Friday, October 22, 2010


Detroit Baptist Seminary’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching concluded today. The conference this year focused on the missional church movement. It was a rather large task—to summarize and then interact with the missional church movement.

Overall, I thought the conference was very good. Dave Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of the seminary, spoke at all four main sessions. He did an admirable job of taking a rather large and sometimes nebulous idea and making it digestible in a brief period of time.

I have written about the missional idea recently here at my blog, and will be doing some more short articles on it in the near future.

But here’s some off-the-cuff remarks that are on my mind this evening that I am going to unload here.

This conference, along with my own thinking over the last decade since I first encountered the missional idea has convinced me of this: It is far more important to know your Bible and your community than it is to know what the newest incarnation of missional is.

I think there are some useful ideas in missional that I will highlight in coming articles. I also think there are some severe shortcomings and I will also point those out.

But the reality is that, in my opinion, there is nothing useful in missional that doesn’t spring from knowledge of the Bible and good old common sense about how to relate to people in your community.

You don’t have to know who Darrell Guder is to know that a community filled with people who haven’t finished high school won’t benefit much from a 12 week series on the relationship between Pauline justification and Aristotelian logic, or an exposition about the Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (the actual title of a rather longish book I saw today).

And a reading Christopher Wright won’t be needed to convince you that a lengthy study on evil of platonic dualism and its connection to proto-gnosticism probably won’t double your church this year (unless by “double” you mean empty seats).

It doesn’t take a class with Stetzer to figure out that if you live in a community with a lot of hungry people, having some sort of food bank or food pantry is a kind thing to do to make available for needy people when they ask. It won’t get people to heaven, but it may help them go to bed without being hungry. And that’s not the worst thing you could do.

(True story: A number of years ago, my wife and I took a bag of food to a mother who just given birth. While standing in her living room, she felt compelled to show me the fresh sutures from her C-section, and before I could say, “That’s okay, I don’t need to see it” she had pulled down her sweatpants. Somehow I have never seen a missional author lay out the proper response to that scenario. I suppose something like “Wow, that had to hurt” or “That’s quite a scar” would have fit well. Perhaps my uncharacteristic silence was a rare moment of wisdom.)

If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of single moms, having moms bring in children’s clothes for needy families won’t kill you. (I needed some this past week and had nothing to give her.) Now it won’t clothe them in Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus didn’t die to provide Winnie-the-Pooh jammies for a little tyke, but it may keep a child warm during the winter.

Is that a bad thing to do? I don’t think so. It’s basic human decency. Later, I will tell you why I think this is a legitimate possibility (not a mandate) for a church to do.

Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to be usefully missional is to not spend several months listening to missional conferences and reading missional books. Rather, since “missional” means “sent,” then send yourself out. Get out of your office, take your headphones off, and walk the streets, and talk to people about their lives, their questions, their hurts, their happinesses, and their needs, their families, their jobs. Then ask a few questions. Probe. Ask why. Listen to their story.

You may want to meet their needs, answer their questions, cry with them, or buy them a gallon of milk, or maybe have someone else deliver the post-Caesarian food run … but above all, just shut up for a change and listen for a while.

It will do wonders for your preaching.

While I am rambling, this reminds me of Tim Keller teaching on preaching. He says you will preach to the people you talk to and listen to. If you spend your week listening only to books, commentaries, and ODGs, you will preach to those kind of people. If you spend your week in your neighborhood, in the coffee shops, in the parks, and reading your newspapers, you will preach to those kinds of people.

Why? I think it is because the people you talk to will create the questions that you are thinking about. Only then will you know how the gospel and the Bible reframes and reasks their questions. Perhaps on another occasion I will interact with this a bit. I don’t think its irrefutable; I do think it is helpful. Keller is not saying abandon the commentaries. He is saying talk to people.

Pastors, we can’t get up on Sunday mornings every week and feed our flocks if we haven’t spent any time with them.

But I digress, and am way off topic by now.

So what was my topic?

Ah yes, the MACP. Download the audio from this conference and listen to it. You and your church will be better off because of it.


Ben said...

Larry, looking forward to the audio myself. One question for you: Would Doran share your perspective on food pantries and clothing giveaways?

Larry said...

Ben, I participated in a panel discussion on Friday afternoon that addressed these issues (Doran, Ken Brown, and myself).

To answer your question, I am not sure. Doran seemed, to me, a bit non-committal on some of it, at least on the specifics. I would be interested to push him a bit more on it in light of some specific issues that I know he does.

He was not opposed to helping people. He commented positively on taking people to buy them a meal, or groceries, etc. But I think he wants to stop short of saying the church should do that. He says it is individuals who do that. The church only helps people in the church. Individuals help people outside the church. (I pointed out to him that many, if not most, people (particularly missional types) do not buy the distinction between the church and the individual.)

I think he also (as do I) wants to make sure that the help is not considered the gospel, and really, is not tied directly to the gospel.

So I don't think he is opposed to my perspective in principle. I think he would say that the church should not do this as a church, but that individuals should do this as they have opportunity. He wants to "reserve" the church for discipleship and church planting.

If you listen to the audio, I would be interested in your perspective.

Ben said...

It seems to me as though there might be (at least) three major positions/approaches: 1) Churches ought to organize and fund these sorts of ministries. 2) Churches may or may not organize and fund these ministries, but they ought to disciple members to do this work as individuals. 3) These are fine things for Christians to do, but neither churches nor individuals are obligated to care for the physical needs of non-Christians.

I'd assume you're a 2.

Anonymous said...

I believe meeting people's physical needs can open the door to reaching them spiritually. Also, the world is watching us to see if we will walk the walk we preach. Several years ago a lady I worked with who was very anti-baptist was very pointed in her opinion that we like to preach against abortion, but really don't do anything to help these needy people. Gives some definite food for thought.


Larry said...


Sorry for the delay in responding.

I would be a two in your scheme.

I would, however, suggest there might be a position between your two and three, that individual believers are obligated to care for peoples physical needs, but the church corporately is not. I think that might characterize Dave's position, at least to some degree because I don't think he sees much if any of a role for the church corporately either to organize or the fund them.

Larry said...


You are correct that it can. However, it can also provide false hope or a false gospel, and we should take care.

I think your point about abortion is a common position but it doesn't make a lot of sense. I can be against a lot of stuff without having the obligation to fix it.

For instance, I can find unemployment sad, but I don't have an obligation to hire people. I can find the lack of medical care in our community appalling, but I don't have to provide it.

If something is wrong, then it is wrong whether or not I choose to address the solution.

Having said that, we should help unwed mothers or mothers who are considering abortion by giving them care as we can, and by providing adoption services, etc.

That is, as you probably know, something that is close to us.

Ben said...


Agreed. 2.5 would be, "Churches should not organize or fund these ministries, but they should disciple members to love their neighbors."