to be accused of trying to boost your organization’s numbers… There are no operating costs, there are no “giving goals” to achieve. There is just the Kingdom, which is present wherever someone who knows the King, is….

13 12 2008
Travis Mullen

To me your argument is somewhat semantic hair splitting, in that, I believe the work of church planting is the same exact work of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, call it either way. Paul says that we are God’s workers, working on fields, which sounds like church planting. I agree that the missional idea misses something when you’ve got the problem of unbelievers belonging before believing, yet even that can make sense in belonging to the group of believing friends as a , but not actually the church.

13 12 2008
Luke Crook

Travis, you mentioned that church planting is the same as proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. I agree that the two CAN be the same thing, but they usually are NOT. They SHOULD BE.
Also, on the “unbelievers belonging before believing” thing, this is discipleship in action before conversion actually happens.
Luke Crook

16 06 2009
Lou G.

“Not only is there not a command in the New Testament to build or plant a church there is not a single narrative in Acts where you see Paul or anyone else involved in the activity of church planting…. Let’s use farming as an example. Farmers don’t grow plants they cultivate fields.”

And farmers plant seedlings. I think your view of church planting is limited to an unbiblical model. Of course the entire book of acts is about true church planting, is it not? Paul was the consumate church planter, from the biblical perspective. I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Cultivating a field is all well and good, but at some point you’ve got to plant the crop. That means developing new Timothies and Tituses and their teams to get the church started.

Your point about “church building” is well taken, but that’s not really what is really happening with the church planting experiences that I’m been involved with. (I’m not a particular fan of the attractional model for sure.)

19 09 2009
Bill Bremer

The kingdom of God is like yeast in dough. We are the dough. We take on the role of the Baker when we form the dough to our own way. Messiah Jesus is building His Church in His Kingdom. We are His inheritance. The gospel of the kingdom enlightens the eyes of our heart so we “know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1).

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