Is Your Church “Attendance, Buildings and Cash”-Based or “Missional, Relational and Incarnational?”
Got any aches, pains and complaints? Anyone who served in World War II would say, “Sure. It cured everything!” The acronym APC was widely used in the middle of the twentieth century to identify a pain medicine. It was a combination of aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. Sort of like Excedrin or Aleve today, APC was such a favorite analgesic and antipyretic (fever treatment) that it became standard issue in the military.
There was only one problem: Long-term ingesting of APC tablets could kill you. Scientists didn’t discover this until the late ‘50s and ‘60s when phenacetin was found to cause renal problems, multiple blood disorders, and cancer. The only continuing use of phenacetin today is as a cutting agent to adulterate illegally supplied cocaine.
Perhaps we need to help churches stop practicing APC Christianity and become what I’m calling an MRI church where “M”=Missional, “R”=Relational, and “I”=Incarnational. In APC Christianity (also dubbed the “ABC Church”: Attendance, Building, Cash), “A” stands for Attractional, “P” for Propositional, and “C” for Colonial.
Some things can be good for you for a short time but bad for you over the long haul. In fact, some things can make your church grow fast and big in months and years, and yet over decades can have debilitating effects on the body of Christ, and even kill you if not kill your spirit. To misquote Paul, the wages of APC is death.
The attractional church thinks that if they build it, and build it hip and cool, people will come. Part of the appeal of the APC church is that we are living in an age of attraction. There are many ways of describing the world in which we are living: the Information Economy, the Knowledge Economy, the Empathy Economy, the Experience Economy, the Attention Economy. But one of the most unique is Kevin Roberts’ elaboration of the Attraction Economy and in implications of what he sees as the shift from attention to attraction.1 The attractions of attraction over attention include the shift from interruption to engagement, directors to connectors, one-way to two-way, one-to-many to many-to-one, heavy users to inspirational consumers, return on investment to return on involvement, and convergence to divergence.
The church that is missional had better know how to attract people to Christ. Come is a good word. Evangelism is come to Christ and come to community, or best of all, evangelism is announcing that Christ has come to you. Goers had better be comers. Senders had better be summoners. But we best be clear about where the attractiveness resider: “If I be lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will draw all to myself.” Jesus is the attraction. Jesus is the draw, despite all our time spend at drawing boards drawing up this appeal and drafting that attraction. Dominican Gerard Hughes offers a useful rule of thumb in decision making and discernment: “God draws, the destructive spirit drives”’ or, “God always draws us and never drives us.” A key test of the spirit is attraction.
The church that is relational can’t escape the fact that to say “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life” is itself a proposition. And the church that is incarnational prays every day a colonizing prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Every Christian is a colonizer: We are colonizing earth with heaven. We are creating “colonies” of heaven not Christian-coated mirror cities.
APC creates: Members-Believers-Consumers
MRI creates: Missionaries-Disciples-World Changers
APC Christianity is the wrong default for the following reasons.
First, in a system that isn’t as healthy as it should or could be, the body is more susceptible to toxins, light fights, jealousies, doctrinal disputes, bad attitudes, etc. The APC is not that healthy of a system, so the APC life and church get infected more easily, require high maintenance, and demand constant APC injections to keep it going.
Alan Jamison said, “We cannot ask God to repair what we will not acknowledge and own as being broken.”1
Second, the church is now encountering the double whammy of postmodernity and post-Christiandom. Postmodern culture is an anti-generation to be familiar with the Christian story and for whom churches have cultural significance. And you will die, leaving behind a culture for whom the Christian story will be completely unknown.
This requires not only a new ability to tell the story but also a fresh way to reframe the story for “a sinless society,” a mission field where people don’t see themselves as “sinners.”
“We have never been this way before” is something, of course, every generation can say. But we can say this with the realization that if we have been this way before, if we have dealt before with the enormity of change we’re facing today, we haven’t been this way since the fourth century (the Constantinian captivity), since the eleventh century (when East and West split), or at the very latest, since the sixteenth century (when the West split into Protestant and Catholic).
It is time to push the reset button on Christianity—the original operating system—not just back to Acts 2, which was another rebooting accomplished by the incarnation, but back to the original Genesis 1 and 2 operating system. Whenever you download a new program on your computer, you must reboot the system to actualize the change.
It is time to live out of the secret of life, the secret of the cruciform life: the double-helix divine design for life and the church.
When people say they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, it doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger church. The cutting edge of what the Spirit is up to is not mortar-happy churches, or bigger and better mousetrap churches. It is MRI churches. Not come-gather churches, but as-you-go-scatter churches. Not an “in here” church, but an “out there church. In fact, maybe we shouldn’t even talk about “church” but about life, a life so beautiful.
1Kevin Roberts, Living in the Age of Attraction: Heart of the Matter: Marketeers Must Emotionally Connect with Consumers,” Advertising Age, 78 (29 January 2009): 12.
2Alan Jamieson, Journeying in Faith (London: SPCK, 2004), 96.
Excerpt taken from ©2009 Leonard Sweet. So Beautiful published by David C. Cook, pp. 17-21. Used by permission. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.