"Tom" sat across from me at our local coffee shop and said, "I'm stuck."
"What do you mean you're stuck?"
"I don't think I can do church the way Pastor Ted wants me to. Everything's about attracting people to church. The people I hang out with aren't attracted by the stuff we do. I mean, why would they want to come to a Super Bowl party at church when they've got beer, a big screen, and a recliner at their place? And then when I get to church, I have a hard time worshipping God because we're too busy trying to entertain people. I'm really excited that my friends are opening up to me about spiritual things, but I don't think I'd want to invite them to my own church. I know our church is attracting a lot of people to Jesus, but it just doesn't feel right to me."
I let that sit for moment, letting his frustrated words soak in. Part of me wanted to reprove him, and a larger part of me agreed with him. So what should I say that could help this sharp young leader deal with a moment of truth in his ministry journey?
"So what should church look like for you and your friends?" I asked.
A look of gratitude mixed with relief crossed his face. I could tell he had not expected anyone to even ask him about his heart for what church could look like, but he had been longing for someone to hear him. Then his eyes lit up, and he leaned forward with an eagerness that told me he'd been doing a lot of thinking about that very question. "Do you think church could be more of a community and less of an event?" he asked. I could tell he already knew the answer.
"What would church as a community look like? What would it sound like? What would be happening? What would make it the kind of environment your friends would like?" I asked.
He was thoughtful for a moment, then said, "I'm not completely sure ... but I do know that I enjoy doing life with my secular friends more than doing church with my Christian friends. My secular friends are not coming here—so how can I bring Jesus to them?"
This was the beginning conversation of what turned out to be a three-year coaching relationship. It provided a safe place for a young leader to wrestle with, explore, and develop his understanding of what a church could look like if it created an environment where his friends could explore faith in a relational community instead of at a religious event. During the first year we explored and contrasted the traditional evangelical church that Tom grew up in with the modern contemporary church he was currently ministering in and then with the missional church God was birthing in his heart. Some of our conversations focused on submission and survival in the ministry where God had placed him, while other conversations focused on cultivating the dream God had placed in his heart. As a result of this journey, Tom was able to develop a young, missional subcongregation called "The Wave" within the broader context of the contemporary church. Even as God led him to develop that ministry within an existing church, the Lord placed a vision in his heart to establish a missional, postmodern congregation among the marginalized young adults of Boston.
TransforMission: Ministry and Mission in a Changing World
TransforMission: Ministry and Mission in a Changing World
The times, they are a-changin'." We are living in a time of profound and rapid change. The world has changed, leaders have changed, and the church is changing as it seeks to accomplish the Great Commission in these times. The goal of this chapter is first to identify the transformation of church, leadership, and evangelism in a postmodern culture, then to suggest "transformissional coaching" as a new paradigm to empower leaders.
So what do we mean when we use the word transformissional? Coaching, as we see it, enables transformation, which in turn leads to missional ministry. Great coaches come alongside leaders so that leaders can be transformed into the image of Christ and join Him on His redemptive mission. Entering and experiencing the Great Commandment goes together with expressing and engaging the Great Commission. You can't have one without the other. That's why we've coined the word transformissional.
The first transformissional issue we must address is the massive cultural shift from a modern worldview to a postmodern worldview. There's no denying that this is a big change—not just a fad, experiment, or generational adjustment. Major cultural shifts are always fueled by significant change. The modern to postmodern shift has been fueled by changes in technology, from television to computers to the Internet and beyond. These technological changes have led to even bigger changes of globalism, which has led to the pluralism of cultures and faith. Within our own culture the change has also been fueled by materialism and consumerism, leaving people stressed and unfulfilled. In addition, the breakdown of the family has left people lonely and looking for community in alternative ways. All of this change and discontent have caused people to realize that the old system is not working and is not supportable. This, in turn, has led many to deconstruct their cultural values and worldview, even while being unsure of what is next.
The North American church is in trouble—and in great need of a transformation on some foundational levels. Eighty percent of Americans are unchurched. Of those who do attend a church, only 52 percent are committed believers. Eighty percent of churches have either plateaued or are in decline. There is no statistical difference in moral behavior between persons in churches and those outside. In the past fifty years we have failed to win even 2 percent of the population to Christ—and that includes our own children. More than four thousand American churches close their doors every year. At any given time, 75 percent of clergy want to quit.
The North American church is in trouble because it has lost its purpose, its place, and its passion. Most congregations in America have lost their sense of purpose or mission. They do not strongly identify with either the Great Commission or the Great Commandment. Instead, they have become defenders of doctrine or tradition in the face of a changing culture. Those who have not taken a defensive posture are busy serving one another, attracting new believers from other congregations, or just trying to keep the lights on and a few leadership positions filled.
The North American church has lost its position in the culture. Most churches no longer hold a place of prominence or influence in their community. That is to say, they are significant only to their members. Their contribution beyond themselves is no longer seen as viable or significant by the community. Often, the pastor who was once viewed as a professional and a civic leader is barely known in the community. Sometimes the church or pastor may be better known for evil than for good. Even church facilities, which were once central to the community, are instead giving place to cultural centers, concert halls, and coffee shops. The church has been marginalized, or worse.
In the face of this loss of purpose and place, many congregations have lost their passion for ministry. Although they may still have passion for God and love for one another, their passion for their city and for ministry beyond themselves has been replaced by survival instincts and cultural irrelevance.
The "traditional" church is not alone in this struggle. Even "contemporary" and "seeker" churches are having trouble keeping their children involved and attracting secular people. Recently, a group of young church planters was asked to clarify to whom they were referring when they referenced the traditional church. Their response: "Saddleback and Willow Creek, of course."
The North American church must rediscover its calling and find a new place in culture. While it may never regain its place in the center of culture, it can once again exert great influence by engaging the culture from the margin, as the New Testament church did.
To accomplish this, the North American church is changing ministry paradigms. During this author's (Steve) lifetime, it has practiced three major paradigms of ministry. First was the traditional church, the paradigm in which I grew up. The second was the contemporary church, beginning with the church-growth movement and including the seeker-church movement. This is the paradigm in which I have done ministry for the past twenty-five years. The third paradigm—what I call the transformissional church—has been on the scene since about the year 2000. This is the paradigm that is beginning to minister to a postmodern world.
In his book The Younger Evangelicals, Robert Webber suggests three similar paradigms expressed by the evangelical church in the past one hundred years. The "Traditional Evangelicals" is the first paradigm, which he dates from 1900 to 1980. I suggest it still exists in many neighborhoods and rural areas today. Traditional Evangelicals are characterized as modern with a rational worldview. They are pastor- and program-centered in their ministry and traditional in their worship style. Spirituality is determined by attendance, adherence to rules, and position in the church. Their facilities are easily recognized by their architecture, including steeples and stained glass. Finally, their most visible religious figure is Billy Graham.
The second paradigm is identified as the "Pragmatic Evangelicals," a name reflecting the high value of ministry effectiveness. This paradigm, which dates from about 1980 to 2000, includes the church-growth and seeker-church movements still prominent today. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren are the prominent leaders for this paradigm. Webber identifies this as a transitional paradigm between the modern and postmodern worldviews. Pragmatic Evangelicals are primarily boomers, and their churches make great use of media, technology, and innovation. They are market driven and success oriented. Many are megachurches, and most want to be. Their worship is contemporary and performance oriented. They tend to be ahistorical and minimize religious symbols and architecture.
The third and newest paradigm is what Webber calls the "Younger Evangelicals" because they are mostly young. (We do not agree with the "younger" designation because the postmodern worldview shaping their paradigm is not generationally bound.) Webber dates this paradigm from 2000 forward, as most of these ministry expressions have emerged in the past seven years. Younger Evangelicals are prone to deconstruct and reconstruct ministry. They have an aversion to performance and programs in the church. They prefer to emphasize the development of authentic Christian community. They love to blend the ancient with the contemporary in their worship and environments, such as presenting stained glass on video screens. They prefer an authentic spirituality in which the leader is a sojourner with them. They see themselves and their church as a small part of something larger that God is doing, not as the center of spiritual activity. While there are several recognized leaders among the Younger Evangelicals, no one leader has risen to prominence.
Each of the above paradigm changes represents a change in how the church has engaged in mission. Traditional Evangelicals engaged in mission through world evangelization, wherein a few went, a few more gave, and others prayed. Their primary missionary focus was overseas. This was partly based on a perception that America was a Christian culture and that most who wanted to be reached here had been reached. Proclamational preaching and crusades were preferred more than personal evangelism.
To Pragmatic Evangelicals, everything was about evangelism, both personally and corporately. The focus was on church growth, and the most effective means to achieve that growth was the "seeker service," a Sunday or weekend service solely focused on the attraction and conversion of the unchurched. There were many unchurched and dechurched people available, too, as the previous paradigm had all but ignored them. People came "back" to church by the thousands because church had been made relevant for them and for their kids.
Younger Evangelicals hold an entirely different view of evangelism. Recognizing that most people with a postmodern worldview have had no experience with church and will not be attracted to church and God through a seeker service, Younger Evangelicals seek to engage the culture by caring and relating to individuals on their own turf. Whereas the seeker church had developed a theology that said, "Come unto us, and we will give you Jesus," Younger Evangelicals—or what I prefer to call the transformissional church—say, "We will show you Jesus as we share life together." I believe this is much more consistent with the Great Commission: "As you go into the world, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to follow Me."
Consistent with postmodern values, today's culture wants to experience relationships and evangelism in the context of spiritual community—where people can experience Christ and Christians together in close, authentic relationships in the midst of normal, difficult lives. These communities are focused on experiencing faith—vicariously at first through believers, then gradually on their own as they experience God and come to faith. They see "coming to faith" as a process not an event. They place higher value on experiencing God than on knowing about Him. Understanding comes with experience not before. In short, a transformissional approach to evangelism encourages people to belong to a community of faith before they believe and then to come to faith as they experience God through authentic relationships in the life of that community.
Transformissional Christians have a holistic worldview and a broad understanding of the kingdom of God. They do not hold to a dualistic worldview that separates Christian from non-Christian and the church from the world. Instead, they see the church not as the kingdom of God by itself but as God's agent in the world to usher in the reign of God. For this reason they do not strategize to take people from the world and put them in the church: they engage the church in the world to represent the kingdom of God and His desire to reconcile the world to Himself.
This reconciliation is more than the reconciliation of souls. It includes the reconciliation of communities and nations as well as the structures within them. It also includes the reconciliation of creation itself. For this reason the transformissional Christian and the emerging church are not content only to bring people to faith; they must engage the culture and meet needs, serve and strengthen communities, strengthen schools and other community structures, as well as engage in political agendas as necessary. They are also willing to be global citizens, engaging in global causes and ecological concerns for the sake of the planet as well as the gospel. Members of the emerging transformissional church will find authentic spiritual community and develop spiritual friendships with lost people while engaging the culture and serving the community rather than creating programs to serve only the converted and attract the unconverted. The mission is personal, collective, spiritual, and social. The church is only truly transformissional when it is able to engage in both the social transformation of the culture and the spiritual transformation of individuals.