Friday, December 16, 2005

{Either, Or, Both, And}

One of the issues we came across a lot in Australia was the Attractional v Incarnational debate (summarised/stereo-typed as: church that expects people to come to you v church that seeks to go to where people are; church that extracts people from their community v church that grows an indigenous expression within a community; etc...). More often than not, the issue seemed to us to be fairly polarised - incarnational church as a(n over-)reaction to attractional church. But I just don't see the two as being mutually exclusive, and I see working out how the two relate to each other in a given context as being part of the fun of the challenge of growing healthy churches. Another issue we came across was the Sodality v Modality debate (single-focus team v broader community), and who/how/when/why a mission team engages with the wider Church...To be honest, I think we saw a real danger of isolation in several 'sodality' contexts.

Having been part of the St Thomas' story for fourteen years, it was interesting to hear the latest chapters. I don't think St Tom's has ever said, "Here is the package" (though others might have seen it that way); the reality is much more, "This is what we've tried; this is what has and has not worked well; this is what we have learnt as we have observed, reflected, discussed; this is what we have gone on to do as we plan, account, act...

In my view, "missional" values embrace attractional and incarnational values, and sodality/modality - and transcend them. An attractional element is definitely part of the big picture, in the Jesus story 2000 years ago and today. Just last Sunday thirteen people made the decision to become Christians at a St Tom's carol service - and to those who don't like attractional church, I'd point out that the "incarnational" practice of having a meal and inviting others to join you is as "attractional" as inviting people to a service. As I understand it, the latest/current chapters at St Tom's have been about how incarnational communities relate to attractional events, and how small mission teams are supported/cared for/nurtured by bigger and broader (though still mission-focused) communities. And I am aware that it is a hard journey; that continually revising community is very demanding for those who are part of those communities. But I still believe that the result has been, and can continue to be, more rounded than models I have seen elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what grows in 2006 - from wherever I'll be watching.


  1. Andrew - with all due respect I don't think that is an accurate assessment of the situation here. It may be an impression, but I am not at all convinced it is a well founded one.

    As one who has worked hard to straddle the many different expressions of church that exist in the city I am a bit disappointed at your conclusion - as I'm sure our Forge team would be. My sense is that there is a healthy mutally informing relationship in existence at least in Perth - but I would suggest across the country also.

    I wonder if you actually do 'get' where we are coming from. Again no disrespect intended, but we are not simply pushing out in the other direction, but rather trying to develop a missionary lifestyle and community that involves both 'sodality' and 'modality' constructs. I have said many times that if we end up with 3 fast 3 slow and a sermon because that is the most appropriate form of community for this neighbourhood than all is good.

    I am interested to hear you develop your thoughts here - and I am more than happy to hear where we can learn and grow, but having read this several times now I wanted to respond and say 'i don't think you're on the money about the state of play in WA'.

    Perhaps where you stand determines what you see... I am interested to hear if you believe I have some blind spots.

    feel free to push back if you want to:)

  2. Hi Hamo. First of all, I want to say that what I wrote was not intended to 'dis' what you are doing. It is an impression of what I saw, both meeting with people involved in several different churches and/or groups, and also conversations on several Aussie blogs - including your own. I don't think it is inaccurate to say that Attractional v Incarnational and Sodality v Modality are current debates; and I don't think it is contentious to say that the positions taken are often polarised. I do think that you personally take a much more balanced view than most of those I came across.

    Your comment deserves a fuller response, but that will have to wait until I have more time.

    Every blessing.

  3. no probs mate - i would like to hear a fuller response and particularly where you observed the polarising.

  4. Anonymous6:30 pm

    i think mr dowsett is bang on in naming a polarity that is central to Forge and their rhetoric. i am not sure why Forge use the attactionalvsincarnational - whether for communication purposes, prophetic challenge - but the simple dualism is central.


  5. Hang on – I’m ‘pro’ Forge and ‘pro’ Steve, and I’m not prepared to take sides in an argument…

    Let’s try a fuller answer to Hamo. Steve, my observations went much wider than Forge.

    Polarisation: first, I came across a broad spectrum of negativity towards the Pentecostal ‘mega-churches.’ While I don’t think that is a model we should all be trying to emulate, I do think that the negativity had not a little to do with the proud Australian tradition of Tall Poppy Syndrome – cutting anything seen as being too successful down to size; putting them back in their place. General accusations of sheep-stealing and big back doors (a Catch-22 situation for any bigger church: if people come to you from other churches, that’s sheep-stealing; if they go from you to other churches, that’s a big back door…), made by people who hadn’t spoken to ‘mega-church’ leaders about their experience of transfer. These churches also come under a lot of accusations from the media and even some politicians, and I wonder whether many Christians are being overly influenced in their opinions by these public voices?

    Then there are the vast majority of local churches who are, collectively, failing to engage with over 90% of the population. This is genuinely a cause for concern, and for action. I do think that Forge has a tendency to use polemical language in this context. I don’t have a problem with that per se – neither Jesus nor St Paul was averse to it. But there are (at least) two dangers with it: that less mature people use the same language, as ‘fact’ rather than polemic (I believe I saw this); and that it is more likely to leave other churches feeling ‘written off’ than inspired (especially when exacerbated by the previous danger). Clearly Forge in Perth has made real steps in helping ‘inherited mode’ churches engage in mission. But I do think there is an unresolved internal debate within Forge as to whether this is of strategic value or a costly diversion of limited effort/resources. That this is unresolved at this stage is okay; but I think it is an accurate observation.

    I do think that a lot of the things I saw being called ‘incarnational,’ as opposed to ‘attractional,’ were, in fact, just a different form of ‘attractional.’ And my response would be, that is good, not bad – so name it for what it is.

    Isolation: I do think this is a real issue, and possibly even seen as a virtue in the most isolated city in the world…Concerning Upstream, Hamo told me himself that it was okay for him, given the large networking element of his job, but that the other men in the team – who, like the men they are seeking to engage with, use Brighton essentially as what we call a dormitory village in the UK – felt isolated, more so than the women. I’d also note that at least two of the Forge interns I met told me that they weren’t involved in any worshiping community, and had no immediate plans to be, which I find bizarre. But I have to say that there were other people I met in Perth who I felt were much more isolated – especially people who had left churches primarily as a result of hurt, rather than a pro-active missional impulse – and I saw much more of that than I would have like to. Some of the bust-ups I heard about might be symptomatic of a ‘frontier-town’ mindset, though I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about that.

    I can’t claim to have conducted extensive, systematic research. These are, very much, impressions. I am aware that I don’t have ‘the full picture’ on any of them. I don’t know that they necessarily highlight any blind-spots, and I do think that Hamo is operating in a way that goes against the flow of much of these trends. But I don’t think these things invalidate them as observations. Especially not in the context of comparison with a church that is grappling with the same issues in, I believe, a different way.

  6. Sorry I haven't got back before now mate

    lots on at the moment!

    A few quick responses on the run.

    First up - Thanks for the honest feedback and the willingness to engage! Always good.

    Tall poppy syndrome? Possibly... it may also be that some people just don't gel with the big 'performance oriented' churches. Having preached at one recently I appreciated the people but found the format not one that I could easily gel with any more.

    You are right when you say there is a tension between where Forge WA invests its energies. I am torn between seeking out and empowering those who will think creatively and do something new (very few of em) and working with the churches who need to turnaround. The difficulty is that often these churches are more in need of euthanasing than reviving because the DNA is so corrupt. Most larger churches aren't interested in new missional ideas as they feel they are cutting it - even if there is a lot of transfer growth.

    Attractional / Incarnational... I'm a bit over this debate :) And I do think it is part of the Forge rhetoric to try and help people think in a different frame. Recent discussions (March this year) with our Forge crew would suggest none of are looking to make this a cornerstone of our future teaching - although it will no doubt be associated with us for years to come!

    That said I think you can be incarnational and 'attractive' without necessarily being 'attractional'. Attractional implies getting people to a certain place by making it funky enough. Maybe you saw some disparity here between rhetoric and reality, but I couldn't comment unless we talk of specific instances. For us I would hope we do stuff in the community but that it is still attractive. However we would not do it and tinker with it simply to pull a crowd. (That is a personal core value - which I am open to being corrected on if it is wrong)

    The 'no church community' thing from the Forge guys (I would have thought there was only one) does not get the thumbs up from any of us, however we are appreciating that for this particular person it may be a phase he needs to go thru before finding himself back in community.

    I agree our own guys are isolated from other Christian contact outside of each other - but that said they are better connected in their local communities than they were previously. I think this is probably a missionary tension.

    Its good for us to hear your impressions - because even if we see things differently it helps us see things as you perceive them and to take notice.

    Hope all is well with your sister.