Thursday, February 01, 2007

Missional Marketing

What is the difference between a missional orientation and a seeker-sensitive orientation?

One significant difference is the motivation for adapting the message of the gospel to the culture.

First, let me make clear that we do not have the option of a culturally free expression of the gospel. The gospel is not “timeless principles.” It is an account of good news. It is a report about a specific event that happened in a specific place at a specific time. The story of the gospel is inextricably intertwined with culture.

But the gospel transcends culture. The Christian Scriptures can withstand translation into other languages and cultures. (It is radically different from the Quran in this regard.) In fact, the four accounts of the gospel in the Bible had already broken cultural barriers before they were even recorded.

We do not even have the actual words of Jesus. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but his words are recorded in “street” Greek. Each writer sought to capture the sense of what Jesus said; he had no intention of being a human tape recorder.

Matthew tells his gospel in the framework of Hebrew culture. Mark recounts the same story in terms more at home in the wider Roman Empire. Luke seems to be working from a Greek foundation. John takes a different view entirely, focusing on the meaning of events in Jesus’ ministry.

Right from the start, there was never such a thing as a “Christian culture.”

In the past century or so, the Church has operated out of a culture that was distinct from the culture of its environment, but also different than the culture of the first Christians. This “Christian” culture was generally little different than the general culture, that is the general culture of a few decades before the current time.

Many western missionaries in that same period seemed to be as focused on instilling western culture as they were in proclaiming the gospel. It could be argued that they were unable to conceive of the gospel in any other terms than the prevailing (or dated) western culture.

Along came some mission-minded people who were culturally literate enough to see the foolishness of this strategy. People were rejecting the Church, and Jesus Christ, for reasons that had little to do with the essence of the gospel. They were rebelling against elements that had little or nothing to do with Christianity—even though these elements came from the culture of many Christians.

And so these pioneers removed the artificial, cultural barriers. This development is generally known as the seeker-sensitive movement.

But, as happens with any “adjustment,” there was an “over correction.”

In the effort to remove cultural barriers there was generated a momentum that tended to remove (or weaken) all barriers, even barriers inherent in the gospel itself.

Partly in reaction to this over correction, a significant part of the Church has taken a new direction. These people seek to proclaim the gospel in terms that challenge the “powers.” They make no effort to soften the offense of the gospel, but they are scrupulous to distance themselves from the offense of Christendom.

This movement often dismisses the previous movement as “mere marketing.”

And this charge has substance. The gospel has far too often been packaged and sold as another product in the marketplace. Success has often been defined in marketing terms. Not only were the methods taken from the world of business, but the measure of success was defined in “bottom-line” terms, even when the bottom line was “souls.”

But we need to be honest here. Marketing is inevitable. We are always marketing, either intentionally or unintentionally. “Non-marketing” is simply another form of marketing.

So the question is not whether we should market the gospel. But the question is what the message should be and how it should be communicated.

The missional movement seems to be at once counter-cultural and culturally sensitive.

The seeker-sensitive movement appeared to be motivated by a desire to remove barriers to make the gospel more accessible. The missional movement seems to be motivated by a desire to make the scandal of the cross more prominent by removing all cultural “noise” that might be confused with that offense.

But this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Even the prevailing explanations of the offense of the cross are usually loaded with ideas that have more to do with the Enlightenment than with the gospel.

This “offense” is usually explained in terms of personal sin and divine power.

But I would suggest that it runs much deeper than this.
The real scandal of the cross is that Jesus won his victory in weakness and defeat.

As it is usually depicted, the cross is little more than bowing to a superior power. Even a tough guy like "Dirty Harry" Harry Callahan admits that “a man’s gotta know his limitations.” When we recognize that God is the sovereign, we give up our pretensions of being in control. But this is simply a wise “business” decision.

Too many people “come to Jesus” to enhance their lives: to win more football games, to make more money, to sell more widgets.
Taking up our cross is no longer a radical submission; it is now a calculated investment.

What the gospel calls us to is something much more difficult. It calls us to trust in a Savior who could not “save himself.” It calls us to a life of power that is manifested only in weakness. It calls us to abandon ourselves to God’s story without any alternative “plot lines.”

Jesus is not the ultimate warrior. He is the outcast, the reject, the “fool.”

We are not called to “take prisoners” for Jesus. We are called to become prisoners for the gospel. The gospel is not just a different insider game. It is a complete rejection of all struggling for position and power.

This is the scandal of the cross.

It is not giving up bad habits. It is not changing the way we dress. It is not engaging in a program of moral improvement. The way of the cross may involve these things, but they are not the essence of that way.

At least that is what I think. What do you think?

Pastor Rod

“Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be”


Missional Jerry said...

wonderful post

jeff franczak said...

I feel moved to say something more about the profoundness of the “scandal.”

The perfect I AM, in the Person of Jesus, chose weakness and defeat in crucifixion in order that His enemies might be saved. (see Romans 5:10; John 10:18;
Philippians 2:6-8)

He is returning as the great warrior King.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
Revelation 19:11-13, NIV

jeff franczak said...

In his sermon today, my pastor in California shared this thought from a pastor in Holland. I’m still thinking about it…

"If you look closely, you'll see that only the traditional churches are affected by secularization. Almost all nontraditional churches are growing, and growing strongly. The reason is simple: While the message stays the same, the methods change to suit the times. If people want it, we'll have flags, loud music, people jumping up and down in the pews, even hip-hop. But Jesus remains the same as he was 2,000 years ago. The Word never changes." (emphasis mine)

Rev. Stanley Hofwijks, "Maranatha Ministries", Amsterdam

As quoted in Weekly Standard, "Holland's Post-Secular Future; Christianity is dead. Long live Christianity!", Joshua Livestro, Jan. 1 2007

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Jerry.

Pastor Rod said...


Too often the church has been guilty of triumphalism. Here's a little explanation: While Jesus was victorious, he achieved his victory through weakness. And here is the important part, he calls us to do the same. Too often the church has taken an attitude of superiority and arrogance.

I'm not sure that I completely agree with Pastor Stanley Hofwijks. There is a sense in which "the medium is the message." I also wonder about the validity of his claim that only traditional churches are not growing and that most nontraditional churches are.

Leslie Newbigin wrote, "The growth of the church is not necessary for the advancement of God's kingdom." (I don't have that exactly right, but I think you get his point.)

I plan to do a post soon about his book The Open Secret.

[I'm enjoying the California-like weather here in Sicily.]

God Bless,