Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

“Missional Buzzwords” AND “Good Touch, Bad Touch”

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I was in a frustrating discussion in which a friend and I were attempting to communicate about our opinions of various churches in Austin. He likes one because it was very missional, but felt that the largest church in the area was simply not missional or incarnational at all. I pressed him on it. The church (Austin Stone) has a very annoying vibe at times, and they tend to me more concerned with conversions than I would prefer, but the love the city, and seem to do it authentically.

See I define “Incarnational” as “Having a theology that sees Jesus act of dwelling among us as an example to be followed, so that we too should meet people where they are” it is a antonym of “Attractional” which I define “Having a theology informed by ecclesiology (study of church) that says people will receive ministry at church”

I define “Missional” as “Believing that Mission is the most important aspect of the life of the Christian and the church, such that the church is a function of the mission of God rather than the mission a function of the church”

By those definitions, Stone is both Missional and Incarnational. What’s more, I couldn’t find, the missionality in this other church he referenced. They did some service projects, but that was clearly something they did, not something they were.

calvin-susieHe couldn’t articulate his definition beyond “Having a mission” which is true of any church, and indeed any business. It may or not be a mission you like (perhaps you care more about helping the homeless than making conversions for instance) but there will be a purpose for any group to exist if it expects to keep existing.

As I kept pressing, I eventually learned that to him “Missional” was a synonym for “Good” a “Missional Church” is a “Good Church” a church he likes.

”Incarnational” on the other hand, was also a synonym for “Good”

The “Missio Dei” is a good god, they sing “relevant songs” which are 1000 year old hymns that are good and then the sermon is “Conversational” which you may think means you get to talk, but you don’t. It’s just a sermon that’s not pushy and he likes it.

Did I mention this person writes books and is getting their PhD for the study of the Emergent Church?

I can’t believe I have to say this: But when we coin new terms, it’s very important that they mean something. Particularly something that there is not already a word for. Otherwise there is really no point. Words are used to communicate you see, and if you are not using them for that, you lose.

Good Touch, Bad Touch

But then I got to thinking, (I’m trying to be more open-minded). It may be that there is a worthwhile category there. It’s amorphous, but it may be worthwhile.

When I was a small child my father made sure I watched a long PSA about abduction and molestation called “Strong Kids Safe Kids” which featured a bunch of early 80s celebrities I had never heard of (and how could I? being about 5) but it made an impact and I didn’t get abducted, so it did its job.

hqdefaultIn one segment, the Fonz attempts to break down, in preschool friendly terms, how to tell a “good touch” from a “bad touch”

It turns out the difference is that some touches feel good in your heart, some make you feel “yucky” and some, you just aren’t sure about. Fonzie calls those “Question Mark Touches” and you should tell a grown up you trust to see what they think.

And really, if we are being honest, how much assessment can we do of any personal experience that is any more advanced than that?

The Reality is that we have all had or heard about church experiences that were just yucky, for difficult and unquantifiable reasons that go beyond any specifics we are able to point out. On the other hand we all have, or hope to have church experiences which are good and life-giving (“life-giving” here is a buzzword that means “good”)

Furthermore, no category of Christian experience bears any real significance besides that amorphous judgment: Good Church Experience, Bad Church Experience.

When we say a church is “Missional” or “Purpose-Driven” or “Bible-Based” or “Christ-Centered” or “Orthodox” or “Open and Affirming” we don’t really expect to apply that any church exists which does not try to be all of those things according to their own understanding. All we are really saying with each new buzzword is that we have identified some churches that are yucky using the previous buzzword, and we are trying to not be that.

Well as well you should. Go fourth and be “Incarnational” by avoiding spiritual abuse. Make Fonzie proud.


Written by RyanGaffney

November 25, 2015 at 12:37 am

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