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.

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!”

We can change the world … if we want to

I’ve been reflecting on some things over the past couple of months relating to poverty in the world … every day 35,000 people die from starvation – they will die today, and another 35,000 will die tomorrow, & so on … until some people do something about it …..

A few days before Christmas (last year), I suggested in ‘ideas from the edge’ that Christmas was a great time to remember Jesus, friends & family, & the POOR.

I had been reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost (I still haven’t finished it – I get distracted by books like “When Bad Christians Happen To Good People” J .. a book worth looking at just for the title).

Mike Frost in Exiles says that every culture has ‘gods’, whether they are overt or hidden. He suggests (I agree) that one of the main ‘gods’ in the west is materialism (& selfishness) … he says we need to confront / challenge this ‘god’ … particularly by living counter-culturally. We ‘rich’ Christians are typically as rich & materialistic as the ‘not-yet-christians’ around us … or at least there aren’t overt, highly visible differences between us ….

Could you spot who are the Christians in NZ / US / UK society by only looking at their use of $, spending on themselves, the poor etc???? … I suggest that this would be very difficult … as typically ‘we’ aren’t much different (apart from possibly giving $ to our organised church, which spends typically 90% on providing wonderful ‘services’ for our own use – a bit like golfers paying to be part of the golf club etc) … we’re not radically counter-cultural enough to draw the world’s attention to our different allegiance & values …

So … just before Christmas I offered a challenge (for us all) “…. for christians who are called to love the poor, give to the needy who can’t repay etc etc …. Can you / we / I … spend as much on helping the poor this Christmas as we spend on giving to the rich (our selves, friends & family) …. OR … if you / we / I don’t have enough $ to do it that way around, what about trying to only spend as much on the rich as we’ve already spent on the poor ….. (ie give to the poor first …)

A friend came back to me re this & said … ‘thank you very much – a good challenge – but it would be better if it came with more warning/time, rather than just a few days before Christmas .. as they had already spent their Christmas $. He had a good point … so I thought I’d issue the challenge again, with a bit more warning, for Christmas …. (10 months warning … remember its only 310 days to Christmas … J )

Is it possible for us to care for the poor as much as we do for the rich? Is it possible for us to spend as much on the poor at Christmas as we do on the rich? Personally, we’ve been trying to move further that way … our children & relatives are getting used to being given goats & pigs & toilets & orchards for Christmas … through the gifts for the poor programs of World Vision & Tear Fund … a couple of years ago my mother-in-law said the goat she was given was the best present she received (she got a photo of a goat which was given to a poor family somewhere) – she now looks forward to something similar each year

In January, Margaret (my wonderful wife) said ‘so how did we personally do’? We sat down & did the sums, & figured we needed to give a bit more money away … & then we had managed to meet the challenge. Maybe the challenge needs to be extended beyond Christmas … is it possible this year to spend as much on the poor as we do on the rich? (on the unnecessary luxury things)

I took 3 of our kids + lots of unicycles to Parachute Music Festival in January (a large Christian music festival). At Parachute, there was a debate on world poverty – I didn’t get to the debate, but recognized one of the debators as a former bible college student I had taught. I bumped into him later & asked how it went, & whether there were any conclusions. He said that one of the conclusions was that poverty couldn’t be stopped in our lifetime. I was surprises, & I’m sure a lot more good things were said in the debate … but I’ve been thinking about this statement ‘poverty can’t be stopped in our lifetime’, & have decided I disagree.

Poverty could be stopped in a year or 2 if everyone in the world decided they would do everything they can to eliminate poverty (including the unjust rulers, billionaires, criminals, ordinary people etc). But if it was only the Christians who focused on it, poverty could easily be eliminated in our lifetime … if all, or lots, of rich Christians decided it was a priority.

But we know it won’t happen (& maybe this is what the debate concluded). WHY – because all christians won’t do it …. Why not – probably for a variety of reasons including selfishness, materialism, lack of understanding of the biblical mandate, different priorities, dualism (ie wrongly thinking that the spiritual & material can be separated, & that the spiritual realm is more important) etc etc

BUT – we can still each, personally, do lots (& lots more) to help the poor.

I had a conversation with another friend who is a minister – we’ve talked lots over the years about the $ spent on churches vs the $ going to help the poor. He argues that if all Christians gave generously to their churches (rather than only the 20% of people who tithe to their church), then there would be plenty of $ left over to help the poor. I disagree … it seems to me that most churches are very good at spending all (or most) of what they get … if the income to a typical local church doubled, it would probably quickly find ways to spend that extra income (on new programs, better equipment, buildings, staff etc etc) … rather than on the poor. As Tom Sine says “Let’s quit kidding ourselves; we even tithe to ourselves. Everthing we put into our churches we take back. We are not, as Bonhoeffer said, ‘the church for others’; we are the church for ourselves.” (as an aside – I am convinced that tithing as it is taught in many churches is biblically inaccurate & wrong)

So .. if a church really cared for the poor, maybe it could give the first part of its income to the poor …. Or what about a church which gave ½ of all income to the poor? Surely actions like this would indicate that the church (church leaders & members) placed priority on the poor.

I met another old friend at Parachute. Following a comment I made about how I love house churches because they are financially cheap to run & hence can potentially free $ for other things (like helping the poor), he said ‘our church is cheap to run – it has a building with no mortgage, & a budget of about $100k pa for 250 people’. Reflecting on this later … I figured that the building is probably worth $1m, & hence could generate about $100k pa income … so the total cost of running the church is about $200k pa (+ volunteer time) … $200k each year could save a lot of lives – I dusted off my calculator & worked out that its enough to start 20 micro-enterprise banks each year, which each make about 350 loans every 3 years, & affect 3000+ lives, & carry on long-term. So my friends church, over 10 years, could potentially spend $2m on itself – or start 200 micro-enterprise banks, making 128,000 loans, affecting 1,100,000 lives … & this would carry on long-term.

We also heard Tony Campolo speak last week – he was great (I’ve only seen him on video before). Part of what he said, as he gave impassioned encouragement to sponsor children, was that its not about generosity, its about justice. We Christians (& others) do generosity well (eg the response to The Tsunami & Hurricane Katrina was great), but we aren’t good at long-term justice issues (eg the 35,000 dying every day). We live in an unjust world, where we are fortunate enough to be the rich ones, and we supposedly serve a God who clearly commands us to give generously to the poor & to work to right injustice.

Tony spoke well, encouraging everyone to sponsor a child. I think he could have pushed people a bit further … if you sponsor one child, why not stretch & take a second one, or if you have 2, why not stretch a bit & sponsor a third. I know of university students on very tight budgets sponsoring 2 children, & high school students earning $6/hr for casual work sponsoring one child … quite a challenge for those of us who earn real wages.

To quote NZ singer Brooke Fraser in her song ‘Albertine’, “Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead”. We have seen – we are responsible – what will we do about it?

Blessings

David Allis

The Missional Church Part 2: Becoming a Missional Community

By David Allis

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

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

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

IMA

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.

ADH

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
http://www.sentchurch.com/missional_church_eight_patterns.htm

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.

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

The Missional Church: Becoming a Missional Community

By David Allis

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

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

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

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

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

Characteristics of missional churches

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

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

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

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

What is a Missional Church

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

Empowering Individuals as Missionaries

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

Focussed on the local community

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

An Alternative & God-honouring Community

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

Gathering to Empower for Mission

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

What Missional Church is Not

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

 

 

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

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

Not Just Another Program – But a Shift in Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES
http://www.friendofmissional.org/
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)

House Churches & Missions

By David Allis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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