October 22, 2020

Missional Street Cred: The Conversation Continues

Somewhere between Mark Driscoll, David Fitch, Bill Kinnon and Jared Wilson there’s a discussion about the validity of missional/emerging church claims to know what they are doing/talking about….which I’m not part of, but one of them asks for my thoughts. Big mistake 🙂 (OK….it was Kinnon.)

First, my own missional cred.

My community has professing converts. About 25 this past year. Several Chinese students. One Muslim at least. We baptized that many; I’d guess there’s several more that didn’t ask for baptism. Ill treat them as Christians until I have a major reason to do otherwise.

My community has been evangelizing students for over a century. We’ve never written an article or book about it. I do know something of how it works…but here’s point 1.

1. I’d really don’t see any value in telling someone else how to be missional with anything other than a lot of humility. Our predecessors at our ministry moved to the mountains of SE Kentucky, built a school and made it possible for lots of kids to go there. We present the Gospel every day and we live out- very, very imperfectly- the values of the Kingdom of God.

Mostly we love those kids and take our time building a relationship where Christ can be seen and the Gospel heard.

It would be arrogant for me to say that the converts are anything other than the work of the Holy Spirit, since nothing we do has any spiritual power apart from God himself.

So having established that I’m kindof missional and have converts, can I talk now? 🙂

2. There are three kinds of credibility that evangelicals should examine very closely these days. Those are the credibility that comes from your web presence, your conference presence and your ability to get published.

These three things do not mean you know what you are doing on the ground, that you have any cred when it comes to building missional community or that anyone should listen to you. They don’t mean you are telling the truth or should even be speaking.

They mean you have a platform. That’s it. Beyond that, someone should look deeper.

3. Having a church is another claim that should be taken with a grain of salt. Ken Silva has a “church.” Some gurus have churches so big, multiplying in so many ways that they could claim to be making converts by the kind of toilet paper they are using in their facilities and it would have cred.

Churches are of all kinds, and many are the results of processes over which the gurus only had partial control, if that much.

4. Hundreds and thousands of Christians coming to your church so they get to say they go to the “cool” church should give you no cred at all as being missional. If your church is a fan club, then say so. I could name names here and so could you.

If you don’t know how to tell these kinds of people to go away, see Tim Keller or Matt Chandler, especially Keller.

5. Twenty somethings coming for the music and families coming for the soccer league aren’t converts. They might be in the process, but that remains to be seen.

Do you have a definition for this Jesus-follower we’re talking about? Where I grew up you were a convert if you walked the aisle or prayed the prayer. Some places you a convert if you get baptized. Other places you are a convert if you show up. But that’s another discussion, isn’t it?

6. When a large church pastor starts lecturing small churches about their lack of evangelism, you should change the channel, because the guy is mainly being a jerk toward a lot of faithful ministers and Christians in more difficult situations. This has gone on in the SBC for years. We get thousands of people joining a church so Joe pastor can now talk about his converts. Then when Tom Ascol wants to talk about the thousands of people who have disappeared from the same church, he’s vilified.

I totally respect what Mark Driscoll has done in paying the price to build Mars Hill. But the first 500 is a lot different ball game than the last 500, and we all know it. How many faithful, talented, sacrificial church planters and pastors find they can’t go on? And some places are just hard. Where did we get the idea that every community can have a great church if church planter Bob will just do the right things?

7. Small churches have a tough time seeing converts. So does any church these days. We aren’t in a time when people are joining Christianity. We’re in a time when tens of millions are walking away from it. We’re in a time when thousands of Christians are going from this church to that. The faithful pastor may be seeing converts or not. You’re going to have to look deeper.

But we are in a time that produces a lot of experts, if you buy the spin.

I’d love to go to Conference whatever and ask the audience how many converts each of the speakers had the previous year, and how do they know.

8. It does take time for a church to become a healthy church. It doesn’t take time for Mr. Personality and Mr. Church Program or Mr. Megachurch to get “converts.” But if we are going to assume that Joel Osteen has the most cred in evangelicalism in this matter of missional evangelism, then have it at.

9. I’m prepared to listen to anyone talk about evangelism who’s making a faithful effort to follow Jesus and be church. But God builds the church and God counts the fruit. I’m not buying the idea that every place there’s a sign hung out is the church Jesus is building. Jesus may be at work there, but the “churchiness” of most churches isn’t coterminous with the church as it defines itself. At least not for most evangelical Protestants.

I have no idea how many converts Joe Thorn, Steve McCoy or Tom Ascol have at their churches. I don’t plan to ask. God is the one who counts converts, not us. I’ll listen to what they say because they are faithful men, and whether or not they are in a place or season of conversions is God’s work. I want to know if they make evangelism possible? Do they follow what Jesus did in proclaiming the Kingdom? Do they model the heart that God uses?

10. I understand who Driscoll is talking about. Let’s be honest. On the level of conversion cred, should we listen to Driscoll or Mclaren?

Should we listen to both of them? With how much salt? Or neither? For what reason?

It’s up to you. Just know the game you’re in, and the score may make a bit more sense.


  1. I’d love to have Driscoll, Fitch, McLaren and Keller in the same room with multiple cameras. Let each ask and respond to questions. (Driscoll traveled with the Leadership Network gang in the ’90’s that included McLaren. They were, at the very least, more than acquaintances.)

    Mark has called Brian a heretic. Let’s get them dealing with each other over that. Perhaps the interaction will prove Mark’s point…or not. Who knows.

    But, it would be a great example of the “functional” Body of Christ at work. Rather than the present dysfunction on display for all.

    For fun, we could even add Joel Osteen and Todd Bentley. 🙂

  2. Just a quick take: it seems that often there is more ego involved than evangelism, growth, sanctification, etc. Instead of “Hey, look at me and my church,” I’d like to see people looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and the One who established the Church and continues to be its Head.

    I guess I’d better check up on Todd Bentley–I must really be “out of it” not to have heard of him.

  3. I agree that its largely due to conferences, publishings, and web prescence that a lot of these “missional” guys have a platform to speak about these things, and not just as a result of the fruit of their ministries. Obviously there must be lots of people “on the ground” already doing the things these guys are talking about but we just never hear about it.

    I thank God for the fact Keller, Driscoll, and Thorn are talking about being missional. Its exciting to guys like myself who are really young (mid twenties) and not so enamored with the models for church and evangelism that we grew up in.

  4. This post is so encouraging and hope-filled for us as we seek to form a new church in our inner city community. Thanks for the clear and gracious presentation.

    In many ways we feel a large part of our role where we are is to tend to the soil of our community so that the seeds of the Gospel- both proclaimed and embodied- find life-giving rootedness. Fruit is born in season.


  5. I’m not as interested in what counts as Emergent these days, but what counts as Missional is much more important to me. Being missional, as I understand, is more than just doing evangelism. A missional church is one that understands itself as “missionary by its very nature.” The point is not whether it does evangelism/service or has outward movement. Rather, the question for street credit is whether the church does EVERYTHING it does (worship, spiritual formation, etc.) for the sake of loving the world. It resists the dichotomy between the inward and the outward movements. It’s a church that understands itself not as sent to itself, but sent into the world. It resists the Church of the disciples that were locked up in the house for fear of what lay outside (John 20:19).

    Of course, the Spirit makes the Church to be missional, to be what it truly is despite our imperfections. So despite the fact that many churches have self-understandings that are often contrary to the missional church, God manages to recreate them. What is great about the missional church is that, as you point out, no one can tell you how it should look. There is no model, because the missional church is a church that translates the Gospel anew for a particular time and place and culture. What Emergent folks tend to do is to limit this particular way of being as “something new.” I guarantee you that what seems like an old, dying church might be a lively, missional church that is faithful in its witness to Jesus Christ through the Spirit.

  6. Great post, Michael.

  7. Those are awesome points.

    This all goes back to the fact that pastors and evangelists are seeking a worldly model of success rather than a Kingdom model: They’re looking at numbers, size, and influence. They’re not looking at Jesus.

    If they asked Him what He wanted in their ministry, they’d be a success in His eyes, but they don’t want that—they want numbers, size, and influence. Supposedly once you have that, you can further the Kingdom, even though Jesus told us to seek the KIngdom first, and then you get the other things.

  8. I heard those two terrible words exit our pastor’s mouth last month, “Church Growth”.

    Terrible, not in that we shouldn’t desire to see the lost come into the Kingdom, but that “church growth” was not to be God centered, but program centered.

    Raise more money. Build new buildings. Change the programs.

    Somehow, hit your knees in prayer was left out.

    And the focus is on every area of our church. From the senior adults down to the children’s ministry. Throw money at it and they will come.

    What is this growth we seek? Another 3000 names on the roles that never darken the doorsteps?

    “And God added to the church daily…”

  9. I had posted the following on my own blog back in March. I thought it was relevant enough (and short enough) to cross post here…

    I have heard or read four times in the last month that small churches are being destroyed by mega-churches. The argument typically goes that mega-churches offer so much in the way of family programming, skilled musicians, and outstanding preaching, that it is hard for a smaller church to compete.

    It seems that this argument is a little short sighted for several reasons:

    1. People tend to look for a reason to stay in a church, not a reason to leave. If people are leaving your church, it is time to take a good long look inward, and say “how are we not meeting their needs.” Are they not being fed through the teaching of the word? Then how can that be changed? Are they experiencing issues with the music and worship? What can be done in that area? Are there few youth in the church? What can be done to reach out to the youth of the community?

    2. If people are not excited about what is happening in your church, whatever that might be, then your church will not grow. They will find some excuse to go to the newer, bigger church down the road. What is an area of ministry in your church in which God seems to be working, and around which excitement can grow? How can you build on this area? What areas of ministry are serving as a drag on your church.

    3. Strive for excellence! You don’t want to practice Tuesday night for Sunday worship, then that is fine, but then you are excluding yourself from the Worship team. You don’t want to take the Sunday School Teacher training? Well that is fine, then you don’t teach Sunday School. People will see and appreciated excellence and be turned off by half hearted attempts.

    4. Have key members of your leadership visit other churches that are growing. What is working for them that is not working for you?

    5. Most importantly, work together with your leadership and your congregation to develop a vision and direction. If your people can see a positive future they will want to be part of it.

    For the past 12 years we have been part of churches that have had less than 80 people. The energy that it requires to run a church of 80 well is not that different than the energy it takes to run a church of 300. Reflecting back over the last 12 years I wonder if we might have been able to accomplish a lot more for the cause of Christ, if our energy has been used to help a medium size church grow, rather than used to try and sustain a smaller struggling church. The mega-churches that I am familiar with around here seem to be doing a lot to introduce non-churched people to Christ. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many of the smaller churches with which I have been associated.

  10. As someone who was part of an “Emerging/Missional” church less than a year ago I have both an appreciation for these churches and some concerns. No church is alike and this is true for those of the “Emerging/Missional” aspect. Although God does know the numbers and the fruit, I don’t think it is wrong to analyze (just as Emerging/Emergent analyzed the Evangelical/Seeker Sensitive Church Model) the missional model(s) and see what is and is not working for the Kingdom of God.

  11. Bob Sacamento says

    Michael Bell wrote,

    People tend to look for a reason to stay in a church, not a reason to leave. If people are leaving your church, it is time to take a good long look inward, and say “how are we not meeting their needs.”
    The way it seems to work, as far as I can tell, is that a couple in their twenties or thirties who are desparate to keep their little tykes interested in church. The mega church out by the highway has bells and whistles and smoke and mirrors that their neighbor’s little tykes all just love. The small neighborhood church can’t afford all that stuff. So they take the kids out to the mega-church. I’ll admit that there are alot of churches are small precisely becuase they don’t do anything. But I have spent alot of time in the mega-est church in the country, and I have spent alot of time in absolutely great churches with less than 1000 members, and I just don’t see what of any substance the megas are offering that the medium size churches aren’t.

    The mega-churches that I am familiar with around here seem to be doing a lot to introduce non-churched people to Christ. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many of the smaller churches with which I have been associated.
    I guess I can’t speak to the specific situation of the mega-churches in your area. But I think that the national story is different. It wasn’t more than a couple of months ago that one of the big-time mega church gurus — Bill Hybels, I think — was shocked, shocked I tell you!, to find out that almost all of the members in his church were not previously “unchurched” converts, but “churched” people siphoned off from smaller churches.

  12. Just getting to this post now. Fantastically put; I got a lot out of it. Thanks.

  13. This post reflects some of my own feelings recently about how missional “methods,” when they become a central focus, turn into something opposite of the missional spirit. That is, they become more about culture and style in church life that makes ME feel good rather than risky, sacrificial, relational love for the world that turns the church inside out (and makes converts in the process).

    Thanks for the sobering word.

  14. Good points Bob Sacamento. Unfortunately all we have right now is anecdotal evidence as to the relationship between mega-churches and smaller churches. I know that there are some studies that are underway to study this phenomena, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

  15. Rob Gill says

    I’m a newcomer to this blog, but I was craving the sight of one word that I don’t see here in relation to the missional/emergent church. And maybe the word is implicit in all of your minds. That word is “incarnational”. The defining characteristic of a healthy church is not in numbers, converts, programs, etc. Is a church reaching out to the community in love? Are we being Christ’s hands and feet? Unchurched people don’t want to come to our churches. They think we are a bunch of hateful, bigoted hypocrits. They believe we are too politically active and I don’t need to mention which is the “good” party and which is the “bad” party. I turned on the TV and began watching a mega-church preacher who has been in the news lately. He began railing against tattoos and piercings and how you didn’t see that kind of thing in the good old days. What message of exclusion does that immediately send to some young seeker with tattoos? I guess I’m out!

    Lets begin to realize what a great love Christ showed to our miserable carcasses and simply love with devotion and obedience to our Savior’s call. The prophet Jeremiah preached and prophesied for 25 years without results but he was credited by God as having been obedient.