Thursday, December 11, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 1: A Response to Dan Kimball’s Editorial comments

Recently Dan Kimball wrote an editorial piece in Leadership Journal called Missional Misgivings. It is posted on Out of Ur, here is the url:

In it he asked several important questions about the missional church movement. He seemed to imply that house churches were missional churches. In the next few entries I intend to respond to Dan's remarks. This is just the first one...

A thorn by any other name is still a thorn.

I do not believe that missional churches and house churches are synonymous. There are many house churches that like to adopt new terms like “missional” “simple” and “organic” to describe themselves because those terms are currently cool, but they are still just the same as they were before—house churches. We’ve had dysfunctional, angry, inwardly focused house churches in America for well over a century. Adding a hip descriptive word doesn’t change the internal DNA.

Like Dan, I look around and see a lot of people claiming to be missional but in reality are not. I see many people wanting to join this organic/missional church movement but they bring their old baggage with them and it is too heavy to take out into the fields. We need to hear Dan's comments before we react to them too negatively, because there is some truth in there.

That said, I think Dan has over inflated his own research/experience. There is a lot he has not experienced yet. Perhaps he has thought that simply meeting in a living room is what we mean by being missional. It is not. More to come...


Anonymous said...

Hi Neil!

I look forward to what you will say. As I wrote in the first sentence of the article "I hope I am wrong" in my observations. I wasn't trying to over-inflate my observations, but I will say out of the 20 or more organic churches/missional church leaders I have specifically asked about their longer term (not short term) experience with seeing new disciples made who were not Christians before - the answers were uniformaly rarely seeing new Christians/disciples. They were providing healing places and community for those who had bad experiences in the established church. WHich is a good thing, so that is needed. But missional must mean more than helping the already Christians heal (which is important!). So my point was asking them about new Christians, as these are the very same ones who criticize the larger established church who at least are seeing new disciples over time.

I know you raise a lot of very, very, very valid questions about the health of "disciples" which are very needed questions. Not just converts but disciples. I do think there are established churches whom are doing their best in making "disciples" recognizing the weakenesses of them in that way (it is the Spirit who makes disciples, but I think you know what I mean).

But I am just today I spent time with yet another person who got burnt out on the larger church, went to an organic church format, but now is back in the larger church because of these same reasons I am asking about. Our conversation was great as he said the larger church must be teaching and saying that simply sitting in a large meeting is not the end of it all and what defines "church" that they have to be sending people into true smaller communities and defining what the priesthood of all believers is etc. But the larger church still is the hub of them connecting etc. I am wonderign if this will be a pattern developing, as I have now talked to several people who left established churches, went "organic" but now are moving back to established churches trying to bring what they learned into the more organized community. I think that is what I personally have hope for.

I know I am more in the circles of established churches, but I will say as I do try to always engage in conversations with organic church leaders and my observations are limited, and from about 20 churches I would guess.

Anyway, bye for now! Hope we get to chat in person some day!


Neil Cole said...

Hi Dan. Thanks for chiming in. The conversation will be so much more helpful this way.

I agree that many house churches are only providing a shelter for damaged Christians. If people find healing there than it is a good thing. I am not too grieved by that, but I will not be content with it either.

You are absolutely right that we must see lost people who become true followers of Christ and function as devoted agents of Christ's kingdom or we are less than missional. Heck we are less than spiritual, in my opinion, if that is the case.

There are a lot more reasons why I believe that the old way of doing church has drawbacks. I also have several reasons why I believe that doing church in a more organic/missional manner will truly transform our world. I will share a lot of them in the coming days.

One thing I didn't say right in my first post on this: I meant that your experience was not broad enough. I did not at all mean to say that you personally over-inflated your actual experience, but that your experience was not as deep or broad as it could be for such an assessment. Sorry, I miscommunicated already. I guess I just meant to say that there is a lot out there that you have not yet experienced.

Anonymous said...

Hi again!

Thanks for the response. I guess I am seeing such hope and change happening in larger churches that I need to come back to you and ask the same question you ask me! Are you having a broad enough exposure and experience to the good happening there and the changes occuring out there? I am not writing from being in a megachurch, we are in a church plant started in 2004. So this isn't a defense, it is just observing and talking to people in established churches and hearing how their lives are changing. So I think there is a lot of great things happening out there in larger established churches as well as smaller organic ones.

I look forward to what else you will say!


Neil Cole said...


Well, I would say that I have some experience in established churches and megachurches. "Some of my closest friends are pastors of megachurches." lol.

I do see some changes happening in some incredible ways, but most of those changes that I am seeing are moves toward becoming more missional.

I am very excited about what Dave Gibbons and New Song are up to. Francis Chan is also leading in some very profound ways. My bud Bob Roberts is planting lots of churches, and I am especially excited about what Northwood does overseas.

I think Willow Creek's self evaluation is great and that it is a strong step in leading others. I do pray that it does yield some good fruit in the future.

I am part of some meetings taking place next month where some national megachurch leaders and some micro church leaders are getting together to learn from each other.

I probably have more opportunity to engage megachurches than a mega church pastor would the micro churches, if only because the micro churches are not easy to find and do not get famous. I am asked to speak regularly to mega churches and their conferences. So I am probably aware of some of what is going on.

Honestly, there are some good trends and some that I think are just awful. I am not a big fan of multi-site video venue. I have actually had a good long conversation with both Larry Osborne and Dave Ferguson who are both friends and shared my reservations with them. I have my opinion of these things and perhaps in some future posts I will share about that issue.

But most of the best things happening in the megachurch world right now are due to the influence of becoming more missional. Of course I have a bias, and I know that, but that is what I think.

I will post more in this series about the megachurch model and its drawbacks. I am not against the larger churches, but I do think they face some serious challenges in being missional and those are some of the posts I will add to this blog in the coming days. I will also point out some very fruitful micro churches and share some statistics about what is going on in the missional/organic church world.

Anonymous said...

Hi again!

That is what I am talking about, as larger churches (especially progressive thinking ones) are now seeking out input about organic church theory which is why I am optimistic about the future with them. It will be slower to make change because of the size, but just think if 20% of a church of 1,000 makes a true change that is 200 people. That is quite a number of people which would probably be 10 organic churches making change.

I too have friends who have gone "organic" and it was their stories also which I am finding fascinating where as hard as they have tried, read organic church books, conferences, are remaining the same group they started with or are being joined by already Christians.

I think the key for USA will be established churches (large or small) gaining what you have stirred up and applying it within their structure but still having gatherings that are larger etc. The person I met with yesterday who did get burnt on large church now is back in a medium size established church and says that he missed the larger gatherings and the times of being amongst other believers in larger numbers and getting encouraged in that way for being on mission throughout the week. So he now sees having a balance. That I my hope of what is ahead.

Bye again! I am bringing a non-Christian friend of mine to our very "attractional" alternative Christmas play tomorrow. So you can pray for him that the "program" and the people who he meets at our attractional play will be salt and light to him :)


Neil Cole said...


Yes, I to want to see larger attractional churches becoming more missional. I also notice the balance of the two forms and rejoice like you. I believe we may well see a lot more of this.

At the same time, I am convinced that to reach this world with the Good News of Christ's kingdom we will need to become more decentralized and multiplicative. This is not just an option, it is a mandate. We must multiply disciples, leaders and churches. Our old systems do not multiply. We will need to start new systems to see the multiplicative results we need.

I do rejoice in the addition growth but it is not enough. It is my hope that the churches that exist currently will strive to be effective in adding disciples and leaders. I also hope they become fertile and start to give birth to new forms of churches which can spontaneously multiply. In a sense this is grand-parenting movements. and we are seeing this happen.

I am not against the existing church forms, but I want us to realize that we must also try something else that can multiply easier and fill the earth with Christ's kingdom.

Pressing on,


Andy Rowell said...

I have listed Neil's series at my post chronicling the dialogue after Kimball's post:

Following Dan Kimball's Missional vs. Megachurch conversation

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