Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Attractional, Missional and the ones left behind

Deep, breathy sigh…

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all the information I heard at Exponential 2012–the largest annual gathering of church planters in the world.

Four years ago, the missional church movement was beginning to gain momentum. It was right about that time when I read The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay and loved what they had to say about living out our faith through living in community with one another and serving the world. After all, the point and the process of my church, C3 (also known as the “mission statement”) is Love God and people, Live in community with one another and Serve the world, or more simply: Love, Live, Serve.

So I was very excited to see that Hugh and Matt would be conducting some workshops at Exponential this year. One of particular interest to me was Practical Tools for Moving Consumers to Missionaries and Small Groups to Missional Communities. (Consumers being people who typically attend “big church” on Sunday but don’t get involved in missions or small groups.) As it turned it, Matt Smay was not in the session. Brandon Hatmaker, pastor of Austin New Church and author of Barefoot Church tag teamed with Hugh Halter for this session. And while I greatly appreciated the point and their process for discipling people through missional living and serving the poor, at the end of the session, something was nagging at me.

Big time.

Because for me, the process was more about weeding out those people who just wanted Jesus on Sunday morning without delving into the bigger question of WHY that was okay to only want Jesus on their own terms. I left the session feeling like nominal Christians were someone else’s problem, not the problem of the missional church. I was in such a lather about the whole thing that I couldn’t focus on the main session which followed the workshop. Instead, I began to scribble madly in my notebook the following:

Rich Young Ruler

Process seems effective at weeding out those consumers who have no interest in becoming committed followers, but I don’t see much in the way of moving consumers into something more. I understand that it’s easy to label these people as Pharisees and wash our hands of them, but people who don’t think they need Jesus–or worse, those who think they have a saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus but don’t–are the ones who so desperately need Him!

Then there’s the resource issue. Had the rich young ruler said, “Yes, Jesus. I choose you and everything I own belongs to the kingdom”, how would that have played out?

How do we lead people with financial resources away from consumerism into discipleship? And if they’re stubborn and don’t want to move, do we let them go and just say, “Good luck with all of THAT?”

By giving up on them and calling them Pharisees, are we not doing some of the hard things that Jesus would have us do because they’re easy to demonize? What could God do with their resources if we somehow lead them to an understanding of what it is to give your life to Christ? Without telling them that God will bless them–because if we do that, we’re just selling them more consumerism. Maybe they won’t be blessed. Maybe they’ll be sifted. But because they have much they are expected to give much. Are they a lost cause? A nut too tough to crack and bring into the family of God?

Still feeling very unsettled (and needing to pee because I’d had about 2 gallons of coffee that morning), I excused myself from the worship center to find a bathroom. Guess who was manning a booth on the way to the bathroom? Give up? Hugh Halter, Matt Smay and Brandon Hatmaker. Lucky them.

On my way back from the bathroom, I stopped at the booth. It went something like this:

Hugh Halter: How are you doing?

Me: I’m very frustrated.

Hugh Halter: Well, bring it on.

I proceeded to unload on them what I had madly scribbled in my notebook. I shared with them that I live in a community where you can’t swing a bat without hitting ten or so churches. Churches filled with disciples but also with what they would classify as Consumer Christians. I expressed that I did believe in their process of making disciples through missional living, but wondered aloud about those who didn’t choose that path. Are they not worth the trouble? Do we have a process of reaching those who think they are found but are really lost? Does God value them less because they seem to value Him less? Brandon talked me down off the ledge a bit. He shared an email from a wealthy man whose life had been transformed by serving the poor, and I am grateful that people are being transformed by truly living out their faith. He also told me that we can’t change people’s hearts, only God can do that. In the end, Brandon gave me a free copy of his book. I’m sure it was only partly to get rid of this raving lunatic woman at their booth.

But I’m still feeling frustrated.

I still think we’re leaving folks behind. People who may be as close as a conversation over a cup of coffee.

And I suppose that’s gotta start with me.

What do you think? Are nominal Christians the burden of the “big church”?

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13 Responses to “Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Attractional, Missional and the ones left behind”

  1. James Williams April 30, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Kat, you are right on, and very well said.

  2. Steve Sherwood April 30, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Wow Katdish,

    I so appreciate your passion. Thank you for ranting.

    Two thoughts come to mind. 1. In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus was saddened by the mans response. It behooves us to follow suit. Jesus only did and said what the Father led Him to do and say. We have the Holy Spirit to lead us and He is very God at His job.
    Jesus didn’t pursue the rich young ruler any further that we know of, but again, He was completely obedient to the the Fathers will.
    All that to say, walk in the Spirit. Speak truth to the nominal Christian. Continue in the Spirit and if He leads you totake the conversation further then… Well, walk in the Spirit. And if He leads you to move on then do so.
    2. And this is hard for me to fully grasp, but Jesus also said, “If the Father isn’t drawing them they cannot come.”
    At the endof the day we need to be able to say, “I did what I was told to do, and yet I am just an unprofitable servant.”

    I pray Father fills you with His Holy Spirit and that He uses you to cause many nominal Christians to become sold out saints for His Kingdom.

    In Christ,
    Steve @duhpastor

  3. Brandon Hatmaker April 30, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Kat,

    I appreciate your passion now, just as much as I did in person. It’s good to be burdened for others… And to lead out of that burden. It’s refreshing to be around people who care about people.

    That said, I want to make sure you understand what we were saying about those “not quite there yet”:

    First, it’s our hope that everyone would fall deeply in love with Jesus and adopt fully his way of life. But what we’ve found is that you simply cannot make someone do that. The most effective and biblical strategy is to give a concise, filled with grace, image of what Jesus said it looks like to follow him. Anything less only adds to the confusion. This is not a missional or attractional thing, it’s a discipleship thing.

    Second, in no way would we simply throw people aside who don’t get it. People are welcome to be involved on every level and take things at their own pace. But we simply don’t believe that painting an incomplete picture helps the individual nor the church be all God intends.

    Third, our strategy is to expose people to the opportunities Jesus said would transform their lives. I personally believe serving the poor was something Jesus challenged us to do for more reasons than one, this certainly being one of them.

    That said, Jesus set us a very clear example. He was doing so with the Rich Young Ruler. It doesn’t mean he didn’t love Him or even care, in fact, he cared enough to shoot him straight on what it takes. This can end up being as much about trusting his Gospel as it is releasing the reigns on what we want to see and how we want things to work..

    I hope I’m making sense. Typing from my iPhone makes this a little more difficult 😉

    Oh, and I gave you a copy of Barefoot Church because I think it’ll give you a ton of clarity on what we’re discussing. I hope it ends up encouraging you as well. We simply cannot put it all in perspective in an hour in Orlando. That’s why I wrote it… It’s a complicated story with many facets.

    Bottom line is this: I was that person you’re talking about. For many years. Sitting in the middle, dry, and missing something. And I was a pastor. Jesus took me on a journey that transformed my heart and mind. I’ll never be the same. And I heard God clearly say, ” Now, what you just experienced… Go help others experience it too.”

    It was a clear call to discipleship. A clear invitation to a new journey. Glad you’re on it too. Blessings, Kat!

    Brandon Hatmaker
    Barefoot Church

    • katdish April 30, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks, Brandon. I’m looking forward to diving into the book. I appreciate your courage in choosing the path God lead you to. You are living proof to thousands of pastors that there’s more to a life with Jesus than staff meetings and Sunday gatherings. Praying for your ministry. And your thumbs.

  4. Dan Jr. April 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Hi Kat,
    I really connect with your frustration over “who will disciple the consumers?”

    My quick story – I’ve planted a very communal/missional type church in the city of Syracuse. We follow a very specific rhythm of community, justice, mission, teaching. We’ve had some encouraging growth and traction in our city. Still the saddest part is that many consumers have not stuck around. This is just my pastoral experience but I’ve had truck-loads of coffee talks with consumers Christians attempting graciously to be winsome and bring them along on the journey. 9 our of 10 cut and run after that talk for a more consumer oriented church experience. I’ve bent over backwards to meet them where they were but the cold reality I’ve collided with is they don’t like the kind of Jesus that orients life around others. After that it’s easy to loose yourself chasing people down. I’ve had to come to terms with this and learn to allow people to make their choices and go their way. I’m not sure of any other grace-filled way to respond.
    Peace,
    Dan jr.

    • katdish April 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Thank you, Dan. I really appreciate you sharing your story. It is frustrating, isn’t it? There’s got to be a scriptural approach to moving consumers closer to Christ. I remember watching a sermon by Francis Chan before he left his church. He was saying that the term “it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” was, he believed, quite literal. He also shared that he thought that many of the people sitting in that church were going to hell because they just didn’t “get it”. (I’m paraphrasing–he was way more gracious than that.) But that sermon still haunts me. And the fact that Chan ultimately left that big church to pursue a missional lifestyle sort of haunts me as well. Because if Francis Chan can’t figure it out, than who am I to try to do it? Anyway, thanks again. I’ll be praying for you and your church and would appreciate the same.

  5. jake April 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Light the torches! I feel that a rant like that should be followed up with a large fire somewhere, yesh? Regardless, it sounds to me like Jesus lit a fire under you and you might have a calling- At least, that’s what I’m hoping. A pastor-friend of mine once said, “Jake, think about what bothers you most. You’re probably called to it in one way or another.” At which point, I nearly stabbed him.

    I appreciate your heart for nominal Christians. Somebody needs to care about them, even those who constitute the large amount of “lateral” church growth and who seem to annoy the hell out of pastors… Way to be, friend.

    • katdish May 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Ah, Jake. I can always count on you to intermingle some gratuitous violence into a theological discussion. That’s why you rock.

  6. Karen May 1, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Oh, Kat. I am very much caught up in your dilemma. You have the advantage of understanding the seminar-speak vocabulary. I have heard the seeker church message in a conference, but when I first heard the word “missional” I had to grab the dictionary. It is a newly-minted piece of jargon that I think might actually inhibit the message. This is my first exposure to the term “consumer” for church goers. It makes it sound like the church is manufacturing something that people must buy. Since every “consumer” is different, we can never assume that there was one way that they could become involved in serving.

    Although someone who has experienced Christ would want to become involved in mission projects and reach out to others, they would also benefit from corporate worship. Nominal Christians can benefit from corporate worship as well even if it is not specifically geared to them. We shouldn’t discount the whole idea of corporate prayer and worship just because that is where “consumers” land. And, although I think we should make visitors feel welcome, I think that the worship service should be reverent and not just a sales pitch to non-believers.

    A related problem is that, with the advent of mega church, anyone, committed or not, can feel lost and disconnected. It is possible to slip in and out without being noticed. It is necessary to help people get involved and connected regardless of where they fall on the scale of commitment, and remember only God can read that scale.

  7. Brina Harwood May 2, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    I attend a large church where the point is to raise up the body of Christ and then send it out. Our pastor is honest and doesn’t water down the Word of God. He cannot be responsible for all of the consumers in our church individually, but those that are more mature are responsible for engaging those around them. That’s how a body works. So, you, for instance, cannot be personally responsible for reaching out to (or even being aware of) every consumer-type attender. Some certainly. But, the point is that the body of Christ is connected much like the human body, though every part is connected to and influenced by the head and heart, not all are directly connected. EVERYONE should feel responsible for the people God puts around them to encourage to grow.

    I have friends that don’t go to my church that would be considered consumers. One of them I see every day. I’ve talked to her about really seeking God and becoming the woman that God has called and created her to be. She nods her head and goes on with her life. We’ve even had Bible studies. She says that she’s trusting God for a lot of things. She says that God has a “plan” when things aren’t going well, but I know that she’s not really seeking Him. It’s more like a mantra that makes her feel better. I honestly don’t know the condition of her soul. Only God does, but isn’t that true for all of us? I pray for her, I encourage her, redirect her when necessary, counsel her with truth from the Word of God… but at the end of the day, it will always be her choices she’s making. We can’t manipulate people into following God or caring for others. All we really can do is be an example and care.

    Eventually, the body of Christ will have to grow up, start chewing on some meat and get to work. Pastors and church staff cannot be expected to perform the work that was intended for the body. But, they can be expected to be an example to the body on the pulpit and behind closed doors, teach the full word of God unabashedly, provide opportunities for growth (classes, retreats, conferences, etc.) and ultimately hold the body accountable. Truth doesn’t always grow church attendance right away… but that’s what people really want.

    Despite what people think, it’s not actually my pastor’s job to tell my friend who has been coming to church for 2 years, strolling in late every Sunday, that she needs to start going to bible study and serving somewhere on Sunday and then encourage her to get involved with a homeless outreach that was started… that was my job. We’re all called to ministry. We just need to broaden our definition of ministry and release people to do it.

    • katdish May 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

      Thanks, Brina. You’re so right. “EVERYONE should feel responsible for the people God puts around them to encourage to grow.” And a timely reminder.

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