Sunday, September 14, 2008

Go and Do (1): Getting it wrong

Attractional church will work. It will also fail. That is, if you do attractional well, with enough hype, you will get a turnover of outsiders and a percentage, by God’s grace, will convert. However, there are large slices of the demographic pie that will never darken the door of your events.

That’s why “Go and Do” is an imperative. If they won’t come to you, you must go to them. Furthermore, since all ministry, and certainly all mission, is cross-cultural to some degree or another, you must go to them and communicate in a manner that will be understood.

In this post I want to highlight three traps in beginning to think about ‘Go and Do’ work:

1. Go...and come and see.

For many, their idea of a church plant or the like is this – go somewhere and start a new public worship service. This is, virtually, transplanting an attractional church. It changes the geographical locus, but little else. As such, it is doomed to fail from the start. Not that it will necessarily fail as an attractional church, but it fails to ‘go and do’ - it’s just taking what you do in one place and trying to do it in another. It also fails because it mistakes one of the end points for the beginning. If you are trying to reach a people group among whom there are few disciples, then your work should move from seeing new converts, to a point where those converts generate a public worship service as an expression of their own Christ-redeemed and transformed culture, not the import of your own.

2. Go...and run an activity

The second error one can make is very similar to the first, except instead of starting a church service, it is to start some other type of ‘activity’ that runs primarily on invitation. Now, in some contexts that is a valid process. But in others, it holds the same problems as point one – you have created another spectacle type activity that is designed to draw people to it, rather than seek people out.

3. Grounding your work in ‘incarnational missiology’

The incarnation is a wonderful theological doctrine. It also, carefully treated, provides a wonderful theological rationale for mission – God sent his one and only Son into the world as a particular, finite, culture-bound Human. However, it provides a very poor theology of mission, and an even worse strategy of mission. To step from the incarnation to speak of incarnating Christ to a culture, or the need for assimilation in a culture, and so on, is a theological misstep. Most, if not all, missionaries work cross-culturally to one degree or another. If one took incarnation seriously as the model for mission, the result would be either assimilation or syncretism – christians becoming so like the culture they had nothing different to say (liberalism), or becoming so enmeshed in the culture they have nothing contrastive to say, but have blended the gospel of Jesus with the gospel of the culture (syncretism). I think one of the reasons Paul is so prominent in the NT is that God has been pleased to hold him up as a very human and particular example of what it will mean to follow Christ. Paul, as missionary, works very hard to relate to each group he seeks to proclaim Christ to, but not at the price of assimilation, identity-forgetting, or syncretism.


Laura said...

Seumas -- there appears to be more baggage associated with the word "incarnational" amongst my Aussie friends than I've found here in the US. If you mean subtly alter or omit bits of the Gospel to "enculturate" Jesus and make Him palatable to the place we're ministering then I totally understand and agree with your criticism.

But that's not necessarily what it means everywhere -- in my context (young, urban, reformed, church planting, Driscollesque) it means don't go into a place like the Great White Hope and say you have a passion for ministering there but then go back home and live your comfy life in your suburb without having to deal with the hassles of ministry outside your comfort zone except on Sundays between 9:00 and noon, but instead be willing to leave your tract home and move in next to the single mum and the blue-collar worker and the family on the dole and take the Gospel TO them rather than waiting for them to come to . ;) Because I'd say that's pretty important -- and basically what you're getting at.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Laura, thanks for your comment. That's the kind of insight about language use that I just couldn't generate myself. I'll take a closer look at how people are using 'incarnational' in their discourse, and be more nuanced in my discussion of it.