Monday, September 08, 2008

What's the point of our Sunday meeting?

"There is an important difference, it seems to me, between running a Christian gathering whose focus is on evangelizing the outsider, and running a Christian gathering that is welcoming and intelligible for the outsider, but where the focus is on fellowship with Christ, in speaking, hearing and responding to his word." 
(Tony Payne)

Our church has been chewing over Mark Driscoll's challenges to be a missional church recently.  But what does it mean for us? Certainly it effects the way we should be livinng when we're scattered. What about when we gather? Driscoll speaks of being seeker-sensible in our meetings, which Payne notes above - welcoming and intelligible. I wonder if it changes the way we preach? Same gospel for Christian and non-Christian.. but delivery might need to be different.

Even after 11 years as a Christian I still get narked when preachers say 'we all know the story of...' or 'remember the story of...' - what about the new Christian who (understandably) has never read the Bible. Or the person who isn't a Christian. Talk about saying stuff that explicitly excludes people by assuming everyone is a Christian and has been since they were a child. Seeker sensible means not taking that for granted.

We have a real strength in our church meetings that when someone prays/sings in tongues we always wait for an interpretation, and then one of the elders always explains what's just happened in a very anti-hype kind of way. That's helpfully seeker sensible, but we could probably do with a bit more of that in the way we run our meetings and do our preaching and our notices. If I went into the bookmakers just down the road from our house I'd be totally lost for what do do, would be nice if that wasn't the case in the alien environment of a church meeting, that ought to be the happiest place on earth.

If we assume everyone in the room has been a Christian for decades then that's a sad statement about our gatherings. If we assume that there are people in the room who aren't Christians we're moving in the right direction. Just as we need to assume that there are people who sin in all kinds of ways - Christian and otherwise. I love the church because it's an assembly where anyone can be welcome.


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  2. Still trying to work out what I think of the Payne article! I think I agree but I suppose he's going after the balance of emphasis rather than and radical change of understanding.

    I agree about the, "and we all know the story of" bit. Lot's of people won't and it doesn't serve the congregation to assume they know as much as you!

    More than that there seems to be a bit of an assumption floating around that story telling is for kids but exposition is for adults, so we skip over story-telling because we feel it doesn't somehow qualify as authoritative preaching. Yet it seems like if we are preaching and expositing Scripture in a way that is sensitive to genre we would preach a different sermon for Jonah than we would for Jude.

    This is not to say we need become all emerging and run away from propositional truth by hiding within stories (as if they didn't convey truth in propositional statements anyway!) or tone down the use of spiritual gifts 'because it's weird' but seek to speak and act in love by ensuring the intelligibility of our speech and action.

    Update: JT has updated his post highlighting the Tony Payne article with a response from Ken Stewart.

  3. I wrote a piece on my blog about taking my non Christian friend to church. It is completely ficticious but i think often very truthfull.

    I come up with some things that could be changed to make any church more seeker friendly.

    It can be found here at

    Cheers Alastair

  4. You guys have it easy!!

    I was at a church last night and had a bit of a shocker as the person leading worship, started acting more like a worship cheerleader, building to a hideous finale as we were asked, loudly, between songs, "Who here loves Jesus?"

    As 20 (or so) non-Christians cringed (attending for their friends baptism) the Christians called back, "We do."

    I just silently wished that I was under my seat and quietly decided (I don't think I was alone) that I will never, ever, ever, take a non-Christian friend of mine there. This is a big part of what puts Christians off evangelism - Christians being silly and not thinking about what they are doing.

    Hilariously, I think a lot of believers think this is a good way to behave in front of non-Christians. It's the sort of madness that I sometimes encounter as I'm asked to speak at an evangelistic event and someone thinks that it's appropriate to pray, or even sing at the start. It eludes them that if it was acceptable then you wouldn't need to be doing evangelism.

    Why do we do naff stuff like that? It's so horrendous and embarrasing.

  5. Happens everywhere in society - part of our sense of controlling inner rings by making it awkward and exclusive of others... but in the gatherings of the church there is no excuse.

    Some of us are just a bit wierd, which is ok. But those who lead should know better.