Me and Alex McManus Take 2: Here’s a “Both/And” I Can Live With!

The indefatigable Alex McManus responded to a recent post of mine (in which I responded to him) while I was out of the country last week. In his post, Alex disagrees with (among other things) my assessment of the “big and positive footprint” approach to entering a context to plant a church. I was contending, over against the “big footprint,” for a humble inhabitation of a context as the necessary pre-amble for planting a church. McManus responds:

“It is OK for something really good like the gospel of the kingdom to enter a context and make waves, to spread like wild fire, go to supernova. I also think that your proposal to go in quietly, vulnerably, delicately is also worth doing … often necessary. I think it is OK for people whose intent it is to announce the kingdom in a community to do so either way, according to the spirit that has been given them, and the dictates of the contexts they enter.”

In other words, Alex argues that it should not be an “either/or” but rather should be a “both/and.” There will be some, according to Alex, who because of the kinds of leaders they are, will enter into a context in a big way making a big and positive footprint. On the other hand, others, who don’t have that leadership gifting, will enter quietly vulnerability. Alex says we need both kinds of approaches to church plants.

Upon reflection I think I agree with the notion we need both kinds of church plants. But Alex, you still missed my point. My point is that these two approaches – option 1 (entering humbly) versus option 2 (big footprint) –  are really doing two different things contextually, and which option we do HAS NOTHING TO DO with how we’re gifted. (In fact you might need to be more entrepreneurial in the option I than option 2.). IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH OUR CALLING. Let me explain:

1.) With option 1, we enter a context humbly, vulnerably, listening first and then responding. We follow in the way of the incarnation ({Phil 2:5-11). We go as lambs  with no power or money (Luke 10:3-4). We do not set up our worship services and then expect people to come to our services and the many things we can give them. We do not assume we already know what their needs are. We inhabit a place first as servants to live, listen and learn. This is how we go to people who are outside the gospel who do not know our language, who do not respect our position inherently as professional pastors (without even knowing us). This is how we engage a community outside of the gospel for mission.

2.) With option 2 we enter a context  by announcing (launching) a large worship service. Here we offer every kind of Christian goods and service (children’s ministries, single adult ministries,  Alcoholics/Divorce recovery groups etc. etc. ). We announce we’re coming with postcards and advertising. We offer services to the community to meet needs on a massive scale. We make a “large and positive footprint.” This is how we go to already Christianized peoples (in some way) who need to be called into the gospel anew. These people are already familiar with the gospel (raised Catholic, or Lutheran or traditional Bible church in their childhood and left). They may even recognize the habit of going to church from their parents. They need to get past the perceived  cultural irrelevance of their church experiences of the past. This approach still works for these people. They will come. This is attractional in its very nature (don’t see how you can get past this) and this WILL attract the Christianized masses who still have lingering memory of their Christian cultural upbringing.  The people above (in option 1) however, will generally not be attracted to this (and please, I know there will always be examples of the few coming from totally non-churched backgrounds  in the mega churches. I speaking about the majority of people who flock to big positive foot print churches.)

So I agree with Alex McManus, there is a place for both approaches. It isn’t an either/or it’s a both/and. Yet both are valid but for different reasons! Option 1 will be post Christendom missional engagement of a context. Option 2 will be a Christendom engagement of already Christianized masses. This has nothing to do with gifting (in fact Option 1 takes as much if not more entrepreneurial gifting). It has everything to do with calling. This is a “both/and” that I can live with.

But let’s be clear. The market for option 2 is shrinking. There are less and less of the culturally Christianized left in N America and Europe. And so when we plant with option 2 in these contexts we end up competing against one another. In “market terms,” we end up competing for the leftovers of Christendom. For these reasons, in a post from two months ago, I suggested denominations in N America (and Europe) start funding Option 1 versus Option 2. I suggested we stop funding church planting and fund missionaries.

What say you? Do you buy this “both/and”?

To my bro Alex, thanks for provoking.
You’re a good man and I love you too.

Blessings on what you’re doing for the Kingdom!!

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