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$$$ | Part 2

April 5, 2010

Aidan: Well in our last post we started talking about what it looks like to fund a more decentralized church that has both corporate needs (the organization) and organic ones (mid-sized missional communities). Somewhere along the road, though, we got a little off course.

Mike: Right. We got to talking about attractional and missional, from a historical perspective, but also we were seeing some undertones of what that means for us since history often repeats itself. I think we’re going to go a little bit more into that today and then actually get into the funding aspect of it later this week.

Aidan: Would you mind giving a quick synopsis from the last post?

Mike: Basically, at the Synod of Whitby you have the Celtic model and the Roman model for church coming together and functioning with pretty explosive results. The Romans were very attractional (large, beautiful, ornate Cathedrals) and built around Pilgrimage. The Celtic model saw small missional outposts scattered across all of Europe, pioneering the missional frontier.

Aidan: So in this scenario, what do you think worked well?

Mike: I think you have to start with what the purpose of each was in this system.

With Cathedrals (the Roman model and more attractionally based) you create natural in-drag. The Cathedrals that dotted the larger cities in Europe became places of Pilgrimage for believers, a chance to experience the transcendence of God but to do so with a really large number of believers. We often forget that the majority of Europe were made up of very small, mostly agrarian villages so the opportunity to worship with a large number of people together was a rarity. So you have people taking a journey to a Pilgrimage site where they would worship our Risen Lord with more people in one place than perhaps they’ve ever seen before.

I think Leslie Newbigin talks about the Kingdom being a Sign, Instrument and Foretaste. You can see that happening here with these experiences. If you are used to worshiping with a few dozen people in your village and suddenly you are worshiping with hundreds or maybe thousands of people…well that’s a pretty powerful Sign and Foretaste of the life to come. (We’ll get more into the Instrument side of it later this week).

But what is so important to understand is that these journeys did not happen often. For people who could afford it, maybe 1-2 times a year.

There’s a recognition that these journeys were important, that we get a real picture of being connected to something much bigger than just my village. However, lasting transformation is found in the day-to-day and is reinforced by the Pilgrimage experience. In other words, you could experience transformation without the “big show” but if all you had was the “big show,” transformation would be much more difficult.

Aidan: It sounds like you’re saying that Pilgrimage, the Cathedrals, the attractional thing in the Middle Ages was created for the believers.

Mike: Exactly. And yeah, I’m sure people who weren’t Christians came, but it was for the building up of the body in a very specific way. Pilgrimage wouldn’t get down to life-on-life discipleship (which is a vital component of discipleship) and it wasn’t really going to have a strong missional bent either. It was great at letting people experience the transcendent.

So when we talk about the merging of the Roman model and the Celtic model, it worked when each understood their unique purpose. The small village missions that people attended locally were pioneering the missional frontiers and discipling people, but they were connected to a Cathedral where, every once in a while, everyone would gather and see just how big and glorious the Kingdom of God was. When these worked in tandem together, they evangelized the whole of Europe. It was the combination of missional, sending center (the Cathedral) and the smaller, missional outposts that won the day.

If you really want to read on this, just pick up John Finney’s book, Recovering the Past.

Aidan: So obviously there have been some massive shifts since this time when it did work. What happened?

Mike: Pretty simple, really: Over time, the Pilgrims would go the Cathedral and wanted the Cathedral experience in their missional churches every Sunday. They saw the choirs, the orchestras, the smoke, the light pouring through the giant stained glass windows, walls painted with scenes from scripture…it’s like going to Catalyst, really…that’s really what it was in the Middle Ages.

And they saw that and went back to their local parish church, looked at their priest dressed in his shabby, brown cassock, and said, “You know, you really ought to dress like they do in the Cathedral! And their choir…well all we’ve got is this guy who when he sings, it sounds like a dying cat. Couldn’t we have a choir?”

Aidan: It’s interesting you bring up Catalyst because I had a pretty formative experience there 6-7 years ago that related to a lot of this. I remember going to the conference, seeing the lights, hearing the bands, the speakers…and it was like all of the speakers there were pastors of churches of 10,000, and I remember thinking to myself, “OK, well if I get the media right, have the right, hip teacher, get some cool advertising and the band sounds just enough like U2 or Coldplay, we’re going to explode with numbers.” I feel like I lost a good 4-5 years of ministry doing that, though. Sure, we were pretty successful and we had a good number of small groups, but we were really only getting people from other churches (so that in-drag thing you were talking about) and to be honest, our spiritual depth was pretty poor. People came to it, but they really weren’t looking for discipleship. I’m not saying I blame the Catalyst Conference or anything, I’m sure that’s not what they are going for at all and that would really frustrate them, but I know I’m not alone in the experience either.

It sounds oddly similar to what you are saying played out in the Middle Ages. Basically, it sounded like things started to drift.

Mike: I actually know the guys who put on Catalyst and I know that’s not what they are hoping to do. But I think you’re right: Slowly there was a real misunderstanding of the purpose of Cathedral and the purpose of the local parish mission. And slowly, over time, the local parish missions became mini-cathedrals (or at least as best they could). And when they did that, they lost the powerful missional engine of the local mission and the ability to disciple people. Because previous to that, there was more focus on the time outside of Sunday, whereas this made Sunday the most important day of the week. Community church life became completely about the service. When the Sunday service becomes the center of discipleship and the service is geared more around watching and consuming (which it’s almost impossible not to do when it’s geared around a “big show”), discipleship becomes really hard. How can we do 1st Cortinthians 10-14 in a community like that? As our good friend Alan Hirsch would say, “We can’t consume our way to discipleship.” What we see in Europe now is  500 years of that kind of thinking.

Aidan: So as you say that…well it seems incredibly prophetic for where the church in the United States is right now. It seems like “innovative” thinking in the wider evangelical church right now is figuring out how to make the Sunday service bigger and better than it was the last week and pouring as many resources into that as possible. Basically…for lack of a better metaphor…creating a mini-Catalyst experience each weekend. For me, there’s something “right” about the big, gigantic, beautiful worship service, that when I experience that I am experiencing a Sign and Foretaste of the Kingdom…but there’s something really big missing too. If I’m hearing you right, you’re saying it will always be difficult to do Discipleship and Mission in those systems. It seems like you’re saying there needs to be a sort of recovery of what was originally happening in the middle ages (and certainly what you see happening in Jesus’s time with the tandem of Synagogues and the Temple) where each part understands why they exist and protects that purpose from drifting.

Mike: Yeah, I think that’s probably right. Obviously that’s what we are teaching churches to do at 3DM through what we learned and created at St. Toms and have worked with hundreds of other churches, but obviously that’s a lot easier said than done. That’s why we talk a lot about the type of commitment needed for a church to do this. It’s not an easy thing, but when you finally hit the tipping point and see exponential growth in both missional engagement and discipleship, well…it’s pretty unbelievable.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2010 3:57 pm

    I’ve spent the last 3 years starting a hopefully prophetic disciple making disciples movement in Wolverhampton England, influenced mainly by some of the Lifeshapes ideas from Crookes. It really is phenomenal making disciple making not growing church your fundamental aim, and has helped make WPM a movement that is doing some of what we aimed to do – join God transforming a city through young adults. But it’s really tempting when you get among pastors to just talk numbers, growth, success…. what you notice when you start small though is you actually know what the people who come are thinking/doing/behaving/believing and how totally far away from God we all are so much of the time. You can’t hide behind the idea that a lot of people = success, because a lot of people probably = a lot of discipleship failures. But I love being in church where I can be open raw and honest, where people don’t have to hide their atheism/agnosticism or sin, and yet where people seem to be growing closer to God from the very far back place our generations are starting from, than they ever seem to be able to do in better produced more distant worship…
    But I think we still need the both and… the Big Worship stuff, the Hillsongs on TV, Soul Survivor, New Wine, knowledge of the growing church in the twothirds world etc all seem to be a paradigm breaking encouragement that it’s not just a few who love God but that there are masses of disciples out there.
    For my part all future church leadership I do will need to start with disciple making disciples regardless of the programmes they may be used to running.
    Thanks to all who have helped me see this and the Breen effect in Wolverhampton!

    So if anyone wants to take up the challenge and move it forward there’s a Network Church and Team Leader job going here to replace me – go for it – it’s fantastic.

  2. Louis Kotze permalink
    April 14, 2010 1:40 pm

    There is defenitively something exciting and exhausting about leading within a framework of competing values. Finding the right tension between centralization and decentralization for instance is not easy. I fully agree that it is not either-or but having the correct expectation of the centre and of the outpost. It is far easier to do one or the other but if we are to have truly networked churches that carry multiple expressions, I suppose we need leaders that can do the tension thing.

    In my understanding this can all be held together by a core group of leaders that can create the space and extend cover over a variety of expressions. This covering is however not merely hierchical but found in truly accountable relationships that creates a community of leaders. But I suppose someone has to be the central leader of this community, yes I agree Jesus would be the best to have, but He has left it to us. This central leadership is therefore probably to be found in the central resource church. I am trying to learn what it means to be a leader that can do the resource sentral church with all its demands while having the time, vision and passion for the missional to be released and encouraged. Some will say just close the organization down, but I don’t think that will in the long run be helpful in bringing the kingdom to a community. We need both and I want to be a leader that can do this transition and take most if not all my people along into this balance.

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