Author Archive

More Strawmen

Next up in the village stocks is the attractional model. Okay, we agree that grabbing eyeballs on the screen, getting eardrums throbbing to the beat and delivering more rumps in the pews is way short of an adequate mission for the church. But Putman would be off course to suggest that reaching numbers means nothing and has no biblical basis. I think he overlooks the fact that the active work of the Spirit in worship has attracted crowds of seekers since the church’s birthday. The early church expected to draw crowds. The question for them was what do we do to bring in the harvest. The early disciples’ numbers were insufficient to maintain the small group study ratios Putman decrees. They asked for the power of the Spirit and welcomed all seekers to follow and learn. We need to be as wise as serpents in using attractional means that appeal to the seekers’ needs as fallen humanity. But we also must be training good mentoring disciples and finding better ways to engage seekers and gain the promised harvest.
Next to attract the rotten tomatoes is the missional model. Putman’s term may be confusing to those of us who spent time learning “missional church” with John Gruel. If anything that latter term might come closest to Putman’s fourth model. So let’s call Putman’s third model “mission-focused”. After describing this model noted for producing committed and life-changed believers, Putman’s critique is that all of that useful service leaves no time for renewal, and refreshment. But I suggest an effective mission-focused church does celebrate its work and does raise up new leaders to sustain its mission. We could learn more from those who have mastered this challenging style. We could do worse than have a missions committee who sees success in how many of our disciples have made commitments to engage in mission that goes beyond sending their money for others to do the work.
The lone remaining strawman is now the home church approach. With little understanding of this style I am poorly equipped to defend it. I’m sure the best of these examples build such strong faith bonds that they are able to bravely venture out to attract the next cadre of disciples in a cycle of inward and outward focus that could in time grow an especially strong witness. Putman points out the danger that the intimate home church is never really open to newcomers, who for sure don’t fit in at first. In a phrase from the business world, this model doesn’t scale very well. But the same dangers of intimacy in the home church can also lead to contented discipleship groups which retard the growth that I believe the Spirit calls us to.
So before we discard the four “traditional” models we’d better learn their virtues and their weaknesses and make sure to incorporate what we have learned into our new strategy.

Can These Strawmen Be Redeemed?

The author sets up four examples of church styles, which he proceeds to demolish before moving on to explain the discipleship approach. It’s a tried and true rhetorical method. But before we dismiss these four let’s first see if they have any value to a living church in our day. Can they be redeemed?
The educational style is first in the dunk tank. I heartily agree with Putman’s critique of lecture as education in the church. One problem he doesn’t mention is that lecture in the church is likely to prove less than effective because it offers no way to evaluate its effectiveness. After all, we give no tests, and if there is no more than perfunctory discussion then the leader has no way to judge his or her effectiveness. Then there is the critique that lecture can offer little engagement with the learners to encourage them to use their biblical knowledge to grow up into true discipleship with all the behavior change that entails. But we know and often practice much better study approaches than lecture. The best teaching has always been life-changing. And even the most “charismatic” teacher could be a hindrance to effective discipleship if he is poorly grounded in scripture and doctrine or if she leads out of pride rather than from an authentic calling. I think Putman is too dismissive of the need for the type of deep theological and scriptural grounding we Presbyterians have called for in our study leaders. And the Spirit does raise up strong lay leaders to supplement the teaching ministry of our pastors. An educational model can be redeemed to serve the discipleship mission.
To be continued Ken Rees

FPC Edmond
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