Speaking a Missional Gospel? (part 4)  

Posted by Adam

Preaching as Missional Proclamation To The Church

In congregations operating from an attractional model of church, the identity of the church is centered on the worship gathering, and this gathering tends to be centered on the sermon. Whereas the major emphasis in this model is bringing people in, sermons tend to revolve around meeting “felt needs” with Biblical principles, with an occasional presentation of the gospel in transactional terms. Such an understanding of preaching is so prevalent, that it can be difficult for those who do not adhere to an attractional model to see a relevant place for preaching in the life of the church.

But, is preaching inherently attractional, or is it possible that “attractional” is merely one form that preaching can take? Guder offers a helpful reframe in a discussion of missional worship gatherings:
“Thus we join together the various expressions of Christian ministry in community, which are so often distinctive and unrelated to each other. We will experience and proclaim the sacraments as equipping means of grace. We will understand the music and discipline of worship as the supreme form of preparation for the work of ministry outside the walls of the church. Preaching will become the powerful Word of God equipping, challenging, correcting, and commissioning the people for their incarnational witness in the world.”[1]
If the church exists for God’s mission, her gatherings should revolve around preparation for that mission. If we are a sent people, then preaching in our gathering should serve the purpose of equipping the people of God for further and deeper engagement in our cooperative mission with God in and to the world.

Generally speaking, preaching in the attractional church was shaped toward the “seeker”, or the uninitiated. The shape of the message was usually something along the lines of “this is how God’s way benefits you”. This framing is decidedly unhelpful, and based on mistaken assumptions. First of all, the typical worship gathering is comprised mainly (if not totally) of those who already claim to follow Jesus, and who are supposed to be maturing as His disciples. Secondly, to perpetually gear the thrust of preaching to the uninitiated (as this is understood in an attractional model), is to reinforce a static faith, offering no encouragement to mature. It should also be noted that we aren’t called to a consumeristic, “what-can-God-do-for-you” Christianity in the first place. As Guder notes:
“Failure to grasp this essential link between benefit and mission results in the one-sided evangelistic preaching so characteristic of today’s Christian church. We tend to present the gospel as God’s way of getting the individual saved. We call upon people to come to Christ to be saves as though that were the ultimate purpose of our proclamation…Our savedness is not our privilege but our responsibility. To reduce the saving work of God, to say that Christ died “to save me,” is to say far too little, and thus to distort the gospel.”[2]
Our assumption in preaching should be that those gathered are the people of God, and that the main engagement that the church has with the world will be through their lives outside our walls. Our emphasis must therefore be on equipping the people of God for living witness-bearing lives, as God’s partners in his mission to the world. In other words, if the point of our gatherings is to encourage one another “toward love and good deeds”[3], then we must allow our gatherings, and our preaching to take its form from that function.

Lee Wyatt suggests a helpful model for missional preaching in our postmodern culture. He provocatively calls it “Agnostic Preaching”, though his emphasis is on the “struggle” implied by the Greek root of the word, and is not meant to imply the more popular definition employed today. Wyatt explains:
“The fundamental shape of biblical faith is narrative. The non-narrative portions…all grow out of, or respond to the gracious story of what God has done, is doing, and will do in human history. If we allow the shape of this Story to inform our preaching, then we will be primarily storytellers…Specific texts will be embedded in a larger Story. We will tease out the ways in which the non-narrative portions of the Story gain their coherence and intelligibility from the baseline established by the narrative. And the Story will be told again, and again, and again, in as many different ways as we can imagine. It is important to be clear about this. We need to allow the shape of the Story itself to determine both the form and function of our preaching.”[4]
Wyatt identifies three forms for preaching in this model. First, he argues for preaching as “re-telling”. This form of preaching serves to provide a broader, fuller understanding of God’s story as revealed in scripture for the purpose of reframing how we view and interpret the world around us, the church, and our own lives.[5] As discussed earlier, I would contend that the biblical narrative is not a metanarrative, and I stand by that statement. It is not a metanarrative, nor is it intended to be one. However, it is a “framing story”. Though related, these terms are far from synonymous. While all metanarratives are framing stories, not all framing stories are metanarratives. Brian McLaren helpfully defines a “framing story” as:
“a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.”[6]
This is exactly the business of the gospel, the biblical narrative and, therefore the business of preaching. When preaching takes the form of “retelling”, it addresses the question of who we are, and is thus reframing our identity and setting our trajectory.[7]

Secondly, Wyatt suggests that preaching can take the form of “Forth-telling”. In this form, the function of preaching is “bringing the insights and implications of reframing to bear on our current situation.”[8] Here, the preacher is facilitating an exploration of where we are as the people of God. When done well, imagination and creativity are ignited for missional responses in our own contexts. However, it should be stated that this “forth-telling” is only really possible in light of “re-telling”. We must understand who we are to even be able to see the problems to engage in our immediate context, but it is impossible to truly understand who we are and not feel the pull of God’s mission to our world.

Finally, Wyatt suggests a third form for preaching, which he calls “Fore-telling”. In this form, preaching is a means of “retooling”, and seeks to address the question of what we are to do.[9] If the church exists for God’s mission, then the church takes her shape from that mission. Form follows function. But, if God’s mission is to the world, and that world is ever-changing, then the church’s form is never static, but rather fluid and dynamic, as relative to the demands of her mission. This would be a difficult situation for any organization. In the form of “Fore-telling”, preaching can encourage the church to think in terms of the future. God’s mission is on-going and in process. As those who have wrestled with our identity as the people of God and located ourselves in His story, we must remember that the story is still unfolding. Whereas “forth-telling” ignites the flames of creativity and imagination, “fore-telling” fans those flames into a holy inferno. Preaching can remind us that our story is going somewhere, and so are we. As N.T. Wright is fond of saying, we are the people of the “already and not yet”. Wright explains:
“What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism the renewal of space, time and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection. That is the way both to the genuine mission of God and to the shaping of the church by and for that mission.”[10]
Preachers must help the people of God to see themselves individually and as a community as called by God into his future. As a people who have been formed by God’s action in the past, engaged in God’s action in the present, and oriented towards God’s restoration of all things in the future, we enter into that future unafraid, but rather characterized by faith, hope and love.

Conclusion

The church is the people of God, redeemed for the purpose of partnering with God in his mission to the world. The gospel we proclaim is fundamentally narrative in nature, and to be proclaimed, it must be both embodied and spoken. The church is called together in order to be sent out. As such, both our gatherings and especially our preaching function to further equip us for that mission. Thus preaching serves to clarify our identity, ignite imagination and creativity, and instill faith hope and love as we walk with inspired confidence into God’s future.

[1] Guder, Be My Witness, 234.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Hebrews 10:19-25

[4] Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161-162.

[5] Ibid., 161.

[6] McLaren, Everything Must Change, 5-6.

[7] Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 162.

[10] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 270.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 14, 2009 at Monday, September 14, 2009 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 comments

I think that attractional worship is another residual effect of Christianity's choice to draw so much of it's theology from Paganism. Ontologically, western Christians have basically accepted the Pagan claims (God is something up there demanding our worship, praise, and appeasement i.e. Zues, Apollo, etc).

As long as Christianity remains fixated on appeasement of a Pagan style deity (a "personal God" or a being up or out there), we may be stuck with a corresponding fixation on worship centered on our ceremonial gatherings. We've even taken it to the point of idolizing and worshiping Jesus, even though the very idea of incarnation seems to reject such a view of God. In my view, that Pagan ontology supports the dualistic lifestyles of people who sing love songs to Jesus on Sunday, but are able to walk into a ballot box and cast a vote that yields hundreds of thousands of deaths, supports sweatshops, and many other oppressive actions. The idea that God is all powerful, seeks to resolve us of our responsibility. But the incarnational view that God is weak and vulnerable, may flip that around.

I like Slavloj Zizek's view that the incarnation is a rejection of the pagan concept of God. In the incarnation story, God trusts humans with God's own life, rather than humans trying to bridge the gap and appease God through our own purification rituals. For Zizek, the incarnation suggests that the gap (the abyss) between God and man is taken up by God in the incarnation. I think this radically changes not only our worship services, but supports the kind of shift to what you call a missional gospel.

So once again I really like where you end up on this and I like the quotes by Guder and Wyatt. I'm with you on this! However, I'm not yet clear how we get there as long as our underlying theology suggests our worship is a series of appeasement rituals to an all powerful supernatural God who may chose to intervene on our behalf.

How does theology and the modern worship experience connect?

I hope this isn't too far off your point.

September 17, 2009 at 6:59 PM

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