Who are the Gangstas?
Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Peter Vance Matthews is an Anglican priest and founding pastor of an AMIA congregation.
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction. (Alan’s not a priest. If he is, his wife and kids need to know.)
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
Here’s this week’s question: Three words are coming up frequently in discussions about the church:
Sacramental: Think Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican. God gives sacraments. The church distributes them as the center of Christian experience and the church’s mission.
Attractional: Think the Evangelical MegaChurch. Kickin’ band. Lots of technology to fill the pews with an “audience” to hear the Gospel.
Missional: Equipping believers to go away from the “Building,” into the culture to participate in the mission of God as they find it in their culture: mercy ministries, justice and peacemaking, working with the poor, just being present in the world as servants and witnesses.
These are three good words. All of you would use them in some way. (Well….Baptists can’t spell sacramental, but still…)
What is the way to go to be the church Jesus is building: Sacramental, Attractional or Missional? And in what mixture? For what reasons?
Father Ernesto/Orthodox:In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, the Pevensy children, after their death, are heading to Aslan’s country and have an odd realization. Though they have crossed out of Narnia, they find themselves in a Narnia which is more real than the Narnia in which they lived. It is Narnia, but more so. The professor, Lord Digory, then says:
“Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. . . . And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”
Lewis catches here something of our approach to worship. In worship we ascend to the heavens, and in our worship we image here on earth the worship of heaven itself. We do realize that, “it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow.” But, it is a true shadow. It is in this context that we approach both the Mysteries (Sacraments) and the concept of Attractional. In other words, we are frankly and openly mystics and mystical. St. Paul says that the Church itself is a Mystery. We are the Mystery of God’s presence in this world. We are both the Body of Christ and sinners. In the same way worship is a mystery because we are both with God, participating in the heavenly worship, and yet here on earth. And finally, in the Mystery of the Eucharist we receive the strength and sustenance we need in order to continue walking with Him and in Him. It is bread and wine; it is Body and Blood. For us the house of God is like what Lucy Pevensie said near the end of The Last Battle, “‘I see,’ she said at last, thoughtfully. ‘I see now. This garden is like the stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.'” We see our worship as being far bigger inside than outside. We are not “sacramental” because the Church ought to be “sacramental.” We are “sacramental” because it is the only reality.
Because we look to image the heavenlies, we use incense (as in the Book of Revelation); we use vestments; we use liturgy. When we speak of a worship that attracts, we mean both a worship that attracts because an attender can sense the presence of heaven and also a worship that attracts because of its mystical beauty.
Finally, yes, the Church is called to be missional. Sadly, the Orthodox Church in the USA has had the problem of becoming something like an ethnic club in the last 100 years. But, in its history, the Orthodox Church was missional both in the sense of evangelism and various social outreach ministries. I would remind the readers that the “tail” of the State of Alaska is the point of farthest Russian Orthodox advance. The first Orthodox missionaries arrived in Alaska in 1794, and they were renowned not only for evangelism, but also for their strong advocacy in favor of the Inuit against the Russian merchants. But, as in the book, we must go in, in order to go out. For the Church to grow in this country, the people in this country need to see two things. First, they need to see a people whose worship is heaven on earth. Second, they need to see a people who can bring the practical love, grace, mercy, and justice of God to earth in practical ways. Third, they need to see a people who do the above and then HEAR a people who explain to them what they are seeing in terms of the gospel, as St. Peter did in the Book of Acts when he spoke about the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Joel and promptly led several thousand to faith in Christ and Holy Baptism.
Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: My first response is to look at Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:7-8 where going out is the first standing order from Jesus to the disciples. Combining both of these passages creates a remix that reads, “Go and be my witnesses to the entire world and, as people believe, make disciples of them by baptizing and teaching.” This is what I mean when I talk to the people in my church about the church being missional. There is a “going” component that cannot be ignored and in looking at the ministry of Jesus it becomes clear that works of compassion as well as proclamation are central to his ministry and it ought to be ours.
The path I am following as a United Methodist pastor is definitely missional but that certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t attractional aspects or sacramental aspects to this mission. My main concern is that people are attracted to Jesus and not a worship band, a Bible study, or me. I find a deep rooted consumer mentality in some attractional methods and I’ve experienced enough of the attractional model to know that it isn’t how I see Jesus or the church operating in the New Testament. I don’t see Jesus sending out flyers or door hangers inviting people to come to his synagogue, but rather as Jesus goes out people are attracted to him. The kind of attraction I would like to see in a missional focus is the kind of attraction to Jesus that causes a man or a woman to deny self, take up that cross, and follow Jesus.
According to Matthew’s gospel, people who become disciples are going to get the sacraments (at least baptism) which leads me to think that Jesus’ way of building the church isn’t primarily sacramental but the sacraments certainly play a role in the ministry the church is to have. As has already been shown, Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize new disciples. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23 that his teaching on the Lord’s Supper was received from the Lord. Disicples are to take the Supper regularly as a part of their worship and discipleship.
You ask about “the church Jesus is building” and I’m writing on the assumption that building the church is an ongoing affair in which the calling of sinners to repentant faith in Jesus Christ is at the center. If I were going to plan to build the Church based upon what I know of Jesus in the New Testament, the logical order is a mission outside of a church building through which people are attracted to Jesus and begin to worship with the followers of Jesus and, hopefully, become disciples through the teaching of the church and the sacraments.
Maybe someone ordered a hit after last week!
He’ll return next time.
Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: Hmmm – interesting question. That other one was easier. 🙂 First, I think I’d change the first “model” to “Liturgical/Sacramental.” You can likely believe in the efficaciousness of Sacraments and still behave in an attractional way as a local church, as well as missionally. The way you “run yourself” as a church isn’t “Sacramental” – it’s Liturgical. Sacramental is a base belief system underlying a structure. Liturgy is the structure. It’s a structure with particular content, yes, but it is the work, the stuff we do as the church.
I’m sure that was sufficiently confusing. But on we go. I have to try to deal with the question as-stated as much as I can. I believe the liturgical way is the way to go (underpinned by the Sacraments). That’s probably not going to surprise anyone. I have talked a lot in the past about the liturgy as skeleton for our churches. I talked about it as much when I was stirring around in the emerging church world as now. We need a skeletal structure. Skeletons are organic – liturgy is organic. Life is built that way. Living things have rhythm. We breath, our hearts beat, we reproduce, etc., etc. – all inside of a rhythm of life. So, I believe it’s a very healthy thing to live and move inside of a liturgical rhythm as the church, as a church. And a rhythm that is grounded in what the Church has always done and believed, and that includes at least some sort of Sacramental theology running through it.
I don’t see a lot of positive in the Attractional model. I understand what’s supposed to be going on. I’ve been around it enough and in it a little. I don’t believe this is how the church was designed to work – as aimed toward those outside. I mean mostly (and this is kind of where “attractional” lives) when we gather as the church to do whatever it is we do. When we do this, it is not entertainment. It is not a show. It is not FOR making ourselves palatable to those who are not of our number yet. It is for us. It is aimed at God from us, and at us from God, and also from us to us. It is for us to constantly be reminded and in very real and tangible ways, and to be built into who and what we were created to be. This gathering time is not the only way we are built up into the full stature of Christ, but it is a central way. So, if we gear ourselves and our worship toward attracting people to come in, we lose what the worship is for, primarily.
Missional – that word, has always been confusing to me. It’s very much a catch-word right now in some circles. What does it mean? I know what Michael said in the intro. These things, to me, are a natural part of who and what the Church is – the Missio Dei. First we “be” and out of that, we “do.” And of course, we’re constantly in the process of becoming more of who He created us to BE. So, certainly we should have some focus on doing Kingdom work, whatever that may be. What sometimes seems to happen, though, in situations where this is a focus is that it becomes an activism which takes the place of the transformation of the Christian person, as if this was our only purpose or goal – to do good works, or even evangelism. We should be doing both these things, but as that which flows out of the growing Life of God within us.
Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: At the risk of sounding contrary, I want to suggest another name: “incarnational.” This would parallel, somewhat, “missional.” But by “incarnational” I mean that the church ought to show in radical ways that sharply contrast with the prevalent social models in our culture its embodiment of the purpose and work of Christ. The watching world ought to look at the church and see the continuation of the Kingdom life that was revealed most gloriously in Jesus.
It is the antithesis of attractional, as it’s been defined here. The attractional model has sold its soul for a place at the table of culture only to find out that it is perpetually ten minutes late. A Roman Catholic friend told me once that when he left the attractional church and entered into a communion that was infused with the flow of historic liturgy that only then did he “realize how exhausting the constant pursuit of novelty was.” The attractional model will inevitably have to keep raising the stakes on what attracts most, which in many cases will end up being sex. (So challenging your people to seven days of sex was simply inevitable. Eventually the attractional church will be calling on the attractive members to do it on the platform during the offering. Ecclesiporn, or something like that.)
What I like about an incarnational model is that it will encompass the great strenghts of the sacramental and missional models. For the sacraments draw us into the person and work of Christ (as we Baptists seem to have forgotten). The missional model is, I believe, a glorious example of status quo institutional iconoclasm and an infusion of energy into the stagnant church, and so it is to be celebrated insofar as it draws us into incarnational ministry in our particular context and day.
Finally, an incarnational model strikes at the roots of the altars of the great gods of American Evangelicalism: raw mass and material comfort. In the economy of the Kingdom, the widow with her mite is the richest person in the room, the small congregation that is truly loving and winning its community is the largest church in the world, and the humble, unknown, never-invited-to-speak-at-a-conference pastor who stands in honesty before God and His people is truly the “celebrity” pastor. How nice it would be to see these kind of values incarnated today in the church. Only then will we become what Christ has called his church to be.
William Cwirla/Lutheran: First, I would like to see a general moratorium on the turning of nouns into trendy adjectives by tacking on an â€œ-alâ€ to the end and to all the paperback books that promote this linguistic larceny. It may beat the hyphenated nouns of the 70â€™s but not by much.
â€œSacramentalâ€ at least has sturdy historic roots, and is the one closest to my Lutheran heart. It rides along with â€œincarnational,â€ reminding us that God always deals with us through creaturely means since â€œthe Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.â€
For Lutherans a sacrament is a tangible sign that reveals and delivers the promise of Godâ€™s undeserved kindness toward the sinner for Christâ€™s sake. It is how God is present to us and deals with us. Through Holy Baptism, the Holy Supper of Christâ€™s Body and Blood, and the proclaimed Word of the Gospel the sinner is declared righteous before God for Jesusâ€™ sake and the gifts Christ won for all are applied personally. As works of God, the sacraments make the Church visible and audible; they are the divine marks of recognition of the mystical Body of Christ. For a Lutheran, no sacraments means no discernible Church or Christ, so it simply goes without saying that the Church is â€œsacramental.â€
â€œMissionalâ€ (formerly mission-oriented or mission-minded), has a decent basis in the priesthood of the baptized, though as a term it is suffering major overuse at the hands of synodical bureaucrats. The Church is ever restless to proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed, wherever her priestly people are scattered in their various vocations. This is not to the exclusion of beingâ€œsacramentalâ€ but is its flip side. You might say that the Church gathered is â€œsacramentalâ€ while the Church scattered is â€œmissional.â€
â€œAttractionalâ€ sounds like a bait and switch variety of entertainment evangelism to my Lutheran ears and messes with my spell checker. Lure â€˜em in with kickinâ€™ bands, tech, and praise babes, and maybe you can give them what they need down the road. But will the Son of Man find faith upon the earth as we amuse each other to death?
The Greeks of Paulâ€™s day demanded wisdom and persuasive rhetoric, the Jews demanded miracles. Yet Paul stubbornly preached Christ crucified, which nobody wanted. I seriously doubt that the Church will be â€œattractionalâ€ to an unrepentant sinner any more than an AA meeting would be attractive to someone who doesnâ€™t think he has a drinking problem. Dying and rising is not a terribly attractive proposition to our old adamic flesh, even if the end result is eternal life. Disneyland is quite â€œattractional,â€ but MIckey Mouse canâ€™t raise you from the dead.
St. Paul put it this way: â€œWe have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with Godâ€™s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every manâ€™s conscience in the sight of God.â€ (2 Cor 4:2)
What is genuinely â€œattractiveâ€ of the Church are the good news of salvation in Jesus and the life of Christ at work in the lives of baptized believers. It seems to me to be a profound loss of trust in the power of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit when we feel compelled to turn the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation into an entertainment event.
Give me a gathered Church that is sacramental, and a scattered Church that is missional. Iâ€™ll leave the attractional part to God (John 6:44).