Posted by: michaelhanegan | September 18, 2008

From Evangelism to Witness…

Here I want to bring in some charts and illustrations from The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost  and talk about their significance for our understanding of evangelism and missional ministry.

Christology —> Missiology —> Ecclesiology1


This concept seems reasonable from the beginning but its implications I think are far more pervasive than we initially assume that they are. One of the reasons that I think this model could prove to be ineffective is simply that our Christology is weak, myopic, and/or unexamined. I find it interesting that in all the churches I have been in 90% of the preaching and teaching from the New Testament is from somewhere besides the Gospels. Some would contend that the Gospels need to be the primary texts of the missional church.

There is no doubt that our understanding and willingness to follow the example of Jesus will determine our ecclesiology. But Frost and Hirsch suggest that to go directly from Christology to Ecclesiology is to miss an important element of our missional identity. They describe it this way:

Our Christology informs our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology. If we get this the wrong way around and allow our notions of the church to qualify our sense of purpose and mission, we can never be disciples of Jesus, and we will never be an authentic missional church. Churches that have got this basic formula wrong never really engage in mission and so lose touch with Jesus. These churches spend all their time discussing (or arguing) about the forms of worship, the church furniture, and the timing of services or programs, and fail to recognize that our ecclesiology flows more naturally out of our sense of mission. These churches become closed sets as a result, and their experience of Jesus at the center fades into a memory of the time when they were really doing something. It becomes a matter of history rather than an experience of mission now. It is important to recover the idea that the church connects with Jesus through mission, not through getting church meetings right! (pg. 209)

These sound like relevant words for many of our churches today. We can’t think about days gone by when things used to work. We can’t stop time, enshrine methods and traditions, and expect to continue to connect with Christ and each other in the same way that we did when the core of our identity and experience was being a part of the mission of God.

This truth (Christology —> Missiology —> Ecclesiology) really shows us that we need to respond in a couple of ways.

  1. We need to reclaim and value more highly in our worship and other gatherings the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. This might mean that we need to intentionally spend more time in the Gospels in our teaching and preaching. It might be that we incorporate a Gospel reading into each of our services to expose people to them more regularly. However you choose to do it we must find a way to help our churches as individuals and as whole bodies to reconnect with the head, Jesus Christ, and we do just that through the Gospels.
  2. That structuring our church and then planning our outreach (missiology) is really backwards. This one may perhaps be the most difficult to really accomplish. The thing that I have experienced though that shows how necessary this correction would be is this: When we plan our outreach we are very limited in our methods and concepts because we have to stick with our “identity” as a church. We can’t be too creative in our outreach because our times together show a total lack of creativity. We perceive it is a dangerous opportunity to present two totally opposite portraits of ourselves. If we were to do this in the right order it would bless our churches and lend an increasing amount of credibility and relevance to our witness.
  3. That our churches must always be in a state of re-examination and continuing conversion. This is the thrust of a great book by Darrell Guder called The Continuing Conversion of the Church in which he suggests that the only effective churches are those who are “evangelizing themselves” or being changed and transformed by the Gospel. Guder claims that the continuing conversion of the church is the catalyst for it to fulfill its role in God’s mission. I think he is on to something for sure.

Bounded vs. Centered Set (A Theology of Ministry and Evangelism)2


I find this to be one of the more insightful critiques of the effects of Christdendom on our ecclesiology especially as it pertains to our understanding of salvation and how the church views its role in the sanctification of the believer. The metaphor for this model is based on two very different agricultural techniques when it comes to livestock.

This model says that to effectively contain and protect livestock it is important to generate firm and secure barriers. They have a dual function, to keep certain things in and to keep others out. This model works well when there is little land to cover and ownership and control are paramount concerns. (Are you seeing the connections already?)
This model says that to effectively contain and protect livestock it is important to put sources of water in strategic places on the premises. The livestock won’t travel too far from a source of water. This model works well when the land available is enourmous and there are greater concerns than “herding” the livestock.

In the bounded set the goal is to get people to move from “the world” across the threshhold (in our fellowship this is baptism, although such a view is myopic in its scope) to the safety, security, and certainty of “the saved” (a.k.a the church). What they do once they are inside the boundary is often of little or less concern than their entrance in the first place. In churches with a bounded set mentality the things that matter are baptisms, membership, and conversion of people from other denominations.

In the centered set approach Jesus Christ is the “water source” at the center of it all. It is not the case however, that in this model there is no clear teaching about salvation and whether or not one is in right relationship with God. The key here is that one is always moving closer to the “life source”. In this model it’s not about getting “in” but about moving closer to the source of life that is at the center. In churches with a centered set the things that matter are being witnesses to friends, family, and the community, and a desire to progress in both their corporate and individual sanctification.

The goal here is not to blur or soften the line to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, by working in a centered set approach I believe we are freed to more effectively delineate that line. We are able to better understand it and are less likely to see salvation as an event and more of a process in which we are always moving closer to the center.

Frost and Hirsch explain it this way:

Churches that see themselves as a centered set recognize that the gospel is so precious, so refreshing that, like a well in an Australian Outback, lovers of Christ will not stray too far from it. It is then a truly Christ-centered model. Rather than seeing people as Christian and non-Christian, as in or out, we would see people by their degree of distance from the center, Christ. In this way, the missional-incarnational church sees people as Christian and not-yet-Christian. It acknowledges the contribution of not-yet-Christians to the community and values the contribution of all people. Jesus’ faith community was clearly a centered set, with him at the center.  …  It seems that the community of Christ was not as simple as thirteen guys roaming the countryside. There was a rich intersection of relationships with some nearer the center and others further away, but all invited to join in the kingdom-building enterprise. I the modern church followed this biblical model, the church would be more concerned with relationships than with numbers.  …  [In working with people] do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place might seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before.  …  Such an incarnational outreach would require all the elements New Testament writers experienced as normative: the leaving of one’s comfort zone, sacrifice, hard work, the possibility of persecution, endurance, and putting others first. On the other hand, it’s possible for Christians in traditional churches to attend services at no real cost to themselves at all. (pgs. 47-51)

A centered set model not only allows us to call people at all stages of life (from total rebellion, to interested seeker, to prodigal son) to join us on the journey to pursuing Christ at the center but it allows us to maintain our focus on the mission of God. Our Christology determines our Missiology which determines our Ecclesiology (remember the discussion above). A church who puts Christ at the center and concentrates on the mission of God instead of the status of individuals or the statistics of the congregation will be more capable of producing more, better, and reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.

1 The Shaping of Things to Come,  209.
2 The Shaping of Things to Come, 47-51, 206-208.

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