In my dissertation process I compared/contrasted the Emergent and Missional-Incarnational ecclesiologies (the study of the church). One of the things that came up in the Missional literature is the idea of multiple “conversions.”
Ed Stetzer mentioned “two conversions” that appear in missional churches: a conversion to Christ (repentance, baptism) and then a conversion to Christ’s mission for the church.
Brandon Hatmaker issues a consideration for “three conversions”: conversion to Christ, then a conversion to the church body, and then a conversion to Christ’s mission in the world. I wonder if he has a database or coding system to keep all of that straight…
I think that these guys are good leaders/authors/thinkers. This language, however, is interesting to me. Do we really need to go through multiple conversions? These guys sound a lot more Pentecostal than they probably are comfortable with. (ha ha)
This discussion gets to something deeper and beyond the initial discussion. We all experience a deep level of dissonance with what we claim to believe/know and how we actually live. There is still much work to do in our lives. We seem to have to have something to point people towards (like another conversion) in order to get them closer to the overall goal.
Rick Warren used this type of language to mobilize his church. Do you remember the circles: crowd, congregation, committed, core. (Or something so eloquent and neat like that)
Multiple conversions/experiences can create elitism among congregations, though. People are tempted to say to one another “Oh, you haven’t had your conversion experience to God’s mission like I have. Oh, bless your heart… you’ll get there. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Yeah, they probably wouldn’t say it in that way, but they might claim that since you haven’t read the latest book or attended that conference, that you are missing out on something.
All of that to say, if a message needs multiple conversions to get to the whole thing, either the original correspondence was way too small to be called the gospel or there is something so deeply mysterious about conversion that we can’t claim to have experienced it all or helped someone else to have experienced it all in one moment.
This is why I think Scot McKnight’s Turning to Jesus is an important source. He shares about the sociological framework for conversion, as shown in the Gospel accounts: the personal decision, the sociological, and the liturgical. This is stuff that does not have to happen all at once. We don’t have to be overly concerned about the people around us, that may not have experienced Jesus in the same matrix, pattern, signs and symbols that we have. As John Ortberg has suggested, “God handcrafts disciples. He doesn’t mass-produce them.”
Hugh Halter’s admonition is best: keep pointing people to Jesus in the context of mission. Allow believers, nonbelievers, skeptics, undecideders, and the pharisees in our world to do mission together and keep pointing each of them to Jesus. God, who is certainly able, will sort out and through the rest.