Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Attraction & Incarnation

An article on the Share website has made me think. The website is intended as a resource for 'fresh expressions of church', and the article looks at different ways of being the church and how it relates to the culture around it. 3 modes are explained:

'Attractional' churches adopt a 'you come to us' approach. Their activities are designed to encourage people to journey into God's love by joining the existing church. If they are involved in the community, it may be partly in the hope that their presence will be a stepping stone into church on Sunday.

'Engaged' churches are very active in their communities, working with them in all sorts of ways, largely as an end in itself. Social action is seen as a vital part of the gospel, requiring churches to be heavily engaged with their surrounding cultures. But when it comes to inviting people to journey into God's love, the assumption is that the journey will occur as individuals are drawn into existing church.

'Incarnational' churches are heavily involved with their surrounding cultures, but don't share the assumption that people – if they are interested – will come to faith through established churches. They try to encourage church to grow within the cultures they are engaged with.

It's ironic that at the time of year when we celebrate the incarnation of God, we become most 'attractional' - the church lays on Christmas services, and we encourage people to come to them, hoping that some of the occasional visitors will be prompted to think more deeply about Jesus and start exploring the faith for themselves. Are incarnational and attractional modes of church complementary, contradictory, or something else? Jesus got stuck in with the people around him, and he attracted people to himself as well.

However, what they were attracted to was not church, but Jesus - the danger of the attractional model of church is that it makes customers out of people who then expect the church to keep them happy, rather than disciples who will go wherever Jesus leads them.

Worship or Mission?
Alongside this is another massive and fundamental issue: what is the church for? Again, this is picked up in the Share article, but which is the basic calling of the church, worship or mission? Are we with the Westminster Catechism ('the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever'), or Mission-Shaped Church ('it is not the church of God which has a mission, but the God of mission who has a church'. Note: the link gives you the whole text of this book)

This debate is playing out in an interesting way at my local. In an effort to be more user-friendly for occasional visitors to the late night service on Christmas Eve, we've decided to go with said settings for Communion rather than sung ones. (Note to non-Anglicans - that means we say things like the Lords Prayer, and various bits of the liturgy, rather than singing them.) (Note to self: the fact I think I need to explain this maybe speaks for itself.....) Even those of us who are regulars aren't that hot on the sung bits of the service, and when about half the congregation are visitors to Yeovil for Christmas from other churches, or people for whom this is one of their very occasional visits to churches, there are a lot of people who will be excluded from taking part in those parts of the worship.

Some folk aren't too keen on the idea, and I think once we've had the debate, it may finally boil down to this question: are we here primarily to worship (and so if people want to join us they have to join us on our terms, as people called by God to worship him), or are we here primarily for mission (and so we make it easier for people to cross the threshold into the life of the church). Or we could neatly tie it all together and say the our ministry of welcome is part of our worship, and the Bible condemns worship which is done at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, other people (see 1 Corinthians 11). We will have all eternity to worship, but we have only this life to share the good news of Jesus.

If people come to church and get the message, through the way we do the service, that there is an 'in crowd' here and they aren't part of it, will that commend the gospel to them, or make them less likely to come back? Alternatively, will a service that people can't easily relate to sift out the genuine seekers from those who are their just out of habit? Jesus did some sifting of his own at various times. However, if he needed to be accessible to everyday people in the first place before he could start teaching the crowd about the demands of discipleship. If we're going to put people off, we need to put people off biblically - with how tough it is to follow Jesus - rather than with lesser things like whether or not we sing the Lords Prayer.

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