New Terminology

Submitted by Jim Hoag

The DNA of many churches produces a rhythm and life of its own; in other words, fixed patterns, grids, ideas, traditions, and mindsets about “church life”. One of those mindsets about how to do ministry is the attractional/extractional approach. What I mean by this is a church culture that tries to attract people to “come to us” rather than an emphasis to “go to them”. With the extractional approach, people are extracted from their world and brought to our church-world to get their needs met. This instead of us also going into their world and doing life with them where they are. “Attractional” has the idea of, “If you build it, they will come”. In other words, if we become and if we do all the right things as a church, they will come to us. But what we want to impart is a sending impulse rather than only an attracting and extracting impulse. We want to create a culture of “go“, not only “come” – a church culture whose DNA causes a facing outward, moving into the city as salt and light. So instead of only “extracting”, we EXTEND AND EXPAND out. This is a call for a GENUINE shift from the attractional/extractional approach alone, to an approach that faces outward; from seating to sending. It is no longer only about deep community and spiritual maturity; it’s also about going forth and impacting the lost and disenfranchised – to “heal the broken-hearted and proclaim liberty to the captives”. They are God’s future, so “Go ye therefore…”.

OK, now we move from being exclusively attractional/extractional to being missional/incarnational as well.  By “missional” I mean “sent out” and by “incarnational” I mean embodying the life of Jesus in context with the culture just as He Himself did 2000 years ago. Each member of the body has to see themselves as being uniquely and specifically sent into culture; and see their sending as a calling not as a religious task. A calling to missions recognizes that God has saved us and called us to send us.  Jesus said, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few”. The remedy for this is when the church no longer sees itself as having a function of missions (sending), but sees that it exists for missions. The members of the body (not just the leaders) are the front line and are most important because they are the church’s core missionaries. This means re-framing the church’s primary purpose almost entirely on missional (sending) grounds to break the inward focus both individually and corporately. Much of the church has been “marinated” in dualism looking at the church building and church activities as “sacred” and the rest of life as “secular”. No, it’s about bringing people the Kingdom by bringing the Kingdom to the people. We have to see that as soon as we meet an unbeliever relationally we have begun leading them to Jesus. Missional forces lying dormant in all of us are waiting to be awakened and unlocked as the Spirit reveals to our hearts the need for this radical understanding and remedy. The idea is a rewiring or renewing of the mind so as not to think church, but to think mission. The shift is on from “come” to “go“. The church is now gathered to be sent out. A “missional church” is a sending church, mobilizing all of its people to be sent into the community. This is not some “technique” or church growth “strategy”; it is the time and season that God has uniquely arranged and purposed for this. This is how God Himself engaged the world in Christ. John 1:14 says, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He was one of us. He met us personally. It is this redemptive mission that we seek to recover for our generation. And though missional activity can be risky,learning occurs when we need to draw on the Lord because the situation demands it. Here is where discipleship moves from theory to reality.

Lastly, we move on from missional/incarnational to being contextual/cultural; that is being contextually relevant in culture. This includes contextualizing the life and message of Jesus within a specific cultural/generational context. Paul gives us an explanation of this in I Corinthians 9:20-23, “And unto the Jews, I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be a partaker thereof with you”. Paul is saying that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to culture must be abandoned. Paul was not anti-culture (which would have alienated him from culture), but he was uncompromised (yet relevant) in culture. We go forth into culture not bringing “church”, but Christ. (Read Matthew 9:10-13 to see who Jesus was engaging in culture!) Like the first century church, it is the Word becoming flesh in the cultural context we live in. Rather than an ongoing emphasis on church-life apart from our cultural context, we are called to reach out to culture in a relevant way. Missionaries who go across the seas to radically different cultures have long realized the need for the gospel to speak in a way relevant to the people being approached.

By definition, then, the attractional, missional, contextual church is always looking outward, always going, always thinking inclusion (not exclusion), and faithful to the Word of God by the leading of the Spirit.

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