Monday, September 29, 2008

Attractional Model for Missions: Help or Hindrance?

(Response from comment of last blog)

The question of uni-cultural (new word for me) activities for missions and how effective they are is an on-going discussion with no end in sight. Hand-bell presentations, puppet shows, street theater mime acts, and even prayer walks are all benign ministry, which means it probably doesn’t hurt anyone but also may not be of any effect. I’d guess that nearly 90% of short-term missions fall into the category of benign uni-cultural activity though presented through a mono-cultural western form. The primary justification for uni-cultural ministry is that it draws a crowd for people to hear the gospel.

When I was working in Kenya, a university choral team wanted to visit our work and put on a performance as part of their mission trip. The theory was if they put on a concert many locals would come and hear the message of Christ. I still smile when I think of a bunch of white college students in matching outfits singing in front of half-naked Africans. I politely declined their offer and they were offended that I had denied them the opportunity to serve Christ (and take pictures) in the bush of Kenya.

In northwest Arkansas, where my family lives, it is said, factitiously, there are more Christians living in the area than there are people. Literally millions of dollars is spent every year by churches in the area, through building projects, church programs (children, youth outreach), concerts, etc., to attract people to their brand of Christianity. The competition for souls (not lost, just unaffiliated) is fierce. The congregation that has the better show wins and bragging rights on how God is blessing their ministry. The attractional model is costly, but is it effective?

Did Jesus use the attractional model? He certainly did draw attention as His fame of healing spread throughout Judea. The blind man who received his sight, the lame who threw away his crutches and walked, were all drawn by the attraction of the man from Nazareth and healing power. Though He drew crowds of thousands, Jesus did not use attraction as a method for ministry. In fact, He often told those He healed to tell no one. In the end, Jesus died alone at Calvary. When the curtain came down, the lights dimmed and the benefit of His presence turned to a detriment of being identified with Him, the crowds scattered.

After the hand-bells are put back in the box, the makeup is wiped off the face of the mime the only one left on the scene is the national pastor or cross-cultural missionary to either follow-up or clean up the short-term act. Benign uni-cultural missions are like rice cakes; it won’t hurt you, but it does little to build up the body.