June 10, 2008
Fitch and Driscoll: Round Two
David Fitch responds to your comments.
In his first post, David Fitch argued that all converts are not necessarily the same in terms of time and context, and that emerging/emergent, neo-monastic communities, and megachurches each minister in different contexts and, in some cases, with different purposes. In this post, David responds to a few of the many comments his post inspired.
From Leonard: If missional churches don't last for more than three years, then someone needs to rethink how they are planted, who is planting them, and exactly what their mission is. If churches are not making converts in this culture then we need to ask hard questions about boldness, methods, and not being distracted from the truth that brings grace.
DF: Leonard, I think we agree. I think it is the expectations placed upon missional planters from exterior sources that inhibit their success. We need to prepare missional church plant leaders to set entirely different expectations (including being bi-occupational, indeed self supporting). Your second point reverts back to my suggestion that converts take more time in post-Christendom.
From Mike h: 1) One of the beauties of the organic church is not how difficult it is, but how simple. I don't see how developing a complex megachurch is easier than starting an organic missional community. One difficulty may be getting the community large enough to support the "planter." Is that the goal?
2) The author states "The conversion of a post-Christendom "pagan," who has had little to no exposure to the language and story of Christ in Scripture, may require five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense." Would it take any less time for a megachurch to reach them than for a missional community?
DF: Mike, again, I think we agree. If church is organic and self-sustaining from the beginning, it should by definition be less difficult. Nevertheless in my experience, most church planters are not prepared for the financial and social pressures they will face doing church missionally. I argue for a sustainable pastorate whose support from the church comes only from necessity, as he/she must be released for more ministry at the call of the community.
Concerning your second question, the dynamic of a church of 2?3000 or more often attracts a person already familiar with the gospel. A pagan, however, who knows nothing about orthodox Christianity would likely not be attracted to a large service and would need a whole new level of immersion in the gospel for a decision to be anything more than a consumerist one. Statistics to this effect have been borne out in places like C. Pritchard's study of seeker services.
From Willy: Everyone seems to have a different definition of what it means to be "missional." To my mind Mars Hill is a "missional" church, in so far as they look at themselves as being missionaries to their locality.
DF: I agree, Willy. All churches that are Christian in anyway would assume they are missional on your terms. I am following the work of Darrell Guder, et al, Alan Roxburgh (Allelon), Alan Hirsch, and Michael Frost in my definition of "missional." These authors emphasize incarnational forms of church over attractional; the church as Missio Dei over mission as program; organic forms of missionary living in neighborhoods over ministry set in a building; and many other notions they perceive as New Testament forms of church as a minority presence in society. When you describe missional in these terms, Mars Hill simply doesn't fit. I'm not accusing of them of being apostate or lacking an ecclesiology. I just assume a church with systems and organization sufficient to funnel 7,000 people through their walls cannot operate in this missional fashion.
From Willy again: Oh, and another thing, when Jesus simply called the disciples with the words "follow me," he didn't seem too worried that they were making a "consumerist decision."
DF: Jesus asked them to "hate their families" and "pick up their cross" and follow him (Luke 14:26-27). Enough said.
From Melody: Jesus' ministry lasted for only three years before he ascended back into heaven, and look at the number of converts in that time. He walked up to total strangers and said, "Come, follow Me," and they did! No building relationships first. All the relationships Jesus had with believers occurred after their conversions. In fact, according to Matthew 4:17, the first word out of Jesus mouth when he began his ministry was, "Repent!" The apostles got right out there and preached the gospel to a culture that had NEVER heard any of it. People were converted on the spot. Wow!
DF: We are not given much information in the Gospels on Jesus' background relationships with the men that became his disciples. Some who became his disciples after the ascension were indeed his very own brothers, James among them. It is very likely he knew all the men to whom he said, "Come, follow me." Even if he didn't know any of them, all of the disciples and the vast majority of converts - even into the Gentile territories - were Jews well schooled in the history of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. They knew the entire story and what they were saying yes to!
From Dan Kimball: I was on staff at a megachurch for over 10 years, and we planted a new church 4 years ago. Whether in a large or small church, when you listen to the stories of how the Spirit moved in the person life, each story is unique. The Spirit does the convicting and drawing and uses all types of things, from music to conversations, altar calls, Scripture etc. That happens in small churches, medium-sized churches, and megachurches.
DF: Dan, I certainly agree that every conversion story is unique and that the Spirit is responsible for each conversion. What I am pointing to here is the difference between someone converted from a previous background in Christianity and someone who has had no knowledge of or language with which to understand what following Jesus as Lord might mean.
When someone has known the whole story of God in Christ as taught, say, in a high-church catechesis but never made a personal decision, they nevertheless have sufficient background to understand who Jesus is. When someone has no knowledge of Christ, however, except maybe from the Oprah show, the challenge to invite him or her into Christ is totally different.
My experience is that the majority of attractional church conversions are of the first kind. Statistics suggest that the majority of megachurches land sons and daughters of high-church traditions who left and went astray. There is nothing wrong with these conversions. The other kind of conversion just takes longer. Statistics and missionary histories that study pioneer missions in people groups who have no exposure to Christ all suggest that post-Christendom conversions are different, requiring more time and relationship investment. In other words, if we send a missionary team into a Muslim country, we should not expect a 6,000-member church in 6 years.
Having said that, all conversions are good and are a glory to God. It is just when we say that emerging/missional churches do not have conversions, we should be able to make some of these finer discernments. Continued Blessings on your ministry at Vintage Faith Church!
Peace to all, and thanks for the great conversation.