The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs (2)

The 4 Turnings…

In 1991 or so, George Hunter mentioned, during a presentation in East Los Angeles, the 4 turnings –repentances — of the human heart that help create the kinds of people the Kingdom needs.

This week:

The Turning to some form of Christ following community…

The four turnings are these:

  1. A turning to Jesus Christ as Lord
  2. A turning to some form of Christ following community
  3. A turning to the Scriptures
  4. A turning back to the world on mission

These turnings can happen in any order. That these can happen in any order must be emphasized. Many will belong to the community of faith for a season before ever believing in Jesus. Others will be on mission to the world before reading and centering the scripture. Some will believe in Jesus but will hesitate to identify with a Christ following community.

What do these four turnings looks like?

A quick glance at some of the main church leadership and church planting conferences across the nation indicates that most of us believe that “churches” are mega centralizations of the Christ following movement. They are properly incorporated “non-profits” submitting to the legal requirements for such corporations. They are operated by clergy and assistants. The orientation of believers to the church is as the Jews to the Temple. Christians tithe there and lay down their lives there as livng sacrifices. The cause is to grow the church and (wo)man the programs. Life is organized around the programs of the church and happily so because the programs often rock.

These conferences focus on introducing us to the latest guy to break the 2000 barrier. I admire these guys and wish their tribe would increase. They are few and far between. And, from a leadership development point of view, that’s the problem with these structures. They limit the way we look upon and define leadership by too narrowly defining what we mean by “success” as church leaders.

Women or men with the skill sets to grow these kinds of volunteer organizations are rare. Often times, even the ones that can grow large churches do so by creating a migration of people who already believe from smaller or nearby churches to form a new nucleus and community. This makes sense because of some of the ways we subconsciously define church. Our language, strategies and conferences suggest that we define “Church” as the economic system that must be created in order to support the financial cost of clergy, buildings, adminstrative staff and programs. If the staff, programs, etc with which we attract Christians are hipster enough, perhaps they will invite their unreached friends. It’s not that evangelism has ceased to be a value in this approach. It’s still very important, but, in order for this structure to “work” we must first collect the necessary believers in order to stabilize the economic base of operations.

It’s a good plan. A well reasoned plan. It’s the plan with the least risk. Thus, it is an entrepreneurial plan. But, it’s not the only plan. The idea that Christ following people must “go” to this kind of church to be faithful is passing. Many of us know from personal experience that many today are looking for fresh ways of “being” the church.

In order to accelerate the prominence of these new ways to “be” the church, we need to embrace at least three great reversals in our thinking. The first is a reversal of the Christian Caste system in which the movement is divided between clergy and laity. The second is a reversal of the use of Kingdom capital from for the church to for the world. The third is a re-imagining of what it means to be the church in and for the world.

One of the four turnings described in the first paragraph is the “turning towards some form of Christ following community.” I would suggest, in both addition to and contrast with the entrepreneurial model mentioned above, that we also add an apostolic model of Christ following community. [Of course, we could talk about house churches, organic churches, emerging churches, etc …but in the end these designations don’t matter.]

An apostolic form would be a team whose worship is defined by mission. After all, anything and everything we know of God we know because God is on mission. It is not possible to mirror God in our lives without also being on mission. Because the apostolic form has no clergy or administrative offices and buildings, their giving goes largely to connecting unreached people and/or to the poor. They don’t operate on grants or fund raising, like Christian entrepreneurs do. They are apostolic. They are working professionals or have a “collective” economy where most of the team works to support the whole team. They ask neither about programs for their teens or for the kids. They don’t think about “shepherding” the church but of touching the community, especially those outside of the church. They don’t look for buildings in which to worship. The don’t necessarily meet on Sunday. They look for spaces and environments that might serve to create community and conversation with the unreached. They start with a sense of call, a sense of being together, and a sense that they are here to fullfill their mission.

In biblical terms, what I am describing (in part) is Paul’s apostolic team. Paul was a tent maker. He stunk at raising funds. He traveled with a team (usually) and that team was church. Yes, it was a “mobile” church of a rare kind. As Paul and his team traveled they didn’t have many of the things we have come to count as normative. They had no ordained pastor to “feed” them on Sundays. They didn’t have the rocking music that many have to come to count as a “need.” In short, they didn’t “go” to church as we do. They were the church.

Ralph Winter, founder of the US Center for World mission, makes the distinction between “modalities” and “sodalities.” This categorization of the church can be helpful. The modality is what many of us think of when we think of church. It is the first commitment community of everyone and anyone who believes. Sodalities are apostolic teams like the Apostle Paul’s. They are second commitment communities. Not everyone can join these without making a significant “second decision” to be on mission.

It seems to me, however, that all structures of the Christ following community are to be in essence apostolic communities, that is, sent communities. So while the level of risk and commitment may run the spectrum from modality to sodality, we lose something when the “sent-ness” of the church is diluted from any aspect of it. Interestingly enough, unlike his own apostolic team that had the theologically trained mind of the Apostle, the churches Paul left behind didn’t have seminary trained pastors. They were left to encourage one another. They struggled to be signposts of the Kingdom in their communities. They were not subsidized by the government. They rarely if ever broke the 200 barrier. Still the message spread. No mission boards. No seminaries. No clergy. No conferences. No Christian authors. No celebrity pastors. No grants and subsidies.

It boggles the mind. In the words of Roland Allen:

I know not how it may appear to others, but to me this unexhorted, unorganized, spontaneous expansion has a charm far beyond that of our highly organized missions. I delight to think that a Christian traveling on his business, or fleeing from persecution, could preach Christ, and a church spring up as the result of his preaching, without his work being advertised through the streets of Antioch or Alexandria as the heading of an appeal to Christian men to subscribe funds to establish a school, or as the text of an exhortation to the church of his native city to send a mission, without which new converts deprived of guidance must inevitably lapse. I suspect, however, that I am not alone in this strange preference, and that many others read their Bibles and find there with relief a welcome escape from our material appeals for funds, and from our methods of moving heaven and eart to make a proselyte.

In developing the Kinds of People the 21st Century needs, one of the first steps may be to NOT invite new believers to “go” to church. At church new believers will learn to become “attenders,” to be “fed” by clergy, to support the “church,” to enter into a monologue, to avoid and be disgusted by the world.

Instead, we should invite new believers to enlist in some form of Christ following community that is engaged in some form of Christ following activity. [Whether the form is apostolic, entrepreneurial, traditional, emerging organic, etc matters little. What matters is the missional heartbeat of the commuity]. Here they will “feed” others, be a steward of everything they have and are for the sake of the world, enter into a dialogue, and to engage and enjoy the world. This community will be defined by its deeds and actions rather than by its creeds alone.

This is true whether the Christ following community is of the entrepreneurial kind, the apostolic kind or any kind. What we should avoid are any structures that become inwardly focused on themselves AND any frameworks that seeks to limit too narrowly –by modern corporate standards — what it means to “succeed” as a leader in the Christ following movement.

Only these kinds of communities can shape the kind of believer the 21st centry needs because in the 21st century, as Eric Bryant writes, love is the new apologetic. Moreover, only a church structure that is able to mobilize its members for mission to the whole world as opposed to only within the church program is capable of being a cultural change agent.

What do you think?

See you in the mystic…
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18 responses to “The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs (2)”

  1. david Avatar

    Thanks for that Alex.
    I’ll process it and try to dialog with it.

  2. john Avatar

    Thank you! You have put into words what I’ve been thinking for the last 2 years or so. The reason many churches “have church” on Sunday is to take the offering. We don’t admit that, but without the offering, nothing happens for them, so they are solely dependent upon that offering. In many ways, we’ve organized and structured churches so that they have no choice but to really be about money.
    I’m going to continue to process the rest of your post.

  3. Brian Avatar

    Great writing Alex. Challenging and provocative, but inherently inspiring and positive.

    I hope that you and your tribe are well!

  4. Nic Nelson Avatar

    “…Here they will “feed” others, be a steward of everything they have and are for the sake of the world, enter into a dialogue, and engage and enjoy the world. This community will be defined by its deeds and actions rather than by its creeds alone.”

    Good reminder to me of what brought me to my neighborhood in the first place. It’s going on the fridge door.

    Praying for a bakery/culture pub team…

  5. Andy Avatar

    Nice. Here are my thoughts:

    1. In my experience whenever I think of inviting people to a community the result is that the “means” becomes the focus. It’s so easy (for me) to become obsessed with the means again and again.

    2. I’m moving away from that habit to simply inviting people to a process of discovering Jesus. I recommend the Bible and perhaps model community at the start, but I’m trusting these will fall into place as a realization of Jesus’ reality and grace grows.

    3. I am embracing trust (that the Spirit will act when I am intentionally silent) and mystery (not having control or all the answers). By embracing trust and mystery, I hope we can discover how to be church together in ways we wouldn’t have imagined on our own.

    4. As you’ve said before, I inevitably carry in me certain strategies and agendas — which is why there are many times when I’m intentionally silent (though still, hopefully, a living example of what it means to live a life of love after Christ).

    BTW, for a though provoking example of what it means to abandon anything that looks like church (with “love” as the only apologetic) check out (which may underwhelm at first glance but it’s the tip of something — not a movement but a releasing of potential).

    As you say, people are already getting beyond “going to church” to “being church.” Excitingly, there are more and more people “living church” who have never gone to church (or to house church, etc.), and they are going to do things that blow our minds. Christians are already screaming “heresy” at people like you and a long list of others, but they don’t know the half of it. But even as they continue to cry foul, there are many simply following Jesus just like in Biblical times when the Jerusalem crowd was so appalled.

  6. More Decentralization

    As I continue to think about decentralization (last weeks post), I have had a few conversations, more thoughts, and read two posts today that I am still trying to process.


    In my conversations with Joey and with Mark, the thoughts…

  7. Rich "Richie" Merritt Avatar

    mmmm…, this is both scary; yet…., sounds soooo right? As I embark on this church plant movement – what shapes it? What forms it? What income can I hope to make outside of the normal “paid clergy” areas as an aging 46+ yr old man? These are the kinds of thoughts and more that run through my head?

    Can you do both? Is it possilbe to have a “traditional” group who serves as the umbrella for what we think and know should be the norm?

    Anyway…, much to chew on. I as is the case with Alex’s writing, both Love it and wanna kick him at the same time for such great thoughts! 🙂 (LOL!!) Thanks man!



  8. Robo Avatar

    As a poster above said, you’ve given words to thoughts I’ve had for the past two years; I’ve been unable to adequately express those thoughts though. Thanks Alex!

    I think some of this is tied to our understanding of the Gospel, and our articulation of that Gospel. I blogged about this today (called “The Real Goal?). We can view the church as the end-user of the Gospel, i.e. we use it to tell people about the ticket to heaven, and get them in our pews so that we can grow our tithes and our programs. I realize I’m over-generalizing here, but that is what a “win people to Christ” mentality can produce. Instead, maybe we should view the church as the counter-cultural (in the midst OF culture) witness to the world of the larger reality: the Kingdom of God in our midst. Then, as we live the mission, and invite others to be part of God’s mission, it becomes less and less important about finding a building, a staff, a children’s program (mostly to keep the already convinced happy), and more about participating in what God is doing outside the four walls of the local church.

    I’ll ponder more on your post.

  9. Tim Avatar

    I agree that many times the church becomes about collecting the offering and most of that offering goes toward making the programs happen. BUT if the people of God that attend those churches actually gave anywhere near a tithe. There would be an abundance of resources for worldwide work as well as the programs they want to have. God’s people just need to start trusting God that an investment in the kingdom is much better than somthing for their own pursuit of happiness.

  10. Alex Avatar

    Tim, I think that’s backwards. The church should be faithful with the little it receives, then it would [perhaps] be given much. But if with the “little” they receive they use it for the programs they want to have, why would they change if given the “much”?

  11. Alex Avatar

    thanks all for the comments. I can’t remember a post where more people said the needed to process the content as much as this one.

  12. […] A turning to some form of Christ following community […]

  13. […] A turning to some form of Christ following community […]

  14. Jim Avatar


    This really sucks. I hate this. Because it really changes everything.

    I’m overstating of course. Or perhaps more accurately, I’m over-representing one side of my “processor”. Because the other side completely agrees with you and loves everything you said here.

    Connection seems to be the key. Connecting people to God and to each other and to nature and to themselves. There may always be a stream of people who need a club to belong to in order to feel connected. The buildings and the programs and all that crap helps to initiate and foster those connections. But there seems to be a growing proportion of people who want community to deepen more organically.

    Thank you for ticking me off.

  15. Alex Avatar

    Jim, thanks. your comment made me look twice. Rich, standing in the midst of a rapidly changing river can be scary. to tell you the truth, sometimes, i scare myself. let’s navigate these rapids together. Andy and Robo, we’re thinking along the same paths.

  16. […] A turning to some form of Christ following community […]

  17. […] A turning to some form of Christ following community […]

  18. […] out Alex McManus’s post on The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs (2). Some great thoughts on turning to community without (necessarily) turning to a physical church […]

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