Picking up the ringing phone one day (yes, we still have non-cell phones both at my church and my home), I got a salesperson trying to tell me to give up my current phone service and purchase his own. I would get everything I already had and so much more and even get to keep my phone number! What a deal! Who could possibly say "no"?
In all the years I have been a Pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, there have been those who saw this as the mission approach that would save our slowly declining confessional Lutheran church body. In other words, for more than 30 years there have been voices suggesting that instead of bringing people into the Kingdom, we need to bring the Kingdom to the people. It may sound like semantics but it is not. This approach has transformed a significant segment of many denominations -- not in the least my own. But I have struggled to identity clearly and simply the different parameters of these different mission approaches.
Pastor Bill Woolsey has done me the service of making the divergent paths very simple and very clear: According to Woolsey, “My desire in starting CrossPoint [the LCMS congregation in Texas where he is Pastor] was to create a congregation that
not only spoke the language of the local lost person but also loved that
person so much we could not help but speak their language and love
their music and adopt as many of their values as possible.” [Emphasis added]
Far from seeing the church as an agent of transformation, this idea sees the church as incorporating much of the language, culture, style, and identity of lost people. Now, to be sure, Woolsey would insist that transformation would take place but it is a process and it begins with the church mirroring the values, culture, language, music, and style of the lost people (as much as is possible). This perspective believes that nearly everything is negotiable and able to be compromised for the sake of reaching those lost (except for the barest core beliefs of Christianity). Your confessional identity, your liturgical heritage, your musical legacy, etc... are all candidates for revision or replacement if they get in the way of your reaching the lost. We have heard this all before by those who define style and substance as not only distinct but different and, essentially, not necessarily related.
To get back to the beginning, the sales idea for such a perspective is that you get to keep your life, keep your values, keep your preferences, keep your music, keep who you are but ADD to it Jesus Christ. This was the whole basis for the seeker service movement (think Willow Creek) in which the idea was that if you pack them in by adopting a message and a medium from their own culture and experience, eventually they will learn and grow and be integrated into the "deeper" aspects of the faith. This was admittedly not what happened. People were content to have their values, desires, language, and music mirrored back to them but they did not adopt the transformation values of God's Kingdom and dig deep into the church's life. They remained on the edges.
No one disputes that by adopting the language, music, and culture of the world you can fill the pews. The real question is what you are building. Some, even from within the movement, have begun to wonder if they are actually building the church and making disciples out of those who have surrendered little of their lives to be changed but who may be willing to add a little Jesus to their mix. Clearly one of the most difficult things to do if you adopt this mission perspective is how to bring these lost into the Kingdom and reflect instead the values of Christ, the language of Scripture and creed and confession, the continuity with the liturgical and hymn legacy of those who went before, and be able to pass on a distinct identity of the faith to those who follow them. An orphan church made up of people who have little in common with those who went before finds it difficult to sustain their existence for more than the generation of the founder (without a radical change in direction).
Woolsey says, “most of the mainline churches in my denomination spoke a language long gone.” What Woolsey forgets is that although there may have been the appearance of congruity between culture and the Church in ages past, the language of the Kingdom, the values of the Kingdom, the liturgy of the Kingdom, the music of the Kingdom, and the piety of the Kingdom have always been at odds with the culture of the lost. The Church grew not by adopting the shape of things and the preferences of those around them but by boldly preaching and through this planting the radical nature of the Kingdom of God.