What Are the Hell Options?

In a previous article, I discussed some of the problems with hell – that is, some problems with the traditional Christian view of hell being a place of permanent conscious punishment for those who haven’t been saved while alive on earth. This traditional view typically relies on four theses:
Punishment – the purpose of hell is to punish those whose earthly lives warrant it
No Escape – those people consigned to hell cannot escape from it
Anti-Universalism – not all people will be saved – some (or many) people will be consigned to hell
Eternal Existence – hell is a place of unending conscious existence

The ‘problem’ of hell is compounded by scriptural ambiguity regarding the afterlife. The case for the traditional view of hell is not so clear, and it is difficult to ascertain how much this traditional view has been influenced by sources other than the scriptures – sources such as historical individuals like Tertullian (200AD) & Dante (a 13th Century Italian poet), pagan traditions, teutonic mythology and other factors. In addition, supporters of divergent & contradictory views of hell all find scriptural support for their alternative beliefs.

In considering a christian concept of hell, there are a limited number of options available, with clear choices in some areas. There are also some other areas that are not crucial, but are of interest. This is best expressed in logical form.

1. Does Hell Physically Exist?
a) YES – consider Q2 & Q3
b) NO – Hell is metaphorical

2. Is Hell Permanent? ie will individuals remain in hell for all eternity?
a) YES – this is part of the traditional view of hell
b) NO – there will come a time when there is no longer anyone alive in hell. With this view, there are a few alternatives on how people will end their time in hell. (Note – there is some overlap between these alternatives)
i. Annihilation – people in hell will eventually die (be annihilated), either at different times or all at the same time. Once everyone has died, there would be no need for hell to exist.
ii. Conditional Immortality – people only remain alive because of God’s active involvement in their lives. At some stage, God will stop keeping people in hell alive and then they will cease to exist.
iii. Escape – see below
iv. Gradual Death – people in hell have, in some way, ongoing opportunities to ‘repent’ and be saved (go to heaven). Whenever people choose not to repent (ie say ‘no’ to God), part of them dies. Eventually, if they resist God’s offer (of salvation) for long enough, they will die completely (cease to exist). Hence, eventually everyone in hell will have either moved to heaven, or ceased to exist.

3. Is it Possible to Escape from Hell? ie can individuals in hell get ‘saved’ in some way and move to heaven?
a) NO – this is part of the traditional view of hell – there is no possible escape from hell (there is no ‘second chance’ after death)
b) YES – it is possible for individuals to escape, or be ‘saved’ from hell and go to heaven. There might be one ‘second chance’, or multiple ‘second chances’ for individuals, which they can use to escape from hell.

The traditional view of hell would answer ‘a’ to the 3 questions above.

The three areas above are essential aspects of any view of any comprehensive hell. (ie the 3 questions above need to be answered). In addition, there are some other areas which raise interesting questions.

A. What is the Cause & Purpose of Punishment in Heaven?
Does God cause the punishment? Or does God just allow the punishment, which is a natural consequence of distance from God or rejection of Him?
What is the purpose of the punishment, if any? Is it intended for reformation? (If so, it seems pointless if there is no chance of escape from hell). Is it just retribution? (If so, eternal punishment for temporal sin raises other questions).

B. Do Heaven Dwellers See And/Or Know of the Plight of Those in Hell?
Many historical church leaders have believed that those in heaven will see or be aware of the suffering of those in hell (eg Martin Luther, Peter Lombard, Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Watts, Jonathon Edwards). Some suggest that those in heaven will be impervious to the suffering of the damned, while others say that the blessed will enjoy heaven even more because they see the suffering in hell (eg Peter Lombard[1], Tertullian[2], Thomas Aquinas[3], Jonathon Edwards[4], Isaac Watts[5]). While this view might have been popular historically, it probably raises more questions today, particularly when it is viewed from the perspective of those suffering in hell being some of our beloved family members.

Others suggest that heaven dwellers will not be aware of the suffering of others. While this view might be more attractive these days, it raises the question of “How?” How will those in heaven be unaware of the suffering of their loved-ones in hell? Will this be through ignorance of their fate? Or though faded memories of these loved-ones? Or will there be just a lack of interest and empathy?

C. Calvinism and Predestination
I attended a church service recently where the preacher said ‘God chose you & you for faith – for salvation’. This ties in with the Calvanistic view of predestination for faith and salvation. I wondered at the response of the ‘unsaved’ in the congregation – they could have responded with “that’s not fair, why wasn’t I chosen by God”, or “I’m not a christian because God hasn’t chosen me, so don’t bother telling me anything more of the gospel”, or “Does that mean I am chosen to go to hell?”
The doctrine of predestination or pre-choosing for faith quickly raises the question of double-predestination – are some people predestined for hell? (Which many people consider unjust)

In reviewing or forming a christian view of hell, it is worth considering the possible options, and also other questions and issues are raised. If hell is the destination for many (or most) if the people who have ever lived, then surely it is important for Christians to be clear in their understanding of it. The traditional permanent-suffering-in-hell version might be correct – but if it isn’t, then it is worth making some effort now to try to understand what the correct version is….

David Allis
March 2009

[1] Peter Lombard, the Master of Sentences – “Therefore the elect shall go forth…to see the torments of the impious, seeing which they will not be grieved, but will be satiated with joy at the sight of the unutterable calamity of the impious .” Sent. Iv 50, ad fin
[2] Tertullian – “At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause.”
“What a spectacle. . .when the world. . .and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? As I see. . .illustrious monarchs. . . groaning in the lowest darkness, Philosophers. . .as fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of. . .Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view play-actors. . .in the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows. . .What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.” [De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]
[3] Thomas Aquinas – “In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. . .So that they may be urged the more to praise God. . .The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens. . .to the damned.” [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned. . .”]

[4] Jonathan Edwards – “The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven.” “The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.” [“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]
[5] Isaac Watts: During America ‘s “Great Awakening” the popular hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), even set Christians’ feet to tapping with this crisp little verse:
What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,
When they in glory dwell,
To see the sinner as he rolls,
In quenchless flames of hell

The Problem With Hell

Hell is potentially a hot topic, and I approach it with some fear & trepidation. Yet it is an incredibly important topic, as, in it’s typically accepted form, Christians anticipate that many (possibly the majority) of people who have ever lived will spend eternity suffering there. Surely the expected permanent destination for so many people is worthy of careful consideration.

Most Christians seem to believe in a ‘typical’ concept of hell, although they often haven’t thought through the details or faced some of the difficulties with their view. Hell is part of the ‘package’ of Christianity that they have accepted, but it remains on the periphery & the details haven’t been clarified in their minds. Typically, they are happy they have been ‘saved’ and hence have escaped from the clutches of hell, and they would like to help others escape from it also.

The typical or traditional Christian view of hell is that it is a place of permanent conscious punishment for those who haven’t been saved while alive on earth. It typically relies on four theses:
Punishment – the purpose of hell is to punish those whose earthly lives warrant it
No Escape – those people consigned to hell cannot escape from it
Anti-Universalism – not all people will be saved – some (or many) people will be consigned to hell
Eternal Existence – hell is a place of unending conscious existence

This typical concept of hell, or minor modifications of it, are the primary doctrine of hell found throughout the history of Christianity. It has been, and remains, a prominent aspect of the gospel that is presented by Christianity – the ‘good news’ is often presented as the good news of how all people face an eternity of suffering in hell, but, by the grace of God, have the opportunity to be ‘saved’ from hell and spend eternity with God in heaven.

However, there are problems with this traditional doctrine of hell (permanent, inescapable, conscious punishment) that need to be faced, and questions that deserve to be answered.

1. Is Hell Compatible with the Nature of God? – Permanent, conscious, inescapable suffering in hell seems incompatible with those aspects of God that we value – particularly that he is all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, merciful & full of grace.

2. God Desires to Save Everyone – It is apparent in the Bible that God’s desire (or hope or purpose) is to save everyone (2 Pet 3:9), or at least as many as possible. However, we should ask the question “According to an evangelical (or other) understanding of salvation, what proportion of all the people that have ever lived in the world (currently estimated at 106 billion) have been ‘saved’ and do we expect will be in heaven?” Estimates of this might vary, but I anticipate that they will typically be somewhere between 5% & 20% ‘saved’. Hence, with the traditional view of hell, we should expect 80-95% of people (about 80-95 billion) to be suffering permanently in hell. With this perspective, it could be argued that God, who desires to save as many as possible, doesn’t appear to have been very successful. Even if everyone alive today gets ‘saved’, the overall proportions in heaven & hell won’t change much. (Yes – the myth that “there more people alive today than have ever lived” is wrong)

3. Having a Party While Our Loved One’s Suffer – Author Brian McLaren paints a picture of the traditional afterlife view – where christians will be having a party with Jesus upstairs (heaven), while in the basement (hell) the un-saved (including many of our loved ones) will be suffering horribly with no hope of escape. This makes it hard for those upstairs to enjoy the party (knowing their loved ones are suffering). This version of the “Good News” actually looks quite bad. Also I hope the Jesus we follow would go downstairs to do something to help those he loves but are suffering … I might even go with him if I could give any assistance.

4. Will They Know? Will those in heaven know of those suffering in hell? If so, then this seems to reduces the blessedness of heaven – how can we enjoy heaven knowing that those we loved (& would have given our lives for while on earth) are continually suffering? If those in heaven don’t know of the suffering, how will this occur? Will it be through faded or lost memories of our loved ones? This seems to be a sad alternative – that we might live our lives sacrificially for loved ones while on earth, and then forget them when we are in heaven.

5. Hell is Inconsistent with God’s Salvation Efforts to Date – God showed total love for all individuals by sending Jesus to live & die for them. As evangelists say “Even if you were the only person in the world, Jesus loves you so much he would have died for you”. Yet with this view, when we die the salvation efforts of God suddenly change from total effort, to no effort (& no chance of rescue). It seems inconsistent that God’s love and salvation efforts apparently change so much so quickly.

6. The Scriptures Aren’t Clear – There is scriptural ambiguity regarding the afterlife – the case for the traditional view of hell is not so clear. Supporters of divergent & contradictory views all find scriptural support for their alternative beliefs.

7. What is the Purpose of Hell? – There are three common views of the purpose God has for hell – remedial, retributive punishment and issuant.
The remedial view, where God uses hell to remedy and restore individuals, doesn’t fit with the traditional view of hell, as presumably for a remedy to be effective there must be some end or escape.
The traditional views of hell are unclear or inconsistent regarding which of the alternative views they are supporting – retributive punishment or issuant.
The retributive view holds that the primary purpose of hell is to serve as a place of punishment for the unrepentant – the punishment in hell is in proportion to the scale of the crime – sin against God is sin against the most holy being and hence deserves the utmost punishment, eternal punishment. However, this raises the question of the morality of eternal punishment for sin that occurred in a temporal period – is it just to punish individuals eternally for sin that they committed in only a few short years of life?
The issuant view is that hell ‘issues’ from God’s love for His creatures – God has provided hell as a place for those persons who do not wish to be in communion with Him. God does not want to coerce individuals, and so offers them an alternative, the provision made being another manifestation of the good of exercising free will in response to God’s loving initiatives in the world.
For one to hold to a traditional view of hell, it seems necessary to understand clearly what the purpose of hell is – yet this clarity is elusive.

8. Does God’s Love Change So Quickly? – The traditional view of hell sets death as the cut-off time. Thomas Allin, author of Christ Triumphant (1890), recounts a true story ‘In a certain quarter of London, one of the many evangelists had gone forth to preach to the people. When he had concluded an eloquent address, he was thus accosted by one of his hearers: “Sir,” said the man, “may I ask you one or two questions?” “Surely,” said the preacher. “You have told us that God’s love for us is very great and very strong.” “Yes.” “And that He sent His Son to save us, and I may be saved this moment, if I will.” “Yes.” “But, if I go away without an immediate acceptance of this offer, and if, a few minutes after I were to be killed on my way home, I should find myself in hell for ever and ever.” “Yes.” “Then,” said the man, “if so, I don’t want to have anything to do with a being whose love for me can change so completely in five minutes.’ (from Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin)

9. The Problem of Religious Luck – there is a philosophical problem with ‘religious luck’ ie the extent to which an individual is a fit candidate for either damnation or salvation goes beyond the individual’s control. Whether one responds appropriately to grace will depend upon the shape of one’s character and the shape of one’s character will depend upon circumstances that are outside of one’s control. This creates a ‘problem’ as it is inherently unfair.

10. Divine Conservation is the view that individuals only remain alive through God actively sustaining their existence. Hence, without God’s activity or support, people would perish or cease to exist. If this is true, it raises moral issues about eternal punishment in hell – what sort of god would actively keep people alive so he can punish them for eternity with no hope of redemption? This god seems quite different from the benevolent loving christian god.

11. Unbalanced Contrast. We traditionally associate heaven with grace, mercy & love, and hell with justice & punishment. However, these aren’t accurate opposites – they are an unbalanced contrast.
It seems more appropriate to contrast justice with punishment (ie heaven = justice, hell = punishment), yet we believe that none will enter heaven because they justly deserve it on their own merit. Hence heaven does not equate to justice, as we don’t deserve it.
Another apparently appropriate contrast is grace, mercy & love contrasted with absence of these attributes. Yet this is also problematic, as hell does not easily equate to an absence of grace, mercy & love – how can God cease to be grace-giving, merciful & loving?

12. A Less-Than-Human Standard of Love. The traditional view of hell makes God’s love less than the expected standard for humans on earth. Great love is laying down your life for a friend (Jn 15:13). Parents are expected to lay down their lives for their children. Parents are expected to forgive, and keep forgiving & being reconciled to their children. When does it stop? The best form of parental love is expected to endure while there is life – we hope for & expect parents, at the end of their lives, still being reconciled to their children. Yet the traditional view of hell implies that god’s love & the potential reconciliation for individuals ends – that there comes a time (death) where god effectively says “That’s it – you no longer have any chance of being forgiven”. This seems less than the best human standard of love.

13. The Good News Doesn’t Look So Good – Overall, when these issues are considered, the traditional view of hell paints a picture of God, salvation & punishment that doesn’t seem like ‘good news’. Belief in eternal punishment seems a serious detriment to the entire message of salvation – it turns the “Good News” into bad news. Even when people turn to Jesus, it may not be as much to embrace His loving gift as to avoid what they believe is the only other alternative. This significantly affects the way many view the Almighty God and causes countless others to doubt the reliability of the Gospel.

Faced with these problems and questions, some other questions arise –
– Has eternal suffering in hell been the only view in historical Christianity? Or have there been strands of other views that have run through history, but have been obscured by the dominant view?
– How much has the traditional view been influenced by pagan traditions[1], teutonic mythology (In Norse mythology, Hel is the name of the Norse underworld & its ruler[2]), Tertullian (200AD), Dante (a 13th Century Italian poet)
– Are their any scripturally-valid alternatives? If so, what are they? What problems do they solve? What new problems do they raise?
– How do we resolve these questions and issues? Do we need to re-read the scriptures with fresh eyes – with as few presuppositions as possible? If there is apparent conflict between our understanding of the nature & character of God and our interpretation of some scriptures, do we resolve it, or do we leave it unanswered or in tension? Do we adjust our view of God to conform to our interpretation of some scriptures? Or do we seek to interpret those scriptures in the light of our understanding of God?
– Do we dare consider & talk about these issues? If so, how do we do so wisely and safely?

As the dominant view of hell has been dominant in Christian tradition for many hundreds of years, and has been advocated by many of our traditional theological heroes, if one is to review this doctrine, it seems wise to do so carefully and prayerfully. However, in my view, the traditional doctrine of hell raises so many questions and problems, it is essential that it be reconsidered.

What is ‘essential’ for a church?

A few weeks ago, I raised the question in this email “”what are the Biblical essentials for a church?
As part of figuring out what these biblical essentials are, I suggested considering 3 levels
Biblical essentials (you must have these to have a ‘church’, & they all have sound biblical basis)
Very important things (but not essential)
Other helpful things

There wasn’t much response to this question …. I guess there are a few possible reasons for this, including –
It is obvious – all Christian leaders (& especially all ministers) know what the biblical essentials are – so the question is unnecessary?
It is difficult, & unclear – and there don’t seem to be many (or any?) essentials.
We’re busy – someone else can figure the answer to this out (a good reason)

Of these, I don’t think #1 is correct (unfortunately). The others (#2 & #3) seem to be the reason.

I’m still fascinated that there is not common agreement, or clear teaching, on what the biblical essentials for a church are. It seems bizarre that ‘we’ pour all this time, energy & $$$$$ into creating/building/growing churches, and we have thousands of highly-trained professional ministers (in NZ alone) who preach wonderful sermons every week and work really hard trying to create a great church, yet there is not clear understanding of the essential biblical ingredients for a church. And, there is no common agreement among ministers about what these biblical essentials are. Am I the only one, or do others find this strange & disturbing?

I wonder if one reason for this (maybe the main reason) is that there is a big difference between the ‘biblical essentials’, and the things ministers consider essential or very important to keep their church running & give it any hope of success. Pragmatism becomes the guide – it is easier & more expedient for a minister to teach more widely about the things they consider important for their church. Thus, in many churches you will find relatively clear specific teaching on issues that the leader thinks is important & which support what they are trying to achieve, even if these have little biblical basis. For example, this is seen in some Pentecostal (& other churches) teaching on things like tithing, covering, alignment, and ‘building the house’.

For other churches, church tradition is used to decide or reinforce what is essential in a church – hence ministers, sacraments, buildings, elders, sermons, worship etc are perceived as being essential. Unfortunately, the church isn’t what it should be or could be (either historically or currently), or what we hope it will be, and if we keep doing the same-old-thing, we will get the same-old-results. This might be sufficient for some churches to survive, or even grow slightly (when they become the popular church & christian-consumers swap churches to join them), but it isn’t enough – the church isn’t having a major impact on the world.

So what are the ‘biblical essentials’ etc for a church? Some of the responses I received are listed here –

From BM
1) Essentials: Two or more followers of Jesus who commit themselves to one another for mutual encouragement and mission.
2) Very important things: Fellowship, prayer, fasting, reading of scripture, healing, deliverance, evangelism, pastoral care, eldership, friendship, discipleship.
3) Other helpful things: Christian literature, church history, study aids, musical instruments, doctrine, theology, core values.

From DC

  • ordained ministers -Not greatly important (anyone who is called of God can lead. A church may not ordain them because they disagree with God, just like they might choose to ordain people God disagrees with)
  • weekly meetings – Reasonably important – fellowship is good.
  • Sunday meetings – Not even remotely important.
  • corporate sung worship – Nice, Biblically it was done often (well, the singing of hymns together, not necessarily “worship”), great to do. But not sure that it rates as “important”. In fact, I think many of the Biblical references are “They sung a hymn” and it’s left at that.
  • sermons – A time for people to learn and hear the word is important. Not sure that a sermon is important in itself though. A discussion can do sometimes do as much as and I expect can often do a lot more than a sermon. I could be wrong of course.
  • leadership structure – Some structure is important.
  • buildings – Only important when the weather is bad. And then, anything with a roof and walls is suitable so long as you have the right to use it. Can be someone’s garden shed……. What matters is being there together for the service of the Lord.
  • communion – Biblically important.

The overall conclusion seems to be that there are virtually no biblical essentials for a church, other than it being two or more Jesus-followers relating together in an interconnected way so they function as a body.

I read elsewhere that it changes our perspective if we switch from saying ‘the church is the body of Christ’ to say ‘the body of Christ is the church’. With this perspective, we start with the ‘body’, which is some Jesus-followers who are connected together if a functional/organic/beneficial way, and then call this body (& other similar bodies around it) the church. (rather than calling religious organizations ‘the church’)

Maybe things would be simpler if we eliminated the ‘church’ word from our vocabulary, and talked about things like being a Jesus-follower, being a functioning part of a ‘body’, how to apply the ‘one-another’ scriptures etc.
Eliminating the ‘church’ word shouldn’t be a problem – because it isn’t a specific biblical word (ie it has Latin roots, not Greek), & we use it ambiguously (I can count a dozen different ways we use this word) – but this is probably another article waiting to be written.

David Allis

Preaching Act 3

by David Allis
Here is the 3rd ‘Act’ in the discussion (debate) about preaching which has been appearing in the NZ Baptist magazine.
Act 1 was a shortened version of my article ‘The Problem With Preaching’ which was published in the July magazine.
Act 2 was 3 responses from Baptist lecturers, plus a few critical letters in the August magazine.
Act 3 is my response to their responses, published in the September magazine hot off the press…. here is the full response – the last 2 paragraphs don’t appear in the NZ Baptist version.

David Allis

I’m impressed by the way NZ Baptists welcome healthy discussion and debate, in order to become more effective in today’s world. My article ‘The Problem with Preaching’ prompted strong response and much discussion. Raising challenging questions about preaching is rather like waving a red rag to a sacred cow. The responses in last month’s Baptist from Ian Kemp, David Richmond & Paul Windsor were gracious and thoughtful, yet somewhat unconvincing.

In response, I need to clarify some aspects of my original article. In critiquing preaching, I focussed on the specific form of preaching commonly used in modern western churches – monologue preaching to a church congregation. Some people seem to raise this form of preaching onto a ‘pedestal’ above other forms of communication, seeing it as Biblical, essential and prescriptive for us today and presumably for all churches of all times. This perspective effectively raises this form of preaching to a level near baptism and prayer. It is regarded as a spiritual mystery beyond question.

This view seems evident in last month’s responses through phrases like “the sermon … is the voice of God to be obeyed”, “the high calling of the preacher”, “the divine encounter in the preaching” and “preaching is a spiritual gift and a God-given vocation”.

I find no convincing evidence of this form of monologue preaching to a church congregation visible in the NT – hence my statement that this form of preaching is extra-biblical (I didn’t say or imply that it is un-biblical or necessarily wrong). Even if examples of this form of preaching are perceived in the NT (eg 2 Tim 4), these examples don’t make preaching prescriptive or essential for all churches at all times.

In my original article, I attempted to differentiate the form of preaching we practice in churches today from what is seen in the NT. The key point is that there is no essential identifiable difference between the wide variety of communication forms seen in the NT, including preaching and teaching. As Paul Windsor points out with his reference to 34 different words and overlapping circles, the concepts overlap.

Unfortunately many people see the ‘preach’ words, which appear about 140 times in an English NT, and assume that this ‘preaching’ they read of is the same form as the preaching they hear in church today, and hence that the form of preaching that occurs in their church has a strong (essential) biblical basis and we have to keep doing it. They see preaching as a specific God-given form of communication, and its effectiveness shouldn’t be questioned.

As Christians, including those exercising leadership, we need to communicate the messages of Jesus and His kingdom to all people, including those outside or on the edge of the kingdom, and those within. A wide variety of forms of communication are available. Some of these forms are clearly visible in the NT, others might be implied, and others are definitely not seen in the Bible (eg emails, Denominational newspapers). These communication forms are not distinct, but rather they overlap. They include teaching (to large groups, small groups and individuals), dialogue, discussion, debate, evangelistic preaching, preaching to church congregations, and questions and answers. None of these forms is inherently on a pedestal above the others. None of these forms is ‘biblical & normative & inherently spiritual’ – ie ‘it is in the Bible and we have to do it and it is a communication form that is inherently more spiritual than other forms’. All of these communication forms can be either effective or ineffective, depending partly on how they are implemented and whether the form & content are relevant for the recipients. Sometimes these forms of communication impart some sort of spiritual life, renewal, revelation, insight, inspiration or encounter – but this is not automatically inherent in any of the forms. This spiritual impartation is more likely to occur when other factors are involved, including prayer, study, good presentation, accurate Biblical interpretation, and people having expectations. On occasions, the form chosen is inappropriate or the communication is poor, yet God chooses to ‘move’ anyway.

Communication is essential. I am not calling for preaching to be abandoned. Nor am I saying that any other form of communication is always better than a sermon. A monologue sermon to the congregation on Sundays is one form of communication. It should be more accurately described as ‘teaching’, ‘inspiration’, ‘thought-for-the-day’, ‘reflection’, or ‘motivational talk’, depending on its intention and characteristics. Monologue preaching might even be the best communication form in a particular situation – preaching has historically been very effective in many situations. However, we have a wide range of equally valid forms of communication available. If we understand their strengths and weaknesses, become proficient in their use, and evaluate their effectiveness, we will become better communicators.

Throughout much of church history, monologue sermons have been a predominant form of communication. There are many historical and sociological reasons for this reliance on sermons. There are also many spiritual, pragmatic and educational reasons for questioning the effectiveness of monologue preaching in our society. These include that it is often ineffective, expensive, can limit learning, discussion and debate, foster biblical illiteracy, and disempower people. Monologues silence the voice of the people. Educational studies repeatedly demonstrate that people learn more through interactive teaching and self-learning. Rather than just trying to pass on information, we should be creating life-long spiritual learners.

David Richmond suggests that if people can’t feed themselves, we need to keep feeding them. In contrast, I’m convinced that for normal healthy people, we should stop spoon feeding them, let them get hungry and then they will become motivated to learn to feed themselves. They might even learn to how to cook, plan their own menu, and begin teaching others to feed themselves.

Its no surprise to hear ministers defending preaching. Professional ministers usually love preaching and are paid to do it. Preaching is typically part of the ‘package’ of this form of church leadership. A minister questioning preaching and other aspects of professional ministry is like the proverbial person who saws off the branch they are sitting on. It is as rare as beef farmers promoting vegetarianism.

I told my children that I’ve invented a new school – it has only one class with hundreds of students aged from 5 to 18. They meet for one half-hour class each week, where a quality teacher gives an amazing non-interactive lecture to the class. Students never graduate from the class. The 18 year-olds, who have been hearing these lectures for 13 years, stay in this class with more new entrants for the rest of their lives. The only way to graduate is to become the lecturer or die. My children say this school is stupid and will never work. I agree … but it’s what we do in churches … let’s look for good alternatives.

Where Is It?

By David Allis

“Where is it? If a new thing is happening, why can’t we see it? If these new models or wineskins of church are so great, why aren’t they strong and visible now?”  A friend involved in leadership of a ‘normal’ church regularly throws these questions at me. Other leaders raise the same issue in the form of a statement “when you have a church of a thousand people and are seeing hundreds saved every year, then you can critique current church structures.”

For myself, and other proponents of alternative ways of extending God’s kingdom, including house churches, organic churches, and truly missional churches, these questions are often raised by defenders of the status quo – by leaders within structured churches, as they look outside the domain of organised Christianity at the alternative forms of ‘church’ being discussed and attempted. “If what you’re proposing is so great, where is it? Why can’t we see it? Why isn’t it growing rapidly?” 

These appear to be good questions, at least from the perspective of those who ask them. At a surface level, they are disturbing. Yet when I reflect more deeply, I can sense reasons why growth would be slow, and why the results might not be very visible. And at an even deeper level, there is a sense that they aren’t the right questions – they are questions being asked from a framework that is becoming increasingly irrelevant as the world changes.

Here are some of my reflections in response to these questions, taken from a New Zealand perspective. For ease of communication, I refer to it as ‘new models’ – however, even the concept of what is emerging being ‘models’ is language that belongs in a different paradigm – maybe it would be better for us to talk of experiments or communities.

Reasons why growth might be slow for new models

–          Slow Growth is Normal. Any new model, starting from virtually no people & resources, will be slow to grow.  Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity p6) estimates that Christianity grew at 3.4% per year for the first few centuries. Hence, anything new that starts with small numbers and grows at only a few percent per year, will take a long time to become large.

–          The Existing Models aren’t Growing. Overall, the existing structured church models aren;t growing. Although there are a few exceptions and some structured churches generate 5-10% conversion growth pa, generally changes in church numbers are just transfers between churches (like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic). Hence, even if the new models aren’t growing, that is no different from the structured model. As my wife Margaret said “Even if it doesn’t work, you can choose either the expensive version that doesn’t work (existing church), or the cheap version that doesn’t work (new models)”. We prefer the cheap version so we can use our time and money to serve the poor and wider community, rather than wasting it on church buildings, staff & programs that aren’t working. (Typical structured churches spend at least 90% of their time and money on providing services for the church members).

–          The Existing Models are the Norm. The existing church models are the norm, and people (both churched & unchurched alike) think this is the only way to do church. Hence, alternative models are only credible either with people who have thought through and question or reject the current models, or with new converts, (as long as the converts aren’t drawn into structured church models because most church-goers they meet think they are the only way).

–          The Existing Model Drains Resources. The existing institutional church is large & drains resources from the Christian community, particularly people’s time and energy. It is difficult for a new small tree to grow under the shade of a large tree, as the large tree drains the nourishment from the ground & also shades the light.

–          Exhaustion.  People who leave the organised church structure are often exhausted physically, spiritually, economically & emotionally.  Because of this, they often ‘take a break’ from church activities, and usually don’t quickly throw themselves into making alternative church models work.

Reasons why a new model might not be very visible

–          Invisible by Nature. The newer unstructured models are by nature invisible, as they don’t have professional staff, buildings, big meetings, programs and advertising. Hence, much of what happens in the new models will never be visible, or we will only get glimpses of it.

–          Kingdom not Church. The new modes are usually focussed on the kingdom, rather than on building a visible local church. Hence the activity is spread out everywhere, rather than being centred in a few visible places.

–          No Advertising.  Structured churches often get a lot of profile from relatively small things they do in the community, as part of their self-promotion. In contrast, community and kingdom activities undertaken by individuals or unstructured groups of Christians are usually not advertised, and hence are relatively invisible.

–          Different Language. The new models of church speak a different language.  Structured churches often talk in terms of numbers saved and numbers in their church. However, for people in the newer models who might, in the words of Brian McLaren, ‘count conversations rather than conversions’, the language used is different. Hence, the questions asked from a structured-church perspective are often meaningless questions in irrelevant language when viewed from an alternative paradigm.

Indicators that something is out there now

–          Christians Are Leaving the Current Church. In New Zealand, there are more Christians outside the church than in it. I used to guess that half of the people in NZ who call themselves Christians aren’t in churches. Recently, I saw some research that indicates it is much higher than this. In a Massey University survey of more than 1000 people, the results indicated that out of every 6 people, 1 was actively involved in a church (16%), 1 was linked to a church but not active, 2 had previously been in a church but were no longer part of it, & 2 had no previous church association.  This indicates that in NZ, for ever one person active in a church, there are two ex-church people (plus 1 person linked but inactive). Hence, there are more Christians outside the church, than are active within it.

–          Models Increasing.  There is an increasing variety of new models for churches, including ‘emergent’ churches & house churches. Also, an increasing number of structured churches are trying new things to try to bring new life & growth. These are indicators that people are dissatisfied with the status quo, and are looking to establish something new.

–          Things are Happening Elsewhere.  In other parts of the world, alternative models are apparently succeeding. This is seen in the house churches in China, house churches in India, house churches and organic churches in the USA etc.

Many people are trying a variety of alternative ways to ‘be church’ and extend the kingdom. Some of the experiments will be unsuccessful, and others might succeed – it is worth trying.  As a friend once said “Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll still do it”. There are good reasons for trying new ways of extending God’s kingdom, especially if they are less costly, freeing our resources to serve the wider community.

More About Preaching

An excerpt from “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom

Following on the theme of the ‘Problem of Preaching’, & my article on preaching in July’s NZ Baptist, here is an excerpt from the book “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom.  Mark is now the principal of BCNZ (Bible College of NZ) here in Auckland.  His book “Reframing Paul” (IVP, 2000) and is a revised form of his Ph.D. thesis.  When I wrote “The Problem With Preaching”, I didn’t know anyone else who had arrived at similar conclusions (apart from a few odd articles on the internet).  It was encouraging to come across a biblical scholar who has reached similar conclusions.

In “Reframing Paul”, Mark’s basic contention is that what Paul opposed is what we embrace – that our systems of preaching, ordination, and authority look more like the Greco-Roman world than they do like Paul and his radical communities of grace. Modern Reformed-Evangelicalism has never left Rome at this point; it is still about authority residing in structures, and validated through the preaching of the ordained or those they knight for the occasion. “This book is for those who wonder why people leave churches for alternative spiritual paths – and may even be tempted to do so themselves. More than anything, it is for those who wonder what’s gone wrong and want to learn from Paul how the church can be an attractive community of transforming grace and conversation.” (from the dust cover)   If you want to learn more, and have your thinking stretched, I recommend you get a copy to read & work through.

Also on the topic of recommended books, I want to re-recommend the “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy by Brian McLaren.  These books, written as novel-like philosophical dialogue, are GREAT. We recently loaned copies of the first of these books, “A New Kind of Christian”, to two friends – both mature, intelligent Christians who have been involved in ‘professional Christian ministry’ …. They both loved the book, and found it helped fit some of the pieces of the puzzle together for them.

And a personal update – our new NZ educational games (Kiwi Quiz & Time Zone) are selling well. Kiwi Quiz has become very popular as a game, and as an educational resource – it is being used in about 400 NZ schools.

Whitcoulls has been promoting Kiwi Quiz over the last month, and have a trial of Time Zone in their top 20 stores (if you’re looking for a game or a gift for someone … get a copy of Time Zone from a Whitcoulls store …. If they sell enough, they will expand it into their other 50 stores in NZ  J ).  Paper Plus are also interested in stocking Kiwi Quiz.

I’m currently working on the Australian version of Time Zone …. Just need to find an intelligent Australian with a knowledge of Oz history to help review the 250 events I’m choosing for the game……

Here is the excerpt from “Reframing Paul”  …. happy reading.


David Allis



“I once took a seminary class titled “Ministry of the Word” where we were taught the supposed biblical basis of preaching. We were given a list of Greek words for various speech acts used in the New testament. Our group task was to study preaching from these words: preaching as keryxo; preaching as euangelizomai, and so forth. We looked up the references and synthesized our findings as “A New Testament Theology of Preaching.”

It occurred to a friend and me that the exercise was flawed because we had assumed the conventions of preaching, then sought to validate these conventions with texts. But the group would hear no detraction. Apart from our failure to grasp Paul’s repudiation of sophistry among the Corinthians, it never occurred to the group that there is absolutely no evidence for anything like our conventions of preaching in the NT – no expository talks, no pulpits, no ordination, no teaching of eloquence. The evidence does not point to the centrality of a monologue in the early gatherings, let along the conventions of preaching as we have known them for two millennia.

Back in the main group, the professor defended the method. The centrepiece for his argument was the need for authority: “The Word must be ministered with authority,” and this implied the conventions of preaching. My friend and I asked if the Word is always to be delivered with authority. “Yes,” came the ready answer. “Even in Bible study groups?” we asked. “Emphatically yes,” our professor replied. “Then why don’t we insist on the same conventions on Tuesday nights as we do on Sunday mornings?” we responded. “Because Sunday is church.” the professor replied, somewhat less enthusiastically. The rejoinder was obvious, “And what in the NT leads us to distinguish Sunday mornings from Tuesday nights as though one were ‘real church’ and the other something else? If the distinction is simply our construct, why do we persist with it? If the conventions of preaching are unnecessary on Tuesdays, and if the Bible study leader still ministers the Word with authority, then why do we insist on the conventions for Sundays?”

The argument was coming full circle. The case for preaching starts and finishes by presuming preaching, ordination and church as we know them. Without them control, prestige and power lose their footing. The sermon and the service prop up the conventions of eloquence and authority. No sermon, no church service. No church service, no demarcations of authority and control. But church in the evangelical system is about order and control. Leaders must retain the ‘central’ ministries. At the very center is preaching. Therefore preaching must remain the domain of the ordained and those whom they acknowledge. Eloquence and erudition must demarcate sermon from conversation, ordained from laity, truth from mere opinion.

Two years later the conversation resumed with the same professor, this time on the second fairway. “You were right.” he admitted. “Church and preaching as we know it is very little like what happened in the NT.”

“Why then,” I asked, “do we keep teaching this stuff? Most of your students do not see the discrepancy. How will this ever change?”

His answer was as telling as it was unconvincing: “It was my generation’s work to lay out the biblical theology. It is yours to change the system.””

(p.206 – 207)

The Problem With Preaching

By David Allis   September 2006

edited by NZ Baptist editor

Preaching is a big problem. After many years of preaching, listening to sermons, studying the scriptures, participating in church leadership and studying the Western church (in New Zealand), I’m becoming convinced that preaching often does more harm than good.

Preaching as it is practised 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 Old Testament times also. It is one of the bastions of church tradition. In most churches, two central and indispensable elements are preaching and worship (commonly referred to as singing/music) during Sunday church meetings.

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 and 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 1000 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 and perpetuate the sermon concept, and there is rarely any investigation or justification of its legitimacy.

So what are the problems with preaching?

1. Preaching is Extra-Biblical

Preaching as it is practised in churches today (and in the past) has little biblical basis. In the New Testament, preaching was always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those who were 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.

Most people sitting in churches today 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. The sermon as traditionally practised, 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.


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 visual aids, the monologue remains one of the least effective forms of communication.

3. Preaching limits learning, discussion and debate

Preaching usually allows no opportunity for questions or discussion. It is rare for a church to allow interaction during a sermon, or questions and discussion time afterwards. Sermons are designed to be listened to, not interacted with. Sermons and 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.


4. Preaching doesn’t usually change lives

Although effective, impassioned preaching is occasionally able to stir some hearts and bring some response, this is quite rare. Preaching rarely brings long term change in individual 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 and would number on one hand those sermons which had a significant impact on their lives.

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. 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. 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 three 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.  Some of the unfortunate implications of centreing preaching on one trained professional religious person are:

• It implies that one person hears from God and mediates to everyone else.

• It creates a dependence on being fed by the necessary combination of professional ordained ministers plus theological training plus eloquent preaching.

• The Christian message is filtered through one person, the preacher, and his one set of experiences, one personality, one mind, and one limited life experience.

• 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.

• 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).


8. Preaching has misleading implications

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

• It implies that God is effectively saying the same thing to everyone – which is contained in the sermon.

• It implies that church members will always need to hear more sermons. If sermons are intended to train people for mission, the implication is that they will never be fully trained and 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 and 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 and preparing for their weekly sermon. Taking New Zealand with its 3500 churches as an example: 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.

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 and 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 and 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 and 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.

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 and 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.

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:

1. A cultural shift away from passive instruction to participatory learning, from paternalism to partnership, from monologue to dialogue, from instruction to interaction.

2.  A societal shift away from an integrated world to a world where networks overlap, a shift away from simplicity to complexity. 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.

3. A media shift away from linear to non-linear methods of conveying information, from logical argument to pick ‘n’ mix learning. 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.

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:

• We’ve been conditioned to believe that preaching is an essential part of “church”.

• 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 and usually do it well. It is difficult for a minister to question an essential part of the job they are employed to do.

• 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?

A better and 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.

Although there are some potential dangers in removing preaching, it is worth the risk.  They are:

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 and 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.


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 and sermon words, and 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 from –

• monologue to dialogue

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

• fixed time-frame to variable timeframes

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

• no-questioning to many-questions

• a silent audience to a verbally involved class

3. Changing our content. An important question is whether the content people need to learn is infinite, and hence people need sermons/teaching for the rest of their lives, or finite, which implies they don’t need never-ending teaching. 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 –

• from one-sermon-for-all to different teaching for different levels of discipleship

• from one-topic-for-all to different topics for different groups

• from inspired topics to planned teaching

• from people need a sermon each week for the rest of their lives to people can “graduate”, having learnt the essential things (they might still have occasional in-service training)


David Allis has a theology degree, and was involved in full-time Christian work for 16 years, including missions work in Calcutta, and running a Bible College in Auckland. Two years ago, he transitioned from leadership in a large city church, to joining with wife Margaret in developing a missional church in their home and attempting to extend the kingdom in their community. They network with other house churches in New Zealand (www.edgenet.org.nz).

The Church has Had its Day

Shorter version from NZ Baptist Magazine

David Allis, a member of the Apostolic Church movement, was a guest speaker at last November’s Baptist Assembly in Nelson. He was invited to argue the affirmative in a moot entitled, The Church Has Had its Day. The following is an edited version of a paper he made available to Assembly delegates after the debate…

It is obvious that at a higher level this moot can never be true.  The universal church, consisting of the redeemed from all ages, both alive and dead, certainly can never have “had its day.” The New Testament describes the Church as the body of Christ with Christ as its head. It would be dangerous to argue that Christ has been unsuccessful with his own body.

But if we narrow the discussion to the Church that we are part of, and are investing our time, energy, prayers, money and lives into then perhaps we have the basis for some debate.

Our part of the New Zealand Church is an evangelical, Bible-believing, modern, Western, organised, institutional church visible through its buildings, ministers and services based on preaching and worship. So before I launch into any critique I want to affirm the hard working godly and committed members and ministers. Any critique of our Church is not because of their lack of dedication, hard work, commitment and prayer.

Neither am I a critic throwing rocks from the outside. I am personally committed to extending God’s Kingdom and helping establish the Church as He would have it in New Zealand today.

It is also important for individual Christians to be a part of a Christian community so as to encourage each other, build accountable relationships and gather together for mutual encouragement. For the sake of God’s Kingdom it’s important for Christians to be connected with other parts of the “body.”

But, as we do with any enterprise that absorbs huge amounts of time and money, we need to honestly review the effectiveness of the  “organised Church.”  Is our Church working as well as it could or should be?

I want to argue three reasons why the modern New Zealand evangelical, organised, minister and Sunday service-centred Church is past its best.

1. It isn’t working.

2. It isn’t Biblical.

3. It is actually harmful.

1. Our Church is not working/effective

a). Our Church is not growing:

• A few are growing rapidly at 5%, 10% or 20% a year but most struggle to remain static and many are in decline.

• The successful “mega-churches” are few and far between, usually dependent on a unique leader, and can’t easily be duplicated.

• For every successful mega church there are hundreds of less successful wannabe mega-churches which would love to grow, but don’t.

• Many churches that appear to be growing are doing so through transfer growth – at the expense of other churches.

• New immigrants are creating an artificial impression that the Church is not declining

• Overall, census data shows the proportion of New Zealand’s population in the main denominations has decreased steadily over the past 50 years, and they now have only 45-90% of the proportion of New Zealand’s population they had in 1956.

• The Apostolic Church movement, of which I am part, grew in the late 1980s and mid 1990s but has since declined to the same number of members as it had in 1993.

• The Baptist denomination’s numbers are static and when adjusted to allow for New Zealand’s population growth since 1956, are in slight decline.

• In a typical year both the Apostolic and Baptist Churches see a third of their churches grow and the other two thirds remain static or decline

• By contrast, Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem religions have shown considerable growth in New Zealand since 1971.

• Many denominations have a huge backdoor. Baptist churches, for example, are baptising the equivalent of nearly 10% of adult church members each year, yet there is little overall growth in the denomination.

b). Our Church isn’t what we hope/dream it should be.

We dream of churches with lots of people getting saved, growing and being discipled, of queues at the door on Sundays, overflowing offering bags and so many volunteers ministries have waiting lists.

The reality is that the local church of 70 adults 10 years ago is still the local church of about 70 adults. In 10 years of hard work, prayer, programmes, and planning there has been little overall change.

But it could be worse. We are happy our church hasn’t closed, or is in rapid decline. It might not be growing but at least it’s not falling apart!

c). Our church isn’t producing obedient disciples.

Overall, Christians are little different from their neighbours.

Statistics from American sources show the divorce rate among church attendees in the United States is much the same as among non-attendees while the rate of pre-marital and extra-marital sex is about the same in both groups. New Zealand church-goers may be different in some of these areas, but are we different enough to stand out?

One area of difference is the “Christian Vote.” About 20% of the New Zealand population attends church monthly, yet Christians are ignored politically while much smaller groups have greater political influence. Politicians believe there is no unified Christian vote in New Zealand and that Christians typically vote the same way as the rest of society.

d). There is a leadership crisis in our Church

There is an overall shortage of ministers in most New Zealand denominations, along with a high level of burn-out and disillusionment. Statistics in the United States show 80% of American pastors and their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role; 80% of Bible School and seminary graduates who enter ministry will leave within five years; 70% of pastors battle with depression; 50% are so discouraged they would leave the profession if they could but have no other way of making a living; 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked and wish they could choose another profession.

The situation in New Zealand may not be as extreme, but we probably face similar problems.

e). There is a membership crisis in our Church

In New Zealand there is a big gap between the number of people who call themselves Christian and the number that are committed to local churches. In December 2004 a NZ Herald poll of 1000 New Zealanders showed that 67.7% of those polled said they believed in God but only 20.6% said they often attended a church. The 2001 Census shows just under 60% of New Zealanders claiming to be Christian.

Of the 60% who call themselves Christians, less than one third are regular church attendees while the rest are outside the normal church. A Massey University ISSP study of 1244 people in 2005 shows that only 37% of New Zealanders have never belonged to a church and that while 16.5% of New Zealanders are active church members, almost three times as many (44.8%) have current or previous church links but now aren’t actively involved.

f). Society is changing and our Church is being left behind.

Historically, the Church has taken the lead in areas such as the value of human life, education, and the abolition of slavery. Now we are behind in other important areas we should be leading, such as gender equality, ecology and the “green” movement, world justice and the elimination of poverty.

We find it difficult to distinguish the modernist aspects of our current church values and culture from those that are an essential part of Christianity.

g). Our Church is not impacting society, either in the local community or wider society.

Most (but certainly not all) churches are isolated from their local community and have very little effect on that community. Most communities wouldn’t notice if the church closed. Some are valued as venues for weddings and funerals but are otherwise not seen as important.

Yet, the Church should not just be different from society, it should be way out in front.

2. Our Church isn’t biblical

Our church has some theology, values, structures and practices that don’t reflect New Testament priorities.

a). We don’t love the poor.

The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor, yet rich Western Christians and churches control trillions of dollars in assets and income, while 850 million people, including 200 million Christians, are currently starving.

UN studies show $US70-80 billion a year would provide essential health care and education for all the world’s poor. If Western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve the problem totally.

We rich Christians say we love people, and that the Church is the body of Christ, yet we do very little for the poor.  It is sobering to reflect on how much we would do to save our own child’s life, and how little we do to save the life of other children.

b). We don’t really care about world mission.

Despite Christ’s command to evangelise, two thirds of all people from AD30 to the present day have never heard of his name.

Christians spend only a relatively small amount each year on mission to the non-Christian, non-evangelised world – $250 million annually is spent on these 38 countries and 1.6 billion people. By contrast, Western churches spend $810 million a year on  annual audits of churches and agencies, $16 billion of church funds is embezzled each year with only about 5% of those responsible being caught, $8 billion a year is spent by Christians worldwide travelling to over 500 conferences to talk about missions, the combined personal income of church members is $15 trillion a year while each member spends on average  $7.80 a year on foreign missions or about one one-thousandth of their income.

We are unfocused and ineffective with world mission, with the total cost of Christian outreach averaging $330,000 for each and every newly baptised person.

c). We have built a church model centred on the extra-biblical – particularly professional ministers and Sunday meetings focused on corporate-sung-worship and sermons.

Preaching in the Bible is always in the context of evangelism, whereas we typically preach to the converted (week after week for the rest of their lives). The preaching in Western churches is extra-biblical and is typically either teaching or a pep talk.

One of the main reasons we gather on a Sunday is for corporate worship, yet corporate sung worship led from the front is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.

We say we believe in the “priesthood of all believers” but typically centre our churches on a paid (or volunteer) professional minister or leader.

Many churches say they are “purpose driven” yet in practice they are usually quite programme orientated.

d). We offer theology that is over-simplified and doesn’t accurately reflect Biblical values.

We offer “cheap” salvation which results in untransformed lives. This salvation appears like a “get into heaven free” opportunity, rather than an encounter with the living God who calls us to radical discipleship.

We focus on narrow areas of sin such as those relating to sexuality and honesty but neglect other important ones such as pride, gluttony, greed and materialism

3. Our church is harmful for the Kingdom

The Church is often focused on building itself, rather than building the Kingdom.

a). We value our local church more than the Kingdom.

Where does the first of our money get spent? It typically goes towards operating a Sunday service, including the costs of buildings, ministers, sermon preparation and music equipment. Only a small proportion of the income is spent on Kingdom activities outside the local church.

Our model of church is expensive with a huge financial cost involved in operating organised churches in the Western world. For New Zealand Baptists the cost per church attendee is about $750 income a year, plus $10,000 capital per attendee.

As well as financial cost, there is a huge cost in volunteer time in operating the normal organised church in New Zealand. Millions of hours are given to running the church and its programmes each year.

We waste our resources on maintaining church for Christian consumers.

Church volunteers’ time is also used predominantly for activities associated with operating the local church, rather than wider Kingdom activities. I estimate that, typically, 90% of a church’s time, energy and finances are spent on maintaining the church for its members.

Society has a poor perception of Christians and the Church and we are known for the wrong issues. For example, in New Zealand we’re more known as the people who are pro-smacking, than we are known as people who love the poor.

b). Our church is harmful for Christians.

It insulates and inoculates Christians, usually keeping them dependent on sermons and church programmes, and leaving them biblically and theologically illiterate or immature.

Our church drains people’s time, energy, vision, finance, enthusiasm, initiative and responsibility. It generally suits “yes” people who fit in and help maintain the status quo.

Because of our structures and practices we disempower and create dependence on Sunday meetings, sung worship, sermons, professional ministers, programmes and buildings.

Church styles foster a brand of consumerism, as we create and adjust programmes to cater for the needs of our members and those we are trying to attract.

Typical church members aren’t discipled, and their lives aren’t radically transformed. We typically “write off” any Christians outside the organised church and think that people only leave because they are “back-sliding” or have unresolved issues. Yet in reality people leave for a wide variety or reasons including spiritual survival and a realisation their church doesn’t accurately reflect biblical priorities.

The New Zealand Church has major problems, yet many church leaders are unable to see these, or are reluctant to face them directly, or are unsure what to do about them. Many church members see these problems and have become uninvolved, problematic, or even left the church.

But pointing out the problems is always easy. Doing something about them is much harder. The challenge facing all of us is how to transform our imperfect church into a church that we and Jesus can be proud of. This can’t be achieved by minor adjustments, or designing new programmes. Major reformation is needed – the sort that would make Martin Luther proud – a reformation of the core values, purpose and methods of the church.

There will not be just one answer, or any on way of “doing” or “being” church in New Zealand. Rather, we need a variety of experiments, models and attempts to be relevant in this changing society.

Some of these will work and others will fail but we need to be committed to honestly evaluating what we are doing, communicating and working together to find relevant solutions, so the Kingdom of God will grow.

• Unabridged copies of this article are available at http://www.edgenet.org.nz/ideasfromedge/thechurchhashaditsday.htm


David Allis is married to Margaret and they have six children. He has a theology degree, and was involved in full-time Christian work for 16 years, including missions work in Calcutta, and running a Bible College in Auckland. Two years ago, he transitioned from leadership in a large city church, to joining with Margaret in developing a missional church in their home and attempting to extend the kingdom in their community. They network with other house churches in New Zealand (www.edgenet.org.nz ), and have started some businesses “to pay the bills and feed our hungry children!”

The Church has had its day…!”

By David Allis

We’ve been asked to debate the moot ‘The church has had its day”, or maybe in product terms the debate would be that the church is ‘past it’s best by date’. With a little bit of thought, it’s obvious that at a higher level, this moot can never be true. The universal church, consisting of all the redeemed from all ages, both alive & dead, certainly can never have ‘had its day’. The NT describes the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head – it would be dangerous to argue that Christ has been unsuccessful with his own body. The NT also refers to the church as the bride of Christ, and no sane person tells the groom that his bride is ugly or unsuccessful or ‘past her best by date’.

But if we narrow the ‘church’ we are discussing down to the church that we are part of, and are investing our time, energy, prayers, finance & lives into, then I believe we have the basis for some debate. So, let’s consider ‘our’ church – ‘our’ part of the NZ church – an evangelical, Bible-believing, modern, western, organized, institutional church that is typically visible through aspects that are obviously of importance to it, church buildings, ministers & church services centred around worship & preaching.

Before stepping into any critique of  ’our’ church, I want to affirm the hard working, godly & committed members & ministers in this church. ’Our’ church is maintained & resourced by wonderful, committed men & women of God, who are working hard, sacrificially, & are doing their best to help build God’s church, & to extend His kingdom.  Any critique of our church is not because of lack of dedication, work, commitment & prayer by the committed members & ministers.

Also, I am personally committed to extending God’s kingdom, and helping establish the church as He would have it be in NZ today. I’m not a critic on the outside throwing rocks at the church – I’m a committed participant inside the church saying “Hey guys, wake up, look around, is our church really working? Let’s take a good look at it and see what changes need to be made.”

Also, I believe it is important for individual Christians to be part of a ‘christian community’, which includes having committed & accountable relationships with other Christians, and gathering together regularly for times of mutual encouragement.  Many Christians in NZ, seeing major problems within the ‘organised church’, have left it.  Unfortunately some of these Christians haven’t found or formed alternative faith communities, and are now living in isolation. For the sake of God’s kingdom, it is important for Christians to be connected with other parts of the ‘body’.

However, we need to look closely at the ‘organised church’.  I am convinced that for our church, as with any enterprise that absorbs huge amounts of time & money, we should honestly review its effectiveness. Is ‘our’ church working as well as it could be or should be? And if it isn’t, let’s face it honestly, & consider what we can do about it, rather than continuing to waste our energy.

I want to argue that our church, the modern NZ evangelical, organized, minister-centric, Sunday-service-centric church is past it’s best by date for 3 primary reasons.

Firstly, it isn’t working

Secondly, it isn’t biblical

Thirdly, it is actually harmful

This might seem extreme, & you may not agree with all of it, & it doesn’t necessarily apply to each and every local congregation, but any glimpses of truth in it are worth reflecting on.

1.      Our Church is not Working/Effective

Overall, Our church in NZ isn’t working – it isn’t growing, it isn’t affecting the local community or society overall, & it isn’t extending the Kingdom of God. Some local churches are working wonderfully, but most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream.

a.      Our church is not growing (it is static or declining)

  • A few churches are growing rapidly, at 5% or 10% or 20% per year

o       But most churches are struggling to remain static, and many churches are declining in numbers

  • A few churches have grown and become ‘successful’ mega churches, and are apparently achieving great things

o       But the mega-churches are few & far between. They are usually dependent on a unique leader, & can’t be duplicated on demand.

o       Most denominations would love to grow mega-churches in major population centres, but they can’t just make them happen ‘on demand’. Mega-churches are dependent on many important factors, and can’t be easily duplicated.

o       For every successful mega-church, there are hundred’s of unsuccessful, wannabe mega-churches – churches which would love to grow & become a mega-church, but won’t ever get there.

o       And surrounding many mega-churches are lots of declining community churches, whose leaders wonder if the mega church is growing through transfer from their declining congregation.

  • Many of the churches that appear to be growing are doing so because of transfer growth – ie they are growing at the ‘expense’ of other churches.
  • New immigrants, particularly from Asia, are also boosting the church population and artificially giving the impression that the church is not declining. These immigrants are often settling in growing ethnically-based congregations.
  • Overall, an annual 5% growth rate for churches would be great – but it doesn’t normally happen.

o       Based on census data, the church in NZ has declined as a % of the NZ population over the past 50 years. Below is a graph of that indicates this – it uses census figures for membership of the main denominations, adjusted NZ’s population growth, and adjusted back to a common starting point of 1 in 1956. (eg a denomination with say 10% of NZers claiming allegiance in 1956, and 12% in 1961 would show as ‘1’ in 1956 & ‘1.2’ in 1961).  This shows that the proportion of NZ’s population in these main denominations has decreased steadily over the past 50 years, and they now only have about 45-90% of the proportion of NZ’s population that they had in 1956. (Note – based on census data, this is only one indicator of what is happening – membership and attendance can be quite different, and the decline in church membership is partly a sociological factor as many people today consider church membership less important than their counterparts 50 years ago.)

o       Other smaller denominations in NZ are typically not growing. For example, the Apostolic Church Movement (which I am part of) experienced good growth in the late 1980’s, and mid 1990’s, but has since declined and now has the same number of members as in 1993.

o       The graph below indicates the relatively static state of the NZ Baptist Denomination These figures, which have been adjusted to allow for NZ’s population growth since 1956, show that overall the Baptists are not quite growing at the rate of NZ’s general population growth.

o       For the Apostolic denomination, in a ‘typical’ year, 1/3rd of it’s churches grow, and the other 2/3rds remain static[i] or decline. This is also true for the Baptist Denomination (in 2005-6, 37% of Baptist churches grew 5% or more.)

o       When growth is considered over a 3 year period, the Apostolic churches normally fit into 4 groups, each consisting of about 25% of the churches – 25% of the churches average at least 5% annual growth, 25% are static, 25% decline more than 5% annually, and 25% are closed or leave the denomination.

o       In contrast, other religions are seeing considerable growth in NZ, as shown on the two graphs below. The first shows the growth of 3 other religions, adjusted for NZ population growth & back to a factor of 1 in 1971. The second graph shows actual numbers for these 3 religious groups & NZ Baptists according to the census. (Note – immigration to NZ is a significant factor in the growth of Buddhism, Islam & Hinduism).

o       Many denominations have a huge backdoor, and there is no relevant research to see what is happening to these Christians – for example, consider the NZ Apostolic & Baptist denominations (note these are chosen because their statistics are recorded and available – there are other NZ denominations with much larger ‘back doors’.)

§         The Apostolic Movement in NZ. In 1993, it had 10800 members. Over the period to 2006, it’s churches reported that there were another 12500 people ‘saved & added to the local churches’. Yet in 2006, there were still only 10800 members in this denomination (ie 10800 + 12500 = 10800).  This implies that there are more ex-Apostolics in NZ (12500 less any that have died or moved overseas) than there are current members of Apostolic churches.

§         NZ Baptists – despite baptizing a good number of adults each year (equivalent to nearly 10% of the number of adult church members), there has been little growth in membership of the NZ Baptist denomination.

  • 1970-2005 à 17300 members + 46000 baptised = 22900 members (40400 died, moved or lost). The overall growth is equivalent to 0.8% per year.
  • 1980-2005 à 19400 members + 34600 baptisms = 22900 members (31100 missing) & 0.7% growth pa
  • 1990-2005 à 23600 members + 18600 baptisms = 22900 members (19300 missing) & 0.2% loss pa

b.      Our church isn’t what we hope/dream it should be (we accept reality because things could be even worse)

  • Most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream they would. There is a big gap between our dreams for Our church, and the reality

o       We dream of churches with lots of people getting ‘saved’, growing & being discipled. We dream of people queuing at the door on Sundays, of offering bags overflowing because everyone is faithfully & generously giving, of having too many volunteers so there is a waiting list to become a children’s ministry worker. We dream of releasing huge resource to mission here in NZ & overseas.

o       The reality is that the local church that was 70 adults 10 years ago, is still about 70 adults. Despite 10 years of hard work, prayer, programs & planning, there has been little overall change.  There are still not enough volunteers and not enough finance. The majority of our church members haven’t added anyone to the church through friendship & personal evangelism in the past 10 years. A few people move in, a few leave, a few born, a few die … but not a lot changes.  We run programs to raise the level of prayer or evangelism or bible reading or discipleship or vision & purpose … & we go ‘yahoo’ … but nothing really changes. In 5 years time, we’ll be teaching the same thing in a different package to the same people ….

o       But it could be much worse, so we accept ‘reality’ as the best we can do. We’re happy that our church isn’t declining rapidly. We’re happy it hasn’t closed. It might not be growing, but at least it isn’t falling apart rapidly.

c.       Our church isn’t producing obedient disciples

  • Overall, Christians are little different from their neighbours. Taking some examples from Ron Sider’s book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”, he quotes George Barna –

o       Divorce rate – effectively no difference between church attendees & non-attendees. In fact, in parts of the ‘Bible Belt’, the divorce rates are 50% above the national average.[ii]

o       Sider also quotes US statistics on sexuality, including pre-marital sex & extra-marital sex – where church-attendees are apparently little different than non-attendees.

o       NZ church-goers may be different in some of these areas from the US, but it is questionable whether we are different enough to stand out.  This is apparent in one simple area – the ‘christian vote’. Despite large numbers of church-attendees in NZ, including up to 20% of the population attending church monthly, Christians are virtually ignored politically.  Much smaller minority groups have much greater political influence than Christians in NZ. Why is this? In NZ, Politicians think that there is no common Christian vote, and that Christians typically vote in similar ways to the rest of society.


d.      There is a leadership crisis in our church

o       ‘Ministry’ is hard work and increasingly complicated.

o       There is a shortage of ministers in most NZ denominations, including Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian & other mainstream denominations.

o       There is a high level of ministers burnout, or ministers leaving ‘ministry’ because they are disillusioned.

o       Here are some statistics from the US regarding the problems for ministers.[iii] These figures are possibly overstated, and the situation in NZ is not as extreme as this, but we probably face similar problems.

§         80 percent of U.S. pastors & their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

§         80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave in the first five years.

§         70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

§         50 percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

§         80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked, and wish they would choose another profession.

e.       There is a membership crisis in our church – the majority of ‘christians’ are uninvolved, or outside the organized church.

  • In NZ, there is a big gap between the number of people who call themselves Christians, and the number that are committed to local churches.
  • About 60% of NZers call themselves Christians

o       A Herald poll of 1000 New Zealanders in December 2004 revealed that 67.7 per cent of people said they believe in God, but only 20.6 per cent said they often attended church.[iv]

o       According to the 2001 NZ census, just under 60% of NZers claimed to be Christian (typically through stating that they are part of a Christian denomination)

  • Church attendance has been consistently estimated at about 20% of the NZ population attending at least 1x/month. These figures have been quite consistent in a variety of surveys over the past 20 years – the results for these are shown in the chart below.
  • Hence, of the 60% of NZers who call themselves Christians, less than 1/3 regularly attend church – 2/3 are outside the normal church. Christian leaders often respond to this by saying that the census figures are incorrect & that many of the people who link themselves to ‘christian’ in the census are only ‘christian’ by association, rather than by belief.
  • According to a Massey University ISSP study of 1244 people in 2005, surveyed on their status of belonging to a church or other religious organization –

o       Belong & participate 16.5%)

o       Belong & don’t participate 15.1%

o       Used to belong 29.7%

o       Never belonged 35.5% (this ties in well with 30% of NZers claiming ‘no religion’ in the 2001 Census)

o       (3.2% didn’t answer)

  • Assuming that these surveys accurately represent the Christian proportions in NZ, they make serious reading –

o       A total of 61.3% of people indicating previous exposure to religion &/or faith (this ties in quite well with the 20% attending church at least 1x/month

o       Of these, 48% (29.7/61.3) are no longer involved, and 25% (15.1/61.3) belong but don’t participate – a total of 73.1% of people with previous Christian allegiance are no longer actively involved in church organisations.

o       This means that only 27% of people (about ¼) with a Christian background are now actively involved in organised church.

f.        Society is changing, & our church is being left behind.

  • Society is changing, but the church is behind

o       Historically, the church led in areas like valuing human life, education, abolition of slavery.  However, we are currently behind in other important areas where we should be leading, such as gender equality, ecology & the ‘green’ movement, world justice & the elimination of poverty

o       Our ‘modern’ church is struggling in an increasingly post-modern society.  We find it difficult to distinguish the modern-ist aspects of our current church values & culture, from those that are essential parts of Christianity.

g.      Our church is not impacting society, either in the local community or wider society

  • Some churches are successfully impacting their community, & extending the Kingdom of God

o       But most churches are isolated from their local community & have very little effect on the community

o       Many communities wouldn’t notice if the local church closed

o       Some churches are valued for their buildings, for use for weddings and funerals, but otherwise are not important to the community

o       In contrast, the church should not just be different from society, but it should be far ahead of the rest of society. “In light of what the New Testament says about the multiethnic character of the church, Christian congregations should be far ahead instead of lagging behind society in the struggle against racism. In light of what the NT says about economic sharing in the one body of Christ, the church should stand out in stunning contrast to the surrounding materialism as Christians give 10, 20, 30 percent and more of their income to do the work of the kingdom, including empowering Christians and others to escape poverty. In light of what the Bible says about sexual purity and marital fidelity, the love and joy in Christian homes where spouses keep their vows for a lifetime should contrast so starkly with the agony in contemporary families that millions of broken persons are attracted to the Savior.”[v]

2.      Our church isn’t biblical

Our church has some theology, values, teaching, structures & practices that don’t reflect the NT priorities.

a.      We don’t love the poor

o       The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor.  This is obvious in passages like Matt 25, James 2:1-7

o       Yet we are rich Christians who are part of a rich church. The rich western Christians & churches control trillions of dollars in assets and income, while 850 million people, including 200m Christians are currently starving[vi].

o       1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty, trying to survive on less than $1US per day.[vii] In addition to these, another 1.6 billion are very poor, living on less than $2US/day.

o       50% of people in the world earn less than $3.50NZ/day ($1300pa).[viii]  This is the price of a cup of coffee in NZ – yet there are 3 billion people in the world who try to survive on that same amount each day.

o       UN studies show that $70-80b US per year would be enough to provide essential health care & education for all the poor in the world.[ix] If western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve this problem totally.

o       30,000 children will die today from hunger & preventable diseases.[x] Another 30,000 will die tomorrow, and the day after. This is 10 million children per year – or 21 children dying needlessly each minute – a few dollars used wisely would save their lives. We rich Christians say we love people, and that the church is the body and bride of Christ, yet we do very little for the poor. It is sobering to reflect on how much we would do to save our own child’s life, and how little we do to save the life of other children.

o       In the words of James (2:15-17) “If a brother of sister is doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you give them what they need? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!”  We live in a global village with 850 million starving people, including 200 million Christians, and say we have faith, yet do virtually nothing to help them. If we believe the words of James, our faith is ‘alone and dead’.

b.      We don’t really care about world mission
Despite Christ’s command to evangelize, 2/3rds of all people from AD 30 to the present day have never even heard of his name.[xi]


We are not financially committed to world mission

o       Christians spend only a relatively small amount each year on mission to the non-christian, non-evangelised ‘World A’ (Barrett & Johnson say only $250million annually is spent on mission to these 38 countries & 1.6 billion people,)[xii]  In contrast to spending –

§         $810 million per year on annual audits of churches and agencies

§         $16 billion of church funds embezzled per year (of these, only 5% get caught) (Interestingly, this amount embezzled is more than the $15 billion total spent on foreign missions)

§         It is estimated that Christians worldwide spend around $8 BILLION dollars PER YEAR going to the more than 500 conferences to TALK about missions.

o       91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism does not target non-Christians but targets other Christians in World C (rich world) countries, cities, peoples, populations, or situations

o       The personal income of Christians (church members) is $15.2 trillion pa

o       The average Christian gives 1.74% of their income towards church and mission work (The average per capita income of Christians is $8050, the average giving of Christians is $140 per year, or 1.74% of their income).

o       The average per capita giving of Christians to foreign missions is $7.80 per person each year – this is 1/20th of their giving, or 1/1000th of their income.

§         Think about this – the Christian church is spending 20x more on it’s own spiritual needs than on the enormous needs overseas.  To quote the late Brian Hathaway “this is an outright crime”

§         This is obviously not a refection of biblical values

§         Note that these are international figures – but it seems unlikely that NZ is much different

We are unfocussed and ineffective with world mission

o       The total cost of Christian outreach averages $330,000 for each and every newly baptized person.  In the USA it costs $1.55 million per baptized person, and in India it costs $9800 per baptized person. (Based on all costs of ministry divided by number of baptisms per year.)

o       It costs Christians 700 times more money to baptize converts in rich World C countries (eg Switzerland) than in poor World A countries (eg Nepal)

o       Despite BILLIONS of dollars spent by dozens of denominations toward over a hundred major programs to fulfill the Great Commission by the year 2000, we didn’t even keep up with population growth, much less reach the 2 billion unreached.

c.       We have built a church model that is centred around things that are extra-biblical – particularly professional ministers & Sunday meetings focused on corporate-sung-worship & sermons.

o       Sermons, as we practice them, are not the same as preaching in the Bible. Preaching in the Bible is always in the context of evangelism, whereas we typically preach to the converted (week after week for the rest of their lives). The ‘preaching’ that occurs in western churches is extra-biblical (I have a separate paper detailing this), and is typically either teaching or a form of pep-talk.

o       We say that one of our main reasons for gathering on a Sunday is for corporate worship.  Yet corporate sung worship led from the front is conspicuously absent from the NT – what we think is so important is actually extra-biblical.

o       We say we believe in the ‘priesthood of all believers’, but we practice the priesthood of a few, and typically centre our churches around a paid (or volunteer) professional ‘minister’ (or leader, spiritual guru).

§         Professional ministers are often dependent on ‘keeping it going’. Many ministers now have virtually no other vocational choice, as they have sacrificially committed their lives and working careers to building the ‘organised’ church.

§         It could be perceived that professional ministers have a conflict of interest – they are effectively asking people to give money to the church, and yet this money that is given ultimately pays the ministers salary, and the minister often decides how the rest of the finance is spent on church activities.

o       Many churches say they are ‘purpose driven’, yet in practice they are usually quite program orientated.

d.      We offer theology that is over-simplified & doesn’t accurately reflect Biblical values

o       We offer ‘cheap’ salvation which results in untransformed lives.  This salvation appears like a ‘get into heaven free’ opportunity, rather than an encounter with the living God who calls us to radical discipleship. This is more of a problem in Pentecostal churches, and can be seen in comments like “we saw 10 people saved on Sunday”.

o       As Ronald Sider states “Whether emphasizing simplistic slogans such as ‘once-in-grace-always-in-grace’ or focusing on seeker-friendly strategies that neglect costly discipleship, we have propagated the heretical notion that people can receive forgiveness without sanctification, heaven without holiness. … When Christians today reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins, they are offering a one-sided, heretical message that is flatly unfaithful to the Jesus they worship as Lord and God.”[xiii]

o       We focus on narrow areas of sin in areas such as sexuality & honesty, and neglect other important areas which are common in our society and church including pride, gluttony, greed & materialism.

o       As discussed in a. above, the Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor, yet our church leaders often don’t teach or practice this.

3.      Our church is harmful for the Kingdom

The church is often focused on building itself, rather than building the kingdom. There is competition between some churches – the church down the road is competing with our church (it’s never our church that is competing).  We see a few apparently successful versions & use them to justify the vast majority of churches that aren’t succeeding.  These forms of church work for the people they work for, but obviously don’t affect the majority of people in contemporary society.

a.      The local church hinders the Kingdom & wastes it’s resources


We value OUR local church more than the kingdom.

o       This might sound harsh at first, but consider typical church priorities as indicated by where the time and money are spent.  Where does the first of the money get spent? It typically goes towards operating a Sunday service, including the costs of buildings, ministers, sermon preparation & music equipment. Only a small proportion of the income is spent on kingdom activities outside the local church.


Our model of church is expensive

o       There is huge financial cost in operating organised churches in the western world. Consider the combined factors of weekly income required to operate the church and the capital tied up in church buildings.

§         For the NZ Apostolic Church Movement, the cost per church attendee is about $500 income per year plus $3300 tied up in capital.

§         For the NZ Baptists, the cost is about $750 income pa plus $10,000 capital per attendee. Hence, for a family of say 5 people, the cost is $3750 pa plus $50,000 in capital.

§         One church in Auckland with a congregation of about 450 people has a building worth about $45 million – this is $100,000 of capital per person. Even if the same amount was invested in commercial property (at say 10% return), this would generate $5 million per year.

§         Other older denominations in NZ have much more finance tied up in property – the church in NZ is a multi-billion dollar organization.

o       If we choose to view this finance as being used completely to generate growth in God’s kingdom, then the cost of this growth is very high.

§         For the NZ Apostolic Movement, typically about 1000 people are ‘saved and added’ to the church each year.  This gives a ‘cost’ per person ‘saved & added’ of $5000 plus $33,000 tied up in capital.

§         For the NZ Baptists, about 1100-1500 people are baptized each year. This gives a cost per baptism of $25,000 plus $330,000 tied up in capital.

§         If all the churches in NZ operated at the same cost as the Baptists, for say 20% of NZ’s population (800,000 people) the cost would be $600m pa plus $8 billion tied up in capital.

o       In addition to the financial cost, there is a huge cost of volunteer time in operating the normal organised church – in NZ, millions of hours are given to running the church & its programs each year.


We waste our resources on maintaining church for Christian consumers

o       Similarly, church volunteers time is also used predominantly for activities associated with operating the local church, rather than wider kingdom activities.

o       What proportion of a typical church’s time, energy & finance is spent on maintaining ‘church’ for the members? I estimate that it is typically 90-95%.

o       I recall an illustration used in a business management class I attended at University – they asked us to imagine a Government office building with 1000 staff. If all the external forms of communication and input/output were removed, they suggested that these 1000 government employees could all keep themselves busy arranging meetings, committees & communicating internally. This illustration was intended to say something about Government employees, but I immediately saw it’s relevance for the church. In a typical church, what proportion of time, energy & finance goes into maintaining ‘church’ for the members, and what proportion goes outside the church into making a difference in the world? It seems to me that about 90% goes towards maintaining the status quo for the members, and only about 10% goes towards making an external difference.


Society has a poor perception of Christians & the church

o       The church & Christians are mainly known in society for the wrong issues, or for minor issues, or for what we are against. For example, in NZ we’re known more as the people who are pro-smacking, than we are known as the people who love the poor.

b.      Our church is harmful for Christians

o       Our church insulates and inoculates Christians, usually keeping them dependent on sermons & church programs, and leaving them biblically & theologically illiterate or immature.

o       Our church drains peoples time, energy, vision (some churches say “there is only room for one vision in the church, two visions equals di-vision”), finance, enthusiasm, initiative and responsibility.

o       Our church generally suits ‘yes’ people who fit in & help maintain the status quo.

o       We talk of empowering, but because of our structures & practices, we actually disempower & create dependency on Sunday meetings, sung worship, sermons, professional ministers, programs & buildings

§         To demonstrate this, consider taking these things away & what would be left of the church? What would happen to the individuals in most churches if they suddenly didn’t have regular Sunday meetings, centrally led corporate sung worship, a minister, programs etc? Would they get stronger? (if so, lets get rid of these things) or would they struggle? This demonstrates that we have created a dependency on these things.

§         I heard of a large ‘successful’ church near New York that tried this – it stopped their programs for Christian members for 4 weeks & asked them to get involved in their community activities (the church leader didn’t believe his congregation was dependent on these things). When the church programs restarted on the 5th week, they had lost 2/3rds of their members! (the church leader was shocked). Most people had moved to other churches in the neighbourhood which were continued to provide programs catering for the individuals consumer-based desires.

o       Our church styles foster a form of consumerism, as we create and adjust programs to cater for the needs of our members & those we are trying to attract.

o       Typical church members aren’t discipled, and their lives aren’t radically transformed. As discussed earlier, in many ways Christians aren’t noticeably different in their values than those outside the church.

o       We typically ‘write off’ any Christians outside the organised church, and think that people only leave the church because they are ‘back-sliding’ or have unresolved issues. Yet in reality, people leave the organised church for a wide variety of reasons, including spiritual survival, and a realization that their church doesn’t accurately reflect biblical priorities.






I am convinced that the church in NZ is facing major problems which need to be bravely and honestly faced. I have given brief outlines of some of the problems – possibly only enough to stimulate reaction & disagreement – each of these areas requires much further analysis and discussion.

The parallel of the Emperor with no clothes is often used, suggesting the church is like the emperor in this story, & that we are like the crowd who believes what it is told – that the emperor is dressed in the best clothes ever. But a little boy sees the truth, that the emperor has no clothes on, & slowly other people see the truth also.

Like the little boy, I (& many of you) are suggesting that the NZ church has major problems, yet many church leaders are unable to see these, or are reluctant to face them directly, or are unsure what to do about them. Many church members have seen these problems, and have become uninvolved, problematic, or even left the church. It is easy to be a little boy, & see the problems. Hopefully you have already seen some, or this article has given you a glimpse of them.

But – pointing out the problems is always easy – doing something about them is much harder. The challenge facing us all is how to reclothe the Emperor in suitable clothes – how do we transform our imperfect church into a church that we & Jesus can be proud of? I am convinced that it can’t be achieved with minor adjustments, or addition of new programs. Major reformation is needed – the sort of reformation that would make Luther proud – reformation of the core values, purpose & methods of the church.

There will not be just one answer, or one way of ‘doing’ or ‘being’ the church in NZ. Rather, we need a wide variety of experiments & models & attempts to be relevant in this changing society. Some of these will work, and others will fail – but we need to be committed to honestly evaluating what we are doing, communicating and working together to find relevant solutions, so the kingdom of God will grow.

Note –this article is still quite ‘raw’ – please don’t use this lack of polish as an excuse to ignore any truth within the article.  As someone who isn’t in ‘paid christian work’, but rather is trying to establish ‘secular’ businesses (to pay the bills), it is difficult to find sufficient time to write something like this, and impossible to find the time to polish it nicely. Happy reading (chewing?). David Allis. November 2006






The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ronald Sider, Baker Books 2005

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider, 1997


[i] For  these statistics, I define ‘static’ as having annual growth of +/- 5%

[ii] Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience p18-20

[v] Sider, The Scandal p106

[vii] Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger p2

[viii] http://www.globalrichlist.com/how.html ,  Sider, Rich Christians p2

[ix] Sider, The Scandal p21

[x] Sider, Rich Christians p3

[xi] An AD 2001 reality check: 50 new facts and figures about trends and issues concerning empirical global Christianity today. (from Table 1-1 in World Christian Trends,William Carey Library,David Barrett & Todd Johnson.)http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/globalchristianity/gd/findings.htm

[xii] 2001 World Christian Trends, William Carey Library, David Barrett & Todd Johnson

[xiii] Sider, The Scandal p59,63

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?”
http://secondtimothytwo.blogspot.com/2006/08/clarifying-emerging-vs-missional.html…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
http://www.theofframp.org/missional_comm.htmlGeneral 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 http://toddhunters.blogspot.com/2003_02_16_toddhunters_archive.html
[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)