In an effort to recenter church methods debate back onto the gospel, I recently proposed that we should be debating the strength of our gospel, not the effectiveness of our methods. There are varieties of methods from organic house church to attractional mega church that have been used by God to advance the gospel. But what kind of gospel?
The 50/50 Gospel
I attempted to answer that question by suggesting that some church methods operate on a 50/50 gospel, an understanding of the good news that relies on 50% of our behavior and 50% God’s grace. This gospel assumes that people are good enough to chose Christ but that they simply need to be reminded how good Christ is. Broken marriages, patterns of sexual sin, deep-seated anger, and financial hardships are primarily the product of our failure to behave like Jesus. Enter the Church. The church can reminds us, exhort us, even train us to be like Jesus, to make good moral decisions, not bad ones. We need the grace of God’s example and a faithful commitment to behave accordingly. This is the 50/50 gospel, and it is anathema.
50/50 Concoctions: Morality, Community, & Mission
The 50/50 gospel relies, not on the power of grace, but on the power of morality. As a result, the Church becomes a half-way house between our moral failures and our moral successes. We rehabilitate our decision-making under the faithful instruction of a faithless institution. But the 50/50 gospel is sometimes mixed differently. Try 50% mission, 50% grace. We need the grace of Jesus example and the goal of Jesus mission. In this concoction, churches serve as a inspiring non-profit, moving us from missional failure to missional success. We soften our social consciences under the weight of a missional institution. And then there is the 50% community, 50% grace combo. We need the grace of God to become “like the early church,” to have real community, to jettison our individualism in order to truly become “the church.” The gospel becomes a quick-fix to our lack of community.
100 Proof Gospel
Each concoction of the 50/50 gospel is actually quite dangerous. They propose that churches should attract as many people as possible to their moral-laden messages, missional activities, and communal experiences. The goal of the Church is reduced to converting people to a better way of living, not to better God to be believing. What we need is a gospel that is 100 proof grace, the work of Spirit to violate our dulled taste for what it good, true and beautiful and to get us drunk on God. We need more than changed behaviors; we need changed hearts, new affections, from which a life of worship flows. We need churches that are more concerned about pointing us to the multi-faceted splendor of Jesus Christ, than the innovative ways we can be the church through community or mission. What we need is 100% gospel.
In an effort to extend church planting discussion beyond model-based debate, I wrote this Wrong Debate: Attractional vs. Missional. Neil Cole has weighed in consistently, offering some insight on Organic Church and hopes to post on the Gospel soon. At his blog, he is running an Organic series. Check out the discussions in the comments here for some insights.
Neil Cole has a three part response to Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings. There is some lengthy exchange that covers very little distance in their multi-comment conversation; however, this gem emerged from Cole’s final post:
A global survey conducted by Christian Schwartz found that smaller churches consistently scored higher than large churches in seven out of eight qualitative characteristics of a healthy church. A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and Life Way Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more.
So churches of 200 plant more often than churches of a 1000, but they will have to plant 5xs as many churches to reach the one thousand of the megachurch. Methods, methods, methods. We are in the wrong debate. We don’t need to be debating mega vs. micro, attractional vs. organic/incarnational. This is a methods driven conversation, and if we have learned anything from the history of missions it is that God uses a variety of church models to bring in the lost sheep of his kingdom. For a moment, just stretch the conversation beyond America. House churches are immensely effective in China and mega churches incredibly effective in Korea. When it comes to methods, context is king, unless your contextualization of the gospel compromises the its theological integrity, in which case it is no longer contextualization but syncretism.
What we need to be debating is the strength of the gospel that is being preached, taught, shared, and shown in our churches. Are we incarnating and attracting people to a diluted gospel or a strong gospel? Are we incarnating kitsch gospel or kerygmatic gospel? In the end, what are we calling people to? Is our gospel both missional and communal or inward and individualistic? If the latter, then something is wrong with our gospel. Let’s stop debating methods and start debating gospel. Let’s refine the gospel seed we are sowing in America for the sake of our country, our future, and our Lord.
Neil Cole offers a brief, biting reflection on how service in the local church is killing her. This is one of the reasons I appreciate his writing and ministry:
We ask for volunteers all the time. We offer spiritual-gift assessments to see where people fit best in our program, but we never really offer very challenging experiences for people. Handing out bulletins, directing traffic wearing a bright orange vest, chaperoning a youth function, or changing a diaper in the nursery may be helpful for the church program, but none of it is a task worth giving your life to. Many who struggle to do these things have a nagging unspoken question: “Did Jesus come so I can do this?”
We must transition from seeing church as a once-a-week worship event to an ongoing spiritual family on mission together. Then people will see church as something worth giving your life for. Honestly, people need one another more then they need another inspiring message. You would be surprised what people will do for Jesus, or for a brother or sister, that they will not do for a vision statement and a capital giving campaign.
How are you connecting the church to the church? Are your inspiring messages creating a church that lives in community and mission? Are you pseudomissional or gospel missional?