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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”?

Hearing God (by Billy Coffey)

My children have recently decided to forgo their usual extended Sunday School for the “big people preachin’.” Which was a surprise to me, since both of them have always seemed to enjoy a Sunday morning service that consisted of a Bible story outside, some coloring, and then hitting the playground. I know I would.

But my daughter is not the sweet little girl anymore as much as she is the sweet young lady. Crayons and swing sets just weren’t cutting it when it came to spending the Sabbath with the Almighty. So yesterday when we pulled into the parking lot, she looked at me and said, “I want to sit with you and Mommy today.”

To which my son replied, “Me, too!”

Well. Alrighty then.

We took a quick survey of Big Church decorum (“Be still, be nice, and be quiet,” I said) and strolled into the sanctuary as a family for the first time.

Our church had become newfangled in our worship. In place of actual hymnals with actual pages, two giant screens on either side of the sanctuary flashed the lyrics to our worship songs. Fine for tall people. Not for munchkins. My daughter couldn’t see the ginormous screen because of the ginormous football-playing teenager in front of her.

“Let’s move closer,” she said.

I offered to let her run point, and she proceeded to lead us all the way to the front. Reading the screen would now be akin to sitting in the front row of a movie theater, but this is what you do for your children.

That particular spot also happened to be directly behind the three rows reserved for our congregation’s deaf members. I wasn’t sure who had thought of the idea of providing someone to translate the preacher’s spoken words into sign language, but he or she deserved a lot of praise. All three rows were full, and full every Sunday.

The praise team began their first song. My daughter stood on the chair beside mine, holding onto my arm for dear life and belting out lyrics for all to hear. But me, I didn’t do much singing. Or listening. No, my attention had been placed squarely upon the three rows of churchgoers in front of us.

They were wonderful, those people. Happy and smiling. Far from being outcasts in the service, they were active participants. They still received the pastor’s wisdom. They still sang, only with hands instead of words.

They still praised God.

But they couldn’t hear our praise team. They couldn’t grasp the rhythms of the guitars and keyboard and drums. They couldn’t hear the emotional crack in our pastor’s voice has he recalled a monumental battle of faith he once endured.

They understood, those three rows of people. They knew the facts of the songs and the sermon. But I couldn’t help but think they were missing out on the feeling.

Because that, by and large, is what sound does. It brings feeling.

Like the feeling of peace when the rain taps your roof. Or the feeling of bliss at your children’s laughter. It’s the wonder that comes from hearing a summer thunderstorm or the joy of sleigh bells at Christmas. Those are the little moments of life, the seeds of lasting memory. Ones made neither by sight nor touch, but by sound.

Yet just as I began to mourn for them, I realized other sounds they would never have to hear.

Like the sound of tears being wept. Hate being spewed. Anger being vented.

They may have missed some of the best things in life, but they also missed some of the worst.

Like me.

Because we were not so different in our limitations. I could hear, but that didn’t mean I always listened. Just like I could look but not always see and touch but not always feel. In the end, we are all handicapped in some way. That’s what being human meant.

With the help of an interpreter, I spoke with one of them after the service. Michael, he signed. An amazing guy with an amazing heart for God. Also someone who was, unlike me, quite content with his limitations.

Hearing could wait, he said. And I was wrong, Michael could feel plenty. He could feel the love of God, the closeness of the congregation, and the faith he knew to be true. Hearing, he said, could wait. And I don’t blame him. Because the first thing he will ever hear will be his Father saying, “Welcome home.”

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today.

And in case you missed it, Kat Smith over at Heart to Heart posted an interview with Billy yesterday. You can check it out here.

The Peter Principle

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1-5)
1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

I’ve been thinking about the launch of C3 and the relaunching of Jason’s Church, Breakthrough Church quite a bit lately. I think Jeff and Jason have similar visions for their respective churches. That is, they really do want to get out of the way and allow God to use them for His glory. I know Jeff well enough to know that he doesn’t say that because that’s what he supposed to say. He really believes it. And while I only know Jason through our blogs, I believe that he really believes that, too.
I hear much about doing big things for God; of pursuing excellence for Him. Without question, He is worthy of our very best. But often I wonder if we pursue lofty goals in His name because we think that’s what He wants from us. I also wonder if we feel we somehow fail Him when our expectations or the perceived expectations of others fail to materialize.

I love Peter’s reaction to the Transfiguration of Jesus in the above passage of scripture. Peter loved Jesus. He wanted to honor him; to do something big for him. He wasn’t wrong for wanting to do this, he just didn’t grasp what was happening. Peter thoughts were likely, “What a great honor for Jesus to be in the company of Moses and Elijah!” Peter didn’t realize that it was Moses and Elijah that were honored to be in the presence of Jesus. When God says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”, do you ever wonder if God is maybe rolling his eyes at Peter — I mean, just a little bit?

My point is, I think the Church (big C) needs to prayerfully consider everything we do for His Kingdom. If God wants a church to have thousands of members and offer many ministries and reach a large number of people, He will provide the means to accomplish that. Conversely, if God brings a body of believers together that may only ever have a small congregation, but this church is able to accomplish things that are big in God’s eyes but not big in the eyes of the world, can we be okay with that? Can we also put aside the notion that one is good and the other is bad? I don’t know what God has in store for my little church plant or for any of yours, but I pray that we will have an open dialogue with Him, so that where He leads we will follow. I want God to be enough for you and for me and for all of us.