Growth and Development

Craig Van Gelder in “The Ministry of the Missional Church” describes six (6) things that led to growth and development of the primitive church as found in the book of Acts (of the Apostles).

#1. Growth and Development through CONFLICT. Conflict is often seen negatively— “Storming” in Group Dynamics. However, Conflict is necessary to address new situations that people were not expecting, as well as to establish norms and roles. It also helps to force people to decide levels of commitment to the group. Van Gelder used Acts 6 as the classic example of this. I might suggest Acts 5 as an example where conflict was NOT handled well. Ananias and Saphira were dealt with poorly leading to fear in the congregation. Conflict is not bad, but how we respond to conflict can be good or bad.

#2. Growth and Development through ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES. A crisis is an opportunity. We all (I think) know this. That does not, however, mean that any of us are likely to embrace the positive side of adverse circumstances immediately. It takes a certain conscious effort to see good possibilities in adversity. I recall a story from (former radio host) Paul Harvey. The story, as I recall it, was of an accountant who was fired from his job. He was so despondent. He did not know what he would do, and was dreading telling his wife. Finally he goes home to tell her the bad news. She responds, “Thanks be to God!” The accountant is confused but his wife leads him to a place that she had been secreting things away. In there was a staff of coins. She told her husband that little by little she had been saving up the coins in the hopes that one day her husband could stop being an accountant and focus his energy on the book idea that had been languishing. The accountant (he we are finally told was the great 19th century American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the book was his, perhaps most famous, work, The Scarlet Letter. Is that story true? I don’t really know. But adverse things happen. Persecution swept over Jerusalem and Judea in the Book of Acts, and this led to the Gospel message being scattered far and wide as people moved outward from the area. Arguably, the same thing could be said of the story of the Tower of Babel, where God confused the languages and people spread out all over the world. We look at it in terms of disobedience and punishment. However, it can be looked at in a different way as well. People were used to the status quo (homeostasis) and needed a disruption to respond to creatively.

#3. Growth and Development through MINISTRY ON THE MARGINS. This one is not as obvious. Efforts like Philip the Evangelist reaching out to Samaritans, and Christians reaching out to Gentiles in Antioch (without requiring becoming Jewish as a prerequisite to becoming followers of Christ) forced the church to come to terms with their presumptions and practices. Frankly, we rarely learn and grow by doing the ministry as it was always done with the target population one has always reached out to. Certain canned Evangelistic programs seem absolutely wonderfurl and effective— as long as one is reaching out to people who were brought up with common values about God and the Bible, within a generally Christian worldview. It is those people who reach out to people from a decidedly non-Christian worldview who discover the limitation of the methods… and sometimes even the limits of the outcome.

#4. Growth and Development through INTENTIONAL STRATEGY. Paul and Barnabas developed an intentional strategy to reach out people in Cyprus and Asia Minor. Yes sometimes some leader has a “big vision” and then inspires people to come up with a really great strategy to move the organization forward. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the way things work most of the time. First, I don’t think that God subscribes to the “Great Man” Theory of History. Second, since a key part ministry is contextuality (addressing the changingness of, well, pretty much everything), it should hardly be surprising that organizational changes (or failures to change, or failures to change correctly) are more dictated by changes to the context than to “Vision.” As a not-all-that-visionary person, that is comforting. Most of the smart changes my wife and I have been a part of in ministry came from responding to changes an opportunities from outside, rather than really cool ideas that came out of our heads. Van Gelder notes that most of the positive growth and development in Acts did not come out of this source, so I am not alone.

#5. Growth and Development through Divine Intervention. Sometimes God jumps in and grabs the steering wheel. It may not always be clear when it should be considered a “God thing.” My wife and I moved from focus on Children’s Minsitry to Pastoral Counseling back in 2009/10 after two devastating storms here in the Philippines. This led to an inability to do Saturday ministry work with children because suddenly children were in schools on Saturday to make up for lost school days, and the great need for pastoral counseling of those who had suffered both tangible and intangible loss from the storms. Is that Divine Intervention or Adverse Circumstances (or even Ministry on the Margins). I don’t know for sure. But with Paul and company, Paul received a vision to begin ministering in Macedonia and Greece. This was a great stretch for them. Prior, they were innovative in their intentional strategy, but also in some ways not that innovative. Barnabas was a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus and Paul was a Hellenistic Jew from Asia Minor. So what was their strategy? To reach out to Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Gentiles in Cyprus and Asia Minor. Comfortable. It took God to say that it is time to move outside of that secure zone.

#6. Growth and Development from INSIGHTS INTO GOSPEL AND CULTURE. I guess I would be tempted to group this one with Ministry on the Margins, but perhaps there is wisdom on the part of Van Gelder to keep them separate. Peter learned much about the Gospel through his interaction with Cornelius. The same could be said of his trip to Samaria in Acts. Earlier in the book, Van Gelder describes the “Inherent Translatability of the Gospel” to every culture and context. It is good news for everyone everywhere. But to be good news, it may look different. It may look different in the slums of Kampal from how it looks in a housechurch where persecution of Christians is common. It may look different in a land awash in a form of secular cynicism from a land of people in fear of malevolent spirits. Seeing the Gospel message of Christ from only one perspective (one facet), or worse denying the validity of anyone other representation or living out of the message, will stifle Growth and Development in the church. Seeing God work in unexpected ways in the lives of unexpected persons in unexpected contexts provides opportunity for the church to learn and grow.

I think it is a good list. Perhaps I would like to divide up ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES into three subcategories— circumstances that spring from SUCCESS, FAILURE, and NEITHER. Success puts a strain on an organization as much as failures or things that are unrelated to either success or failure. If a church doubles or triples in size in a few months, that certainly would be seen as a success in some way. However, it is also certainly an adverse condition— putting huge strains on the church to respond. It is a problem. It may be seen as a good problem (a problem that is the result of good things happening) but it is a problem nonetheless. Anyway, ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES is vague enough and broad enough to cover a wide range of things, and that is fine.

You can find this book by Van Gelder—- HERE.

The Cheshire Church

The following is a quote from the book by James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness, “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Who can fault legendary evangelist Dwight L. Footnotes: The Cheshire CatMoody, who captured the mood of evangelicals at the end of the nineteenth century in his declaration, “I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'” In other words, all hopes of transforming society with the gospel were dashed, in his eyes, until Christ’s return in glory, leaving only one option, the lifeboat— a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.

While few would echo the words of Moody and his contemporaries today, we still hear a distinct but largely unrecognized carryover. Ever since the late 1800s, dominant evangelical voices have called for accelerated church planting to evangelize the maximum number of unreached in the shortest possible period of time. The return of Christ became the dominant motivation for missions— only this return would bring about the transformation that the gospel required. The only human effort required was an announcement of the message. ….

There never has been a dispute that evangelism is indispensable as the first step in making disciples in all nations, but now voices were heard calling for the first time for completion of world evangelization in this generation. It would almost seem as if the future world and the ultimate victory of Christ had become dependent on human initiative. Little wonder that evangelicals were quick to embrace the wonders of a technological age and to mobilize Christian resources in an unprecedented way. In the process, it became tempting to disregard the essence  of the Great Commission …. where it is abundantly obvious that human efforts are futile, or at least inadequate,without the convicting, regenerating and sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, among those who referred to themselves as evangelicals, there was almost total silence in response to God’s call for social justice to alleviate the burdens of ignorance, poverty and hunger, racism, the loss of cultural identity, and other forms of oppression (Amos 5:21-24, Luke 3:10-14; 4:18-21). Oss Guinness prophetically observed that the outcome of this silence is a church that has lost its impact by becoming “privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”

Guinness uses the analogy of the Cheshire Cat in the famous story Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In this fable, the cat gradually loses its identity until all that remains is its famous lingering grin. So it is with the church, which by and large now has only the ‘lingering grin, ‘ a surface indicator of a privatized faith without moral and social impact. In so doing, the church has dug its own grave, while the smile lingers on.

(Pages 64-65.  Os Guinness quote is from “The Gravedigger File”)

Missional and Missionary Churches

One of my students is writing about the Missional Church movement as part of her dissertation. I will not steal her thunder. I will just make a couple of comments on the topic here. She noted that the term “missional church” has often been seen as another term for “missionary church.”  Over time, however, the missional church and missionary church has bifurcated in meaning. It seems to me that some of that has to do with their understanding of their place in culture (or as my student would say, their connection with the idea of “Christendom.”)

Missionary churches have often seen themselves as “Sending Churches.” That is, they send cross-cultural missionaries or send money to cross-cultural missionaries. This is certainly a reasonable understanding of the term.

Missional churches commonly see themselves as “Sent Churches.” That is, they exist in the mission field. This seems pretty reasonable as well.

In a time of Christendom as a concept that “just makes sense,” the church can be seen as existing in an E-1 setting, and people in the community exist in a P-1 setting with respect to the local church. <I am drawing from Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, titled “Finishing the Task: The Unreached People’s Challenge.” Pretty good chance you have heard of the E-Scale, and maybe P-Scale in missions outreach.>

However, Christendom (Christian societal evolution) has fallen on hard times as a belief, and we find churches in many parts of the world as being Marginalized— in cultural conflict with the society they are in. This is the reality in many places, but is now being seen as more of a reality in the West as well. In some ways that is a good thing. Being American (although I haven’t lived there in over 15 years) churches there have commonly blended into a politico-patriotic Americanism that has a lot to do with the surrounding culture but little to do with Christlikeness. Of course the US is not alone in this. The goal is, of course, not to be different for the sake of being different. Some in an attempt to be different… are not a transformative influence— they are just strange and foreign. In fact many churches established by missionaries world-wide do not fit well with their culture because they fit the culture of the missionaries who founded them (Philippine churches are a really good case in point for this).

Churches need a connection to the culture to be relevant, but need a certain amount of disconnection to provide an alternative as an impetus to transformation.

Getting back to Missional Churches— identifying themselves as being somewhat marginalized within their setting, they then could be seen as existing in an E-2 culture (and people in the community would find the church as P-3 with respect to its context).

                        Missionary Church                                  Missional Church

             Sees itself as E-1 in its context                   Sees itself as E-2 in its context

   Sends missionaries to E-2 and E-3 settings       Sends people into its community

      Good distant missions… poor theology       Good theology, poor distant missions

One may think that Missionary Churches and Missional Churches should be quite compatible with each other, but sadly they often are not. Missionary Churches often see Missional Churches as anti-missions. And, in fact, to some extent the charge can be true. Many missional churches focus on local missions so much that they don’t support foreign or E-3 missions except perhaps with Short-term missions— a shaky strategy at best. The lack of support for E-3 missions and reliance on Short-term missions are worthwhile complaints about (SOME) Missional Churches.

The thing though is that the Missional Churches are correct theologically. The church does exist in a marginalized setting in much of the world— and is supposed to be. The church does exist in an E-2 setting pretty much everywhere. As such, real cross-cultural missions DOES happen every time someone seeks to do ministry outside of one’s own church gathering place. The separation between local outreach for a church and missions outreach is a false dichotomy that may have made sense a few decades ago, but makes sense no longer.

It seems to me that we need a mix of missionary churches and missional churches (and certainly such things do absolutely exist). Churches need to recognize that they exist as sent out into the world (on mission) wherever they exist. Churches don’t just send… they are sent. They need to recognize that they exist counterculturally within their own community. On the other hand, the church exists as part of something far bigger than itself… it exists within a world of diversity and should embrace its role to impact the entire world, not just its own corner.

Overseer as Trainer and Therapist

I am presently serving as the interim pastor of a small church, and I am writing a book (with my wife) on pastoral care and pastoral supervision. I was a bit inspired by an overlap in the role of pastor and pastoral supervisor that I thought I would add a bit of our book here (or, more accurately, the very initial first draft of an incomplete chapter in the book):

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The term “supervisor” is used in the New Testament. It is ἐπισκοπῆς or “episkopes.”   The term is sometimes translated bishop, pastor or overseer. The last of these is the most literal. The clerical role is not necessarily about power or control. In fact, those that see the role in terms of ecclesiastical power seem to miss the point a bit. After all, in the qualifications for an overseer/supervisor in I Timothy 3, the only skill listed for the overeer is the ability to train people. Drawing from a second metaphor for this person, that of the shepherd, one can go to Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, and some of the teachings of Christ to see that a second skill is in terms of pastoral care (healing, guiding, reconciling, sustaining). Much in line with the expectations for a bishop/pastor in I Timothy 3, in Clinical Pastoral Care, it is expected that the supervisory relationship will be both didactic (able to teach) and therapeutic (ability to do pastoral care).

The First Epistle to Timothy gives some guidelines for pastors or overseers in a church.  According to I Timothy 3:2-7, an overseer should be

above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[ respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Reputation

Self-Control

Relationships with Others

Above reproach or blame

Sexual self-control

Hospitable

Respectable

Self-control in habit

Not violent with others, but gentle

Good reputation with outsiders

Mature in role

Good relationship with Family

Able to teach or guide others

Looking at these three major areas, perhaps there is a logical progression that should considered. Arguably, the reputation should flow from the relationships the overseer has. And the health of these relationships should flow from the intangible aspects of the overseer’s character.  The qualities of an overseer in a church setting or in clinical pastoral training should be essentially the same. It is out of these qualities that an overseer may be able to train and provide therapy.

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For many, when they hear of this list of characteristics for a pastor/overseer, they focus on the 2nd item, “faithful to his wife,” or “husband of one wife.” From this there is speculation of whether a pastor must be male or not, whether he (or she) must be married or not, or whether the person can be divorced. However, there is no mention of marriage or marriage relationships in the original. A literal (perhaps too literal) translation is “a one-woman man.” This suggests that the key point is sexual faithfulness and sexual self-control. That is why I put it that way in the table above. If God does care as to whether an overseer in church is a man or woman, I doubt the concern is nearly as great as the other qualities. Considering how many angry, immature pastors I have met with toxic reputations, it is clear to me that many churches don’t take this section very seriously.

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Pensive Thankfulness

Today we celebrated the first year anniversary of our littlepensive church here in Baguio. It has been a challenging year… but I think we are stronger for it. Our older daughter sang a special number— “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me.” She was trying to decide whether to sing that song or ‘Thank You Lord for the Trials that Come my Way.” Because of my limited guitar skills, she chose the former. Both songs are quite appropriate to our church’s struggles as well as her health challenges. She had to stop school for a year because of these challenges. Thankfully she is getting better, but it is difficult to disconnect from the rest of the world for many months. In fact, it was the first time for her to be able to join us in churchin a long time.

Both songs have a pensive (deep reflective) quality to it that defies the common kneejerk expression, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” How does one respond when God goodness is not clearly evidenced? How do we respond thankfully to loss, trials, struggles.

The song that my daughter sang was a favorite song of several women that we worked with years ago. We had a ministry with a number of women who sold plastic bags in the public market here in Baguio. Pretty much all of them would be considered desperately poor by “First World” standards. One lady, in particular, often would ask that this song be sung in our Bible studies. She came to Christ at a very low point in her life when she was raising up several children with little to no support. The change in her spiritual life did not suddenly change many of the struggles including economic. It is true, however, that over the last 14 years her situation has improved considerably, but still nowhere near where most people would consider “blessed.” She, however, liked to sing the song well before her situation improved.

I think thankfulness involves a certain amount of pensiveness and even melancholy. Our thankfulness should be based on a real understanding of our situation— the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful.

Thankfulness that is automatic, unthinking, is a “flabby” thankfulness— and perhaps it is not thankful at all. Thankfulness is for what we have, not what we pretend to have. Such thankfulness is at best an empty eggshell… containing nothing and far too fragile to help sustain us.

Thank you Lord, For your Blessings on Me

(The Easter Brothers)

G     A7       D     A7        D ,     A7

        D                            A7
As the world looks upon me, as I struggle along


     Em          A7           G           D

They say I have nothing, but they are so wrong 

                                                 G   
In my heart I'm rejoicing, how I wish they could see

D          A7             D          A7
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …....

Chorus           D                      A7
     There's a roof up above me, I've a good place to sleep

              Em         A7          G          D
     There's food on my table, And shoes on my feet

                                              
                                                    G
     You gave me your love Lord, And a fine family

           D               A7          D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …..




Now I know I'm not wealthy, and these clothes, they're not new

I don't have much money, but Lord I have you

And to me that's all that matters, though the world cannot see

Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me ….

Chorus
--------

    G       D              A7         D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me

 

 

The Fish Model of Project Design

The following was a diagram that I had in my book, CHRISTIAN MEDICAL MISSIONS: Principles and Practices in the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond. However, it is quite useful in Project Design for ministry, with special focus on the transitioning from a short-term event or project to a long-term program or ministry. The diagram looks a bit like a fish. Starting at the left side, moving to the right is the passage of time. The gap between the lower and upper lines involves the number of people involved.

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Point A: Initiation:  The idea for an event or prject comes from one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.  (Those involves:  Perhaps 1 or 2)

Point B: Team-building:   This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.(Perhaps the team involves 20 or 30).

Point C:  Seed Sowing:   Participants, the target group, are invited to participate in the event or project.  (The number targeted may vary wildly depending on the project. For a hands-on training, maybe 50 would be invited. For a medical mission, maybe 1000. For a city-wide evangelistic event, maybe tens of thousands.)

Point D: Event.  This is where the project/event is implemented. Most likely less will show up than was invited. (Perhaps 40% of those invited actually participate). During the event, there is intentional activity done to gather names, contact information, and such for those desiring to participate in activities that involve more commitment.

Points E and F.Filtering.  These are attempts to filter the initial participants to identify those who desire to be involved in a long-term program. 

Example #1.  For an evangelistic rally, one may gather names of those who walked forward to give their lives to Christ, or to dedicate themselves to Christ. Additionally, these people may be asked if they wish to join a church family or a home Bible study. After the event, follow-up will begin. Focus will be on those who expressed the most commitment (being part of a home Bible study), with secondary focus on those who desire a church family, next to those who expressed a desire to follow Christ, and last to those who simply attended without an expression of any commitment.

Exmaple #2.  A Children’s one-time event may be held. At that event, parents and children can be invited to a weeklong “Vacation Bible School.” Those who join the VBS can be invited to join a afternoon Bible club, or a church Sunday School.

Point G. Commitment Point. After the filtering proces, one reaches a small group that is ready to be committed to a long-term program. That program could be home Bible studies, a church, a community development program, or others. Although small in number, these have found value in what is being done, and are committed to be part of it over time.

Point H. Expansion. This where the committed group reaches out to others and begins to grow. Much of the growth would probably come from those who had initially expressed a lesser amount of commitment before, but now want to join with greater commitment.

Key Points

1.  There needs to be intentionality from no later than the team-building stage to do the project in a manner that allows it to support a long-term program. If that is not done, what often is left is a positive event and a prayer that “something good will come of this.” Prayer is important but when the event is designed in a manner that works against the prayer— well, there is a problem isn’t there?

2.  There needs to be follow-on activities that people are actively invited to commit to. One should not just assume “Oh, they know what they should do.” They don’t know what they should do if they are not invited.

3.  The invitations should be for things that are longer-term and involving a greater amount of commitment than the initial event.

4.  Embrace the idea that some will be lost on the way. This doesn’t mean they will be lost forever. Not everyone is prepared to commit long-term. You want to first find those who will… and then gradually expand to others.

Article: “Beyond Church Growth: Kingdom Expansion”

Below is a link to an article written in 2006 by Ken Hemphill. It discusses the positive and negative aspects of the Church Growth Movement. I find the list quite accurate and seems to be as relevant today as it was when it was written. The Church Growth Movement started as a Missiological activity by Missiologist Donald MacGavran. As such, much of the problems with the movement as it exists today (such as focus on style over substance, and methods that promote transfer growth over evangelism or ‘kingdom growth’) are quite alien to the original idea. However, some of the problems were there from the start, with the seeds of pragmatism and (perhaps) overreliance on statistics being among them. From my perspective, perhaps its biggest problem— and this cannot be blamed on MacGavran— is the impression often promoted that church growth is about knowing little tricks for formats that if they work in one place, must work in other places.

Anyway, feel free to read the article below:

http://www.sbclife.net/article/1336/beyond-church-growth-kingdom-expansion