. . . posts on faith and life
My friend Mike has been reading some stuff (probably this is one of them) that has got him thinking that the Church should not be attractional, but rather should be incarnational. This is interesting because the 21st century American church has a history of focusing on making itself attractive, and neglecting the incarnational ministry modeled by Jesus in 1st century Judaism. (To get a handle on the difference think about how we ask people to come to our scheduled services instead of learning how we can show up in the middle of them living life.) My other friend Travis thinks that Mike should not reduce this to an either/or option. For Travis the question is being missional, and being missional will require being both incarnational AND attractional. Mike thinks he understands where Travis is coming from, especially in light of his ministry context (Miami), where everything comes in a sexy package.
I smile a lot when they talk about this stuff. It makes me happy. I think I agree with both of them. I think that the next time we all get a chance to sit in the same room and hash it all out we will find that we all agree. But I’m still struggling with the word attractional. Not because of the realities and appropriate strategies that Travis is advocating, but simply because of the term and its connotations in our culture. It might be a minor issue of semantics in most people’s mind, but I think there are better words for what I understand Travis to be talking about.
In our culture the idea of making oneself attractive is loaded with a sordid list of images that are rooted in some very deep cultural problems (self image, eating disorders, drug use, narcissism, depression, sex, plastic surgery, competition, etc.). It would seem that becoming attractive in our culture actually boils down to how much money you have to spend on it. And since there’s only so much money to go around, somebody is going to lose. Perhaps that is why Marilyn Manson raged at us the way he did in his provocative song The Beautiful People (warning the lyrics are explicit).
So, that’s one problem I have with a church being attractional, the way it seems to be succumbing to some of the most destructive forces our culture is producing in doing so. The second is this, when we give in to becoming attractional we fail to separate ourselves from the confusing and noisy conglomerate of Christian superstars who currently ‘attract’ a lot of attention, and give us much of the reputation we currently have. I think Shane Claiborne says it very, very well in his book Irresistible Revolution. He states:
Most of the time, when I see Christian superstars like Jerry Falwell or Al Sharpton, I feel like I’m watching professional wrestling. There’s a lot of shouting and sweating, but the people seem too superhuman, and I’m not convinced all of the moves are real.
I think that the Christian life, when lived in an authentic way, is compelling. In fact, I would disagree with the statement that Jesus was attractional, but would offer that He was quite compelling. The crowds that He ‘attracted’ did not grow out of His attractional approach to ministry, but rather out of the compelling life that He lived and spoke about. I would offer this word compelling as opposed to attractional for being superior nomenclature in describing what Travis is trying to get at.
I would accept Shane’s term irresistible. Or even the term that my middle schoolers prefer: hot. These speak of natural beauty (if you don’t know that about the term hot then your kids have probably left home). It is the type of beauty that we say is within all people, the type that we are speaking about when we talk of ‘beauty that radiates from the inside’ of a person. I firmly believe that the church will recover its natural beauty, and that when it does it will show up in the world, no longer caged behind its four walls, no longer prone to cheap make-up and unnatural augmentations that are so prevalent when we strive to make ourselves attractive. And I also believe that when she does the world will say, “The church showed up, and she was hot!”