The Missional Church Part 2: Becoming a Missional Community

By David Allis

This article is a compilation of ideas from others & myself.

In this article, the term “church” refers to the people of God, who are joined together as His body, with Christ as the head. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination, physical location or weekly meeting. So when you read “church,” think of a community that you are part of, not that meeting or building you go to on Sunday.

There are many churches that call themselves missional. To be missional implies at least two theological and ecclesiological changes for most churches. On the one hand, missional hints at moving from church as a “club” for Christians, to church as Christ’s body, sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself. On the other hand, missional means moving from missions as an activity in which a few Christians are sent to foreign countries to convert unbelievers, to mission as God’s most basic purpose, intended for all believers.  Some churches verbally state a commitment to these, however I am convinced that if these changes are genuinely made, they should radically affect the whole ethos, purpose, values & structure of the church. The important questions changes from something like“how do we be an effective church, helping our people & reaching the community?” to “God has placed us here as an incarnational team of missionaries, so how do we obey Him?”
TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF VALUES:…before any discussion may be made on emerging and missional communities, I feel that it will be necessary to clarify what a missional community is and what it is not. Perhaps this will offer a guide for us to use that will inform us as to which set of values a particular emerging church may uphold. TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF VALUES: IMA and ADH


INCARNATIONAL An incarnational community cooperatively goes into cultures that already exist, and become like them to reach them. They believe that God is already present in these cultures and therefore, their role as missionaries is not to bring God into that group, or take that group out of the culture into a sacred space, but they help others to see how God is already working in and around them in the ordinary as well as the miraculous.MESSIANIC A messianic community sees God’s hand in the ordinary situations of life. They are able to see and understand the prevenient grace of God at work in places that have not been reached by the church. Rather than relying on programs and services to proclaim the gospel, they are able to show the gospel lived out in their ordinary lives and in ordinary situations. People then see a spirituality that is wholistic, meaningful, and relevant to their yearnings for an almighty God that meets them where they are at and a church that meets them in the same way- where they are, as they are.APOSTOLIC An apostolic community recognizes the responsibility that each believer has been given to play a role in the kingdom. Each member is a leader. As each member is living by the two-fold practice of LISTEN & OBEY, they are simultaneously learning how to feed themselves spiritually and be accountable and communal. They therefore, become less reliant on community for spiritual nurishment, while choosing to be involved in community out of obedience, love, accountability, friendship, worship, wisdom, and co-laborship. The apostolic community typically shares a common set of “missionary practices.” These are spiritual disciplines that provide common ground for the community as well as a means for the members of the community to LISTEN & OBEY. As the members of the community gather, these lifestyle disciplines provide an informal litergy for the community, with much to share, and much reason to worship the Lord together.


ATTRACTIONAL An attractional community seeks to create a spiritually comfortable and sanctified place within a culture that can serve as the community’s hub. They then attempt to invite people into this space, with the hopes of extracting them out of their old community and transplanting them into the new christian community. The focus is on providing alternative 3rd places so that people can meet new friends, and find new clubs, and new activities to be involved with during the week. This type of community is also sometimes referred to as “EXTRACTIONAL.”DUALISTIC A dualistic community sees the world as divided between the sacred and the ordinary. Although God is in both places, we are expected to encounter him more fully and deeply in the sacred spaces than in the ordinary. This is because sacred spaces are designed for an encounter with God. Through the use of architecture, lighting, artwork, alters, cerimonies, music, etc… these spaces are also protected against unnecessary distractions or possible stumbling blocks that could hinder someone from making a connection with God or with another believer in fellowship.HIERARCHICAL A hierarchical community is a community that is characterized by the seperation of clergy and laity. The laity entrust the work of the kingdom to the few qualified leaders, who then provide vision for the laity and the steps necessary to achieve that vision. The clergy (or staff) provide services to the laity which include: the sacred space to meet, a vision for the community’s role in the Kingdom, teaching (in the form of asunday message, and often classes offered during the week), small group coordination and management, mission trips, counciling, etc… I have noticed that a lot of churches are adopting wisdom and practices from missional communites while retaining the ADH identity. I think that this is wonderful, as long as we recognize it for what it is. Many ADH communities DO have mission activities and rich community and even lifestyle discipleship… this is wonderful. But I have heard people say that this makes them a missional community. I can only say that my definition of amissional community upholds the IMA principles. And as long as an ADH church desires to emerge into the 21st century with dynamic new postmodern ideals, it will still be an ADH church at it’s core unless it is willing to fully embrace an IMA paradigm. That’s not to discredit the advances that are being made within the ADH churches, but I would also hope that we not discredit the distinction of “mission” and “missional.” I hope that this serves to clarify some of the issues surrounding the dialogue between traditional church, emerging church, and missional community. My intensions for clarity are not to judge which of these communities is better or worse, and I hope that my personal biases are not overly evident here. I merely intend to clarify the values of these different communities in the hopes that any dialogue that requires a comparison of emerging andmissional communities will have a clear set of values to reference. I pray that these distinctions serve to educate all who may find the grace of respect for those communites that we may have found differences with. We should all strive to accept one another in love, while holding firmly to our convictions with clarity, unwavering fortitude, gentleness, respect, and most of all- humilty toward those who do not share our personal convictions, but trust that the Lord is soveriegn and no one, no matter how wrong they might be, has ever been able to change the Lord’s plans. He is soveriegn and that gives me great peace.

Common Deviations from Missional
To further clarify what a missional church is, we can describe a number of common alternative models.

Missionary churches. Some churches are described as “missionary churches.” They are noted for sending a lot of missionaries to foreign countries, raising funds for missionaries, holding missions conferences, and featuring missionaries prominently in the Sunday services when they are in town. In this perspective, however, the missionaries are a subset of the congregation. In a missionalchurch, every believer is regarded as a missionary and church life is oriented around the implications of that view. Thus, missional churches significantly “raise the bar” in terms of mission. Also, since the term missionary carries such strong mental images, some of them not very positive, an alternative to saying that every believer is a missionary is to say that every believer is to live missionally.

Church growth. One might think that churches that are focused on growth in numbers have evangelism as their mission. While this may be true for some churches subscribing to the church growth philosophy and practices, there are some aspects of the church growth school that run contrary to missional church philosophies and practices. For one, Missional churches focus on kingdom growth rather than church growth. They are more likely to focus on planting new churches than in enlarging themselves (though they do not shun numerical growth as a by-product of being missional), and to measure growth by “the ability to release rather than retain.”

Kingdom growth often means collaborating with other churches. Church growth, however, often occurs at the expense of other churches and creates competition rather than cooperation. The church growth school promotes “the homogenous unit principle” which says that people want to become part of a group of people like themselves. This principle is thought by many to be counter to the biblical mandate for cross-cultural unity. In addition, one study has shown that multi-ethnic churches grow faster than mono-ethnic churches.

Finally, a church that is remaining stable in size while also releasing people to other and new churches is growing in a sense. It has to be bringing in new people all the time to compensate for those who are leaving.

Maintenance churches. Minatrea refers to these as conventional churches. McNeal describes them as churches with a “club” mentality. They are churches that have made themselves their purpose. Their priorities include maintaining established programs and practices, in large part because they are established, and keeping people coming to the church in order to maintain the programs. The church building (enlarging and maintaining it) is often a key goal or priority.

At the risk of overstating the nature of maintenance churches, I would place in this category churches that have a self-absorbed spirituality. That is, churches focused on orthodoxy, tradition, or health and wealth messages. (This is not to say that more traditional churches cannot be missional.) A related category of spirituality is what I would call “knowledge-centered.” This is a church that elevates analysis and knowledge of the Bible but does not exhort and practically enable people to an active Christian life-style. Information is seen as a necessary and sufficient witness, and believing it brings salvation and the Holy Spirit, leading in turn to a transformed life. My own church has had dual tendencies, both a knowledge orientation and radical discipleship. One of the changes we’ve been experiencing in recent years is a shift to a more activist, missional church life.

As we commit to becoming missional churches, we should expect some bumps. Becoming more missional will require “organized abandonment” of some policies and programs that do not align with our mission. There will always be tenacious advocates of any program we either abandon or radically change, and people who will take issue with every dollar diverted in another direction.

Eight patterns of missional faithfulness

Pattern 1, Missional Vocation. The congregation is discovering together the missional vocation of the community. It is beginning to redefine “success” and “vitality” in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending. It is seeking to discern God’s specific missional vocation (“charisms” – gifts) for the entire community and for all of its members.Pattern 2, Biblical Formation and Discipleship. The missional church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus. The bible is normative in this church’s life. Biblical formation and discipling are essential for the congregation.Pattern 3, Taking Risks as a Contrast Community. The missional church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. It understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of its Lord. It is raising questions, often threatening ones, about the church’s cultural captivity, and it is grappling with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation. It is learning to deal with internal and external resistance.Pattern 4, Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World. The pattern of the church’s life as community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. A missional church is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.Pattern 5, Worship as Public Witness. Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future. Flowing out of its worship, the community has a vital public witness.Pattern 6, Dependence on the Holy Spirit. The missional community confesses its dependence upon the Holy Spirit, shown in particular in its practices of corporate prayer.Pattern 7, Pointing Toward the Reign of God. The missional church understands its calling as witness to the gospel of the in-breaking reign of God, and strives to be an instrument, agent, and sign of that reign. As it makes its witness through its identity, activity, and communication, it is keenly aware of the provisional character of all that it is and does. It points towards the reign of God that God will certainly bring about, but knows that its own response is incomplete, and that its own conversion is a continuing necessity.Pattern 8, Missional Authority. The Holy Spirit gives the missional church a community a community of persons who, in a variety of ways and with a diversity of functional roles and titles, together practice the missionalauthority that cultivates within the community the discernment of missional vocation and is intentional about the practices that embed that vocation in the community’s life.

Source: “Treasure in Clay Jars – Patterns in Missional Faithfulness” from the Gospel and Our Culture Network (Eerdmans, 2004):

What is a Missional Community Definition
So what is a missional community? How is it different from church as we know it in modern Evangelicalism? Probably the best place to begin is with a general definition.A missional community is a group of Jesus’ apprentices who so trust his brilliance and mastery of life, that they learn from him how to be like him for the sake of the world. Through this apprentice/master relationship, the community journeys together to become the fullness of God and thereby become a finite earthly expression of the infinite Tri-Community just as Jesus was in his earthly life. A missionalcommunity is about becoming by grace what Christ is by nature.  As the community experiences this, wherever the community members live their daily lives, they are learning how to easily, naturally, and routinely embody, demonstrate and announce God’s life and reign for the sake of the world around them.Theological Differences
According to this definition, aren’t all churches missional? Yes. Any valid Christian church has a missional aspect.  But when one examines a missional church more closely, one discovers a significant difference between a church that does mission and a missional church. That difference begins at the theological foundation and ultimately finds expression in practice and organization.

The theological difference begins at what theologians call ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is simply one’s understanding of what the church is. Every church has a built-in ecclesiology, whether it has been thought through or not. And believe it or not, there are a lot of different ways of understanding the church. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, in his book, An Introduction to Ecclesiology, summarizes twenty-one different Christianecclesiologies that exist today! Each of them is biblically founded.

A missional ecclesiology is rooted in God’s character and purpose as a sending or missionary God.  Therefore, it’s starting point is the missional nature of The Trinity. God the Father sent the Son.  God the Father and the Son sends the Spirit. God the Father, the Son and the Spirit sends the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).  The church is God’s sent missional people.  So just as Jesus was the fullness of God incarnated and embodied in a human being, the missional church follows Jesus’ model, learning from him how to embody the fullness of God as a new way of being human for the sake of the world. That is it’s very identity and essence.

Or to use a biblical metaphor, as Jesus is the head, now the church is his body – the continuation of who he is and what he does.  Paul states in Ephesians 1:23, that the church “is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” As his body, the missional church continues the presence of Jesus in and to the world by participating in his unique incarnation as an extension of God’s presence in the world.

With this view, “mission” shifts from naming a function of the church to describing its essential nature.[1]  In a missional church, the church IS mission rather than does mission as a program or activity of the larger life of the church. The church’s nature is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people live under the reign of God in every aspect of daily life. As Robert Webber states in The Younger Evangelicals, the church “is an alternative culture that points to the kingdom of God and the reality of the new heavens and the new earth.”[2]

Practical Differences
Now this theological difference finds expression in practical ways through our common ideas, language and practices about church. For example, church is typically defined in one of several ways.

Church as a place: For many people, church is a place you go. It is a facility, a campus or a building.  The common phrase, “I’m going to church” summarizes this view.  When a person is at the building or facility, they are at church. The implication is that when they are not at the building, they are not at church.

Church as an event or spiritual activities: For others, church is something that happens. Church is defined by worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings or other ministries. Again the implication is that when one is not engaged in one of these events or activities, they are no longer doing or having church.

Church as associated with a person: For others, church is an organization associated with a pastor or Christian leader. For example, people often say things like, “I go to Chuck Smith’s church” or “I attend JackHayford’s church.”

Church as offering programs or services: For others, church is determined by what the organization offers to meet needs such as youth programs, music programs, marriage groups, fellowship, discipleship, mission opportunities, etc.

However, in a missional community, the church is God’s sent people. That means when everything is stripped away – the building, the events, the activities, the leaders, and other identifying markers for the church – the people are the church and church is the people.  Therefore, wherever God’s people are corporately or individually, there is the church. Church is at home, in the car, in the restaurant, the beach – wherever God’s people find themselves in their daily lives.

Another practical difference can be seen in the practices of the general American Christian populace.  American Christians cannot be distinguished in any significant way from secular culture. Christian lifestyles and time-styles, although slightly Christianized, are virtually the same as the culture around them.There are also no noticeable differences between Christians and their secular counterparts in areas of morality and ethics. Dawn Haglund states that the church has completely adopted American culture. She writes:

Marketing, promotion, advertising, consumerism, selfish materialism. I’m not sure the church is much different than the American culture. I find that sad, disappointing, and disturbing.  Church has become a place of consumerism. People come to get their needs met. The church is about giving people what they want – making them comfortable. Maybe we’ve reached more people, but I’m skeptical if we’ve participated in transforming lives.[3]

Rather than embodying, demonstrating and announcing a new way of being human under God’s reign, the modern church, in general, has been domesticated by American culture. The task of the missionalcommunity is to explore and rediscover God’s countercultural call to represent the reign of God in our emerging post-modern society.

The Exploration – Four Questions
As a missional community explores God’s call to be his sent people, four significant questions need to be addressed.[4]  First, What does it mean to be an authentic apprentice of Christ?  In other words, what does it really mean when we call Jesus “Lord?”  I like how Brian McLaren describes this in The Story We Find Ourselves In. By calling Jesus Lord or Teacher, we are recognizing that he is a “master,” someone to whom we apprentice ourselves to in order to learn everything he knows and does. He’s similar to a master craftsman or a violin master.  McLaren states:

A violin master is someone who can take an instrument of wood and wire and horsehair and play it so it yields music more beautiful than anyone else can play.  And for the disciples to call Jesus ‘master’ would mean that no one else could take the raw materials of life – skin and bone and blood and space and time and words and deeds and waking and sleeping and eating and walking – and elicit from them a beautiful song of truth and goodness, as Jesus did.[5]

Therefore, an apprentice of Jesus is restructuring and reorganizing his or her life in order to spend time with him to learn from him how to be like him.  It’s making every serious intention to become holy love as God is. This requires a lifestyle of constant engagement with the transforming grace of God.

Fortunately, God has provided such a lifestyle throughout biblical and church history called spiritual disciplines. Simply put, walking in the Spirit means to live in synchronization with the Spirit of God. Spiritual disciplines, when practiced properly, create the environment for God’s transformation. They do this by training us in small mundane ways, in coordination with God’s grace, to die to ourselves and engage God’s real life (Titus 2:11-12).

The second question that must be addressed is What does it mean to be authentically spiritual?  In other words, how does one truly measure transformation and maturity?  If walking in the Spirit is living in synchronization with the Spirit of God, who is holy love, then the fruit or byproduct of such a life would be the embodiment of God’s fullness – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, humility, hope, faith, etc.

If that is the case, then what do we do with “boundary markers?” Boundary markers are external measurements that determine whether a person is in or out. For example, does attending church regularly mean a person is spiritual or mature? Most of us would say “No.”  But let’s flip it around. Does not attending church regularly mean a person is unspiritual or immature?  Hmmm… John Ortberg, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted provides another example from his early church experience:

The senior pastor could have been consumed with pride or resentment, but as long as his preaching was orthodox and the church was growing, his job would probably not be in jeopardy. But if some Sunday morning he had been smoking a cigarette while greeting people after the service, he would not have been around for the evening service. Why? No one at the church would have said that smoking a single Camel was a worse sin than life consumed by pride or resentment. But for us, cigarette-smoking became an identity marker. It was one of the ways we were able to tell the sheep from the goats.[6]

The third question that must be addressed is What does it mean to be God’s people? What does it mean to be a community of Jesus’ apprentices who are pursuing true spiritual maturity as defined by the first two questions? How do we live as community so that every member becomes filled with the fullness of God for the sake of the world? Are there things we are currently doing that actually hinder us from embracing God’s call as his sent people?

Ultimately, the church is a community made up of people who are reconciled to God, with one another and creation. It is an organic community where the members live in reconciled relationship, active fellowship and in interdependence with one another. In being this, the church is a community that reflects the social reality of the Trinity.

The fourth question is What does Christian leadership in this new community look like? The modern American church has embraced hierarchical modes of leadership from business management and military models. Many of the principles inherent in these models provide effective leadership for organizations. However, Ken Blanchard, the author of the popular management book, The One Minute Manager, stated “the popular model of pastor as CEO is brain dead…This philosophy will only hurt the church in the long run.”[7]

John Piper, in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, makes this passionate plea:

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet.  It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.  The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).[8]

A missional community is organic and living. And an organic community looks and operates differently than an organizational community. Dallas Willard offers a beautiful picture of how such a community operates.  He says:

Among those who live as Jesus’ apprentices there are no relationship that omit the presence and action of Jesus. We never go “one on one;” all relationships are mediated through him. I never think simply of what I am going to do with you, to you, or for you. I think of what we, Jesus and I, are going to do with you, to you, and for you. Likewise, I never think of what you are going to do with me, to me, and for me, but of what will be done by you and Jesus with me, to me, and for me.[9]

This vision is a demonstration of the social reality of the Trinity, which is love. So what kind of leadership will contribute to this kind of community?

Todd Hunter has been wrestling with the question of leadership for a long time. He asks, “What does it mean to function as a leader in a group of people who are supposed to be following some else (God the Holy Spirit) and someone else’s (God’s) vision to have a redeemed, covenant people who would be his cooperative friends (not for merit, but of grace and “Spirit-strength”) leading constant lives of creative goodness on behalf of the whole world…even up to and including, the new heaven and new earth?”[10]  His hypothesis is that Christian leadership in this context requires serving, coordinating and empowering the sovereignly given activities of the Holy Spirit in a group of people.

This requires leadership from within the community rather than from above it. This requires leadership that is servant-oriented. This requires leadership that truly believes Christ dwells in every believer to teach and minister and demonstrates that belief by yielding to community members as Christ ministers through them. This requires leadership that is team-based as the team seeks Christ’s direction together and then serves and yields to each other in love.

Conclusion – A Journey Of Formation
The missional community is exploring and rediscovering what it means to be God’s sent people as our identity and vocation in the world. It is the extension of the Trinity’s love and missionary activity as embodied by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is a group of Jesus’ apprentices who are learning how to be sent as he was sent – in the fullness of God in all aspects of daily life. Such a community is a journey of exploration, discovery, nurture and formation.  Stanley Grenz beautifully describes this formational journey:

The church is a people who covenant together to belong to God – that is, to be holy, to be set apart from the world for God’s special use. As this holy people, we are to proclaim in word and action the principles of the kingdom, showing others what it means to live under the divine reign. But more importantly, as Christ’s people we are to show forth the divine reality – to be the image of God. To be the people in covenant with God who serve as the sign of the kingdom means to reflect the very character of God. The church reflects God’s character in that it lives as a genuine community – lives in love – for as the community of love, the church shows the nature of the triune God. En route to the consummation of his purpose, therefore, God calls the church to mirror as far as possible in the midst of the brokenness of the present that eschatological ideal community of love that derives its meaning from the divine essence.[11]

[1] Craig van Gelder, The Essence of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 31
[2] Robert Webber, The Younger Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 133.
[3] Webber, 135.
[4] I first heard these four questions posed by Todd Hunter, the former director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, USA
[5] Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 121
[6] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1997), 36
[7] Webber, 149.
[8] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 1-2.
[9] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 236
[10] Todd Hunter’s web log at
[11] Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 483.

Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. (July 2006)
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church. (November 2003)
Darrell Guder (Editor), Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (1998)
Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches. (2006)
Ed Stetzer and David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code. (2006) **
Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. (2003)
Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. (2000)
Milfred Minatrea, Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. (2004)
Lois Barrett (Editor), Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness. (2004)
George R. Hunsberger (Editor), Craig Van Gelder (Editor), The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. (1996)
Alan Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World.  (2006)

The Missional Church: Becoming a Missional Community

By David Allis

This article is a compilation of ideas from others & myself.

In this article, the term “church” refers to the people of God, who are joined together as His body, with Christ as the head. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination, physical location or weekly meeting. So when you read “church,” think of a community that you are part of, not that meeting or building you go to on Sunday.

There are many churches that call themselves missional. To be missional implies at least two theological and ecclesiological changes for most churches. On the one hand, missional hints at moving from church as a “club” for Christians, to church as Christ’s body, sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself. On the other hand, missional means moving from missions as an activity in which a few Christians are sent to foreign countries to convert unbelievers, to mission as God’s most basic purpose, intended for all believers.  Some churches verbally state a commitment to these, however I am convinced that if these changes are genuinely made, they should radically affect the whole ethos, purpose, values & structure of the church. The important questions changes from something like“how do we be an effective church, helping our people & reaching the community?” to “God has placed us here as an incarnational team of missionaries, so how do we obey Him?”

In an article by David Horrox titled, “The ‘Missional Church’: A Model for Canadian Churches?” he writes, “The church should stop mimicking the surrounding culture and become an alternative community, with a different set of beliefs, values and behaviors. Ministers would no longer engage in marketing; churches would no longer place primary emphasis on programs to serve members. The traditional ways of evaluating ‘successful churches’ – bigger buildings, more people, bigger budgets, larger ministerial staff, new and more programs to serve members – would be rejected. New yardsticks would be the norm: To what extent is our church a ‘sent’ community in which each believer is reaching out to his community? To what extent is our church impacting the community with a Christian message that challenges the values of our secular society?”

Dan Kimball in “The Emerging Church” (Zondervan, 2003) describes the missional church “as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week.”

Characteristics of missional churches

Minfred Minatrea studied a number of missional churches. He defined missional churches as “Reproducing communities of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim his kingdom in their world.” He noted nine practices that they have in common (with an explanatory phrases added in parentheses):

1. Having a high threshold for membership (high expectations for believers)
2. Being real, not real religious (being transparent, authentic, with one foot in “the world.”)
3. Teaching to obey rather than to know (a practical faith)
4. Rewriting worship every week (Creative, participatory Sunday morning services)
5. Living apostolically (each believer as a missionary)
6. Expecting to change the world (aggressively engaged in transforming communities)
7. Ordering actions according to purpose. (Ruthless aligning of resources with mission)
8. Measuring growth by capacity to release rather than retain. (Not megachurches but multiplying churches)
9. Placing kingdom concerns first (in contrast to denomination first. Thus, cooperation with other churches)

In his book The Present Future, Reggie McNeal describes the missional church in terms of six “new realities” and related questions:

New Reality Wrong Question Tough Question
The collapse of the church culture How do we do church better? How do we reconvert from “churchianity” to Christianity?
The shift from church growth to kingdom growth. How do we grow this church? How do we transform our community?
A new reformation: Releasing God’s people. How do we turn members into ministers? How do we turn members into missionaries?
The return to spiritual formation. How do we develop church members? How do we develop followers of Jesus?
The shift from planning to preparation. How do we plan for the future? How do we prepare for the future?
The rise of apostolic leadership. How do we develop leaders for church work? How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?

What is a Missional Church

The following points are some of the aspects that might make up a missional church/community.

Empowering Individuals as Missionaries

  • Individuals are exploring and rediscovering what it means to be Jesus’ sent people as their identity and vocation.
    • Individuals are willing and ready to be Christ’s people in their own situation and place.
    • Individuals know they must be a cross-cultural missionary (contextual) people in their own community.
    • Individuals are engaged with the culture (in the world) without being absorbed by the culture (not of the world). They become intentionally indigenous.
    • Individuals seek to put the good of their neighbor over their own

Focussed on the local community

  • A missional church is externally focused.
  • A missional church is incarnationally not institutionally driven.
  • A missional church is about discipleship not church membership.
  • A missional church is patterned after God’s missionary purpose in the world.
  • A missional church seeks to establish Kingdom outposts to retake territory under the control of the enemy.
  • A missional church will seek to plant all types of missional communities to expand the Kingdom of God.
  • A missional church faithfully proclaims the Gospel through word and deed; how we embody the gospel in our community and service is as important as what we say.
  • A missional church will give integrity, morality, good character and conduct, compassion, love and a resurrection life filled with hope preeminence to give credence to their reasoned verbal witness.
  • A missionary church seeks to reawaken a movement ethos as together we engage our cultural context.
  • A missional church highlights character, virtue, and compassionate deeds as the most effective witness to God’s Kingdom.
  • A missional church connects to Jesus through mission not doctrinal precision.
  • A missional church adopts an organizational structure and internal forms based on mission not ecclesiastical traditions.
  • A missional church seeks to partner with the community to “seek the shalom” of the community.

An Alternative & God-honouring Community

  • A missional church see themselves as a community or family on a mission together. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians in a missional church.
  • A missional church see themselves as representatives of Jesus and will do nothing to dishonor his name.
  • A missional church is totally reliant on God in all it does, aiming to move beyond superficial faith to a life of supernatural living.
  • A missional church should be desperately dependent on prayer.
  • A missional church is a healing community where people carry each other’s burdens and help restore gently.
  • A missional church practices hospitality by welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community.

Gathering to Empower for Mission

  • A missional church gathered will be for the purpose of worship, encouragement, supplemental teaching, training, and to seek God’s presence and to be realigned with his God’s missionary purpose.
  • A missional church is orthodox in its view of the Gospel and Scripture, but culturally relevant in its methods and practice so that it can engage the world view of the hearers.
  • A missional church will feed deeply on the scriptures throughout the week so they are always ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why they’re living the way they are.
  • A missional church will be a community where all members are involved in learning to be disciples of Jesus. Growth in discipleship is an expectation.
  • A missional church will help people discover, develop & use their spiritual gifts.
  • A missional church understands that God is already present in the culture where it finds itself. Therefore, a missional church doesn’t view its purpose as bringing God into the culture or taking individuals out of the culture to a sacred space.
  • A missional church sees itself as organic and not in static institutional forms.
  • A missional church pursues relationships across generational, ethnic, economic and cultural lines of distinctions.

What Missional Church is Not

  • A missional church is not a dispenser of religious goods and services or a place where people come for their weekly spiritual fix.
  • A missional church is not a place where mature Christians come to be fed and have their needs met.
  • A missional church is not a place where professionals are hired to do the work of the church.
  • A missional church is not a place where the professionals teach their children and youth about God.
  • A missional church is not a church with a “good missions program.” The people are the missions program and includes going to “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  • A missional church is not missional just because it is contemporary, young, hip, postmodern-sensitive, seeker-sensitive or even traditional.
  • A missional church is not about big programs and organizations to accomplish God’s missionary purpose. This does not imply no program or organization, but that they will not drive mission. They will be used in support of people on mission.



What Missional Church Looks Like
JR Woodward at Dream Awakener has a perspective on success that really helps my understanding of missional. His post “A Working Definition of Success” provides a working definition of whatmissional might look like. Here it is:

  • Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
  • Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
  • Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
  • Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world. (i.e. justice, healing, relief)
  • Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
  • Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers’ we help experience healthy community.
  • Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
  • Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
  • Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
  • Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
  • Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
  • Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is “the church” in our neighborhood, city and world?
  • Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
  • Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concern for the welfare of other countries.
  • Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

Not Just Another Program – But a Shift in Thinking

In the era of “movements” within the Body of Christ, missional is often looked upon as just another phase or program. But we error when we do so for missional is more than just another movement, it is a full expression of who the ecclesia of Christ is and what it is called to be and do. It does build on the ideas and expression learned from past methods and strategies, particularly the church growth and church health movements, but at its core missional is a shift in thinking.

This shift in thinking is expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their recent book (”Breaking the Missional Code,” Broadman & Holman, 2006) like this:

  • From programs to processes
  • From demographics to discernment
  • From models to missions
  • From attractional to incarnational
  • From uniformity to diversity
  • From professional to passionate
  • From seating to sending
  • From decisions to disciples
  • From additional to exponential
  • From monuments to movements

Here is another chart Stetzer and Putman use to illustrate the concept.

Church Growth Church Health Missional Church
Members as Inviters Members as ministers Members as Missionaries
Conversion/Baptism Discipleship Missional Living
Strategic planning Development Programs People Empowerment
Staff_Led Team Leadership Personal Mission
Reaching Prospects Reaching Community Transforming Community
Gathering Training Releasing
Addition Internal Group Multiplication Church Planting Multiplication
Uniformity Diversity Mosaic
Anthropocentric (People centred) Ecclesiocentric (Church centred) Theocentric (God centred)
Great Commission Great Commandment Missio Dei (The Mission of God)

Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. (July 2006)
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church. (November 2003)
Darrell Guder (Editor), Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (1998)
Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches. (2006)
Ed Stetzer and David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code. (2006) **
Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. (2003)
Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. (2000)
Milfred Minatrea, Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. (2004)
Lois Barrett (Editor), Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness. (2004)
George R. Hunsberger (Editor), Craig Van Gelder (Editor), The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. (1996)
Alan Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World.  (2006)

The Problem With Preaching

By David Allis [email protected]

Preaching is a big problem. After many years of preaching, listening to sermons, studying the scriptures, participating in ‘church’ leadership & studying the western church (in New Zealand), I’m becoming convinced that preaching often does more harm than good. Preaching, as it is practiced in modern churches, is extra-biblical, a poor form of communication, and creates dependency.

Preaching is considered one of the essential ingredients of christianity throughout the last 2000 years, and arguably through OT times also. It is one of the bastions of church tradition. In most churches, two central & indispensable elements are preaching and worship (commonly referred to as singing/music) during Sunday church meetings. (However, it is worth noting that alternatives to monologue-preaching have been practised historically & currently by alternative groups such as the Anabaptists.[i])

Reformation tradition says that “preaching the Word of God is the primary and supreme means of creating, feeding and maintaining Christ’s Church. Preaching Christ crucified, in season and out of season, whether eloquently or as a stutterer, is the most important means God uses to pour his saving grace going into the world…. An authoritative message from the Creator to his creature, from the King to his subjects, the Master to his slaves is anathema to the modern mind“, and that Preaching is a task that God has ordained for the proclamation of his word”.

To question the value and validity of preaching may be perceived as chronological snobbery[ii] which borders on foolishness & even heresy. Many godly ministers have built their vocation and lives around preaching and other forms of ‘ministry’, so any questions about the necessity and value of preaching can be perceived by them as threatening and offensive.

Hence, I am very cautious about questioning something that has been a large part of Christian history – yet I have numerous questions about preaching that I believe must be considered. These questions have arisen after spending years within a variety of organised churches as an observer, member, lay-leader, ordained minister & church health consultant. I have heard and preached sermons, and observed their effects in individual’s lives. Recently, I studied the biblical passages about preaching, and was surprised at what I found – that the preaching that is referred to in the New Testament (NT) bears little resemblance to the practice of preaching in churches. I also looked through the shelves of a good Bible College library – there were about 1,000 books on how to preach a good sermon, yet I could find nothing that attempted to clearly justify why sermons should be preached. There is a plethora of books on preaching, but the vast majority of them assume & perpetuate the sermon concept, and there is rarely any investigation or justification of its legitimacy.

“The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh Biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform”(John Stott, “Basic Stott,” Christianity Today, Jan.8, 1996)

So what are the problems with preaching?

1.      Preaching is Extra-Biblical

‘Preaching’ as it is practiced in churches today (& in the past) has little biblical basis – the ‘preaching’ that occurs is extra-biblical (outside the bible). In the New Testament, preaching was always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those that are outside or on the edge of the kingdom – the Greek verbs used in the NT to portray preaching are found overwhelmingly in situations which are outside church meetings and evangelistic in nature.  In contrast, in our churches today we ‘preach to the choir’ – most people sitting in churches listening to sermons are Christians, and most have been there listening to sermons for many years – our preaching is actually teaching about Christianity to a predominantly Christian audience, week after week for the rest of their lives.

There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years: 1) the NT apostles were formulating new doctrine (which we aren’t allowed to do), and 2) we have the NT available to study ourselves, complete with many wonderful study aids.

CH Dodd defined preaching as ‘the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world’[iii].  This is what we see in the NT record, but not what is practiced in our churches. Hence, if anything, we are practicing a form of teaching in churches today, not preaching (To consider some of the implications of this, see the extra comments at the end of the article). “According to the New Testament, there is a distinction between “preaching” and “teaching.” Teaching is primarily directed toward believers for their edification and spiritual development in the Christian walk, whereas preaching is primarily directed toward unbelievers for the purpose of encouraging a saving response to the Gospel message. Teaching generally covers the entire gamut of theological and ethical issues which relate to the Christian life, whereas preaching generally covers only the essentials of the salvation message. Thus, these two terms, as used in the New Testament, indicate a distinction in both content and audience.”[iv]

The sermon as traditionally practiced, in which a clergy person preaches a message to a congregation, originated from Greek, not Biblical, sources. Around the period of 200-300 AD, the sermon emerged as central in Christian gatherings. The model for this practice wasn’t taken from the Bible, but from Greek culture. As one author noted, “The sermon was the result of syncretism–the fusion of the Biblical necessity of teaching with the unbiblical Greek notion of Rhetoric.”[v] Greek Rhetoric influenced the early churches, helping create the Christian sermon.[vi] “With the rise of the Constantinian mass church (4th century A.D.), all sorts of paganistic and Greek ideas entered into Christian thought and practice. One of those practices brought into the church was that of Greek rhetoric. With the conversion of such men as Chrysostom, Ambrose, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, and Augustine – all of whom were trained in rhetoric and were quite popular as orators within the Greco-Roman culture of their day prior to their conversion – a new style or form of communication began to occur within Christian assemblies.”[vii]

2.      Preaching is an Ineffective Form of Communication

‘Preaching’ is a form of monologue, which is proven to be an ineffective form of communication. Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning. Scientific studies of education show that passive listening leads only to a small percentage of retention. Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either). Although modern communication methods are improving, through the use of things like visual aids, the monologue remains one of the least effective forms of communication.

3.      Preaching Limits Learning, Discussion & Debate

Preaching usually allows no opportunity for questions or discussion. It is rare for a church to allow interaction during a sermon, or questions & discussion time afterwards. Sermons are designed to be listened to, not interacted with. Sermons & church meeting structure doesn’t allow members of the audience to add their contributions regarding the subject matter, raise issues for discussion , clarification or debate.  While there might be opportunity to discuss the sermon with the preacher later (except in larger churches where the minister is inaccessible), because the preacher has invested much of themselves into the sermon, they can easily become defensive if they perceive that their sermon (or the preacher) is being challenged.

4.      Preaching Doesn’t Usually Change Lives

Although effective, impassioned preaching is occasionally able to stir some hearts & bring some response, this is quite rare. Preaching rarely brings long term change in individual’s lives. The average church attender hears a sermon every week, amounting to about 2500 sermons over a 50 year ‘church life’ – yet they typically can’t remember many of those sermons[viii], and would number on one hand those sermons which had a significant impact on their lives. This indicates that there is typically a very low ‘success rate’ for sermons.[ix]

Some proponents of preaching suggest that being able to remember sermons is unnecessary, and that listening to sermons leads to a ‘base level fitness’. It could be argued however that this repetitive listening actually immunises people making them resistant to change. Also, self-discovered-truth is much more memorable and life changing than spoon-fed information. From my limited experience, the most effective long-term way to bring change to lives is not through listening to sermons, but through participative bible study in a mutually encouraging and challenging group.

From my study of ekklesia (the gathering of believers) in the NT, it is clear that the primary purpose of believers gathering together regularly is mutual edification[x]. The typical church form of corporate sung worship, which in larger churches seems like karaoke worship or lip-syncing for those who can’t sing loud enough to hear their own voices over the amplified sound system, and sermons is not designed for mutual edification. In fact, it could be argued that typical church Sunday meetings have been designed to hinder mutual edification. Corporate sung worship led from the ‘front’, and sermons by professional preachers, which are the central focus of most church services, are conspicuously absent from the New Testament passages relating to the purposes of believers gathering together. I think Paul would be horrified at the way we have reduced worship from his ‘whole of life’ concept to merely corporate singing once a week.

5.      Preaching Can Foster Biblical Illiteracy

Much contemporary preaching is based around themes, usually with little biblical basis. While these sermons might teach some truth, and are often done in creative ways, they don’t teach how to personally learn from the Bible. It is common for believers to come to church regularly and listen to well-crafted sermons about how to live, yet rarely read the Bible personally. It is not that people can never learn from a sermon, but that they don’t learn as effectively as they do with other methods.

6.      Preaching Disempowers People

People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be ‘fed’ by a sermon each week. They remain dependent for their spiritual nurture on getting a ‘spiritual fix’ each week through corporate worship and a sermon from a professional preacher. This seems to be the milk of Heb 5:12-14, rather than the meat that adults should be feeding themselves. In 20 years time, these same people will often be in the same situation, needing to be ‘fed’ each week. This might satisfy a need for preachers to be needed, but it is not effective in empowering believers for personal ministry and mission. If we want to see God’s kingdom grow quickly, or revival come (which many people pray for), we will need to be much better at quickly empowering and releasing people to ‘ministry’ (not paid professional ministry), rather than fostering a dependence on the professional ministers.

7.      Preachers are a Problem

In each local church, most preaching is usually performed by one main trained professional minister.  This preacher is usually a Bible College graduate (except in some Pentecostal streams) who has trained for 3 years so they can correctly interpret the bible and preach inspiring sermons.

Hence, sermons are usually built around the ‘person of God’, who has had the in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse.[xi]  Some of the unfortunate implications of centring preaching around one trained professional religious person are à

  • It implies that one person hears from God & mediates to everyone else.
  • It creates a dependence on being ‘fed’ by the necessary combination of professional ordained ministers[xii] plus theological training plus eloquent preaching.
  • Week after week, the Christian message is filtered through one person, the preacher. It is filtered through one set of experiences, one personality, one mind, and one limited life experience.
  • Not only is the message filtered through one person, but that person is quite different from the church members. The preacher typically lives a different life, in a different world to his/her audience. Many don’t have ‘normal’ jobs, and are treated differently in society because they are ministers.
  • It devalues the experiences, insight and revelation of other members of the church, as they are relegated to only being listeners and often never being preachers. It implies that their knowledge of God & life wisdom are of no value to the wider church. Although we might give lip-service to the ‘priesthood of all believers’, we definitely don’t practice it.
  • By centering our gatherings on one person and their sermon, we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (often the same person, usually a man, who preaches most weeks). Moreover, by centering our church meetings on one persons ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around their talents. In many churches, this person becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters, effectively producing our own brand of ‘Protestant Popes’.[xiii]

8.      Preaching Has Misleading Implications

The current church practice of members attending a weekly church meeting centered around corporate-led-sung-worship and a sermon has some misleading implications à

  • It implies that God is effectively saying the same thing to everyone – which is contained in the sermon. (Although preachers accept that listeners sometimes get inspired about totally unrelated things during their sermon, this is not the preachers purpose).
  • It implies that church members will always need to hear more sermons. A person who has been a Christian and listened to a sermon very week for the past 20 years, still needs to hear another sermon every week for the rest of their lives. If sermons are intended to train people for ‘mission’, the implication is that they will never be fully trained & will always need more. In this sense, sermons are more like motivational seminars to ‘hype people up again’, rather than being teaching sessions.
  • It implies that the purpose for Christians to gather together is corporate worship & listening to sermons, rather than for the primary purpose of mutual edification (1 Cor 14:26).

9.      Preaching is Expensive

Sermons are expensive. A professional paid minister typically spends 1-2 days/week studying & preparing for their weekly sermon. Taking New Zealand as an example – there are about 3500 churches – if each had a minister being paid 1.5 days/week to preach at say $200/day – this costs $1m per week, or $50m per year. In other countries like the USA, the amount would be much larger. This might seem a small amount compared with what is spent on other aspects of organised church life, or compared with the billions tied up in church properties, but in a world where people are starving to death & Jesus spoke about personal judgement relating to how we treat the poor, it seems that we have misplaced values.

10.  We are Preaching to Different People

The ‘Christian Situation’ has changed. At the time of the NT events, the NT wasn’t available to people. Also, the apostles were teaching new doctrine (in contrast, the Bible plus great study tools are now readily available to all western Christians).

Through to the 1800s, the majority of church attendees were illiterate, just as the majority of people in most societies were illiterate. Hence, there was a need for educated people to be able to read the Bible & teach others. Sermons were one effective way for this to occur. Also, Bibles were less available and tools to help study the Bible were typically only available in libraries & seminaries.

Today, most church attendees are literate. In the English speaking western world, Bibles are cheap and most church attendees own one or many versions of the Bible. Bible study tools are cheap and easily available, both in written form and via computers and the internet. The typical ‘layperson’ in modern western society has access to far more information to help them understand the Bible than a seminary-trained minister of 200 years ago. Hence, they don’t have the same need for a more educated person to teach them what is in the Bible – they can read & understand it themselves.

11.  We are Preaching in a Different Context

Society has changed. At previous times in history, churches have been the social centre for a community & hence drew in a wide variety of people in various stages of belief or disbelief. In these situations, sermons were potentially an evangelistic tool, as they were during the time of Acts.

“Where did our practice of preaching a monologue Gospel sermon to assembled believers on a weekly basis come from? Much of it came from the Protestant Reformers who saw the “church” as consisting of all those within a given territory – saved and unsaved. Because so many unbelievers were present within the Reformation churches (and even compelled to attend), it was necessary to continually preach the Gospel to them.”[xiv]

However, in current western society, the majority of people in churches are ‘believers’ – hence preaching in these churches has virtually no evangelistic value.

There have also been other major cultural shifts which affect preaching – Stuart Murray Williams identifies three à

“The first is a cultural shift away from passive instruction to participatory learning, from paternalism to partnership, from monologue to dialogue, from instruction to interaction. Those who teach, especially those who teach adults, no longer assume they are the experts who know everything and that their task is to convey information to others who simply receive this information. The new paradigm is of partnership, where teachers and learners work together, conscious that all bring contributions to the learning process. For preachers, this would imply that the congregation is active in discerning God’s word rather than relying wholly upon the preacher to declare it.

The second is a societal shift away from an integrated world to a world where networks overlap, a shift away from simplicity to complexity. We live in a world which is not only complex and diverse but a world in which rapid changes are taking place. There are very few generalists; most of us are specialists in one area or another. The education system is geared towards this, despite occasional attempts to broaden the curriculum. For preachers, this raises the issue of how to address such a complex world: the biblical text may not change but if we are concerned with application as well as interpretation, how are we to make the connections? Many preachers seem unable to relate the Bible and theology to the world of work or to issues in public life – these are areas of profound weakness in most churches. Perhaps we need the help of those in the congregation who have expertise and experience in areas where we do not.

The third is a media shift away from linear to non-linear methods of conveying information, from logical argument to pic ‘n’ mix learning. Whether we like it or not, the television age has deeply affected the way in which communication takes place and how people learn. A careful argument that takes thirty minutes to develop does not make for good viewing in the age of sound bites. Watching someone lecturing for thirty minutes, however many camera angles are used, is not an effective use of the visual media. Communication now frequently involves the use of images as well as words, short contributions from diverse points of view, and open-ended presentation that allows freedom to choose your own conclusion. For preachers, this implies not only the use of visual communication as well as verbal communication but hard challenges about the style and purpose of preaching.

These shifts can all be understood as manifestations of a larger shift in worldview that many argue is taking place throughout the western world. The term postmodernity means different things to different people and is in danger of losing its impact through over-use, but it does at least imply that the ordered, rational, structured worldview that has been dominant since the Enlightenment is under threat and that new ways of thinking are emerging. These new ways are not fully established or even fully formed yet, and there may be significant changes ahead or even a return to older ways. We live in an uncomfortable and unsettling era of transition, when we must both be open to change and hesitant before jumping on bandwagons. But there is no doubt that many in a postmodern culture do not appreciate monologue presentations. Sermons may be very poorly suited to this environment.” [xv]
Preachers might try to respond to cultural shifts and lack of congregational interest by improving their preaching, and using more stories and visual aids. While this might help somewhat, it doesn’t address the deeper issues.

Why Don’t Other People Question Preaching?

If the problems described above are accurate, you might ask why there aren’t lots of other people questioning the value of preaching. My best guesses are à

  • We’ve been conditioned to believe that preaching is an essential part of ‘church’. (The same has also happened with ‘worship’ ie corporate sung worship every Sunday. This type of worship also has minimal biblical basis which doesn’t reflect the large emphasis placed on it in churches – but this will need to be the topic of another article in the future)
  • Preaching is part of the ‘dependency structure’ created within churches. Church members have been conditioned to be ‘fed’ a sermon each week. They have been taught that this is an essential aspect of being a Christian, and that they will be weak or ineffective if they aren’t ‘fed’ in this way. Even if sermons are boring and unproductive, they are still safe and undemanding.
  • Preaching has been part of Christian tradition throughout the ages – so why would anyone question it?
  • Preaching is perceived to have a biblical mandate and is seen as sacred. The biblical, historical and cultural aspects of sermons are not clearly considered.
  • Ministers need to preach – it’s part of their ‘job’, ‘ministry’ and purpose in life. They have been trained to preach, love preaching & usually do it well. It is difficult for a minister to question an ‘essential’ part of the job they are employed to do. A minister questioning preaching (& other aspects of ‘organised church’) is like someone cutting off the tree branch they are standing on – it’s dangerous & potentially self destructive – hence it is difficult for ministers to question these things. (Note – I am sure that the vast majority of ministers are hard working people with high integrity who are committed to God, their church & their people. However, in this situation, it is difficult for them to question the church ‘system’. There are many ex-ministers in society now – some of these might be better placed to raise questions about the organised church systems & the challenge of being a professional minister).
  • Ministers like to preach sermons – they feel safe, fulfilled and ‘anointed’. Ministers feel responsible for their congregations, and believe that good quality sermons are an effective way to disciple their congregation.

What is the Alternative?

I believe that a better & more scriptural alternative is personal and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in mutually-accountable community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives, community and world.

But there is some potential danger in removing preaching (I think it is worth the risk).  The two main dangers I see are à

1. Dependent people might not learn to feed themselves.  If we take away the church structures that nurture dependency, what will happen? My guess is that many churches & church attendees would ‘collapse’, including many that have been in ‘church’ for many years. This is a good example of how current organised church methods have created dependency. However, unless a change like this is made, we will continue to create dependency.

2. People might only read/study what they like, and avoid some of the harder or more important issues – at least preaching may/can address some of the harder issues we might want to avoid. However, mutual accountability groups can also address this issue, and ensure that the full breadth of important scripture and doctrine is covered.

Teaching vs Preaching

Initial drafts of this article brought the occasional response of “OK, if what we do in churches isn’t ‘preaching’ in the NT sense, it must be teaching & hence it is OK”.  Redefining sermons as ‘teaching’ might appear to be a solution, but much more change is required. This change in definition only really helps with the first of the 11 problems listed above. To completely change away from ‘preaching’ to teaching would require major change including

1.       Changing our language by getting rid of the ‘preaching’, ‘preacher’ & ‘sermon’ words, & replacing them with words relating to teaching

2.       Changing our methods. A monologue-sermon (or teaching) from primarily one person is an ineffective way to each. A change to teaching would typically include changing –

monologue à dialogue

one preacher à multiple teachers, discussion groups, peer-to-peer learning

fixed time-frame à variable timeframes

large groups listening to one sermon à smaller groups at different levels studying different topics

no-questioning à many-questions

a silent audience à a verbally involved class

3.       Changing our content. An important question is whether the content people need to learn is infinite, & hence people need sermons/teaching for the rest of their lives, or finite, which implies they don’t need never-ending teaching. It strikes me that modern western Christians already know far more about their ‘faith’ than the majority of Christians for the past 2000 years.  If anything, the modern problem is lack of obedience rather than lack of knowledge. Basically what needs to be taught (or learnt) is how to understand and obediently apply the Biblical truths in modern christian lives. This can be done through a mix of specific teaching and discussion in mutually accountable groups. Some of the necessary changes to content include –

one-sermon-for-all à different teaching for different levels of discipleship

one-topic-for-all à different topics for different groups

inspired topics à planned teaching

people need a sermon each week for the rest of their lives à people can ‘graduate’, having learnt the essential things (they might still have occasional in-service training)

EXTRA INFORMATION – Preaching in the Bible & Later Times[xvi]

1.       There are 2 main Greek words translated ‘preach’ in the NT – euaggelizō & kērussō.

a.       εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizō) (Strong’s G2097 & 2098) meaning ‘to announce good news (“evangelize”) especially the gospel: – declare, bring (declare, show) glad (good) tidings, preach (the gospel)’. This word (in 2 forms) is used 132 times in the NT[xvii] – it is clear that this word translated ‘preach’ means to communicate the good news (gospel) in an evangelistic context – this is not what happens in typical church preaching, where the majority of listeners are Christians. The word evangelist (G2099 εὐαγγελιστής – euaggelistēs) comes from this root – as used in 2 Tim 4:5 where Timothy is encouraged to ‘do the work of an evangelist’.

b.       Κηρύσσω (kērussō) (Strongs G2784) meaning ‘to herald (as a public crier), especially divine truth (the gospel): – preach (-er), proclaim, publish’. This is used in 60 verses in the NT[xviii]. The 32 times kerusso is used in the gospels, it is obviously in the context of ‘evangelism’, as Jesus sought to establish foundations for his kingdom. In the other places in the NT where kerusso is used, it mainly refers to evangelism (20 times), other people’s preaching (3 times), or is unclear (4 times).[xix]

2.       The New Testament writers draw a clear distinction between preaching and teaching. The distinction is preserved alike in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse, and must be considered characteristic of early Christian usage in general. Teaching (didaskein) is in the large majority of cases ethical instruction . . . Preaching on the other hand is the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world . . . The verb “to preach” frequently has for its object “the Gospel.” Indeed, the connection of ideas is so close that keryssein by itself can be used as a virtual equivalent for evangelizesthai, “to preach the Gospel.” It would not be too much to say that wherever “preaching” is spoken of, it always carries with it the implication of “good tidings” proclaimed. For the early church, then, to preach the Gospel was by no means the same thing as to deliver moral instruction or exhortation. While the church was concerned to hand on the teaching of the Lord, it was not by this that it made converts. It was by the kerygma, says Paul, not by the didache, that it pleased God to save men (1 Corinthians 1:21) (C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, pp.7ff).[xx]

3.       In the OT, active participation and interruptions by the audience were common[xxi].

4.       The Lord Jesus did not preach a regular sermon to the same audience, but the messages He brought forth were informal and spontaneous.[xxii]

5.       The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ was given that name by Augustine in the post-apostolic period. It is quite different from typical church sermons in 1) It is short (maybe 10 minutes of talking), 2) Delivered to people without any commitment to the ‘church’ or Jesus, 3) Not delivered to a congregation who gather weekly to hear similar messages, 4) Delivered by Jesus, so it is ‘gospel’ not just an exposition of the gospel, & 5) The content is very condensed – there is a lot of content conveyed in very few words.

6.       Apostolic preaching recorded in Acts was sporadic.[xxiii]

7.       Apostolic preaching recorded in Acts was extemporaneous and without strict rhetorical structure.
Acts 2:14-35; Acts 7:1-52; Acts 17:22-34

8.       Apostolic preaching recorded in Acts was most often dialogical (meaning it included feedback and interruptions from the audience) rather than monological (a one-way discourse).[xxiv] Acts 17:2,17; Acts 18:4,19; Acts 19:8,9; Acts 20:7,9; Acts 24:25. Even when Paul & others preached to unbelievers, there was always opportunity for feedback or discussion.

9.       Some people point to Acts 20:7-12 as an example of the centrality of preaching. Here, Paul spoke for a long time – but it must be noted that v.7 states that the purpose of their coming together on the first day of the week was to break bread, not to hear a sermon. Also, there were special circumstances surrounding this particular meeting as it was the last time Paul would ever see them. Also, the verb used here, dialegomai, from which we derive our English word dialogue, implies give-and-take with the listeners. What Paul said probably provided the substance of the gathering, but he did not talk non-stop for hours – there would have been discussion and audience participation.[xxv]

10.   The NT letters show that the ministry of God’s Word came from the entire church in their regular gatherings. 1 Cor 14:26, 31; Rom 12:4ff.; Eph: 4:11ff.; Heb 10:25.

11.   This “every-member” functioning was also “conversational”. 1 Cor 14:29

12.   .. and marked by interruptions. 1 Cor 14:30

13.   Equally so, the exhortations of the local elders were nominally impromptu.[xxvi]

14.   One of the few places where “proclaim” (Greek, kataggello) is used in an ekklesia setting is in 1 Cor.11:26, and this action is accomplished by the gathered body, not by one person’s sermon. The Greek words used for what goes on in an assembly meeting carry with them a mutuality: pray together, instruct one another, sing with one another, exhort and comfort one another, care for one another, eat with one another, etc.[xxvii]

15.   The main verse used by many ministers to affirm their preaching gift/practice is 2 Tim 4:2 where Paul charges Timothy to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”. However, this verse is in the context of v5 “…endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry”. Timothy is being urged to ‘preach’ in the context of his ministry/work as an itinerant evangelist, not a resident elder or minister.[xxviii]. Hence, this verse is not sufficiently clear to justify professional ‘preaching’ every Sunday to congregations consisting predominantly of believers.

16.   A more extensive critique of the sermon is offered by David Norrington, whose book To Preach or Not to Preach examines evidence from the New Testament and the early centuries of church history. He argues on the basis of careful and thorough investigation that monologue preaching was present in this period but was used only occasionally rather than regularly. “The sermons in the New Testament were usually directed to people outside the Christian community, on an irregular basis as need arose, rather than at regular intervals. Even when outsiders came to Christian meetings, there is nothing to suggest that they heard or were converted through sermons (1 Cor. 14:23-25)… The use of dialegomai (Acts 19:8f) suggests discussion and debate. A lecture may have been involved but there is suggestion here of audience participation”[xxix]  Much more common were discussion, dialogue, interaction and multi-voiced participation. Drawing on both the New Testament and patristic texts, Norrington concludes that the normality and central role of monologue preaching in many churches today has no biblical precedent or support from the post-Apostolic period.  Despite this, the ’sermon’ became a standard practice among believers by the fourth century.[xxx]

17.   In the writings of the apostolic fathers (Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, Eusebius, etc), there is a conspicuous absence of the ‘sermon’ amongst ecclesiastical matters “Although many things are mentioned, including submission to the elders, there is no exhortation to pay close attention to the sermons or other ‘preaching’ within the context of the assembled group. This is an argument from silence to be sure, but it is worth noting nevertheless that there is no mention of preaching pastors and listening congregations. In summary of the evidence of the apostolic fathers it can be said that such concepts as ‘preacher’ and ‘preaching’ are only in contexts of Gospel proclamation to unbelievers. When it comes to the activity within the church, however, fellowship, teaching, admonition and social care are emphasized. Nowhere do we find a discussion of the pastor preaching to the congregation on a regular basis. From this we should not conclude that it never happened (for on special occasions it was required, as noted above) but that it was simply not the customary practice. Rather than one man preaching to an audience the church of the apostolic fathers experienced active involvement of the membership. This is a proper reflection of the picture we have in the New Testament itself . . . The common practice today of the clergyman preaching a sermon to a passive audience seems to have its origin in tradition (and/or expedience) rather than in a Scriptural pattern”[xxxi]

18.   Norrington[xxxii] argues that this emphasis on monologue preaching was the result of churches gradually adopting from the surrounding pagan culture assumptions about communication, particularly a rhetorical model that was more concerned about demonstrating the skill and knowledge of the speaker than about the impact on the listeners. He argues that the monologue sermon achieved a central place in the church, not because this place was biblical or even traditional within the early churches, but because the church was adopting somewhat uncritically the norms and values of contemporary cultural practices. He also argues that the trend towards monologue preaching rather than interaction and multiple participation was linked to a number of other developments in the 4th and 5th centuries à

19.   Firstly, during this era the church was becoming respectable and increasingly conventional following the adoption of Christianity as the imperial religion. Huge numbers of half-converted pagans were flooding into the churches. Congregations were swelling in numbers and massive church buildings were being erected. Monologue preaching seemed the only realistic option in large basilicas with thousands in the congregation who had little understanding of even the basics of the faith. It is certainly arguable that the size of congregations and the architecture of church buildings have had through the centuries at least as much influence on the way churches operate as biblical and theological principles.

20.   Secondly, the use of charismatic gifts and ministries within the church declined. These had required opportunities for participation by those who were gifted in diverse ways. But church life became steadily more formal and institutional and gifts such as prophecy became inconvenient and unsettling. Sermons were much safer. The dominance of the preacher grew as these gifts were marginalised.

21.   Thirdly, the clerical caste gradually developed, along with an increasing dominance of the clergy over the laity. In a so-called Christian empire, the old distinction between ‘church’ and ‘world’ was disappearing, to be replaced by a new division between ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’. The clergy began demanding the same kind of authority as secular leaders and professionals – in this hierarchical environment, the clergy preached and the laity listened.

22.   Is Norrington correct? Some have challenged his conclusions and it may be that he has over-stated his case in some places, but his research is careful and he has amassed a significant amount of evidence to support his claims. Other early church historians are broadly in agreement with him. They argue that the biblical and post-biblical evidence suggests that ‘sermons’ were frequently contributions to a dialogue rather than stand-alone monologues, that interaction and multi-voiced participation was normal.

[ii] CS Lewis described chronological snobbery as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited”. This is a valid concern, however, not all questioning of the past, or change from historical traditions is ‘chronological snobbery’ – in fact fear of ‘chronological snobbery’ can lead to resistance to change, and to ‘reverse chronological snobbery’ (“if the early church fathers didn’t utter it, it isn’t true”).

[iii] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters …. p736

[iv] Problems and Limitations of the Traditional “Sermon” Concept – article by Darryl M. Erkel

[v] Edwin Hatch notes

[vi] Kevin Craig, “Is the Sermon Concept Biblical?”, Searching Together, 15:1-2, 1986, p.28; citing Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas On Christianity, Peter Smith, 1970, p.113.  Also see David C Norrington, “To Preach or Not to Preach? The Church’s Urgent Question” 1996.

[vii] Problems and Limitations of the Traditional “Sermon” Concept – article by Darryl M. Erkel

[viii] Research into the effectiveness of sermons has uncovered worrying evidence that all preachers need to take seriously. North American and European studies have produced similar results: somewhere between 65% and 90% of those interviewed directly after the meeting ended could not say what the main point of the sermon was or what issue it was addressing.

[ix] ‘For all the effort of preparing, delivering and listening to sermons, most church members are not as mature as we might expect as a result. Why is this? Of course, there are bad sermons, and there are preachers whose lives are inconsistent with their teaching. But people may listen week by week to the best prepared and presented sermons, given by thoroughly sincere preachers, and yet make little progress in Christian discipleship. Some preachers blame congregations for a lack of expectancy that God will speak, for an inability to listen to a “solid exposition”, or even for disobedience to what they hear. But I suspect that there is a more significant factor in the failure rate of the sermon than the quality of the preacher or the responsiveness of the hearers. I want to suggest that the problem lies in our concept of preaching itself.’ Jeremy Thomson in “Preaching as Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow?”

[x] Interestingly, NCD (Natural Church Development) doesn’t include this primary purpose of mutual edification in it’s 8 quality characteristics which “when all present to a sufficient degree will practically guarantee numerical growth”

[xi] Even as far back as 1898 David Thomas touched on some key points in this regard: The Christian church in assembly, on the same occasion, might have several speakers to address them. If this be so: (1) Should Christian teaching be regarded as a profession? It is now: men are brought up in it, trained for it, and live by it, as architects, lawyers, doctors. (2) Is the Christian church justified in confining its attention to the ministry of one man? In most modern congregations there are some Christian men who, by natural ability, by experimental knowledge and inspiration, are far more qualified to instruct and comfort the people than their professional and stated minister. Surely official preaching has no authority, either in Scripture, reason, or experience, and it must come to an end sooner or later. Every Christian man should be a preacher. Were the half-hour allotted in church services for the sermon to be occupied by three or four Christly men with the capability and expression withal, it would not only be far more interesting, but more profitably spent than now (1 Corinthians, The Pulpit Commentary, p.459).

[xii] There is a lack of clear biblical mandate for the current practice of professional &/or ordained ministers, and it conflicts with the common protestant saying ‘the priesthood of all believers’. Some commentators believe that Luther didn’t go far enough in the Reformation – they argue that he also believed in the elimination of professional ministers & church structure, but didn’t push through in these areas.

[xiii] Problems and Limitations of the Traditional “Sermon” Concept – article by Darryl M. Erkel

[xiv] Problems and Limitations of the Traditional “Sermon” Concept – article by Darryl M. Erkel

[xvii] 2097 à Mat11:5; Luk1:19; Luk2:10; Luk3:18; Luk4:18; Luk4:43; Luk7:22; Luk8:1; Luk9:6; Luk16:16; Luk20:1; Act5:42; Act8:4; Act8:12; Act8:25; Act8:35; Act8:40; Act10:36; Act11:20; Act13:32; Act14:7; Act14:15; Act14:21; Act15:35; Act16:10; Act17:18; Rom1:15; Rom10:15; Rom15:20; 1Co1:17; 1Co9:16; 1Co9:18; 1Co15:1; 1Co15:2; 2Co10:16; 2Co11:7; Gal1:8; Gal1:9; Gal1:11; Gal1:16; Gal1:23; Gal4:13; Eph2:17; Eph3:8; 1Th3:6; Heb4:2; Heb4:6; 1Pe1:12; 1Pe1:25; 1Pe4:6; Rev10:7; Rev14:6;

2098 à Mat4:23; Mat9:35; Mat24:14; Mat26:13; Mar1:1; Mar1:14; Mar1:15; Mar8:35; Mar10:29; Mar13:10; Mar14:9; Mar16:15; Act15:7; Act20:24; Rom1:1; Rom1:9; Rom1:16; Rom2:16; Rom10:16; Rom11:28; Rom15:16; Rom15:19; Rom15:29; Rom16:25; 1Co4:15; 1Co9:12; 1Co9:14; 1Co9:18; 1Co9:23; 1Co15:1; 2Co2:12; 2Co4:3; 2Co4:4; 2Co8:18; 2Co9:13; 2Co10:14; 2Co11:4; 2Co11:7; Gal1:6; Gal1:7; Gal1:11; Gal2:2; Gal2:5; Gal2:7; Gal2:14; Eph1:13; Eph3:6; Eph6:15; Eph6:19; Phi1:5; Phi1:7; Phi1:12; Phi1:17; Phi1:27; Phi2:22; Phi4:3; Phi4:15; Col1:5; Col1:23; 1Th1:5; 1Th2:2; 1Th2:4; 1Th2:8; 1Th2:9; 1Th3:2; 2Th1:8; 2Th2:14; 1Ti1:11; 2Ti1:8; 2Ti1:10; 2Ti2:8; Phm1:13; 1Pe4:17; Rev14:6;

[xviii] Mat3:1; Mat4:17; Mat4:23; Mat9:35; Mat10:7; Mat10:27; Mat11:1; Mat24:14; Mat26:13; Mar1:4; Mar1:7; Mar1:14; Mar1:38; Mar1:39; Mar1:45; Mar3:14; Mar5:20; Mar6:12; Mar7:36; Mar13:10; Mar14:9; Mar16:15; Mar16:20; Luk3:3; Luk4:18; Luk4:19; Luk4:44; Luk8:1; Luk8:39; Luk9:2; Luk12:3; Luk24:47; Act8:5; Act9:20; Act10:37; Act10:42; Act15:21; Act19:13; Act20:25; Act28:31; Rom2:21; Rom10:8; Rom10:14; Rom10:15; 1Co1:23; 1Co9:27; 1Co15:11; 1Co15:12; 2Co1:19; 2Co4:5; 2Co11:4; Gal2:2; Gal5:11; Phi1:15; Col1:23; 1Th2:9; 1Ti3:16; 2Ti4:2; 1Pe3:19; Rev5:2;

[xix] Preaching as evangelism à Act8:5; Act9:20; Act10:42; Act20:25; Act28:31; Rom10:8; Rom10:14; Rom10:15; 1Co1:23; 1Co15:11; 1Co15:12; 2Co1:19; 2Co4:5; 2Co11:4; Gal2:2; Gal5:11; Phi1:15; Col1:23; 1Th2:9; 1Ti3:16; 2Ti4:2.  Referring to other people preaching à Act10:37; Act15:21; Act19:13.  Unclear à Rom2:21; 1Co9:27; 1Pe3:19; Rev5:2;

[xx] Problems and Limitations of the Traditional “Sermon” Concept – article by Darryl M. Erkel

[xxi] David C. Norrington, “To preach or not to preach ?” – p. 3

[xxii] David C. Norrington, “To preach or not to preach ?” – p. 5-7

[xxiii] Ref: David C. Norrington, “To preach or not to preach ?” – p. 7-12

[xxiv] Jeremy Thomson “Preaching as Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow ?” – pp 3-8

[xxv] Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach, pp.99,100

[xxvi] Alan Kreider, “Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom” – p. 37

[xxvii] Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach, pp.99,100

[xxviii] Norrington, To Preach or Not to Preach, pp.99,100

[xxix] David C. Norrington, To Preach Or Not To Preach? The Church’s Urgent Question, Paternoster Press, 1996, pp. 99,100

[xxx] Edwin Hatch, “The influence of Greek ideas and usages upon the Christian Church” – p. 109

[xxxi]  ‘Preacher’ and ‘Preaching’: Some Lexical Observations, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [December – 1981, Vol.24/No.4] pp.320-321

[xxxii] Adapted from “Interactive Preaching” by Stuart Murray Williams

House Churches & Missions

By David Allis

One of the common questions raised regarding house churches relates to their involvement in ‘mission’.  What can a (little) house church do, that is effective in its local community and for overseas mission?  This question often comes from the perspective that larger churches have more resources, and hence can be more effective in ‘mission’ eg a large church could afford to totally fund a large team of indigenous church planters in India.

However, organised churches are much more expensive to run than house churches, and hence house churches potentially have much more resource available for ‘mission’.  The recent Time Magazine article on house churches quoted Golden Gate Seminary’s Karr  “ … reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church’s budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine “if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful.”

These figures seem generous to ‘standard’ churches ….. many  ‘standard’ churches I have seen consume much more than 75% of their budget internally, and few house churches would even spend 10% internally.  In addition, if you factor in the ‘value’ of all the volunteer work required for an organised church to function, the actually running cost would be very high, with a miniscule amount going outside the church for ‘mission, or to help the poor.

As mega churches continue to emerge, some people hope that they will bring some cost efficiencies that will help increase what is going outside the church.  Unfortunately, the consensus is that as churches get larger, they actually get more expensive (per person) to operate, because they need to increase their quality, provide a much broader range of ‘services etc.  Occasionally I hear proud reports that mega church WXY gave lots of money to some wonderful cause (or saw lots of people ‘saved) …. I usually do some simple maths on this to work out the giving (or salvations) per member of the mega church, and always seem to find that the ‘achievement’ per member is great, but nothing remarkable … in fact I know house churches that ‘achieve’ far more than this per ‘member’.

I recall a Management course I attended years ago … they gave the example of a Government office building, and asked us to imagine it containing 1000 government employees with all the means of external communication cut off – they suggested that these 1000 people would generate enough work just organizing themselves, that they could be fully busy without generating any ‘output’.  I immediately pictured the church …. In a typical ‘organised’ church, the majority of time, energy and finance can be consumed just keeping the ‘organisation’ running, with little or no external ‘output’ …. it was a scary & sobering epiphany.

Talking with a local church minister recently, he remarked how he would love to have his church (about 150 people) sponsor a micro-enterprise bank in Asia (costing about $5,000 pa for 2 years) – unfortunately they had just taken an offering for other purposes, and some of their elders were opposed to the idea, but he hoped to get the church to ‘buy’ into it.  In contrast, I know of a house church where just one family have personally sponsored a micro-enterprise bank, just through giving the same amount as they were previously giving (tithing) to the organised church they were in.

I was fascinated to come across stories about a large church in Arlington, Texas – Mission Arlington – which is having huge impact in the local community.  “Today Mission Arlington is ……….. nearly 4,000 in attendance) serving over 10,000 people a week in the Arlington Texas community with food, furniture, medical and dental care, school transportation, child and adult day care, counseling, etc. What can Jesus do for a community? The people of Arlington know. Every year hundreds of people come to Christ through this transformational ministry. Lives are being touched. Lives are being changed. The church should and can make a huge difference in a community. (from Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation by Eric Swanson).  This sounds amazing …. And what is even more amazing is that Mission Arlington is a house church movement of nearly 250 community house churches (I removed these words from the quote above).  Check out

So what can a house church do, that is effective in its local community and for overseas mission? I am convinced that if the people in a house church remain committed to a life of generous giving and commitment to building God’s kingdomlocally and internationally, they can achieve wonderful things

When GOOD Becomes the Enemy of BEST

By David Allis   [email protected]

I have always thought that ‘good’ and ‘best’ were very close together.  When I was at school, on the occasions that I got a ‘good’ result in a test or exam, it was usually very close to the ‘best’ result.

In a strange paradox, I can now see situations where ‘good’ is not close to ‘best’, but rather it is at the opposite end of a spectrum from ‘best’.  In situations like this, ‘good’ is good, but if we settle for ‘good’, we remain a long way from ‘best’, and hence ‘good’ is effectively the enemy of ‘best’.

Let me give an example to illustrate.  Imagine you are walking on a path though the forest, and your goal is to get to the beach. You reach a point where the path splits into 2 paths, and you can’t see the beach, so you are unsure which way to go.  The only sign giving any direction says ‘go this way to see the beach’.  Thinking this is a good choice, you follow the direction of the sign, believing that if you can see the beach, you should be close to it.  Unfortunately the path leads you to the top of a mountain, where you find lots of people sitting on their beach chairs enjoying the beautiful view of the beach.  The place you have arrived seems good – at least you can see what the beach looks like – but you have taken the wrong path and are now a long way from the beach.  Hence, this ‘good’ result (seeing the beach) has effectively been the enemy of the best result (getting to the beach).  To get from the ‘good’ to the ‘best’ in this situation requires a long journey, retracing your steps and then going down the right path.

As I consider some of the aspects of church and Christianity I see around me, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many of us are settling for ‘good’ results, that are often the enemy of the ‘best’.  We accept many things that are helpful in themselves, but are stopping us reaching out for the best.  Another simple example is that of a starving person, who needs a full meal, but instead eats some nice chocolate which staves off the hunger pangs and stops them searching for that nourishing meal that their body needs.

So what are some of the areas where the ‘good’ might be the enemy of the ‘best’?  Consider these possibilities, which might whet your appetite (you can probably think of further examples).  They all deserve more in-depth examination than this brief article can offer.

Sermons might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Sermons are usually built around the ‘person of God’, who has had in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse.  This creates a dependence on being ‘fed’ by the necessary combination of ordained ministers + theological training + eloquent preaching.
  • Sermons typically assume that God is saying the same thing to everyone.
  • Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either).
  • Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning.
  • Sermons usually allow no opportunity for questions or discussion.
  • People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be ‘fed’ by a sermon each week.
  • In the New Testament, preaching is almost always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those that are outside or on the edge of the kingdom.  There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years, particularly as firstly the NT apostles were formulating new doctrine (which we aren’t allowed to do), and secondly we have the New Testament available to study ourselves, complete with many wonderful study aids.
  • BEST might be private and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives and communities

Evangelism programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • We should take individual and corporate responsibility for ‘mission’ to our community
  • Church members often get so absorbed in church activities that they have little personal time left to form quality friendships with people outside the church
  • Many people involved in good ‘evangelistic’ churches seem to have no sense of personal responsibility for mission, but instead rely totally on the church evangelism programs.
  • Evangelism programs might help people feel good about themselves, but they are usually very ineffective.  Most western churches are static or declining, and few grow consistently at even 5% per year.
  • BEST might be individuals taking personal responsibility for mission, including building valuable relationships with people outside the church.  There would be significant changes if  normal church attenders started thinking & praying ‘If I was a missionary here, I would ….”

Church-centric programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They are built around a ‘come to us’ thinking.  “build it and they will come’ might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it rarely works today
  • ‘Come to us’ thinking is one of the same problems that stifled the effectiveness of OT Judaism
  • Church-centric programs keep everyone too busy, and create barriers to the community
  • Church-centric programs have a bizarre need to ‘own’ the programs.  Churches seem to have an insane desire to start tramping clubs, playgroups, cafes etc, which seems a lot like keeping the salt in a saltshaker & asking the meal to come into the saltshaker.  It seems wiser and more biblical to encourage Christians to be involved in community-centred organisations and activities – the equivalent of adding a little salt to a meal.
  • BEST might be genuine community involvement with no hidden agenda.

Excellence might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Commitment to excellence can restrict people’s participation in events, and put the emphasis on the outward aspects rather than the inward.
  • BEST might be opportunity, involvement and empowerment.
  • Contemporary programs to reach youth (loud, high-tech programs with all the bells and whistles draw the youth crowds in) might be GOOD, BUT ….
  • Church health studies show that whatever is used to draw the crowd usually needs to be maintained at ever increasing levels to keep the crowd.
  • It can be very hard to turn youth who are drawn to the bright lights, into true disciples.
  • BEST might be a counter-cultural call & training to radical discipleship

Teaching about the blessing of God for individuals might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • This often seems like a re-packaged, slightly more acceptable version of prosperity teaching
  • The Bible says very little about ‘God wanting to bless us and give us a wonderful life’, but rather it contains a strong call requiring us to commit to generosity, sacrifice and care of the poor, loving our neighbours and laying down our lives for them.
  • BEST might be teaching and obeying the Biblical emphasis on sacrifice, generosity and care for the poor.

Tithing to the local church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • It costs a lot of money to operate a ‘normal’ church.  To quote a friend ‘while you have temples and priests, you need tithes and offerings’.  It seems reasonable that church members pay their share towards the cost of running a church – but there are good arguments questioning the Biblical basis for what is often taught about tithing to a local church.
  • BEST might be lower cost churches, and discipleship which incorporates a commitment to sacrifice and generosity.

High quality ‘professional’ worship services might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They often seem like karaoke worship.
  • They often focus on what ‘I’ feel and get from it, rather than being an act of giving to God.
  • They neglect the wide variety of ways we can worship God.
  • They slot worship into a Sunday worship service, and ignore the possibilities for worship during the remainder of the week
  • Corporate worship is conspicuously absent from the example of the early church in Acts 2&4, and is hardly mentioned in the rest of the NT.
  • BEST might be genuine participation, variety, and the realization that we can worship God 24/7 in an amazing variety of ways

Bigger churches might be GOOD, BUT …

  • As churches get bigger, the structure gets more complicated and harder to manage
  • As churches get bigger, it is easier for people to hide (there is no back pew in a house church)
  • As churches get bigger, they get less personal and it is easier for attendees to not be connected with others.  Hence, bigger churches attempt to fix this problem through the use of cells or house groups
  • As churches get bigger, they get even more expensive to run (per person).  In contrast, house-based churches cost virtually nothing.
  • The larger the church, the wider the ripples when something goes wrong.  Terrorist cells have learnt this principle, and stay small to ensure that if anything goes wrong, it will only affect a small group of people.
  • Research (eg NCD) shows that smaller churches are more effective at evangelism, and empowering people to use their spiritual gifts.  In fact, Natural Church Development (NCD) studies show that overall, the only area that larger churches are better than smaller churches is in corporate worship.
  • BEST might be many smaller churches

Structured churches might be GOOD, BUT

  • In smaller, less structured churches there are usually no power struggles, as there is no power to struggle over
  • Unstructured or lightly structured churches can respond rapidly to adjust to changing situations.
  • BEST might be churches with minimal structure.

Measuring attendance might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BUT Jesus didn’t seem to measure attendance – his focus was on the kingdom & discipleship
  • BEST might be measuring discipleship, or maybe measuring nothing and just being radically obedient.

Leadership training might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • I’m not sure there is much NT basis for the current emphasis on leadership
  • Leaders talk of ‘servant leadership’, but it seems strangely different from the version that Jesus taught & demonstrated
  • Current church structures typically necessitate a controlling form of leadership, particularly as churches become larger
  • BEST might be discipleship, service and radical empowerment

Ordained ministry might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • There is arguably little if any biblical basis for officially ordained ministers
  • The Protestant Reformation was birthed with the concept of the priesthood of all believers, yet we still usually have the power and spiritual gifts held firmly in the hands of the ‘minister’.
  • BEST might be empowered laity in a virtually unstructured church environment

Pragmatism (accepting models of church and christianity because they seem to work & get some reasonable results) might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be rethinking the paradigms

Building the church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be building the Kingdom

Lets work together to ensure we don’t settle for ‘good’ and miss the ‘best’.

Risk Management

By David Allis

This week I went to a churches Risk Management seminar sponsored by EIG-Ansvar (a great insurance company).  It was a good seminar, covering areas of risk such as

  • buildings – insurance, replacement, alarms, alarm monitoring, fire protection, fire evacuation plans etc
  • equipment – how to stop your flash sound system & projector getting stolen, insurance etc
  • public liability insurance
  • how to stop child molesters getting access to the children in the children’s program, police screening, 6 month delay before new members work in the children or youth programs etc etc

These are all valid concerns for a normal church … but as I was listening to this wise advice, it suddenly clicked …. we don;t have to worry about any of these things ….

With a small church meeting in homes, we don’t have these problems ….. with no church building, no church equipment, no childrens program etc …. we don;t need risk management seminars, or to spend $ ,000’s on buildings, equipment, alarms, insurance etc.  A simple church is definitely much simpler …..


I’ve just finished reading this new book – it was great.  I took a bunch of notes/quotes of things that stood out to me … might find them interesting … (get the book & read it ….)

The Growth of Neil’s network of organic churches

  • Yr 1 – 2000 – 18 churches planted
  • Yr 2 – 2001 – 52 churches planted
  • Yr 3 – 2002 – 106 churches planted
  • Yr 4 – 2003 – 200 churches planted
  • Yr 5 – 2004 – 400 churches planted
  • Yr 6 – 2005 – 800+ churches planted

P26-27’ “We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar or what it means to be a disciple”  If church is simple enough that everyone can do it and is made up of people who take up their cross and follow Jesus at any cost, the result will be churches that empower the common Christian to do the uncommon works of God.  Churches will become healthy, fertile and reproductive.

The conventional church has become so complicated and difficult to pull off that only a rare person who is a professional can do it every week.  Many people feel that to lower the bar of how church is done is close to blasphemous because the Church is Jesus’ expression of the Kingdom on earth.  Because church is not a once-a-week service but the people of God’s family, what they have actually done is the opposite of their intention.  When church is so complicated, its function is taken out of the hands of the common Christian and placed in the hands of a few talented professionals.  This results in a passive church whose members come and act more like spectators than empowered agents of god’s kingdom.’

P31  ‘The gospel says ‘Go’, but our church buildings say ‘stay’.  The gospel says ‘seek the lost’, but our churches say ‘let the lost seek the church’. Quoting Howard Snyder (The Problem of Wineskins)

P38 Someone once said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us.  It is not just a fact that buildings hold back growth; they also hold back our understanding of the Kingdom of God.  Our minds can be held captive behind four walls as easily as our actions are.

P39 The church is much more than a one-hour service held one day a week.  The only time worship and service are put together in Scripture has nothing to do with sound systems, pews, sermons or worship bands.  It is a 24/7 expression of Christ’s life in us.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes that we are to present our own bodies to be His temple. …… When you imagine the amount of resources, energy and time invested in a service held only one day a week, it is remarkable.  With all the importance placed on this event, you would expect there to be a lot of scriptural directives to make sure people get it right.  But if you search all of the New Testament looking for commands or injunctions having to do with this important weekly event, you will find them sadly missing.  Instead you will find verses, chapters and entire books that speak of how we are to live together as a spiritual family.  You will find commands & injunctions to serve and worship, but not just one day a week.

P40 William Law was an 18th Century English writer and mystic who made a formative impression upon John Wesley and the Methodist church planting movement.  He made this observation many years ago, which flew in the face of his contemporaries, just as it probably does today: “It is very observable that there is not one command in all the Gospel for public worship; and perhaps it is a duty that is least insisted upon in Scripture of any other.  The frequent attendance at it is never so much as mentioned in all the New Testament, whereas that religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture.”

P85 (paraphrased) Consider Mk 4:26-29 “The Kingdom of god is like a man who casts seed on the soil, goes to bed & sleeps.  The seed sprouts & grows – he doesn’t know how.  The soil produces crops by itself (automatically) …..”  As I read this parable, I recognize two things that need to be addressed.  First, we are all qualified to do the work, and the work is not really hard.  Second, we frequently expend our energy & resources in the wrong phase of ministry life. ….. p87 if you skip the important step of planting seeds and spend all your time expecting things to grow you will have few results to show at the end….. I am confident that if churches invested more time, energy, and money in planting seeds, they would not have to work hard at growing, and the harvest would be more abundant.

P91 The Southern Baptists have said that only 4% of the churches in America will plant a daughter church.  That means that 96% of conventional churches in America will never give birth ….  P92 Imagine the headlines if it were suddenly discovered that 96% of the women in America were no longer fertile and could not have babies.  We would instantly know two things.  First this is not natural, so there is something wrong with their health.  Second, we would also know that the future is in serious jeopardy.  This is the state of the church in America (& NZ) right now.  It is that serious and we need to take heed.

P98 As passionate as I am about church planting, I found it perplexing that the Bible never instructs us to start churches.  There is not a single command in all of the Bible to initiate churches.  The reason is quite clear: we are not to start churches, but instead to make disciples who make disciples.  That is actually the way churches are started, at least in the New Testament.  Jesus gave us instruction that is on the molecular level of kingdom life, for a very good reason: it works.  Trying to multiply large, highly complex organisms without multiplying on the micro level is impossible.  Ladies, imagine if you had to give birth to full-grown adults …..

P143 “Risk more than others think is safe, Care more than others think is wise, Dream more than others think is practical, Expect more than others think is possible” Cadet Maxim, West Point Military Academy

P173 Five POP Principles that help us start churches that will reproduce – from Luke 10 & Matt 10

  • Practice of Prayer
  • Pockets of People
  • Power of Presence
  • Person of Peace
  • People of Purpose

P204   What would I do differently if I were to start again (church planting), knowing what I know now?

  1. I would begin in the harvest & start small.  Don’t start with a team of already-saved Christians.  Start with a team of 2.
  2. I would allow God to build around others.  Don’t start in your own home; find a person of peace and start in that home.  Read Matthew 10 & luke 10, and do it.
  3. I would empower others from the start.  Don’t lead too much.  Let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control.  Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.
  4. I would let Scripture, not my assumptions lead.  Question all your ministry assumptions in the light of Scripture, with courage and faith.
  5. I would rethink leadership.  There is not a ceiling of maturity that people need to break through to lead.  Set them loose immediately and walk with them through the process for a while.  Leadership recruitment is a dead end. We are all recruiting from the same pond and its getting shallower and shallower.  Leadership farming is what is needed.  Any leadership development system that doesn’t start with the lost is starting in the wrong place.
  6. I would create immediate obedience in baptism.  Baptize quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelizing do the baptizing.
  7. I would settle ownership issues.  Stop being concerned about whether ‘your’ church plant will succeed or not.  It isn’t yours in the first place.

P 113 & 221  George Patterson, an experienced missionary & father to current thinking about spontaneous multiplication of movements suggests that what he calls obedience-orientated education is necessary to see spontaneous reproduction.  He lists 7 NT commands that all disciples must obey as the starting point of following Christ.

  1. Repent, believe & receive the HS
  2. Be baptized
  3. Love God & neighbour
  4. Celebrate the Lord’s supper
  5. Pray
  6. Give
  7. Disciple others