Beyond the Either/Or Church
from Frost and Hirsch, "The Shaping of Things to Come"


In this section we want to suggest ways in which the church can structure its communal life in a way that embodies a [whole-life] spirituality. Behind this is the belief that the medium of the church itself must communicate a message that helps people find God in every sphere of life and not just within the confines of the church and in church activities.

To do this we need to go back briefly to the issue of dualism. We raise the issue of dualism again because it is so easy to embody this belief in the very structures and activities of the church in a way that counters any life-affirming message we might wish to portray verbally. Again, the actual medium of the church is the message. If we could diagrammatically demonstrate this dualistic structure of church it might look like this:

Dualistic Mode

In this diagram one can envisage the unconscious perception of the average Churchgoer's church experience as something like this:

One enters the church (the middle circle). This is a neutral space of like-minded people. It is kind of safe and reassuring to be there. Then one goes into the chapel area (symbolized by the interface between the "God" and "Church" circles) and there hears "a call to worship; the music kicks in, and the worship begins. Now one is beginning to experience God. After the communal singing and the intimacy with God that is experienced there. our typical churchgoer (let's call her Jane) is then exposed to the Word of God in the sermon. She then experiences God deeply as personal Savior in the sacraments. Some more songs and Jane is once again into the middle circle having a coffee or a soda with her Christian friends. She then has to face going out into the world (symbolized by the "World" circle).

The world in Jane's (dualistic) perception is a dangerous place for Christians. God is not perceived as being "in the world." It's a harassing experience and she barely makes it to midweek cell group where she again encounters God in the same way as she did. on Sunday. Also, she has her quiet times when God "turns up," but other than that she is on her own in a spiritually dangerous place.

If you'll forgive the over-simplification, we're sure that all of us raised in evangelical Christendom can relate in some way to the basic experience described here. This is pretty much the standard experience of "church." The tragedy is that everything in this medium of church sets Jane up to experience her life as fundamentally dualistic. Even the sermon is unrelated to life and overly conceptual. No one has necessarily intended it to be this way-it's just somehow in the medium and in the fundamental assumptions that underlie much Christendom theology and practice.

No matter how seeker friendly one might wish to make the service, it still communicates dualism. In the end God is experienced as a church god and not the God of all of life, including church. There is no missional edge to a community structured in this way. Its institutional message always works against, and thus cancels out, its overt verbal messages. And its spirituality sets people up to fail in seeing their work, play, and study as ministry or mission. Ministry is a churchy thing and is done by the experts.

It is almost ridiculous to say at this point that the New Testament church was nothing like this. It's that Christendom thing again.

Can we suggest that there is another way to configure these three elements of the diagram? There is another stance we can take in relation to God, World and the Church. This stance in our phraseology is missional-incarnational-messianic-apostolic. It brings together the four elements of this book. We believe it is a powerful shift from the normative Christendom church. Consider the following diagram:

Missional-Incarnational-Messiance-Apostolic Mode
The Green area shows biblical integration.

By reorienting the three circles we can visualize the Christian experience in an altogether different way. When we conceive of all three circles as coming together at the center, there we have a church that is truly missional, deeply incarnational, and acting in a way that extends the ministry of Jesus into the world. In this mode our worship of God is always done in the context of our mission, is culturally meaningful and has definite missional edges, as it is open to all. Our evangelism and social action is communal, we join with God in redeeming the world (he's already there!), and our spirituality is of the all-of-life variety. A friend writes this,

"Once you move into the area (or if you already live in the area), spend time just observing. Don't get panicky. Don't start doing things until you understand the ethos - the sense of place. Fall in love with the little thiings. Get to know the people. Listen a lot. If you start "doing your thing" before you are familiar with the place, you might start preaching at people - then you are forcing it. Instead, ministry must fit with what God is already doing. He has been in love with this people and this place long before you got it in your head to be a missionary. If you begin pushing your agenda before you are friends with people, then will sense a sales pitch instead of the love of God in Christ.

"Thoughout all this - PRAY. Pray for spiritual eyes. It is the Spirit's job to reveal Christ - and not just to them, but to you. In order to work with the Father you have to walk with him and move with him. Learn to see his fingerprints and hear his whispering. Pray to see what is wrong in your area - but even more, what is right."

This is exactly what Elevation (the cafe project in St. Kilda, Melbourne) is all about. It's about this convergence of God's people, mission, spirituality, and cornmunity in an organic incarnational way that we believe has the potential to literally transform whole districts. And this is what we try to engender in the interns of FORGE Mission Training Network; one of the most rewarding elements of working with the FORGE interns is when we see the lights go on as the idea dawned on them that they really can bring all the disparate elements of their lives together and still call it "church." Church needn't be something excluded from the rest of life. In fact we believe it is only true to God's own purpose when it ties together all the loose ends under the one God. The fact is that God is everywhere. He is already deeply involved in human history and in all people's lives. The challenge for us in transitioning to this mode lies in the circle named "church." The church needs to adjust its position in relation to God and the world. And to do this we must break the bondage of dualism. We've got to "fly the coop" with Ginger.

Note: These diagrams appear again in the more recent book "Right Here, Right Now" by Alan Hirsch.
See also "Going versus Sent"


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• © 2005-2010 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in April, 2007