Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

The Model and the Message

I have been pondering for a while – several years at least – about the necessary congruence between The Model and The Message, particularly as it pertains to the church.  I want to open my brain up a little and invite you to interact with me on this.

First, terms: The model is the context for the propagation of the message.   The message might be anything you want to communicate, like how to tie your shoes, or 2nd-year calculus, or the importance of recycling, or the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Whatever the message, there are consistent, effective ways to communicate it, and inconsistent and ineffective ways to communicate it.  It is possible, in fact, for the model to entirely undermine the message.

In the church, there is mostly one model, with variations.  The typical model is an institution – a building and a brand and a mission statement – with some few people who talk about things or perform, a bunch of people who volunteer to keep things running, and most of the people passively listening and watching and funding things.  The message inherent in this model is that church is about listening to a few people perform and talk at events, learning what they are teaching, and supporting their efforts.  Whatever other message is intended, it will be lost to the one the model communicates.

I believe the New Testament describes Christians as people who are learning the ways of Jesus and putting them into practice.  Christians are learner-doers, aka ‘disciples’.  The doers are not those who stand up front.  The doers are everyone.  If anyone stands up front, it is as an equipper so that everyone can do.  If anyone really even needs to stand up front…

I think most pastor types would agree with what I just said, and they may even want it.  But I think the evidence suggests that their good intentions are largely subverted by the system they are part of.  You don’t get active doers from a program that depends on passive listeners.

The show, the once-a-week sit-and-listen, the plug-in-to-support-the-institution, the us-versus-them (our body of Christ versus their body of Christ?) mentality – these things are inconsistent with a living, visible, Jesus-exalting, interconnected bunch of disciples.

If the goal is more programs, more mini-kingdoms, more prominent pastors supported by passive parishoners, then Carry On!  But if the goal is the church alive and visible in your neighborhood or city (please see my previous post), then we need to step back and examine the model and make some changes.  That, at least, is how I’m seeing it.  What do you think?  What do you think The Church should look like in your town?  Do changes need to happen?  What sort?  Please share your thoughts!



  1. Dan,
    It seems to me that most church going folks (the ones propagating the traditional models of church), aren’t even cognizant of a different way to doing church. Its not that they don’t see unmet needs, or don’t want to be apart of something that is more alive and vibrant and effective. They simply don’t know or believe that Jesus is offering them something far better.
    I think you really hit it on the head with your “Jesus gives you permission” post. The evangelical masses of America need to know that Jesus gives them permission to modify how fellowship, and worship and service to the lost world take form. He gives them permission to not only change the times and locations of church meetings, but permission to bring all of the essential elements of church life (prayer, study, teaching, counseling, admonishment, meditation, praise, etc.) into every other part of our life. A multitude of parachurch organizations are out there today and doing a great job of meeting people where they are at, through the radio, internet, TV etc. The problem does not seem to be our stewardship of resources and technology. The problem is getting the average joe christian to engage with their neighbors or immediate community of friends on a truly spiritual level.
    Which leads me to what I think is the biggest obstacle to a vibrant church life in any community,…spiritually awake believers. I think Keith Green was right when he sang of how the church was “asleep in the light”. It still is!
    Until there is some kind of major spiritual revival I really don’t think any kind of model tweaking of the church is going to manifest a real change.
    Real change and real maturity spring from within and is always organic. It needs no artificial stimulants because Jesus Himself, living inside the individual believer and his fellow siblings in Christ, gives him all of the direction and motivation that he needs to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
    Perhaps the vision you are casting here in this blog though will awaken some who need help imagining what is possible if the Lord is allowed to move unrestrictedly in their lives. I, for one, appreciate your vision! Grace to you my brother!

    • Dan

      October 10, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks, Ben. This jumped out to me: “The problem is getting the average joe christian to engage with their neighbors or immediate community of friends on a truly spiritual level.”

      This is where I am thinking the model leads us astray. Typically, the leadership in a church isn’t able to say “Live your life in the unbelieving world like I am. Make disciples like I’m making disciples.” If we were to follow the model of typical church leadership, we would be preparing sermons and administering programs, etc.

      You who lead typical churches, this is not an attack on you. Nor do I mean to demean you or your work. I am interested in encouraging the picture of church life which takes Christians from passivity, or activity that is all inwardly (toward the particular institution) focused. How can church leadership more effectively come alongside ‘average joe christian’ and walk him through the day to day of what it means to follow Jesus, and ultimately, what it looks like to disciple others? That’s what I want to wrestle through.

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