MacArthur and Osteen are Pastors of the Same Type Church

Monday’s are for Discussion

1 dr_macarthurToday’s title is bound to provoke some head-scratching, if not anger. It certainly demands some explanation. “Schoenleber has lost his mind.”

Maybe. But here’s the line of reasoning I’m following.

Both MacArthur’s Grace Community Church (whose theology I largely admire), and Osteen (whose church and theology I largely disdain) are alike in that they are, in the main, ATTRACTIONAL in approach (See here for a personal comment). That is, they are built, viewed from one angle, on the principle that “if we build a better mousetrap people will come.” One does a lot of “selling” (Osteen), one does almost no selling  of itself (MacArthur and Grace Community).

Further, most churches in America are attractional in approach and are somewhere in between these two polar opposite churches. They all design much of their ministry around doing what they do well being the foundational way of  drawing people to them. They are built on the idea that:

If we preach a better gospel, if we tell a better story, if we have better music, if we have more hymns, if we have fewer hymns, if we have more choruses, if we have a blended service, if we have cleaner bathrooms, better advertising, preach expositionally, preach topically, preach longer, preach shorter, have a better parking lot, etc. If we just do what we do better God will cause our church and our people to grow.

The unintended consequence of ministry structured in this way is that those we are called to equip for the work of the ministry begin to think that ministry is that which occurs within the sanctified hours and confines of our church buildings. The congregation begins to think that the Great Commission is “Go into all the world and invite them to your churches” rather than go into all the world and make disciples.

So there it is. A bold statement to be the backdrop to a Monday Discussion.

Here’s the question: How do we keep our congregations on mission for God (taking the gospel to the culture) when the structures through which we shepherd them create barriers to their understanding of mission?


20 thoughts on “MacArthur and Osteen are Pastors of the Same Type Church

  1. The answer to the question: we change the structure. Dismantle the religious skeletons and replace them with fluid, flexible wineskins that allow God’s blessing to flow and his people to flourish again. We also stop judging one another and do more of what God is calling us to do.

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  2. Thanks for having the boldness to say what is true, Marty.

    Centralization is impressive but not conducive towards multiplication. I like Neil Cole’s mantra of lowering the bar on what it means to do church and raising the bar it what it means to be a disciple. The three years of transition that our church plant went through in this were difficult for many, but great for some. We did it clumsily. But the “Come to” mentality was deeply engrained in us despite whatever lip service we paid to the Great Commission. Most of us were trained to be good church members more than we were trained to be, think like and act like missionaries [“sent ones”] of Jesus.

    It was hard and took long to make that transition out of the building in our spirituality, community and sense of mission. Many did not like it, but about a 1/3 RAN with it. Some things that helped decentralize and empower were:

    1. Leadership had to be ok with giving up power and control and be willing to take the heat for admitting that we didn’t know what we were doing.
    2 Incarnational models were more important than quality programs — especially the leaders of the church had to model a missional life.
    3. Life-on-life discipleship and spiritual parenting instead of curriculum-based discipleship.
    4. Shutting down and not meeting [one] Sunday a month to get people used to the idea of hanging out with not-yet-Christian friends on Sunday mornings. Sunday = perfect mission time on THEIR turf, not corporate worship time on ours.
    5. Giving each small group community a mission spending fund they had the freedom to steward. 33% of our budget went toward local and global mission, and most of it was decentralized and given out to every small group to spend and report as they chose instead of a centralized mission committee. This communicated value and made mission a critical part of why groups were together.
    6. A focus on hearing from God and obeying it. We highlighted these stories every chance we could b/c they usually involved someone being moved to share the gospel with someone and some miraculous event that came with it.
    7. Intentionally not preaching on Sunday mornings, but teaching for 15 minutes, then having people sit in tables and teach one another as they learned inductively. Sometimes even ditching everything, following the leading of the Spirit, and having several “lay people” share what God is teaching them. Would usually be followed up by laying hands on prayer on them and commissioning them to minister. Most LOVED it save for those who wanted to “get fed” from the professional chef.
    8. Also, cross-pollinating with local non-profits, churches, mission groups, and house churches helped too to get out of personal church empire mode and into Kingdom mode. We turned our rarely used church office into a shared space for Christian mission groups and non-profits and house churches to meet in for free. And we did joint things together — like adopt classrooms in an underperforming mostly Hispanic school.
    9. Taking a page from Alan Hirsch helped too as we focused on core practices more than core values reinforced in our LTGs and small group communities. Ours were:
    B – Bless someone this week and tell us about it
    L – Live out one thing you read in Scripture this week and tell about it
    I – Identify as God’s representative in some way this week and tell about it
    T – Tune in to God’s voice this week and tell about it
    E – Eat with not-yet-Christians this week and tell about it

    When every cell/house group did this, it always led to convos about Christ and pre-witnessing. And it lowered the bar for people to evangelize than doing a 4 spiritual laws training would have. I think people grew the most when we did this over any other kind of formal trainings we did.

    — Neil Cole LTGs were great. It led to spontaneous cross-cultural mission among many who did it. And we told people they should skip Sunday mornings instead of LTGs or small group times.

    These are just some things that we did at the church plant I left a few months ago. I think they were helpful in decentralizing from a “Come To” to a “Go To” structure in the setting we were in as a younger EFCA church plant in the Bay area.

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    1. Hey Mike, thanks for the post and the input. Lot’s of good stuff here. Too much to tackle in a reply. In fact that would be the one comment I would make to all posters here.

      Try to keep comments to under 400 words. When they get too long it discourages others from entering into the dialog.

      Personally I want to recommend your fifth suggestion on freeing the individual house churches to spend their budget in reaching neighbors.

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  3. We’ve taken both aspects, the incarnational and the Sunday service. It’s been interesting. As a church plant, we were originally several small groups. But we have such a traditional area, we gathered in a large group on Sundays for preaching/teaching.

    I’m not sure if in the subculture we are in, if the incarnational/house church method is entirely effective. I’m not sure attractional is either. What we find is that the incarnational portion of our body, the small groups and those that move in those ways, are struggling with family and friends thinking of them as a cult or asking too much of them. Homes are “castles” here and people are very protective and a “third” place is hard to find for them to move into relationships (a third place without the sunday gathering). The attractional model is just not entirely invested in to “do it well” so it’s kind of an organic gathering in larger group and people comfortable in an attractional setting, have better performances around here.

    We live in a very traditional area and get alot of push back to just keep the traditional structure, and I think it’s b/c church is the “third place” except for bars which is fine option. But we are trying to be organic/incarnational within it. We’re at a cross roads and one direction or the other will be likely.

    Frustrated? I’m very… neither model seems entirely effective “evangelistically.” We disciple incarnationally, without a doubt, but it’s become a “four and no more” where it’s hard to break them out of their small groups or be inward, but we have a “closed culture” to new relationships anyways. Possible reasons abound. leadership is praying and moving to think about revision it all while keeping the intimate relationships and discipleship that started us incarnationally ongoing.

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    1. I’m not trying to set up an either/or scenario. My method is to question and examine Attractional as the standard template that all of us understand as well as to critically assess ancient/present alternatives like the house church model.

      I’m with you on neither being evangelistically effective as presently practiced. Most house churches that I have observed are little cliques (sp?) that
      1) love being together,
      2) are filled with people who have learning styles that are highly verbal,
      3) love experiential learning,
      4) have been burned by an established church at some point in the past,
      5) are not engaged missionally,
      6) are overly engaged in critiquing the established church that gave them life (humanly speaking),
      7) and have anti-authority tendencies.

      Unfortunate, but true.

      That being said, there is much potential for these groups to be powerfully effective in evangelism, as per Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA or what I hope to do in our new church plant in Mundelein. (Not really the place to go into detail about that venture.)

      Leadership, leadership, leadership.
      which being translated means (at one level)
      Modeling, modeling, modeling.

      Missional churches, whether attractional or “organic” require missional modeling by leaders. That was the way of Jesus and Paul.

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      1. My experience resembles your seven observations. I believe some of those characteristics are good, some not so.

        Our group went through a necessary season of #6 because of #4. #7 is usually caused by #4 also as very few leaders model the humility, love, and compassion of Christ. Submission is not subjugation, which some people in “authority” in #4 don’t seem to understand.

        Slowly, we are rectifying #5.

        In addressing the question, let me ask this.

        What structures are necessary to help people take the gospel to the culture?

        I liked the modeling, modeling, modeling answer. 🙂 Jesus and Paul seemed to have far less structure than we do today. Are we any more effective?

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      2. Kevin,

        Good to hear from you brother. How did you find the blog. Hope you and your bride are doing well in Virginia. Are you in a house church or are you describing a home group in a traditional church?

        Your question: “What structures are necessary?”
        Short answer: Very few.
        Different answer: Depends on the culture, depends on our understanding of discipleship, depends on the “latitude of acceptance” of the believers in a culture.
        Long answer: I’ll have to blog on that one.

        Paul and Jesus had very few structures and generally speaking we would be wise to have less. My friend Colin Marshall has just co-authored a book, called The Trellis and the Vine. We spend too much time building trellis’ (structures) and not enough time growing the vine (believers). Worth reading.

        Good to hear from you. I hope your grazing through the blog is helpful.

        Marty

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  4. Love it, Marty. Definitely perplexed me when I saw the title on Twitter (which is probably what you were doing for!), but you really hit the nail on the head. Have you by chance read any of Leonard Sweet’s work? I had the privilege of attending a denominational conference a couple of years ago that he spoke at right around the time he released, “The Gospel According to Starbucks.” He talked at length about the attractional model that the modern Church has embraced but which is becoming less and less effective at reaching postmoderns. Throw in the fact that it’s NEVER been the biblical approach to reaching people for Christ and you’ve got a very flawed method of “doing church.”

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    1. Stephen, No I haven’t read Leonard’s books but others have suggested that some of what I am saying is similar. I’ll have to put him on my reading list.

      I think when we see similar thoughts arise in the same time period from authors/speakers/thinkers, who otherwise have had no contact with one another, it is not because of some Hegelian world cycle but because the Spirit of God is moving the church in a new direction.

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  5. I’m not sure all the churches you might deem attractional are guided by the principle or value of simply doing things well. Or maybe there are a whole lot of churches that fit neither the attractional nor organic/house church/cell based model. The fact is, there are many models and hybrids of models, and attempts to oversimplify and codify all of them are futile at best and counterproductive at worst. Have you read Jim Belcher’s Deep Church? I don’t think it’s earth shattering, but it is a helpful conversation partner introducing more nuance into the missional-attractional debate.

    There are many problems inherent in the model you described in the yellow box above: wrong motives, wrong assumptions about God and human works, reductionism, misplaced faith, and so on. Personally, I’d like to see a more comprehensive list of churches you think this box characterizes. I can think of a lot that would, but almost all of them in the seeker-driven camp and almost none from the traditional camp.

    As far as your question goes, I’m with Rusty: change the structures. But latent in the question seems to be an assumption that the only structure in which mission flourishes (I’m being generous) is the house church based structure, or some variation. Frankly, I believe there is much too close an association posited between what sort of form the church’s corporate worship and teaching takes and the extent and effectiveness of their engagement in mission. If we conceive of mission in terms of, not what happens on Sunday, but what happens through the lives of Christians on Monday through Saturday, then the question becomes, what makes Christians most effective in mission throughout the week? It has a lot less to do with the size and form of the gathering than with the “quality” (biblically speaking!) of what happens there (pun intended).

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  6. Hey Marty

    Been following you for sometime. Great blog. Let me start by saying that for the past ten years I have been brought up in the attractional model. I was a campus pastor for a video venue of an attractional church. So with that perspective……when I became a campus pastor I started to notice that the volunteers were starving and had no real concept of what the gospel was. I also started to notice that people coming in the doors started asking questions and only a few people had the answers.

    It was all about tell your friends about your life change and invite them to church, oh and read your Bible on your own. Basically salvation is for sale and after you buy it, the church offers no warranty. So in the process of “saving” people you have a bunch of people ferrying lost all over again. Willow Creek’s data backs this up and so does lifeway’s research. I know God has used this model to bring people to true life. The real question is how do we get back to a biblically balanced church and not a bunch of churches that react to each others models? Grace to you!

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    1. Ryan,

      Thanks for the comment. And you are right, that is the question. My hope is that over the next few years the concept of INTENSELY LOCAL ministry will catch on and help all of us to get back to a more biblically balanced approach and do what all parties want to do –develop more and better disciples for Jesus.

      You might take a look at a response I just wrote to Miquel in the “We’ve Got Discipleship all Wrong” thread.

      Curious, how did you find the BLOG.

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  7. Marty…Bingo! Spot on in your analysis. Change the theology, change the name on the building, but the same problem!! And many more are replicating the problem. (i.e. the church is being reduced to a personality cult instead of a living organism. It only lives in the way the ‘head honcho’ decides.)

    Now to your question:
    How do we keep our congregations on mission for God (taking the gospel to the culture) when the structures through which we shepherd them create barriers to their understanding of mission?

    I believe the answer is in couple of related issues:
    1) Change the structure to match the NT pattern. Seems over simplistic, I know. But I’m referring to the need for there to be ‘true plurality’ instead of a board of Elders who function as a glorified deacon board. While most protestants detest the thought of a Pope, many actually adopt the same method within their polity. (Papacy in the Protestant Church) When true plurality operates, the personality cult is removed because the Elders are seeking the Lord in order to determine which one is sharing at any given service. (People come to hear the message, not ‘the man.’ They come to be equipped, not to hear their favorite speaker and justify their inertia. Also, the pulpit is used for part of the proving ground for those in leadership training.)

    2) The monies wasted on ostentatious facilities and unnecessary perks is heart breaking. (It usually has to do with the image and presentation of the ‘Man.’) If the focus stays upon understanding the mission, discipling (leadership training and release) and fulfilling the mission, we’ll discover a lot of foolish and wasteful traps within the structure. It should not be about image, but about truth, humility and reaching those around us.

    3) This change in structure (true plurality) will destroy the pipeline for personality cults. That pipeline, and many are tentative to admit it, is the public promotion of the ‘Top Dog’ in the ministry. The podcasts are always ‘his teaching.’ The TV messages are always ‘his teaching.’ The ministry is embodied in ‘the man.’ The products are always ‘his material.’ All of this contradicts the NT pattern. The change to the NT paradigm will keep the message at the center of the ministry of the local church, and prevent it from being lost through the ‘mousetrap’ you mentioned.

    Personally, I would rather work among a group of 20 who are active in doing their part, preparing for and fulfilling the great commission to the culture around them, and planting churches among those falling through the cracks, than to sit among a mega church googling over the charisma or doctrine of ‘The Man’ while being entertained by a great orchestra or band. But hey, that’s just me.

    Many thoughts, but I better stop…
    Thanks for the discussion.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Terry

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  8. My apologies that I didn’t read all of the comments, so this may have already been said, but it seems to me that these days, too many churches are forcing an “either/or” dichotomy that ought not be there between the church gathered and the church scattered. The “church gathered” (the meeting of the church for worship, mutual service, edification, and encouragement) is not supposed to replace the “church scattered” (the daily lives of mission that God calls every believer to do and to be during the week.)

    I believe the church gathered is primarily for the encouragement, equipping, and mutual serving of the believers (Hebrews 10:25) so that we are grown and equipped for mission, rather than the sum total of our outreach strategy and mission. Call me “old school”, but my conviction is that if we do “church gathered” well for its own sake without apologies, and stop trying to make church gathered our mission strategy, that ought to result in more and better ministry being done in our lives throughout the week as the “church scattered.”

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    1. Yeah, the comment thread covers that base. I’m not trying to drive a wedge between but to highlight an imbalance by using two very different theological perspectives to demonstrate a basic sameness in methodology. Like you, I am very much “old-school”. Churches used to have interior words over their lobby doors. On exiting the building, congregants would read “you are now entering the mission field.” Today, our churches are so out of balance that if they still had such wording,

      a) no one would know what they meant, and
      b) no one knows what to do.

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  9. I believe that missions has been relegated to being an entity in the church that only requires a check mark. We spend a couple of dollars to support a Missionary and it then meets the requirement for missions work for the church body. I have witnessed many churches that spend very little resources on outreach and advertise their missions department on their website.

    The emphasis has to change from building larger churches to building Christ Followers. The Gospel has to be preached without apology. If the church has one hundred people that are fired up and working in the field it is much more profitable than having 10,000 souls walking aimlessly, getting their check mark for attending church, going back home, locking their doors and turning their backs on those who are hurting.

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  10. I’ve heard the word “excellence” so many times in churches that I started wondering where it is in the Bible. It has become an excuse to make everything bigger, better and faster with a false sense of making everything for God.

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