Beginning with Dan Kimball’s “Missional Misgivings,” there has been a recent flurry of discussion over the whole missional/attractional thing in the blog-o-sphere. Responses by Hirsch here, Cole here, Fitch here.
A good bit of what is being said in response to the topic (much by patently reformed folks) has to do with “cultural appropriateness.” Some seem to be suggesting that the seeker-sensitive/mega-church model of the church was a culturally appropriate model within Christendom and in a modern framework. By implication, this would then be the preferred model of church for areas which still fit this description. There is also an addition to the discussion pertaining to models for preaching and gathering. Again, the argument seems to be that we need to allow the culture to determine the right model. I submit that this the wrong approach to this discussion. It may appear to be an incarnational approach, but it is anything but.
My friend Sam reminded me of a quote by Lesslie Newbigin recently,
…if we begin with culture we are never taken back to gospel, if we begin with gospel, we ourselves are transformed and enter into culture to put flesh on the gospel.
This is the way we need to understand what it means to be incarnational – gospeling a culture, not culturizing the gospel.
The primary question church leaders need to always be asking is not, “What is the culturally appropriate way to be the church?” but “What is the most formational way to be the church?” The first question lends itself to our ingrained consumeristic tendencies and begets attractional churches; the second invites us to consider a different goal altogether and serves to cultivate missional communities.
We ought to always do what we do as the church specifically because it helps people to become more like Jesus. Willowcreek was probably the best example ever of a church that did everything right in terms of cultural appropriateness only to announce to the world how horribly they had failed to actually help people become disciples (my thoughts on their REVEAL study here and Fitch’s here).
I hope this makes sense. It is not my intention to question the motives and hearts of my well-intentioned brothers and sisters, but I beleive this to be a pivotal conversation for the future of the Church in the West and when the questions we seem to be asking have more to do with cultural pragmatics than faithful formation, I get nervous.
Let me end with a quick story. I recently attended a church planting conference where a supposedly “missional” church planter told those in attendance,
…the south is home to some of the greatest preachers in the world. If you are not a great preacher or teacher, you have no business trying to plant a church in the south.
I can’t even dream up a better illustration of what it means to so completely miss the point of everything missional is about. For this guy, it’s the culture, not the gospel that determines what you do, how you do it, and who exactly it is that does it. I just don’t think this is the best way forward for us.