Attractional vs. Missional: A Presentation by Alan Hirsch, Part 1.5 (A Guest Post by Charles McLean)

[Very occasionally, I move a comment from a reader to the main posts, to make certain the readers who only subscribe to the posts read it. This comment by Charles McLean takes the discussion in an excellent direction.]

[The last post] is an enlightening and challenging post.  It is the worst of worlds: a profoundly disturbing idea which rings true at a deep level.  It suggests to me that we must move well beyond any change of methodology to reach the majority of lost people in our communities.  As gut-wrenching as it has been for some congregations to embrace something as internal as a new song list, this problem suggests change on a different order of magnitude.  What’s the problem with “change agents”?  They aren’t moving fast enough or far enough.

I will actually suggest that the problem is not that we are so unwilling to modify current church practices that are an established part of our culture, that we sacrifice mission to tradition.  No, it’s worse than that.  It may well be that traditional church culture is inherently incapable of the mission we have before us.  Our model can continually be tweaked for better functionality, but the numbers suggested in this post are beyond “tweaks”.

The 18th century model which we have continued to remodel and repaint for the last couple hundred years depended on certain aspects of 18th century culture.  Cultural homogeneity was one aspect.  When everyone in our culture had nominally the same general cosmic view, we only needed to inculcate the operative details into the members of our community.  Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney were not surrounded by Muslims and atheists.  They did not much penetrate the culture of African slaves.  They functioned in a predominantly white/Christian/Protestant culture and did not stray too far from it.  Even when the church sent out missionaries, it generally planted a white/Christian/Protestant version of the church.  It was what we knew.  We are like a tribe who has lived for generations in boats on the water – only to find out one day that the lake is drying up and that much of our former range is no longer accessible to watercraft.   Newer, shallower-draft boats improve things a bit, for a time.  But at some point, our grandchildren will have to learn to live on land … or become further and further isolated on the shrinking lake.

While I share Jay’s general concern about producing and feeding religious consumerism, I think this is a problem more inherent to the believers than to the unbelievers out there.  Unbelievers are not even in that market.  An entire generation is arising who was never fed religion at home and never developed any taste for it, nor desire for it.  It is something that belongs to Grandma, like lye soap.  It is becoming more and more a cultural artifact in large segments of modern society.

If we insist on maintaining the traditional church at all costs, and cannot bring ourselves to think or talk beyond that paradigm, then we are headed for the anthropology museum.  There is something beyond our model.  Hey, our model looks little one we see in first century Asia Minor!  So, why is our own form immutable?

I am not advocating tearing down all the buildings.  No, what I am saying is that we are going to have to begin to think much much differently about what the church is going to look like.  Far more radically than even we troublemakers have done so far.  Much of what currently passes for change in the church is just remodeling.  House churches miniaturize their larger progenitors.  That little kaffeeklatch of ten believers at St. Arbucks looks and sounds just like a Sunday school class.  We continue to tack on features to our institutions that did not grow there naturally.  (“We built this nice fellowship hall and it has a nice kitchen, so we should open a soup kitchen.”)  As Jay observes, we can’t get volunteers to staff perfectly-good programs.

I don’t have the answer here, but I think I know what the first step is.  We have to open our minds and hearts to the idea of a church which is foreign to our experience.  To hear radical ideas and to actually consider their import, instead of rejecting them because such ideas simply “won’t work in our church”.  To accept that after all our insistence that we know the will of God, that He may just be doing something we have never seen before. Our dialog must range much further than it has so far.  We must become unafraid of even wild-eyed ideas.  We can hear the Lord regarding such things; we need not be afraid.  Some bad ideas have in them grains of truth that we won’t discover until we actually chew on them for a while.

We also will have to accept that much of our tradition is unlikely to survive the transition.  (And by “our tradition”, I mean “the way I have always walked as a believer”.)  As God reveals to us how to really reach into the world around us, a lot of perfectly good “stuff” is going to go begging.  If we cannot fathom the useful death of our own church, that it might die and go into the ground so the gospel might spring forth from it, it’s going to be very difficult to move far into that 60%.  If we cannot consider the possibility that the clergy profession may itself have to disappear in order to scatter the message, we may find ourselves holding on to something that is less than our calling.  If reject out of hand the idea that the leadership of the church may arise among people thirty and forty years our junior — well, we are going to get stretched.

We must be able to seriously consider the possibility that our 18th century church model, with all its accomplishments, may have become like a pair of tonsils– once useful, even needful, but now as much an obstacle to our health as they once were a benefit to it.  Jay suggests that we will need many models.  In fact, I would suggest that the very idea of an optimal human model– where we see success and try to copy it — has long been a candidate for the dustbin.

One more analogy.  Ancient sailors once would not stray from the sight of land.  The unknown was out there beyond the horizon. But the people who opened up the world to us are the ones who made the terrifying choice to go out and discover just what was out there.

Jay, thanks so much for this post.  Here’s to a MUCH bigger dialog.

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31 Responses to Attractional vs. Missional: A Presentation by Alan Hirsch, Part 1.5 (A Guest Post by Charles McLean)

  1. Bob Brandon says:

    I dunno, Charles, the Jewish Christians seemed to “sacrifice” mission to tradition. The Church meeting as such at Jerusalem concluded that such was appropriate provided that they judge not others, a lesson memorialized by Paul not just in Galatians 2 but theologically in Rom. 14. One does not see the need for missional innovation in the first century church: the innovation was the Gospel itself.

    Furthermore, some of us have been through this “trash the mainstream church” antic before. The fact remains that we, as Christians from various times and places, are not going to give up our “habits of the heart,” to borrow from Robert Wuthnow. It’s is those very habits – “traditions” if you insist – that organize and help fulfill our lives in and out of congregation. The challenge is not to trash them, because you see – even if you won’t – we would simply replace the ones we’ve discarded with others that we would prefer as the artistry of our own minds. As many, many revolutions have shown, today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s reactionaries.

    The challenge then is to recognize them for what they are – not substitutes or dilution of the gospel but – our particular habits and practices that help organize our thoughts and devotions to the Lord. You seems to suffer from the same ailment that you accuse others of: a preoccupation with the organizational vs. missional. Nothing stops you from being missional now from where you stand. Just between you and me, I suspect you’re not long for our fellowship. No matter what, godspeed and God Bless. I’m sorry you’re frustrated with things temporal.

    One more thing; I’m retired Navy Reserve and a former history major. Your nautical analogy is not apt. Mariners stuck to line-of-sight navigation until they could do better. They did that because they navigation with what was familiar. Compass, sextant, quadrant, etc. allowed them to venture of sight of land not because they boldly made a terrifying choice, however terrifying it may have been. They ventured because they could reliable navigate with what was now familiar: stars, sun, sunstone, moon in addition to land. People do not naturally throw away the familiar and embrace the strange per se. They proceed from the familiar to the unfamiliar from the safety of the familiar. Mariners are an aggravatingly habitual sort now as then. Back when they first venture into open ocean, whether in sight of land or not, they knew where they were going because they always knew where they had been.

  2. Price says:

    I dunno Bob…The first century church was filled with Power…the early church was filled with the miraculous…They were entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit to support and nourish them… In most churches today, that would be innovative… But it’s never a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

    Charles…the part about the church dying so that the Gospel can spring forth… that one touched a nerve… We all understand the instruction that each of us individually should “die to self” but I guess I’ve never heard it expressed in terms of the whole church dying…

    I’m sure there are those that are gathering up rocks to throw but I’m not sure that you are wrong in what you are suggesting… it’s just radical…maybe we need radical…I know if Jesus is interested in the one sheep, He is likely interested in the 60%… I’m thinking that protecting our “culture” of church” isn’t going to be much of an excuse to explain why we didn’t bother to do all that was possible…

    In the end, if we fail, it will be Fear and a lack of Trust in the Head of the church that hampered our success…

    Jay, thanks for sharing.

  3. Price says:

    Just saw an article about how the KJV celebrates it’s 400th year…What a battle it was to get people to stop praying and preaching in 17th century Olde English… … My guess is that “church” will be defined and redefined for as long as God allows us to suffer ourselves and our mistakes…

  4. laymond says:

    What Charles is saying here sounds strangly familiar , Oh yeah it is what I hear the republican party saying on TV every night, “we are going to hell in a hand basket” but when asked how to change direction and vear away from that cliff, they have no ideas. (they don’t have the answer, but the first step is to get rid of the current president)

    Charles said (during his rant) “I don’t have the answer here, but I think I know what the first step is. We have to open our minds and hearts to the idea of a church which is foreign to our experience. To hear radical ideas and to actually consider their import, instead of rejecting them ”

    Charles! maybe we should throw out the bible, and erect a “Golden Calf” !!

  5. laymond says:

    Charles, if you don’t have the answer, why did you raise your hand ?

  6. Enterprise says:

    So I have to ask the question. If the problem can be easily identifed, why is it that the solution is not also apparent? I do not have a problem considering suggestions that we may need to change the ‘way’ we do things, as long as the ‘way’ we do things is still found in the Way!

    But what are those suggestions?

    The nautical analogy and Bob’s response are interesting….I wonder Bob if the thing that allowed those sailors to travel was further was that they relied on what was immovable to guide them?

    In the same way and to echo the hymn….Anywhere with Jesus, i can safely go.

    As Jay concluded in the 2nd part of this series, the message is still the same. Don’t change the message.

  7. Enterprise says:

    Obviously, Lamond and I were thinking a similar thought…..

  8. Charles McLean says:

    Laymond, your objection sounds a little like the officer on the Titanic who told the passenger, “Hey, if you aren’t going to fix it, stop pointing at the hole.” And thus the ship and all who sailed on her were saved.

    My entire point was that the dramatic challenge before us is beyond tweaking the model we have. Faithful, godly people have taken a lot of flak for doing even that much in the church, in search of better fulfilling our calling in Christ. And yet we are still far from reaching the “all nations” that Jesus called us to. There is no one-paragraph answer. We have heard these already. For example, the old “every one, win one” slogan has a sound logic to it, and is great mathematically, but it does not seem to be getting the job done. This calls for wisdom beyond what we have so far. That means prayer and listening to one another for God’s revelation.

    I did identify a starting point, which is a much larger dialog. But when brothers object to our doing even that much, it does not speak hopefully for our chance to accomplish that which is currently far beyond us..

  9. Alabama John says:

    Man is a pack animal.

    it is hard for man to not want to associate with those that believe MOSTLY the same as he does and hard to leave that pack to seek out others that believe more of the same as himself.

    In a recent publication I read where prior to 1900 there were two congregations worshipping according to the ancient order in Tuscaloosa Alabama. The digressives, progressives,modernist,,etc. moved in and captured these churches with their liberal ideas and followed the modernistic trends of the day. For the next 25 years, there was not a congregation in the area worshipping according to the new testament pattern.

    No one wants to be one of those above and have to stand outside the pack.

    To start, we must be willing to listen to each other without labeling and actually get their real feelings and thoughts without fear of being labeled negatively.

  10. Charles McLean says:

    Enterprise asked: “So I have to ask the question. If the problem can be easily identifed, why is it that the solution is not also apparent?”

    Refer back to the Titanic. The problem was obvious. The ship was sinking. The solution was less apparent. And even if you address the problem simplistically (“Everybody pitch in and plug that hole!”), what is clear by the rising water is that the tools at hand are simply not sufficient to the task.

  11. Charles McLean says:

    Bob noted: “Furthermore, some of us have been through this “trash the mainstream church” antic before.”

    If to point out weaknesses or flaws is to “trash”, then my doctor has been trashing me for years. Preachers, too, now that I think of it. And even that nice fellow who took issue with something I posted. Oh dear.

    Bob, I confess to having limited interest in saving human forms simply because we have had them a long time. I liked my grandpa’s 1972 Chevy pickup, but when it ceased to be functional, I did not feel any disrespect to my beloved grandpa when we scrapped his truck. It is a mistake to hold human forms or patterns or behaviors as immutable by the mere expedient of putting the church sign in front of them.

    If I may offer an apparent paradox, we are the body of Christ, but the body of Christ is not US. Our identity comes from the Head, not from the rest of the body. I recognize that all of us as believers develop cultural expressions of our faith. We always will. But it is a mistake to conflate those expressions with the faith itself. To challenge one is not to challenge the other. The faith is eternal, our expressions have a life cycle. The faith is immutable, while our expression of it should be a function of an active leading of the Holy Spirit in this time and space. We are being LED by the Spirit, which suggests that we are going someplace that we were not yesterday.

    And if there is a difference between “the mainstream church” and “the church”, my interest is in the health and effectiveness of the latter. I will let others dedicate themselves to preserving the former. Some brothers I love very much are trying to do that. But I will offer this caveat– woe to those who would try to hold the believers to the task of sustaining a human institution or tradition, when their hearts cry out for the Kingdom of God. Many are the shuttered church buildings where the disappointed leaders still think people fled to follow the world or their own desires, when in fact they merely left to follow Jesus.

  12. Adam says:

    A couple of thoughts:

    Laymond – whatever this is that Charles is suggesting, it isn’t a rant. It is reasoned, patient, and well articulated – the very opposite of a rant.

    The very tricky part is building a structure that can provide some sense of continuity through the years, but not confusing that structure with “the way”. As Bob rightly sees, we will always have traditions – they might change through time and place, but every group has traditions – its “habitus” if you will.

    The challenge, when viewed from some of Jay’s earlier posts, is when we make the outsider conform to our habitus in a way that is purely ancillary to what it means to be Christian – when we require not only a turn to Christ, but a turn to our culture, our traditions. I think this is what Charles is speaking to – not against tradition per se as Bob claims, but against the perpetuation of any tradition beyond its usefulness.

    The way I have always thought about this is in the idea behind the particular – while the particulars can and should change in time, place, and circumstance, the idea is universal. The church will always be a sacrificial, relational thing that exists as invitation and conversation to and with and in the world.

    We need to be very, very careful, though, that our invitation and conversation with the world, as the church, is to the WHOLE world, not just those who look, think, and act like us – those who share the same world view. Therein is the difficult, difficult path.

  13. laymond says:

    Adam, might I remind, that a rant to some is very rational to others.

  14. Emmett says:

    Merriam-Webster defines rant as, 1. “to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner”, 2. “to scold vehemently”. Make your own judgment as to who is ranting…

    How many of you have read, “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith” by Rob Bell?

  15. laymond says:

    RANT: An emotionally charged presentation of facts and relevance by an entity frustrated by the inaction / inability / unwillingness of others to understand or discern the entirety or reality of any given scenario in order to determine the consequences, truth, or, what is in their own best interests due to shortsightedness or subjective thought.

    I would like to bring to your attention, I did not say “rant and rave”

  16. Some of us, apparently, are not even prepared to admit that we need to do some things differently – much less to consider what those things might be.

    What most of the brethren I know want us to do is just more of the same – just do more of it and do it better than we have ever done it.

    What I hear Jay and Charles saying is that even doing more of the same things we have been doing all along and doing it as well as it can be done is not going to reach more than the 40% who (maybe) have a world-view similar enough to ours that they will listen.

    Yet, some of the comments suggest a strong reluctance to even think about or discuss this as a serious possibility. To suggest such a think is, to those who make such comments, coming dangerously close to heresy.

    As a result, we find ourselves stuck in a present modeled more on our past 200 years than on the Christ, who broke nearly all of the rules (and especially the traditions hedging in those rules) – while fulfilling the rules in a way that showed what the old rules were all about anyway!

    Is it going to take a dramatic intervention by the Holy Spirit to get us “out of the pit and out of the mire and clay” to set us firmly on the rock?

    Jerry

  17. abasnar says:

    Have you all ever considered that we face a shift from a former “Christian” culture to an non-christian culture? In former times people went to church out of “society-peer-pressure” and they conformed to “us”. Now the hearts are revealed more opelny, and people just start leaving because they never belonmged to “us” … does that mean that now we should conform to them?

    No. But we have to let go of “institutional Christianity” and become – once more, and more consistent – a church according to the NT pattern, because (as someone said): “Our century is the first century since the first century that is like the first century.”

    Alexander

  18. Charles McLean says:

    Perhaps we might look to see if we haven’t been expecting people to conform to us more than to Jesus. If we asked those who “were not of us”, we might be distressed at their opinion.

    Alexander’s last quote, I think, is a thoughtful one, worthy of some consideration. Is living in a post-Christian century like living in a pre-Christian century? Well, following Jesus would be not only a minority view, but a marginal view. We appear to be headed that way. We would not be able to depend upon our cultural institutions to support, or even understand us. We might find ourselves in clear rebellion against our culture, with the concomitant consequences. We would have to presume that the primary difficulty we would face in putting forward the gospel would not be opposition, but indifference. Certainly the analogy breaks down in many ways, but it’s worth discussing.

    But, I think the hazard here is in thinking this reality means that recapturing the ancient patterns will recreate the historic results. I doubt this reasoning. The first century church had no functional pattern from which to work, so for us to seek one out from them seems to me to be a bit out of sync. The amazing spread of the Gospel was not a product of the early church’s evangelistic methodology, but of its supernatural power.

    By way of analogy: Roman soldiers traveled at great speed in wooden chariots. If we were to excavate an intact chariot today, copy it exactly, and produce them in bulk, would we have what the Romans had? Not unless we reproduced the horses that powered that vehicle in the first place.

  19. Adam says:

    Charles,

    While ascribing the “amazing spread of the Gospel” to God’s supernatural power is, of course, true, it isn’t particularly helpful.

    What I mean is this – the reason the Gospel spread with such amazing speed in the centuries after Christ was because of the dispersion of the believers because of the unbelievable persecution perpetuated on them by the Roman authorities. It is in the face of opposition that the gospel spread – and I think that it is right to ascribe that to the supernatural power of God – His ways not being ours and all.

    Said in a little more generic terms, the early Christians were sent into the world with no guarantees of either success or safety. In fact, the most likely outcome was a painful death because of their very actions. And yet (I would argue because of this, actually), the church grew in an amazing way.

    How very differently we do it now – asking the other to bridge the gap to us instead of the other way around. It was the persecution that made the earliest Christians go amongst the peoples. If we don’t begin again, then I am convinced that God will use our persecution again to achieve his goal of reconciling the world back to himself.

    For our children’s sake, let us awaken to this reality before we are forced to it.

  20. Ray Downen says:

    If we indeed have restored apostolic Christianity, then we need to stick with it. In fact, our traditions are human and not at all apostolic. They had no clergy. Our entire system is based on being “led and fed” by a clergyperson (notice I didn’t say clergyMAN as is usual). Several marvelously good ideas have been presented in these comments. I’m encouraged to believe that many are willing to consider making any changes they see are necessary in order for us to actually “speak where the Bible speaks.” Laymond spoke well. Others also.

  21. David Newhouse says:

    Have you ever noticed how similiar are the methods for conversion to Christ, modern mental therapy treatment, and addiction treatment? They are all based on conviction, repentance, and redemption. Aggressively preach repentance and remission of sins to the right people and the church will indeed change. This country is breeding a slew of troubled souls who are potential converts. These potential converts will not trade bondage to sin for bondage to a religious/traditional/cultural strait jacket. So, the church will change if we do the preaching, but we don’t have all much control over how it will change. The new converts will do the changing.

  22. abasnar says:

    When I looked at the Video presented (Alan Hirsch) I was not convinced.

    His statistics maybe correct concerning church attendance – this you can evaluate. But his other figure – our methods reach only up to 35-40% cannot be gathered from surveys, because – last not least – God is a God of surprizes (see the conversion of Saulus to Paulus). He also admitted that this is a guess.

    Then he was speaking about reaching the other 60% by becoming “missional”.

    What was lacking was any hint of a definition what this would mean and how this would look. And he gave us no reference to our guide-book at all. He was talking like a markting-expert trying to make us sell more shoe polish who points out, that only 40% of our society wear shoes. … Leaving the shoe-polish manufactureres with confused feelings of guilt and shame.

    Concerning such figures and statistics. Christ did not make an analysis of cultures and attitudes of the various tribes of the world, he just sent his disciples everywhere. What spoke to me in Alan Hirsch’s speech was the “Go-aspect”; I have said it repeatedly that the church meetings are not meant nor designed to attract unbelievers (I was always against the attractional model). But when He said “Go”, He also said that only a few will respond. Only a few. This is not because we do a bad job of communicating the Gospel (in fact, we sometimes really do), but because the message is offensive: The Love of God is basically that He does not want to destroy but to reconcile; but this inludes the Cross, self-denial, His Kingdom and repentance. Remember how many people were turned off by Christ Himself who wanted to follow Him (“Let the dead bury the dead …”)!

    No marketing expert will send out sales-men with an offensive message. Christ did. This will normally not result in mass conversions, but in a split in society – 10, 20 or 30% may respond with repentance, but all in all the world will hate us. Which is good because God said so.

    As I said, I do believe the churches have to adapt to the new situation that we are not a “society-peer-group” anymore, WHICH IS GOOD! But we must not change in a way that makes semi-converted masses flock to a “modified” message. Watch out: Even if we all use the term “Gospel” we often understand it quite differently! Therefore I’d start with pondering the message itself. I think the message has been altered while the church was a power-factor in society, and we still have some very wrong views of the Kingdom.

    Alexander

  23. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Alexander wrote,

    But we have to let go of “institutional Christianity” and become – once more, and more consistent – a church according to the NT pattern, because (as someone said): “Our century is the first century since the first century that is like the first century.”

    I entirely agree with the words. But I believe the “NT pattern” is named “Jesus.”

    (1Ti 1:16 KJV) Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

    The pattern is the character of Jesus, to be reflected in the lives of Christ-like believers. If we would but emulate Jesus, the church would grow.

    The path to emulating Jesus is found in the Gospels (but not just in the Gospels). He appeared to the Jews as a Jewish rabbi, teaching as rabbis taught, addressing life as they experienced it — but addressing life in terms of the gospel of the kingdom of God. He interpreted the gospel in terms that spoke to First Century Palestine — farming, kings, stewards, vineyards, Samaritans, Gentiles, the temple, etc. He spoke and acted in terms that communicated the Truth of the gospel in his culture.

    And he surrendered himself for those he loves. He submitted, served, and sacrificed. He healed and helped. He wiped away the tears of those who mourned.

    How many of our congregations have reputations among those outside the church congruent with Jesus as presented in the Gospels?

    Hirsch is not suggesting that we abandon the gospel! Far from it! But not everything we do is gospel. Indeed, much of what we do is not even found in the Bible.

    Alexander has already abandoned the US model for how to do church by organizing in house churches and not in a special-use building. Most US congregations would not adopt such a model even if they knew it was the only way to make any converts at all. We are married to our buildings by tradition and habit, not by the Bible, and yet many churches would refuse to consider any adaptation for the sake of the gospel.

    How do I know this? Well, I’ve seen the controversy over small groups. Most Churches of Christ today still meet on Sunday nights in the building rather than in small groups — not for the sake of the gospel but for the sake of habit and tradition. This is changing — but it’s a process that is taking decades because traditions are so very hard to change. And a church that won’t permit small groups (even when a majority of their members are begging for small groups) isn’t about to attempt something even more radical.

    But Alexander’s church has left the Church of Christ mainstream practice and surrendered the building altogether — for the sake of the gospel. Amen.

    Should all churches surrender their buildings? No. Should they all be willing to surrender them for the sake of the gospel? Absolutely.

    Moreover, Alexander’s church has not fulltime preacher. The leadership rotates preaching responsibilities. I speak from experience: American churches can’t abide the absence of a preacher! But for the sake of the gospel, Alexander’s church has decided to do without a preacher. Amen.

    Should all churches surrender their preacher? No. Should they all be willing to surrender them for the sake of the gospel? Absolutely.

    And so I’m a bit surprised that Alexander — who is already operating the traditional model for doing church for the sake of the gospel — should be upset with the idea of operating outside the traditional model for doing church for the sake of the gospel.

    I know next to nothing about Austrian culture. But Alexander’s church is doing a church very different from how my congregation and most American congregations do church in his own culture. Amen.

  24. Jay and Alexander are both making a lot of sense – though their congregations are very different. One of the things we must “let go of” is the thought that every congregation of God’s people will look identical in the same way that McDonald’s restaurants are all identical. In the 1950′s, you could go into any church of Christ anywhere and the service was almost identical. No longer – and that’s a good thing. Yet, many still cling to the old ways – not because that is gospel, but because that’s the way they have always done it!

    I know what Jay means when he speaks of how people resist change – even modest change such as the introduction of small groups. I, as an elder, lived through that experience in a congregation. In fact, I was the designated elder to present a message to the church explaining why we were doing. I explained that for years I had heard the rationale for a Sunday night gathering as being that the elders had decided that this was a good thing to do. I explained that now the elders had decided that small groups was a good thing to do – and why. But they did not buy into it at all. A few did; most did not – which told me the rationale was not true at all. It was not that the elders had decided this was good. It was the way they had been reared, and they would continue in that way regardless of what the elders thought!

    Making fundamental (not Biblical) changes is how we “do church” will be difficult. Can it happen? I believe so, but it may take what George Barna called The Revolution. I think Barna went too far in his book by that name by abandoning the very idea of an institutional church. However, the church will have to lose its institutional feel to be more inviting and accepting of the “unchurched masses”.

    I’ve seen it in Ukraine; we need to see it here as well.

    Jerry

  25. abasnar says:

    As for Sunday night worship:

    22 years ago i spent my vacation on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides, Scotland). This Island experienced a revival in tz (I think) 1970s – within the context of the (Calvinistic) Free Church of Scotland. They kept the Sabbath vigorously and were very much a-capella (Psalms only). The services were cramed full each Sunday morning and Sunday evening, fololwed by a “congregation gathering” – Family past time on Sunday afternoons was family devotion (in Gaelic – and “All kids can read from a Gaelic Bible”, the father insisted). That was quite an experience.

    I just mention this to remind us that a lotof our tradiszions are not unique to the churches of Christ, and – second – that spiritual life can blossom under each and every tradition. Which again does not mean that each and every tradition is good and scriptuiral – we culd also say: Spiritual life can blossom IN SPITE OF each and every tradition.

    Yet we chose to question our traditions, as Jay summed it up quite accurately. But we do it slowly, striving for unanimous decisions among the brethren. You cannot rush change – and neither is “change” itself a positive thing. We need to be very careful to come (back) in line with Christ’s vision. We chose the way of restoration. And, surprisingly (?), God is adding to our numbers again.

    Alexander

  26. Alabama John says:

    Jerry said,

    “though their congregations are very different”
    That to me is the key.

    We must stop the all but our little group are wrong and going to hell.
    That is taught, written and preached here constantly and must stop.
    Anyone who teaches differently and speaks like Jerry did is avoided and considered lost.

    We must be able to speak as Jay and Alexander do to each other to ever move forward together.

    I know there are many praying for that to happen soon.

  27. abasnar says:

    know next to nothing about Austrian culture.

    Born again Christians make up less than 1% of the population.
    Church attendance among RC is about 12-14% (75% of the Popoulation); among Lutherans it is less than 5 % (and they are only 5% ofthe population). Churches of Christ: 1 congregation in Graz, about 30 souls; the church in Vienna: our network of house churches + two house-churches by a mission team from Oklahoma (closely connected with us), and a more traditional congreghation (slowly growing into the larger fellowship – in total (kids and dogs) about 140 souls.

    Christians – other than in the US – are definitely NOT mainline. This probably is the main difference to the US.

    Alexander

  28. Charles McLean says:

    Adam opined: “While ascribing the “amazing spread of the Gospel” to God’s supernatural power is, of course, true, it isn’t particularly helpful.”
    >>>
    Why not? Jesus seemed to find it effective. So did the early church. With all our restorationist tradition, I continue to wonder why we do not desire to restore to the church its former power, but instead seem satisfied to recreate its meeting schedule and sacraments.

    If, on the other hand, it was not supernatural power but persecution which actually spread the gospel, as Adam seems to suggest, then the solution is easy. Kick our own church members out in the street. Heaven knows we have enough experience in opposing Christians of other stripes to be able to turn those weapons on our own religious kinfolk. Burn their church buildings and cut off all the clergymen’s salaries. If scattering folks really is what spreads the gospel, this is easily accomplished. We have no business waiting for the government to do it; we can do this ourselves!

    But, I wouldn’t put cash on our willingness to actually BE scattered in such a radical manner. And frankly, Christendom is already scattered all over the world and we are struggling to be effective.

    So, I am forced to conclude that a power-of-persecution model is an impractical one. I think the power of the Holy Spirit is far preferable.

  29. Ray Downen says:

    On Nov. 17th, Bob Brandon wrote: People do not naturally throw away the familiar and embrace the strange per se. They proceed from the familiar to the unfamiliar from the safety of the familiar.

    But is that what the first-century Christians did? What shall we think Jesus meant when he compared His new kingdom with “new wine” which would burst old wineskins and required the use of NEW wineskins? Jews had to forsake the temple worship. It was not suited to gospel life. Their habits of rejecting contact with Gentiles had to be abandoned.

    The Gentiles had to forsake pagan temples and practices and make drastic changes in their lives if they wanted to be Christians. The Way of Christ is not entered timidly. It calls for drastic and permanent change. Yet our churches as they now exist contain about the same kind of people as are outside the churches. Our members divorce no less freely than do non-Christians. Our lives are almost identical to good people who are not Christians.

    I don’t advocate need for persecution in order for us to be better. But those who are calling for considerable change away from our beloved traditions are looking at facts and are willing to face truths. If our invitation to outsiders is to come a little way into the Way and if you like it then change some more, we’ve missed what the gospel of Christ is all about.

    Christians in the first century were “strangers” in the land. We try to fit right in. If we’re sincere in a desire to be like the early Christians, we surely do need to make some drastic changes in our thinking and acting.

  30. Ray Downen says:

    Alabama John comments, “there was not a congregation in the area worshipping according to the new testament pattern.” For 25 years. And then? Why someone went back to the traditions of their grandfathers and began again “worshiping according to a pattern. But a close examination of the New Covenant writings reveals no pattern at all by which congregations then were taught to practice, or by which it is reported that they DID practice.

    If anyone really wants to restore ourselves to “New Testament” (apostolic-led) practice,” it will be as Jay and others are pointing out–vastly different from “our” traditional practice of Christianity.

  31. Ray Downen says:

    Charles writes, “Christendom is already scattered all over the world and we are struggling to be effective. So, I am forced to conclude that a power-of-persecution model is an impractical one. I think the power of the Holy Spirit is far preferable.”

    The persecution which scattered followers of the Way from Jerusalem wasn’t done by Christians but rather TO them, even though Luke reports that God caused it.

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