We care about you. Sort of.

***There are people that will inevitably take this personally even though it’s not meant to be a personal attack on anyone, anywhere. This is merely a reflection based on my experience and an attempt at a dialogue on a better way.

Growing up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada I’m more than familiar with church programs. The church I (essentially) grew up in had a little over 1000 people at their Sunday morning service. The church that I was on staff for for two and a half years had around 250 people at their services on Sunday morning. Both of these churches had loads of programs. In fact, on the website for the church I grew up at they have listed: adult, married, young adults, youth, children’s, music, and prayer ministries (to name a few). Of course, within each of these ministries there are often ‘sub’ ministries (i.e. within youth ministry there is both jr. and sr. high ministries). I’m not saying that any of these things are necessarily bad in and of themselves. Certainly it is a good thing to minister to the entire body in various ways (and participate in ministering). However, the problem that I would have is that this commodifies church. In the end, you go to a particular church, not because you live in the neighbourhood (because many folks don’t, in fact, some drive quite far to be there) but because said church has “great preaching” or a “great youth ministry” or a fantastic choir etc. This, in turn, relegates church to just another thing we consume. Now all of this sort of hinges on a deeper issue about how we view church. The words ‘attractional’ and ‘missional’ are used with increasing frequency these days, and although they have turned into catch phrases, I think that the ethos behind the words are significant. Attractional churches are those whose goal is attracting people to come to them. Here, the focus is largely put into a Sunday morning gathering. Much of the church life and teaching revolves around these few hours on a Sunday morning. In addition, attractional churches strive to produce really “great” programs. Ones that will attract people to their church. Again, the focus here is on getting people to come to where you are. Missional churches on the other hand have a slightly different ethos in that they understand that the mission of God involves going. Here, efforts are not necessarily focussed on programming or a 2-hour Sunday morning gathering, rather, the focus is on living as the body of Christ throughout the week. It should also be noted that generally missional churches are not commuter churches. The folks that are part of these sorts of communities are actually part of the same physical community which comes in handy when you’re trying to live out the gospel as a body throughout the week. Now, I realize that this is a generalization and that not many churches are purely either missional or attractional. That being said, I think these are helpful distinctions.

There is a church in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) that each year puts on a dinner around Christmas for “the less fortunate in our community”. During the dinner church members cook and serve the food to those families that are in need. Is this a good thing? I would argue yes and no. Who would deny that giving a meal to a family in need isn’t a good thing? However, there are a few issues. 1) This is a once a year event. Here, something good (giving a meal to those in need) is programmed and turned into a once a year spectacle and is something that “we” provide for “you”. 2) The name of the dinner is the “Servant’s Banquet”. This seems to me to put the spotlight on the ones doing the serving, after all, the banquet is named after them! It also seems to me that if you’re going to take the position of a servant then it’s probably best not to try and take credit for that (perhaps taking credit negates the servitude?). 3) This church, while claiming to “serve the less fortunate in our community with the love of Jesus by preparing a Christmas meal and festivities for them and their children” recently spent millions of dollars on a building expansion that included a second sanctuary (for evening services!), multiple classrooms, a cafe area and some space for the youth. Again, while these aren’t necessarily bad things they sit largely unused throughout most of the week (because the focus of the church mainly revolves around its Sunday morning gathering). Even more recently the church spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on a fancy new lighting rig in the main sanctuary as well as a bunch of plasma screen TVs for the lobby area (among other gadgets). All of this sort of begs the question, do you really give a shit about “serving the less fortunate in [your] community with the love of Jesus”? And, if you really do give a shit about it then how precisely do million dollar expansions that sit unused most of the time and fancy new lighting rigs demonstrate your self-proclaimed “love” for those in your community who are in need? Honestly.

Now, I’m not meaning to be overly critical here, but lets be honest with ourselves. It’s one thing to say (and proclaim to everyone around!) that you care about serving the needy in your community but it’s a whole other thing to actually do that and I would argue that million dollar expansions and rockstar sanctuaries is not a good way to show your community that you care about them.

The second paragraph undoubtedly relates to the first paragraph I wrote. While this church has a desire to participate in what God is doing in their neighbourhood (with or without them) they seem to be expecting those in their neighbourhood to come to them. This all raises the question, can churches that are attractional in nature be missional? I think the answer is no.

I’m not trying to condemn anyone here and the last thing I’m wanting to do is tear down my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, that being said, I think if you really care about your community then you need to consider spending a little more time there instead of being so inwardly focused.

Grace and peace.

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7 comments
  1. Ryan said:

    I know some people will see this as a rant, but I think it is a more an intelligent discourse. Sure you swore and that can be described as ranting, but sometimes you need a little shock value to get people to sit up. We live in an age where you can’t tap people on the shoulder anymore, you need to yell in their ear. If all people can focus on when they see this is “shit” instead of the larger issue, that would be a shame. It would also be very revealing in that they can’t actually look at themselves.

    But I’m jumping the gun, I just hope people (especially the people running the church you’re talking about) can read this and take it at face value; not to be viewed as slanderous or even insulting, but as an eye opener. It’s tough to here something negative when I’m sure these people were only trying to do good for the people who came there. Sometimes people get ahead of themselves, and they think looking fancy is really benefiting the kids, which it probably is, but if one of your goals is to help your brothers and sisters in need and the only ones you’re helping are the ones not in need, then how are you achieving this goal?

  2. Rob Good said:

    I hear your concern, but there is a question that gets raised on the vain of do you really care about the people or not…

    The question of why the church exists itself is currently a polarizing question. Does the church exist to change a community or does it exist to change it’s members and calls them to change a community?

    Many people see that church should be a place where everyone is welcomed and it is accommodating, and able to attract the masses because of it’s glitz and glam. Hybels currently states that a mature Christian should self feed and the church should exist to reach the lost.
    This is a program focused, lets get the unchurched in and introduced to this Jesus so they can grow up and be self feeding Christians.
    This is a seeker church.
    They care a lot for the relevant needs of the community but when a a christian attends a church like this over the long haul of their Christian experience they find that the services are humdrum and there is not much there for them. This is constantly found in seeker churches where people leave because they are not being fed.

    The missional church is the church that engages the community at a level of the community. It does not do a program based structure, but an needs based structure. It cares less (although it is forced to care somewhat) for its geographical setting / building, but structures in such a way that it is the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’.
    This is great, for mature Christians who God is challenging to move into action. I see this as a great need. But what does a missional church do with a new convert who doesn’t understand that the needs based ministry is only a part of Jesus’ call on our life. Jesus’ call on our life is much greater than meeting other people’s needs because even the ungodly do that! so the missional church struggles with the how to’s of discipleship as well.

    The other model that gets used a lot is the model of focusing on the christian. This inward focus drives Christians into a sense of growth, this can also lead to spiritual gluttony (I’ll get back to that).
    the mode of operation that this model stands up under is: give the person as much as they can to grow them, and then they will live outside of the church doing all that should be done as a christian at a grass roots level. Which means, come to our programs and our fancy church, but you will be discipled here to go and do what you have been matured to do.
    Spiritual gluttony happens because the perceived need of personal growth out ways the personal need for application at a grass roots level.
    So in that model there are ‘programs’ set up to emulate the type of thing that should be happening more often at a grass roots level. That is why the servants banquet might be called the servant’s banquet because ideally the focus may be on what the servant can do outside of that program and not the huge difference the program itself makes (although the people that go look forward to it – I know a bunch of them, and they love it – it is a sense of deeper community with each other not with the ‘servants who serve there…’.

    The question at hand is do any of these models successfully engage the world where they are at and create un-believers then transition them into deep believers that become mature doers of the gospel and not just hearers. I would say not completely. There is not one that does all of it, i would say we need all these types of churches wouldn’t you? some to attract, some to grow, and some to action, as a christian leader I see catastrophic need for all of these churches to engage God deeply, and for spiritual leaders to determine where the people they are leading are. If a spiritual leader does not lead people from where they are on in their spiritual journey any model they choose will be off. there is much riding on spiritual leaders who will have the discernment of how to grow the people they have been entrusted with to their next level of closeness to God.

    That is the challenge. No one model to stand on, but one that goal to do what it takes to get people closer to God

  3. Rob Good said:

    Isnt’ this an assumption that they “say (and proclaim to everyone around!) that you care about serving the needy in your community”?

    just a question.

  4. jt* said:

    Hey Rob,

    You ask some good and challenging questions. The first question you raise is one that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit over the last few years: “Does the church exist to change a community or does it exist to change it’s members and calls them to change a community.”

    I think that in many western churches we view mission/evangelism as something that the church *does*. Inevitably we end up programming this. In a word diagram it might look like this:

    Holy Spirit > Church > Mission.

    However, I wonder if this is confusing the order of how things really are. If I may reword your question, “Is mission something the church does or something that gives birth to the church?” As I said, typically I think we view mission as something we do. What if, instead of the church giving birth to mission, mission gives birth to the church? Now of course, this assumes a few things not least of which that God is already engaged in mission *before* we are. However, I think given some reflection on the biblical narrative this is quite obvious. So, given that the church participates in something God is *already* doing perhaps we can rework our word picture. What if it looks like this instead?

    Holy Spirit > Mission > Church.

    This might seem insignificant but, in fact, I would argue that it is quite significant. The church is born out of Gods mission in the world. Therefore, the church doesn’t make sense apart from the mission of God. In this sense, there is no distinguishing between types of churches for all churches are called to the same thing, to be engaged in Gods mission in the world. Now this varies from context to context of course but that’s something for each local church to work out together.

    Back to your original question again: “Does the church exist to change a community or does it exist to change it’s members and calls them to change a community?” This presents a dichotomy which can be misleading. Does it have to be either/or? Rather, I would suggest it is both/and. The church exists to participate in Gods ongoing mission in the world and this includes both personal transformation *and* participation in Gods mission. I think part of the task of the church is to journey with people between the bigness (Gods mission of redeeming all things to himself through Christ, 2 Cor 5:19) of the gospel and the smallness (Christ died for your sins, personal transformation etc) of the gospel, and back again. This is a constant journey back and forth. So the church is a body in which people are transformed and shaped into the image of God and yet all of this happens because God is doing the big work of redeeming a broken creation to himself. Gods work is both cosmic and intimately personal and we should always be traveling back and forth between the two. Finally, all of this only makes sense in the context of the church who is the living Body of Christ and who is working out the gospel in midst of a watching world.

    You’re right to point out that no one model of church perfectly fulfills any of this, but I wasn’t trying to suggest that. We also can’t escape the fact that as the church this is what we’re called to and so critical reflection is necessary as to make sure we are where we’re supposed to be.

    Grace and peace.

  5. Bob Lilley said:

    When one posts something on an open forum like this they have a responsibility to their readers to provide enough info for them to get a clear picture of the situation you are presenting so that they can make an honest assessment and have valid responses. To do otherwise gives the impression that you are trying to validate your interpretation and not enter into honest dialogue. That is dishonest.

    Your readers should know that this church gives approx $500,000 per year to foreign missions and local ministries. Just last week it raised $123,000 to help a church in Russia by the building from which it runs an orphanage and teen challenge program. The Russian government has degreed that you can’t preach to kids under 18 unless you own the facilities that you are using. It helps fund churches that, due to the enconomic plight of its members, can’t fund themselves (Church In The City) it supports a local pregnancy crisis centre, it runs a food bank out of its building, its sends work teams to Africa and Siberia yearly to help build schools and orphanages, it is starting an “in from the cold” program this year and it does much much more.

    Most of the people who are involved with the, now infamous, “Servants Banquet” are the same people who are involved in the food bank, go on the missions trips, volunteer for various church programs and give generously to the causes mentioned above. The “Servants Banquet” is not their one they do, it is one of many things they do. Could they have given the event a different name — maybe — but they certainly shouldn’t be judged as selve serving because of it. Maybe you should discredit “Mother Teressa” because, to the best of my knowledge, she has never had children yet she calls herself a mother. Who’s she trying to kid.

    As far as the cost of the facilities are concerned I would support another $2,000,000 expansion if it would generate another $250,000 per year in giving to various causes. Thats a better than 10% return and a good investment.

    Is the church perfect .. no. How good it be its run by imperfect people.

    I care about you — kind of

  6. jt* said:

    Bob!

    Good of you to drop by in cyberspace. Us young guys can learn a lot from old folks like yourself 😉 Ha! Only kidding. In all seriousness, you possess wisdom that is beyond my life experience and so I’m thankful that you’ve taken the time to post some thoughts here. I value what you have to say and think you add some important points that I left out (intentionally).

    At any rate, I’m still left with a few questions after reading your response.

    Regarding your first point that I have not included enough information here for the readers to “get a clear picture of the situation” all I would say is that I wasn’t trying to give an exhaustive list of all the things that Cedarview does (or doesn’t) do. Rather, I was attempting to ‘zoom in’, if you will, on one particular aspect of Cedarviews ministry, namely, that of ministering to the poor and needy in their own community. So while I certainly left out some information it was not my purpose here to give an exhaustive list of Cedarviews accomplishments (there just wouldn’t be enough space!). That being said you are right to point out that I did indeed leave out some information and I’m thankful that you were able to point some of that out to us (also, I hope you didn’t interpret my leaving information out to be of malicious intent! That’s not where I was coming from).

    You are right to point out that Cedarview does a lot of good work. However, as you have pointed out much of that is done overseas and the stuff that is done locally in the community seems to be somewhat overshadowed by the amount of money that is poured into Cedarview itself.

    What are your thoughts on the first half of my post in regards to ministry to the poor being something that is programmed as opposed to something that should maybe flow organically out of a relationship of solidarity with the poor in ones neighbourhood?

    Also, how would you answer someone who is skeptical (and I’m not the only one) and might ask a question like: “How precisely does spending millions of dollars on a building expansion and hundreds of thousands of dollars on rock concert lighting rigs and flat-screen TV’s that display church announcements communicate ones love and commitment to the poor and oppressed in their very neighbourhood?”

    Peace.

  7. jt* said:

    Also, I think John Calvin has some helpful things to say that perhaps relate to the conversation at hand:

    “Moreover, the sum expended on the adorning of churches was at first very trifling, and even afterwards, when the Church had become somewhat more wealthy, they in that matter observed mediocrity. Still, whatever money was then collected was reserved for the poor, when any greater necessity occurred. Thus Cyril, when a famine prevailed in the province of Jerusalem, and the want could not otherwise be supplied, took the vessels and robes and sold them for the support of the poor. In like manner, Acatius, Bishop of Amida, when a great multitude of the Persians were almost destroyed by famine, having assembled the clergy, and delivered this noble address, “Our God has no need either of chalices or salvers, for he neither eats nor drinks” (Tripart. Hist. Lib. 5 and Lib. 11 c. 16) melted down the plate, that he might be able to furnish food and obtain the means of ransoming the miserable….Are we ignorant how much gold and silver the Assyrians carried off from the temple of the Lord? Is it not better for a priest to melt them for the support of the poor, if other means are wanting, than for a sacrilegious enemy to carry them away?”

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