Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Emerging Jargon

I am currently reading an interesting book called "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirch.

I have just finished chapter 3 which deals with the incarnational approach to ministry over the traditional attractional approach. This is really good stuff - it is pretty much they way we have been approaching ministry in the Kick Start program (a youth drug and alcohol program I run for Mission Australia). The challenge is now going to be introducing it to the more traditional "church" setting in my local community. But one step at a time.

I titled this post "Emerging Jargon" for a purpose - the authors of this book are using some new terminology that I think, in one sense is infuriating (because jargon words bug me) but also helpful in a descriptive way.

So todays emerging jargon phrase is "proximity spaces". A proximity space is basically any place where Christian's are able to interact with yet-to-become Christian's (those we would have traditionally called "lost" or "unsaved") in a culturally relevant way. It involves entering into their communities and interacting with them on their terms in their environment. This is cross cultural ministry without getting on a plane! Exciting stuff.

Questions for discussion
How are you using "proximity spaces" effectively?

Can we mix something of the attractional and the incarnational in creating new proximity spaces? (My answer at this point would be "yes").

Can you come up with a better (less anal) phrase to describe this idea? :)


James Diggs said...

I’ve read “The Shaping of Things to Come” some time ago along with a few other books dealing with the same topic. I love the idea of being incarnational and am trying to plant a church with the idea of helping, supporting, and equipping each other to invest in other communities and culture in order to be the Kingdom in that context.

So often we want people to adapt to church culture (something I never was able to do) and we fail to take the church to them. I have a small core group for our church plant and the first thing I told them was to find some other kind of community to invest in, and start being the church instead of just asking people to “come to church”.

We are still kicking all this around and it is good to talk to others doing the same thing. On one of my blogs I posted something on the You Tube Community and I have been wondering how we might become incarnational with it. That post is at


The Creature said...

Hi James!

The church plant sounds exciting.

I agree with your comment re. expecting people to adapt to church culture. I did adapt but have never been terribly satisfied with it - which raises a whole other lot of questions regarding contentment and what "church" is really all about - but I am faced with the reality that those we are getting alongside in our community look at our traditional way of doing things and say "that's not for me". It's not that they reject Jesus just the way we do things. While for the past while I have been trying to find ways of "easing" them into our culture, it just isn't working and I have been faced with the fact that we need to remodel!

I will check out your blog. I am interested in community on the internet (I guess that is what I am hoping I will be able to generate via this blog - so far it isn't really working!!!) but I wonder how deep we can really go without the face-to-face, life-to-life experiences of truly incarnational ministry over the virtual.

Thanks for your comments. I would love to hear more about your plant and your ideas.

Big Dave said...

Attractional vs incarnational?
That focus is wrong...
The importance is a call towards effective mission.

If you are working with an existing church to introduce such an idea of incarnational church is often counterproduction and often attack the values of good christian people who are in all honesty probably happy with the church culture they have.

Better to challenge with life of Jesus and allow that to address their missional practice. If God is at work he will use even the most traditional or attractional churches (and he actually does!)

Even those who have embarked on the journey to the incarnational way of church have to change their paradigm massively and painfully.

Proximity spaces-the idea to create them for the sake of coming into the realm of unchurch seems artificial.

I prefer the concept know as third spaces, ie. finding the places where people groups come together naturally. If they dont exist then endeavour to create them for the sake of community and relationship rather than evangelism. Most people will see through any motives you have.

I felt the need to create a place for Families in an Australian context. I felt in our area there was no place faor the families as a whole to attend and play. Solution we hold a monthly gathering for sport and a BBQ in the local park. It has taken time but the philosophy is to address the time issues most families have in being a family by creating a space to be one with others.
Slowly but surely we are gaining a community acceptance but even if we dont the experience has been positive for who ever has attended. It is a nature expression of being together
An interesting result is the number of single parent families that attend and can be the only time in a month that they have meaningful conversation with adults.

IT's been easy and fun.

The Creature said...

Hey Dave,

Now I know who iyou are - travelling incognito huh? How's it all going?

Lyss told me about what you have been doing when she caught up with your other half a couple of weeks back. Sounds pretty cool!

I think that introducing an incarnational approach is only counterproductive where people are stuck in a discipleship rut. I have always (or at least for a long time) seen this as being the biblical approach to ministry and evangelism generally and I think if we are not incarnational in our approach then we are not really living the gospel. I think it does take time for people, who perhaps have been reluctant or scared or unsure of their own place in this kind of ministry to get their heads around it, but it isn't impossible. And I think there are many different ways to "be" incarnational as well, my own journey has taken me on some varied approaches, some more productive than others!

I agree that the either/or approach to attractional/incarnational ministry is counter productive, and being effective is much more important. I think, even in the emerging context, attractional methods have a role - after all there is still a need to draw people into the kingdom and into our churches.

I like the "third space" idea but don't really understand how it is different from a proximity space (that phrase isn't growing on me!). I am keen to know how you have gone about implimenting and promoting your monthly gatherings.

I think that building community and growing relationships is crucial to growing the kingdom, but I also think that neither of these matters one iota if we never get around to the Gospel and Jesus. Of course, even if Jesus is rejected the relationship can remain. Check out the link to Scot McKnight's presentation where he touches on this bit - also the discussion over at Backyard Missionary.

Great to hear from you - I believe we are going to see you in Feb. Would be good to catch you for a cuppa earlier if you are down this way at all.

Big Dave said...

Not intentionally travelling incognito. Big Dave is my avatar around Perth Blogs. I knew you would figure it out without much effort. I have only scanned the Scott Mcknight's article and will visit it in the coming weeks.

Third places are natural places of proximity.In your scenario, they already exist in the forms that are tried and true ie Country club, Bowling club, Surf Club, Golf Club, Play Group etc. They occur naturally due to a common interest and attract people from all walks of life. You will be able to engage people from all walks of life. You should be able to be in the same room as a athiest, christian, liberal, labor, union,open market, gay, straight, coffee snob, tea drinker etc.
and still have a valuable time together.

They are places of security, a certain of predictability and a great deal of mutual respect. They are socailly orienatated and they exist for the benefit if teh community at large though only a select group may participate in reality.

My impression from your original comment was that you were examining the possiblilty of creating such places. If this is the case then you have to be carefulof your motive. I ultimately want people to be disciples of Jesus but in Re:Create my intention in relationship and promote a kingdom value of family being together and community. Even though I often have a pablo's dog reaction to have outreach event or and ALpha course I resist. That is not to say evangelism is not happening but it is more subtle.

The discipling issue is true but any form of church and ministry will work if the people involved at actively being Jesus followers.

I now believe it is be counter productive to introduce incarnational philosophies within the majority of church people because it is often seen a threat to the existing church structures. The tension and conflict becomes emotionally orientated rather than productive. Instead push the chucrh to be missionally orientated and establish a incarnational church from scratch. There is no reason why the two should not be able to coexist.

Food for thought...

The Creature said...

Big Dave said:
"There is no reason why the two should not be able to coexist. Food for thought..."

I whole heartedly agree!