jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the church showed up…and she was hot!

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!”

23 comments on “the church showed up…and she was hot!

  1. Don
    April 6, 2008

    I think a lot of the problem with Evangelical churches is that “attractional” is interpreted as “respectable,” as I note here. Unfortunately, our society has lost much of what it sees as “place,” so respectability isn’t as valuable commodity as it used to be. (And I never thought respectability to be a NT concept, to tell the truth.)

  2. Jonathan Stone
    April 6, 2008

    Don, that’s an awesome article! I love the ‘sweep’ of history. And the tenor of that sweep reminded me of the basic idea behind Jasques Ellul’s book “The Politics of God and the Politics of Man.” That is, amid all of the struggles, backstabbing, double talk, secret motives, etc. of man’s politics, which makes it as questionable and complex as it is, God still somehow gives man his freedom to choose, and yet, in the ensuing chaos is able to still accomplish (quite easily at that) his ultimate agenda.

    I don’t like the term ‘respectable.’ Mostly because it’s the term that I placed on what I perceive what drove Pentecostals to jump into bed with the NAE, who would soon jump in bed with the ‘moral majority.’ I think both of these affairs were driven by a desire for respectability.

    Still, it’s a great little piece. I’m glad you shared it.

  3. travis johnson
    April 6, 2008

    Before I got to “compelling” in your entry, I was thinking “magnetic.” I like where you’re going.

    Let me tell you though, when Jesus starts turning water into a fine vino, people start paying attention. He was a creative, counter-cultural revolutionary, simulataneously drawing you in as a creative genius while also being the sweaty, loudy confrontational preacher demanding repentance. This multifaceted messiah was also able to leave the stage and head over to a heck of a party at Matthew’s house where all the really bad sinners were. He partied like a rockstar.

    Jesus can’t really be pigeon holed solely into Shane Claiborne’s world even though John 1 shows Jesus becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood. Neither is primped and paraded around the TBN set wearing a Rolex…don’t think he’d ever do that myself :). He’s His own guy, beholden to no particular ministerial camp. The counter-cultural revolutionary could do it all.

    He was definitely compelling.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    April 6, 2008

    Very much agreed Travis, and very well said. I knew I agreed with what you were trying to get at, but hadn’t really heard you put it in words yet.

    I love just how resistant Jesus is to those boxes, stereotypes, labels, etc. He can be found in all places. And yet found compelling in every one of those places!

    Also, I love Shane’s book. However, I see the limits. I think when he gets married and has kids he will see the limits too. Still, I think what he adds to the body of Christ is an attempt to recapture the lost discipline of ‘simplicity.’ And I am really grateful to him for that! And he’s a really poignant writer as well!

  5. Don
    April 6, 2008

    Jon: a little off topic, but since you brought up the Moral Majority and history, this article may be of interest. The reaction I got was very interesting, as I noted and link to. Frankie Schaeffer has drug up this whole business again, as I note here.

    Grist for another post!

  6. One Crying Out For Something New
    April 6, 2008

    Ok, so totally amazed to see anyone mention the irrisistible revolution book, because sometimes I think that I am the only person that has read it, and now every once in awhile I run into someone that has read the book and I want to Scream someone else gets it. Another really good book is one called the backwards life.

  7. m.d. mcmullin
    April 6, 2008

    So my ears were burning. I thought it was just the normal paranoia kicking in.

    I have read Shaping of Things to Come and had an email conversation with Michael Frost (one of the authors).

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The problem might be semantics. But sometimes the way you phrase something conveys different meaning. The meaning I had assigned to “attractional” has all kinds of things attached to it.

    More later, I have to go to church (service). This weekend we held a Worship Conference where we “compelled” about 600 people outside of our church (mostly already Christian) to come for the weekend. It has mooched in on my blogging time!

  8. Jonathan Stone
    April 6, 2008

    Don, that is interesting. I mentioned in my post on homosexuality how frustrating most of the conversations I have had with other Christians on that topic have been. The only thing that has been MORE frustrating is talking to individuals who cannot differentiate their conservative views of American government and policies from their personal views of morality. I don’t have a need for people to be either conservative or liberal in either area, but when it all gets enmeshed together with no individuation it starts feeling real muddled, and real icky.

    Beth, individuals like Shane Claiborne and Jarod Jones are doing a great job of wrestling with just how counter-cultural (and subversive) living in ‘The Way’ can and should be. I’m still looking for someone to talk about it from the perspective of my ‘stage of life,’ married with children, where one is living in a community of others who not only are covenanted with one another in the most intimate ways, but where some of that community (children) require constant love and attention. It’s a little hard to switch to ‘urban farming’ and making your own clothes when your life is given to that community we call family.

    Mike, when you find a little time please share how you compelled those people, and if you think it was attractional or compelling–what the differences might be!

  9. travis johnson
    April 6, 2008

    If 93-94 out of every 100 people in your community do not attend church, I think it would matter little how people come to know Jesus.

    Celtic vs. Roman model? Attractional vs. Missional. House Church vs. Mega Church. It matters none to me. I just want to see people come to know Jesus as God.

    There are 60 homes in my neighborhood. Of those 60 homes, 14 families attend Life Pointe. I’ve seen revival take place in my materialistic, road raging, culturally diverse, stressed out, Miami suburban neighborhood. We do life together, party, and hang out together. That’s exciting to me…25% @ life pointe vs. 6-7% of our city in church.

    That’s ideal I think. However, it isn’t fast enough. So, we spread the net wide and compel our community to “come and see.” It’s more expensive and less personal. The discipleship/assimilation rate is lower. And, there are significant challenges. But, we’re committed to reaching and attracting.

    Crazy thing? We’re the largest church in our 80,000 person community within Miami-Dade. That really ain’t bragging as much as it is sad…the Church is small, fractal, and facing rapid and massive cultural shifts with some bright spots. In order for the Church in Miami, a deeply religious/irreligious community, we have to throw the doors as wide open as possible by embracing Jesus and our community with reckless abandon.

  10. Don
    April 6, 2008

    Celtic vs. Roman model: I don’t know what ecclesiastial academics think about when they talk about this subject, but I’m familiar enough with the secular history to say something.

    It’s interesting to note that St. Patrick–who is one of the great missionaries of all time, especially if you consider the long-term impact–was a product of Roman Britain, that interesting amalgam of Celtic people and Roman civilisation.

    Based on that and the subsequent history of Celtic missions and the Roman follow-up in Europe, it’s fair to say that, if one wants a church to get off to a strong start and have that start be sustainable, it needs to incorporate elements of both.

    I’m beginning to think that a large part of our problem in the Church of God is that the combination of Celtic people and Roman church structure has reached a point of breakdown. This took place in Roman Britain too, but the subsequent history should caution us that solutions that look good up front may backfire down the road.

  11. travis johnson
    April 7, 2008

    In my experience, our tradition expects a decision to follow Jesus now at the conclusion of the message of course. That is a strength of our “tribe.”

    But, there has to be room for people who don’t think and live like that. I think there is a beauty in a church that opens their arms to anyone and everyone and allows them to participate in community with zero commitment…just a seat at the table observing, serving, testing, listening, giving, laughing, living.

    Then, as time goes by more barriers are removed, more investment is made, love grows, and a line is crossed. A person looks back and realizes that they have begun to believe and follow Jesus as savior and God.

    We do need both the Roman and Celtic model of evangelism. We can have both and remain a holiness church, intent on seeing redemption come to people’s lives. Likewise, we must take every advantage with every opportunity to expose people hearts to the love of Jesus using any vehicle possible.

  12. Don
    April 7, 2008

    Travis: what you are describing is what we call in men’s ministries the “wide to deep” continuum. You attract men with events with a broad appeal (sports leagues, wild game suppers, what not) and then draw them into the deeper events of retreats/advances, discipleship courses, etc.

    The first time I went to Man in the Mirror No Man Left Behind conference, I was there with a group of AoG men from NYC. They actually challenged me as to whether this was the right way to do it. (That was before the first CoG group went in February, a gathering that impacted both our men and Man in the Mirror.

    Being the man that wrote the book on altar work, I would be the first to admit that we need to be more open to seeing people’s lives transformed at other occasions than the end of the service. But there are two sides to that too.

    The first is that whether that works or not depends upon the culture you’re in. Being where you’re at, I can see where that would be a problem, especially with people with no church background at all. But there are cultures where altar calls still work.

    The second is how an altar call is handled. There are too many altar calls in more “traditional” Churches of God whose impact is muted because there are no people at the altar to pray with people, to give people some basic Biblical counsel, to bring them away from the altar to a place away from the sanctuary for more counsel and interaction, or even to get their name and spiritual result for follow up!

    On a visit to the UK years ago, I visited a large church where anyone who came forward was brought into a room away from the service where counsellors could do their work.

    Finally, I think a church should see lives transformed through all of its activities, not just in the worship service. That’s why we work to train people to share their faith and to minister in every setting they find themselves in.

    But it’s a tough sell.

  13. Jonathan Stone
    April 7, 2008

    Travis, agreed. You’re missional focus is refreshing and much needed!

    Don, I have mixed feelings about the current status of the ‘altar call.’ (But thanks for letting me know that I was responding to the guy that wrote the book on it! Ha! That’s awesome!) I think that we need to know how to pray for and with one another. This can be particularly important in small group settings, where often people do not know what to do when ‘the Spirit breaks in’ and/or someone discloses a very serious personal issue. Perhaps a ‘manual’ can be written for that. Or perhaps your current manual on altar calls essentially covers that. Anyway, for those of us who grew up CoG (or something similar) we tend to have a long list of ‘foul balls’ in the altar. A few of the most powerful experiences I have ever had took place in the altar where I encountered God. But there are many, many more experiences that I have had in altars that led to nothing, save confusion. So, I appreciate that the altar call still works in certain cultures. But I’m still a little bearish on it at the same time. I think my main problem with the altar call is that it brings too much ‘closure.’ And we have, in American culture anyway, an insatiable need for closure. The problem is this, if something as ‘taken care of’ in the altar, how can a person then bring it back into the conversation if s/he is still struggling with it?

  14. travis johnson
    April 7, 2008

    Our altar call issue is only a space issue. We have no area between the stage and the first row of seats…literally zero space.

    We do a call for salvation during our worship set as a part of communion. We have four tables, bread, and a common cup. We fence the table for only people who are active followers of Jesus and then extend a call to people who would like to follow Jesus. We pray a prayer of confession together and open the tables. It fits beautifully with our culture.

    After that, we pass the peace…just a little differently than in the RCC. Today, when people greeted one another, the band played Joan Osbourne’s “What If God Was One of Us?”…fitting since our message was asking, “Why did Jesus’ mom have to be a virgin?”

    At the end of the service, I gave a second call to follow Jesus and asked that people would stand if they were ready to commit their lives to following Christ. Every week, we have people going public with their faith in services like that.

    BUT, next week, we’ll have Baptism at the Bay. People will come out to be baptized that have never indicated that they were choosing Christ. They simply go public with their faith in Jesus at Baptism. So, its more of a process of realization for them.

    Think about it. Its kind of crazy to expect someone to hear a 40 minute message (sales pitch) and then legitimately redirect the trajectory of the entire life. I’m not discounting that experience for anyone. But, not everyone is wired to work that way. We want to accommodate as many people as possible. If they’re going after Jesus, I don’t care how they came to their decision. But, I do care if we are facilitating that decision and process.

  15. Don
    April 7, 2008

    Jon: I do address some of these issues in Ministering at the Altar. As far as “finality” in our altar results is concerned, I’m not sure how to answer that. Sometimes we find finality easier to want than to obtain.

    One thing I try to avoid in anything I write for the church is to impart things through prose what they need to obtain directly from God. I see this fault all too often. I for my part can’t bring myself to do it.

    Travis: looks like you’re preaching on the suject that got Rob Bell into trouble. I did review that book and tackle that issue directly.

    You’re method of using Holy Communion is interesting for a student of Patristic Christianity. That’s a long and complicated subject; I’ll not go into it here.

    I’m assuming that the baptisms are in Biscayne Bay. That’s awesome! But you’ve hit up on something that’s a pet peeve of mine in the CoG: the totally casual connection between baptism and salvation. People get saved, wait for years, and then suddenly wake up to the fact that they haven’t been baptised, and have had no real encouragement to do so.

    Baptism was for years (until pedobaptism became fashionable) a very serious statement of commitment to Jesus Christ. The Baptists have oversystematised it by tying salvation, baptism and church membership (coupled with their doctrine of eternal security) together too tightly. But baptism needs to be that solid declaration of life commitment to Our Lord, and if that’s the first public one a believer makes, all the better.

  16. m.d. mcmullin
    April 7, 2008

    Looks like I missed all of the fun.

    My church is a very event-driven, program-driven church. I feel like I fit in a more relational ministry style. But to work within the structure I am in, we began to plan discipleship weekends (they like the term “conference” so we use that). We focus on a subject that we feel is important to the spiritual growth of our people.

    Last year we chose “the Holy Spirit” and invited Dr. Steve Land. It was really great and opened a lot of our former baptists up to not being intimidated or freaked out so much (we estimate 60% of our people are “Baptist” – like its an ethnic group – lol).

    This year we chose “Intimacy in Worship”. We invited Jason Upton (incredible) and Jack Deere. We chose to open this weekend to those outside our body. Upton has quite a following and so his website alone drew hundreds.

    The event was meant to be formative – transformative for our people. Since most of them will not involve themselves in a Bible Study (Sunday am, Wed pm or anytime on their own) we try to “attract” our own people to come and be exposed during the weekend.

    Is it effective? I think we have to wait and hear “the rest of the story”. We tried to” set the stage” for people. Did we make it too easy?

    Regarding the post: Does the end justify the means? I suppose saved is saved, whether you bought the sales pitch, had the hell scared out of you by an end times preacher, or just miss your Mamaw and want to see her in heaven.

    I read some where that often times we ask people to make the most selfish decision of their lives when they get saved. “Choose the good life, get out of hell free, declare sin bankrupcy and face no consequences for any actions before this moment – its all expense paid.” I wonder if the way in which someone is saved plays a part in defining the nature of their relationship with God? i.e if they were guilted or scared into it have we birthed a new Christian already under the bondage of condemnation or fear.

  17. Jonathan Stone
    April 7, 2008

    Travis and Don, the issue of ‘closure’ that I mentioned is connected in my mind with the issue of committing your life after a 40-minute sales pitch (Travis), as well as the loss the meaningfulness of baptism (Don).

    However, I also have in mind something that grows out of a uniquely Pentecostal dynamic, and that is the issues that people ‘wrestle with’ as they ‘linger’ in the altars. Perhaps this just doesn’t happen much anymore. But I am not very far removed from the days when the Sunday evening church service in Pentecostal churches was designated for making room for ‘praying through.’ Some things are meant to ‘linger.’ But our impulse is to resolve it all. Because of that it seems that at times there is a pseudo-closure that is created. I see a more common phenomenon in our churches that I think is related. Often I have been apart of a church service where the speaker had shared some ‘word’ or ‘insight’ or ‘judgment’ or ‘challenge’ or whatever, that really cut deep. I felt like I needed to hold these things close to my heart, chew on them, live with them, and let them settle deep into my soul before I could respond (it was the ‘afflict the comfortable’ side of the known saying). Yet, this would be followed up by some very tacit and shallow ‘closing’ prayer, followed by ‘a couple of important announcements before you leave.’ And suddenly it seems that everyone is ready to leave that disturbance at church. It’s a done deal. Nothing left to talk about. Nothing left to ponder. Maybe it’s just a personal thing about the way I am wired, but for me this tendency takes both the ‘challenge’ and the ‘wonder’ out of such moments.

  18. Jonathan Stone
    April 7, 2008

    Mike, the ‘conference’ sounds very intriguing. I would love to hear more about how the people responded to Jason Upton, though I have never heard him lead worship. I would suspect that Jack Deere was received quite well, though I have never heard him speak.

    You bring up a fascinating question about how ‘the way someone was saved’ might impact the way s/he relates to God. I would suspect that the answer is yes. However, I would also suspect that anyone can, and everyone is expected to mature in a way as to overcome those tendencies. Kohlberg said that faith that grows out of the desire to avoid punishment is the lowest form of faith there is. I think he was probably right. I also think that many, if not most, of us came to know the Lord in that way. I would also add that faith in order to receive rewards is not much higher in terms of a form of faith. At some point, we must ‘set aside childish’ ways, and mature into the faith that grows out of and is most marked by love, a faith that does not fear the judgment of God and does not work for ‘the better seat’ in heaven, but simply responds to the unmeritited favor of a loving God who burns with passion for His creation. If you ever get there please tell us the way! 🙂

  19. Don
    April 8, 2008

    Mike: my Catholic background may be showing, but I don’t think that a person can be said to be saved if he or she does so solely out of fear of going to hell. Jesus told us that the first commandment is to love God, which means that loving God is essential to salvation. I mentioned how this issue helped to spark the Jansenist movement in France in the 17th century here.

  20. travis johnson
    April 8, 2008


    I am preaching on the Virgin Birth…at least I was. We should have the video up later today. I wasn’t worried at all about doctrinal infidelity. I was concerned that tackling the Virgin Mary would get me in hot water with some people I love a lot, especially since one of our new sound guys is a newly converted former Benedictine Monk.

  21. Jonathan Stone
    April 9, 2008


  22. sandrar
    September 10, 2009

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  23. Pingback: One from the Vault « jonathan stone's blog

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This entry was posted on April 5, 2008 by in missional, vision.
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