Monthly Archives: March 2008

11 Innovations in the Local Church

11 Innovations in the Local Church: How Today’s Leaders Can Learn, Discern and Move Into the Future by Elmer L. Towns, Ed Stetzer, and Warren Bird is a very useful survey of 11 various innovations that have occurred in the local church in the last decade or so. The 11 innovations are:

  1. Organic House Churches
  2. Recovery Churches
  3. Multi-site Churches
  4. Ancient-Future Churches
  5. City-Reaching Churches
  6. Community Transformation Churches
  7. Cyber-Enhanced Churches
  8. Nickelodeon-Style Children-Focused Churches
  9. Intentionally Multicultural Churches
  10. Decision—Journey Churches
  11. Attractional Churches

The purpose of the book is summarized in the following:

I have become convinced that two of the biggest issues for evangelicals in the next 10 years will be ecclesiology and missiology. Ecclesiology (“study of church”) helps us to understand what a church is and how it should function. Missiology (“study of mission”) helps us to see what methods and ministries will be most effective at reaching our community. (p. 235)

The authors provide a reductionistic, though operative, definition of what a church is:

Our working definition of church is “an assembly of professing believers, uniquely indwelt by Jesus Christ, under the discipline of the Word of God, administering the ordinances and led by spiritually gifted leaders.” This definition of church is an irreducible minimum. We need to measure all innovations by the seed of this truth and ask the question, “Does this innovation bear the marks of a New Testament Church?” (p. 18)

The authors are more critical of some innovations over others.

For example, concerning multi-site churches, Stetzer poignantly declares:

One reason that many of these multi-site churches are growing is that they are “better” than the churches already in a community. They offer more quality and people are attracted to such. But at some point, the gospel cannot and must not attract people simply because we do it better. it must ultimately be about Jesus, the gospel and sacrifice—and that does not require a video screen and a national structure.

As a missiologist, I (Ed) always ask if it is reproducible. If something can’t reproduce, it has natural limits on its ability to expand and influence. For some models of multi-site churches, multiplication of leaders can be hard. You can always start another site, but what about creating new leaders who develop other leaders? It is comparably easy to start another campus, but it is quite hard to grow another Andy Stanley! (pp. 93-94)

I found the chapter on Nickelodeon-Style Children-Focused Churches to be intriguing and worrisome. Regarding Andy Stanley’s children’s program, UpStreet, in that church:

The leadership believes that they only have a short window of time before a kid becomes a teenager (only 364 weekends). They say that every kid must realize three things: (1) They need to make wise choices; (2) they can trust God no matter what; and (3) they should treat others the way they want to be treated. Therefore, every week they try to get across one basic point that will lead to wise choices. They want every phrase, every story and every song to somehow highlight one of those three choices. (p. 168)

UpStreet gets across those choices in an eerily mechanistic way.

While the kids are in UpStreet and the adults ate in their worship hour, the leadership divides the 70 minutes of UpStreet into the following:

• 10.6 minutes getting ready to listen

• 12.4 minutes listening

• 15.1 minutes singing

• 6.3 minutes praying

• 24.9 minutes hanging out with their group and talking about everything they’ve learned

The leadership says, “We’re never sure what happens to the other .7 minutes, but we’re sure it’s a meaningful time.” (p. 169)

Interesting. The authors question the missional effectiveness of such children’s programming in an increasingly secular/post-Christian ethos.

The children’s ministry does reach Christians seeking a church and, to some degree, the interested unchurched. However, our culture seems to be increasingly secular, which makes us question why more churches are focusing on the interested unchurched segments of society. Generally, people who are open to being reached by a “better version” of church have already responded. What is needed now is a new way to reach beyond the low-hanging fruit of those with a religious memory who hope their children will have a religious upbringing. (p. 184)

Elmer Towns recalls his experience of coming back to the US from Laos and the cultural difference of Christianity in each.

When I looked at their faith in Christ through the eyes of their own culture, rather than through the eyes of my American culture, I began to realize the bias I was bringing with my questions. Back in the United Stares Christianity is the dominant faith. Many people think oft heir country as a Christian nation, and they even think of themselves as Christians because they live in a culture that they perceive as heavily shaped by Christian values.
As a result, in American evangelism we emphasize a crisis decision in order to help people distinguish a living faith from a cultural Christianity. One view involves a faith relationship with Jesus Christ and the other labels you a Christian solely because of the place you were born or the good works you’ve done. (p. 198)


When people are forced to make a salvation prayer too soon, they only repeat empty words and are therefore nor truly born again. He claimed that when preachers used a call to salvation only as a formula, their converts didn’t possess eternal life. They entered the church and were baptized, and many times they were persuaded that their soul was secure, but they were actually lost forever. Billington believed that American church rolls were filled with names of people who claimed to be Christian but were never saved. (p. 208)

The call for attractional churches to deal with consumerism was refreshingly powerful.

It’s simply not possible to lead an attractional church without appealing to people—and lost people are often “appealed to” by attractional churches. We live in a consumer-oriented society, and appealing to consumers is both a part and a result of being an attractional church.

So the question is not whether consumerism exists or whether churches appeal to consumers. Instead, the question we should be asking is, What will churches do with consumers (the unchurched) when the Bible calls us to a life of sacrifice and service? Attractional churches with conviction will lead the uncommitted consumer to become a committed disciple. (p. 229)

Regarding City-Reaching Churches they state:

Simply put, Christians and their churches need a vision that’s bigger than their neighborhood. They need a vision to reach a city, its people and its potential. That so means reaching more than just people who look like us; it means engaging men and women from every tongue, tribe and nation (see for a helpful tool to identify the “nations” within a city).

If you don’t read the entire book, the last chapter is well worth your time.

Yet all of out innovations, whether bold or common, haven’t done much good in terms of addressing the Church’s deeper issues. After 50 years of sprucing up our churches and spicing up our worship, the culture is less reached and those who go to churches are less committed. There is something wrong and innovation has not “yet” answered the deeper issues. And yet church innovation still matters.

Some assume that because methodological innovation is not working, there is something wrong with the gospel and the Scriptures. Thus, they innovate their theology. The logic goes like this: If we just changed our view of the atonement, sexuality or Scripture, that would “fix” the problem of the Church. Beyond the obvious difficulty that such a solution is theologically problematic, there is another problem: It doesn’t work! It’s been tried many times before. The Modernists of the early twentieth century tried to accommodate Christianity to modern science; they ended up scientifically correct but spiritually bankrupt. In the 1960s, some of the mainline denominations tried to think outside the box in the name of relevance. Sadly, many ended up irrelevant because they had no message other than the often fuzzy message of culture—do good, try’ hard, be “spiritual.” After they innovated away the Scriptures, even the unchurched were no longer interested. (pp. 236-237)

Jude 3 tells us to contend. First Corinthians tells us to contextualize. They both matter. The focus here is on what to contend for and what to contextualize in the innovated church. Are there some things for which we are to contend with the church? Yes. There are theological, moral, spiritual and communal issues for which we are to contend. Are there some things to contextualize and innovate in the church? Yes. The challenge is to know which is which. Our challenge to you is to sort that out for your particular context. (p. 238)

Whenever Christian people decide that the church does not matter, they end up following the world’s agenda and the church is soon marginalized to irrelevance. However, whenever the Christian people decide that the world does not matter, they end up in sectarian irrelevance. Both are dead ends of Kingdom growth. Instead, the church must be viewed as both essential for the gospel but also essential to the world.

The church matters to the mission of God, in every era and in every culture. In theological terms, though the missio dei is larger than the church, the missio ecclesia is to fulfill the mission of God in the world with the help of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the church is to fulfill the mission of God. The church is His hands and feet and lips in the world. Ultimately, we must not degenerate into a false sense of the church as “institution.” When the church continues to perceive itself properly and operate as the “people of God,” then the evangelistic mandate is kept alive through the missio dei. However, if the infectious attitude of the world that regards the church only as a religious or political establishment begins to hold sway among Christians, then the temptation faced is that survival of a local congregation or denomination is the ultimate goal. (p. 239)

If we did not innovate, we would still be meeting in synagogues on Saturday. Innovation is needed, but biblical discernment must come first. If not, we can innovate away what church is. Churches often wish to do ministry out of the box. That can be a good thing, depending on how you define the “box.” If by box we mean traditions (often past innovations) that have lost their meaning in contemporary culture, we can and should innovate so that the gospel can be more clearly presented. If, however, the box is the biblical church and its essentials, our innovation is compromise, not contextualization. (pp. 240-241)

Also, remember that a method that works in one culture may flop in another. Because cultures are different, it takes different methods to reach people in different cultures. The same thing can be said about time: Methods change over time. What worked 200 years ago, such as the circuit-riding Methodist preacher who focused on church planting, often doesn’t work today. Therefore, we need to remember the following:

• An effective method is always the application of a principle to culture, so look behind every method to see if it’s based on a biblical principle.

• The methods (innovations) mentioned in this book may not be effective one, two or three decades from now.

• These methods may not work outside the United States in a different culture.

• These methods may not work in every place inside the United States, because the American society has so many cultures that tradition may work in one place and not work in another. (pp. 240-241)

Bottom Line!

So what can you learn from this book? Always keep your focus on the gospel message. Don’t change it, and don’t let anyone else change it for you. But when they sing the gospel message by a different instrument, if you don’t like it, at least pray for those who sing it, and grow in Christ because of it. (p. 245)


Corrie Ten Boom Thoughts on the Cross

Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this?

By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chiller than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world.

The Necessity of Apologetics

In 5 Minute Apologist: Maximum Truth In Minimum Time by Rick Cornish, William Dembski in the introduction provides a fascinating call for the importance of apologetics for all Christians.

Rational argument used to be an ally of the Christian faith. In particular, it was thought that sound reason and powerful evidence supported the key claims of Christianity. If people rejected these teachings, it was assumed they weren’t thinking clearly, and not, as we now suppose, that their heads were telling them one thing and their hearts another. It’s worth remembering that until two centuries ago most people in the West saw the Resurrection of Jesus in historically the same light as other events of antiquity, such as the murder of Julius Caesar. The Resurrection and Caesar’s murder were both regarded as equally factual and historical. Unfortunately, in the two hundred years since the Enlightenment, Christians have steadily retreated from seeing their faith as rationally compelling. Instead of being apologia for the faith, we have become apologetic about it. We tend to think that the reasons or rejecting Christianity are at least as strong as those for accepting it. After all, so many smart people now reject the faith. Moreover, these skeptics have developed a veritable arsenal for dismantling the Christian faith, everything from biblical criticism, which purports to show that the Bible cannot be trusted, to advances in modern science, which some use to claim that God’s role in nature is dispensable.

As a consequence, many Christians now take a dim view of apologetics, dismissing it as merely “arguing people into faith.” But this misses the point. Arguments, in the sense of sustained reasoned reflection, can be vehicles for either helping bring about faith or destroying it. Many young people, as they go off to school, lose their faith because they are presented with arguments declaring that Christianity is false. Sound arguments that show the reasonableness of Christianity can be of immense help to struggling students trying to determine whether their faith is true. Yes, our salvation is ultimately due to the grace of God. But every act of divine grace presupposes the means of grace by which God makes His grace real to us. Christian apologetics is one such means of grace.

As a means of divine grace, apologetics cannot be blithely dismissed as something Christians can safely ignore. Indeed, throughout Scripture, Christians are enjoined to defend the faith through rational argument. Thus, Peter urged, “Always be ready to make your defense [apologia] to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV). Likewise, Paul understood his own ministry as constituting a defense [apologia] and confirmation [bebaiosis] of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:7, NRSV). The Greek apologia denotes a legal defense, and the Greek bebaiosis means verification or proof.

The Roman statesman Seneca observed, “If you want a man to keep his head when crisis comes, you must give him some training before it comes.” Our secular culture breeds many a crisis of faith. It is common for young people who are enthusiastic about serving God to leave home, get exposed to faulty teaching, and turn away from the truth of Christianity. People need to be equipped to handle the assaults on heart and mind that they encounter at school, in the workplace, on television, and just about everywhere they look.


The Action is in Modern Evangelicalism

Al Hsu last week posted an interesting article: Evangelicalism: Where the action is?

He says,

Christian authors of all stripes, whether fundamentalist, mainline, conservative or emergent, generally sense that the largest Christian book-buying audience are evangelicals. Even people who are reacting against evangelicalism’s issues (and are eager to bolt) still reach out to evangelicals (who may feel similarly disaffected). There’s also been a mini-trend in recent years of general trade New York publishers starting or acquiring evangelical divisions in order to reach evangelical readers. They look at the success of authors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and want a piece of that action.

So I suppose all those books at Family Christian Bookstore aren’t Evangelical, or even Christian.  Who would have thought.

The Missional Church

Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (The Gospel and Our Culture Series) by Darrell L. Guder and Lois Barrett provides some helpful thinking in what constitutes a “missional” church. Now I do believe strongly that the authors’ understanding of the Gospel is seriously defective as it is way too broad. But the following quotes are worth echoing.

Both members and those outside the church expect the church to be a vendor of religious services and goods. (page 84)

In the ecclesiocentric approach of Christendom, mission became only one of the many programs of the church. Mission boards emerged in Western churches to do the worked of foreign mission. Yet even here the Western Churches understood themselves as sending churches, and they assumed the destination of their sending to be pagan reaches of the world that needed both the gospel and “the benefits of Western civilization.” In like manner, Western churches also developed home mission or inner mission, as the emerging secularisms of Western societies presented us with new challenges. But it has taken us decades to realize that mission is not just a program of the church. It defines the church as God’s sent people. Either we are defined by mission, ore we reduce the scope of the gospel and the mandate of the church. Thus our challenge today is to move from Church with mission to missional church. (page 6)

The Churches of North America have been dislocated from their prior social role of chaplain to the culture and society and have lost their once privilege positions of influence. Religious life in general and the churches in particular have increasingly been relegated to the private spheres of life. Too readily, the churches have accepted this as their proper place. At the same time, the churches have become so accommodated to the America away of life that they are now domesticated, and it is no longer obvious what justified their existence as particular communities. The religious loyalties that churches seem to claim and the social functions that they actually perform are at odds with each other. Discipleships has been absorbed into citizenship. (page 78)

This one of the ways the church lives in but not of the world. The church’s particular communities live in the context of the surrounding culture, engage with the culture, but are not controlled by the culture. The faithful church critiques its cultural environment, particularly the dominant culture; affirms those aspects of culture that do not contradict the gospel; speaks the languages of the surrounding cultures and of the gospel; constantly rites to communicate the gospel in the surrounding culture, and is cultivating and forming the culture of God’s new community, a culture not of the world. To do so is parte of its being apostolic, sent into the world. (page 114-115)

As the church interacts with all cultures, the issue is not to identify the characteristics (language, tradition, beliefs, values, needs, customs) of a particular culture and then figure out how to relate or apply the beliefs and practices of Christianity to it. The primary issue, instead, is to identify, name, and critique the ways in which various social realities form or make—cultivate—a people. While unmasked through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, idolatrous principalities and powers continue to influence the dynamics and structures of all human cultures (we examined these processes in the last chapter). Consequently, culture is not monolithic stationary entity that Christianities should reject, accommodate, or even transform as a whole; it is, instead, dynamic process with which Christians should interact in a critical, discriminating, and constructive manner. (page 151)


Carson on Biblical Theology

Personally, I don’t recommend reading all of Gagging of God, The by D. A. Carson. In many ways it’s too long and yet not comprehensive enough. It should have been distilled into about 250 pages, or a 10 volume series. As it stands, it’s the worst of both worlds.

But I do highly recommend reading the last chapter: “This is my Father’s World.” Contextualization and Globalization. In it, he provides a very powerful charge for Christians to focus on Biblical Theology when doing Systematics in a pluralistic world.

This suggests, I think, that systematic theology must increasingly seek to build on biblical theology. Instead of trawling through the Scriptures in order to adduce support for a position (regardless of how faithful the position), systematic theologians must increasingly build outward from the work of biblical theologians—from their inductive syntheses of biblical corpora, including what Vanhoozer calls “genre analysis” and from their tracing of the Bible’s story-line. This does not mean that systematicians must abandon their interest in atemporal questions and answers or throw over their commitment to interact with historical theology and to engage the present. It means, rather, that their own worldviews will be so wonderfully steeped in biblical theology that they will be much less likely to put a foot wrong.

One of the distinctions between “trawling through the Bible” and building on the basis provided by biblical theology is this: the structure of systematic thought, however expressed, must reflect the Bible’s story-line. Each major strand must be woven into the fabric that finds its climax and ultimate significance in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The failure to keep this in mind vitiates some otherwise useful theological work. Let us consider some examples of quite varying importance. Someone in the West may ask the question, “What does the Bible say about keeping fit?” The expected answers will be trotted out: our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; bodily exercise may not profit eternally but does profit somewhat in this life; and in any case we are not dualists or gnostics: all of life, including physical life, is to he lived under Christ’s lordship. And at the consummation we will receive resurrection bodies. None of the answers is false. Our trawling has not been entirely without profit. But all the answers are skewed, in that the Bible does not set out to answer questions about keeping leaders within the church that should not he enforced on leaders outside? Why or why not? How can one possibly decide on the basis of looking at the leadership passages alone? Is it not the case that responsible interpretive answers can be offered to such questions only by considering the Bible’s plot-line, and the priorities and scales of that plot-line? (pages 454-455)

Best Church Planting Talk

The best church planting talk that I’ve heard (most likely) is by Ed Stetzer : Kingdom-Focused Church Planting. Download mp3

Though a lot of stories, it’s very appropriate and timely. Do yourself a favor and listen to it.