Friday, September 25, 2009

Recovering the incarnation

The section of Hirch's searching book that I've been reading this week feeds directly into conversations we've begun having at church. We know the attractional model no longer works - our falling Sunday attendance and lack of people at special evangelistic events proves that. The question is 'what do we replace it with'?

Hirsch's answer is that we need to recapture the core Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the mission of God. He argues that the attractional model tends to negate these two insights because it 'demands that in order to hear the gospel, people come to us, on our turf, and in our cultural zone. In effect, they must become one of us if they want to follow Christ.'

This is, of course, the opposite of incarnation: God comes to us - the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood (as the Message memorably puts it). It means that we, who have been sent as Jesus was sent, must go to where people are rather than expect them to come to us.

This is the method Jesus modelled in his ministry and called his first disciples to follow when he sent them out - Matthew 10:5-16. They were to accept hospitality rather than offer it. It was Paul's practice too - finding people he could establish a workshop with, accepting invitations to be based in people's homes (see Acts 14-18).

Hirsch stresses that church grows out of mission and not vice versa. And mission grows out of a proper grasp of who Jesus is (ie our Christology). So he produces a simple diagram that says Christology determines missiology which in turn determines ecclesiology. It's a good simple principle that ought to underpin everything we do as gatherings of Jesus followers.

It follows, therefore, that mission needs to take place in third places, those spaces that are not our homes or workplaces, but rather where we socialise and have fun. This would mean more gatherings in pubs, cafes, clubs, arts centres, community halls, etc.

So, we'll see how St Arbucks goes this Sunday. But we'll also be exploring how our allotment group can become a missional community with shovels and coffee. And what else...? The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.


Ben Fairhall said...

Concerning the debate about leftfield expressions of church, it strikes me that one of the 'secular' arenas best suited to it may well be the humble curry house. (Curry Church, if you like.) I could envisage a medium-sized group meeting informally, with friends, to discuss (or 'banter') over a topic or theme; with a modicum of arbitration from a designated leader. (I.e, so it doesn't merely descend into a night out.)

One of the great advantages, it seems to me, is the fact that any visible group clearly operating as a unit will be very visible in a restaurant; and as fellow diners become better lubricated will naturally become the focus of friendly enquiry. Any restauranteur will be very happy to welcome a large booking; and evangelistically, it's possibly even easier to invite people along for a curry than it is to an event like St Arbucks.

We begin and end with a short dedication or prayer, and the conversation is routinely 'directed' with comments 'from the chair', as per the Later Service, etc. After whatever short programme has been concluded, we just nosh out.

No jokes about 'currying favour with God', please.

simon said...

I naturally warm to the thought of curry church. Any gathering with food in a public place sounds good to me...