Last Sunday, I introduced three fellow bloggers who have also turned out to be dynamic conversation partners. Shauna Morgan, Anthony Prince, and Henry Zonio have graciously allowed me to interact with them concerning how missional living and thinking might interface with ministry to children through the local church. They have shared some of their experiences and expertise in their initial posts. Their ideas challenge me and inspire me. While I am sure we do not always agree at specific points, I recognize the growth in my thinking through interacting with them throughout the week here, here, here, and here. I hope the experience has also been encouraging to them. My aim in promoting this multi-blog conversation about mission is to encourage broader conversation in the children’s ministry world. Henry asked me to point our readers to his recent post here, since he will be away for awhile on vacation.
This week I want to focus in on one of the comment streams over at Anthony’s blog. The four of us began wrestling with the difference between attractional vs missional.
I would like to think outloud about how attractional can be infused with a missional mindset so that its strengths are parlayed into a greater effectiveness in embodying and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in my community. I invite my readers to join me in this process. I recall reading the gospels and tracing the narratives of Jesus as he travelled the countryside and the city, teaching, healing the sick, and spending time with all kinds of people, particularly those who were marginalized by the contemporary culture (especially the religious elite). Jesus ate, drank, and enjoyed the company of people. But he also performed stunning miracles. Word got out. People flocked to him from around the region. Is it fair to say that his miracles and teachings attracted people? That is, could this be characterized at some level as an attractional ministry which was infused with a missional mindset?
In my experience, contemporary attractional ministry typically is characterized in this way:
Build a building (or even a temporary tent, for short-term events, or in CM remodel a flatbed truck and do sidewalk sunday school), create a dynamic ministry or event, market it with great savvy and word of mouth, and the people will come. Then when they have come, share the gospel and lead as many as possible to saving faith. Then proceed with follow-up based on collected information, hopefully establishing discipleship relationships in the process.
Missional is usually characterized this way:
Get to know people on their terms in ways that eschew traditional institutional practices. For example, do life with people. What does that mean? Share common meals. Give to each other as each has need. Work and play together. Get to know one another. Put into practice what it means to be reconciled to God and each other. Allow nonbelievers to belong at a deep level before they ever believe, or perhaps even if they never believe. Out of that context opportunities to share faith and theological conversation will emerge within trusting relationships, birthing decisions to follow God in the way of Jesus Christ.
The preceding statement about missional does not imply that any of these things do not happen for people who are in traditional contexts. I can assure you that that they do. The difference is a matter of intentionality. Soon, I will be reviewing The Tangible Kingdom, a fairly recent book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Although I have some serious disagreement with some of their content, I can enthusiastically affirm that– by God’s grace– they have done a marvelous job of developing authentic missional communities in Denver through the ministry of Adullum. Yet, I perceive they avoid most forms of attractional ministry, other than the attraction of being missional. In fact, they carefully screen people to make sure there is deep buy-in before the people become seriously involved. They acknowledge their way of being and doing church does not fit everyone.
I do not see my church being anywhere close to that kind of radical stance concerning their form of missional church. We are a traditional church which has in its midst some very missional-minded people. It is an interesting situation of which I am proud to be a part. And it leaves me with the pressing question. How to interface attraction with a missional mindset? For my part, I plan to continue developing personal relationships with all kinds of people in the community. I also plan to develop strategic events and initiatives with a view toward directly benefitting the community. My hope is to turn the axis of gospel proclamation away from strictly large events which are not based on ongoing relationships and move it to personal relationships in the community with the support of periodic events.
What do you think? Are you doing this in your setting? Please leave a comment if you are….