Archives For Ministry Philosophy

Here is my position paper on the above topic written for my Systematic Theology III class.  I have very much enjoyed reading about ecclesiology.  We did not study parachurch structures in the class or read about them at all, but I enjoyed researching for this paper.  I feel like you can go one of two directions theologically here, and this is the direction that seemed to make the most sense to me; you run into too many problems with the other.  Regardless of this paper, it is my hope that churches and parachurch ministries will increasingly work together for the advancement of the church’s mission and for the glory of God throughout the earth.

I would like to invite questions of clarification, potential problems, and situations where this formulation might be challenged.

Parachurch Position Paper

Fantastic analogy

March 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

From Byron Straughn’s article in the new 9Marks Journal on Church-Parachurch relationship:


The gospel is the good news that sinners like us can be reconciled to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 for a picture of this vertical reconciliation. But another set of relationships follows. Being reconciled to God means we’re reconciled to God’s people. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 for this picture. Becoming a Christian means being adopted into God’s family. And joining a local church is like showing up at the family dinner table. Don’t tell me you belong to God’s “universal church” if you don’t prove it on earth by binding yourself to a local church. That’s like saying you belong to the family but never showing up at family events.

Working for a parachurch ministry, on the other hand, is like playing for a soccer team. (But wait, Byron, I know you. You’ve never played soccer. Yes, it’s true, but I have friends who play soccer, so hear me out.) You know how soccer teams work. Team members are selected, and then they gather to play soccer. They don’t gather to receive math tutoring, to brush their teeth, to give and receive family love, or to care for the elderly. They gather for one purpose and for a limited season of involvement: to play soccer. What’s more, everyone on the team usually belongs to the same gender and is approximately the same age.

But a family is different. It’s broader and deeper. Whether you’re adopted into a family or are born into one, your family is responsible for your entire nurture, growth, and education. Your family is the group of people you live with and learn to love. The relationships are permanent and all-defining. There’s no such thing as a “family season” which ends after the championship game, like there is a “soccer season.” And “family practice” doesn’t end at 5:30, even if soccer practice does. What’s more, the family is where you learn to love people who are very different from you in age and gender—siblings, parents, grandparents, crazy uncles. Though you might be disappointed if your soccer league dissolved, you would be devastated if your family disappeared.

As I said before, the gospel makes us members of the family of Christ, a membership made concrete through joining the church on earth, the local church. We “put on” our membership in Christ’s body by putting on that membership in a local church, just like we “put on” our righteousness in Christ by walking in righteousness. But as family members, we still have the freedom to pursue all kinds of specific kingdom purposes and activities. Maybe that’s playing soccer. Maybe that’s working for a parachurch ministry.


You can read the rest of the article here.


The Gap

March 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

From Dr. Gregg Allison’s footnotes in the upcoming book on ecclesiology (doctrine of the church):


D. Michael Lindsay highlights a particular example of [separating from the local church]. Having interviewed hundreds of America’s most important leaders, he explained “Many of the nation’s most powerful believers—presidents, CEOs, entertainers and athletes—won’t be found in the pews on Sundays, thus creating a growing gap between them and ‘the people.’” For example, (then) President George W. Bush, politician David Kuo, NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, and Continental Airline senior executive David Grizzle, while being quite outspoken about their Christian faith, rarely attended church. They preferred to be involved in exclusive Bible studies, invitation-only programs, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other parachurch gatherings. Indeed, according to Lindsay, “Nearly three-fourths of the leaders I interviewed serve on the board of at least one parachurch organization, such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They prefer these groups because they have a broader reach and bigger impact.” Lindsay finds this trend of loosening “ties to churches in their own communities…deeply troubling. It signals the loss of one of the few social settings where average ‘Joes’ used to rub elbows with the powerful, and where the powerful kept in touch with the concerns of average folks.” He calls for a halt to this trend and warns: “Otherwise, affluent believers will continue to leave their congregations—and their fellow believers—behind in their ascent, creating a gated community of the soul.” D. Michael Lindsay, “A gated community in the evangelical world,” USA Today, Monday, February 11, 2008, p. 13A.


CG Leader Training

February 26, 2011 — Leave a comment

This weekend I attended a training at my church for community group leaders.  My current leader asked me to consider apprentice leading for our group, so this was the first step in that process.  Sojourn (my church) has put together some great resources and has a great framework for developing and equipping leaders.  Here are just a few insights from the weekend:

On living in community:

If someone came up to you and said they were a football player, and yet you noticed they were incredibly scrawny, couldn’t tell you what team they played on, how many players there are and what position they played, etc….and you’ve never seen them out on a field before, you would think they were crazy or lying.  In the same way, if someone tells you they are a Christian, and yet they live life in isolation, aren’t part of a church, don’t serve the community, etc.. then they are just as crazy.

A question to ask yourself as a leader: If your group folded or moved to a different location, would anybody outside of your group notice?  If they notice, would they care?  Would they miss your group’s influence and presence?

Romans 12:1-2 – So often we “selectively” apply the gospel.  The gospel applies to us when we are in community group, go to church, do our personal devotions, etc…. but we could care less about it Saturday night going out or watching TV, eating out with friends, being in class, doing homework, playing sports, etc…  The gospel applies to ALL of life.

Prayer must be a priority for your group.  Begin in prayer, end in prayer, pray during transitions, pray when you need insight, pray when someone shares something difficult.  Guide your group through prayer – give them direction.  Pray in response to Scripture you read.  Tell them it’s ok to break silences.

As always, THE KEY to leading a group is guiding the group to self-discovery by asking good questions.  This is the number one practical skill to cultivate.

When your group members ask for advice or spiritual help, make sure that you prioritize giving them God’s perspective on their issue and not just your opinion.

In evangelism, the same action or step that makes something awkward or uncomfortable to you is the same quality that makes it extraordinary to an unbeliever and creates an impression and witness to the radical gospel.  (Baking cookies/desserts for people on your street, inviting them to a party at your house, etc…)

Groups based on affinity (everyone is the same) have a harder time creating real gospel communities where growth happens than groups with diversity.  [I need to think more through the affinity  / diversity balance; affinity seems to be a great evangelistic tool, but a lack of diversity I can definitely see hindering gospel-growth.]

And those are just a few notes I had written down.  It was a great weekend, and I’m looking forward to putting these things into practice.

From Lausanne Occasional Paper 24 (1980)

(i) Church leader to para-church leader

(a) I know you are my brother in Christ, but often I do not feel it. At worst, I feel judged, criticised and ignored; at best, patronised. In short, you do not take me seriously.

(b) I can accept that you and your organisation have a specific calling and a limited purpose whose fulfilment is needed by the Body of Christ as a whole. But your emergence, when it does not happen in fellowship and dialogue, often seems a threat to me, because it appears a judgment on me and on the weakness or ineffectiveness of the church.

(c) Often I do not know what your basic goals are, or how they will help the church. Yet you want my support and you ask my people for their money. Note also that dozens of other organisations are doing the same, and this is breeding confusion both in me and my people.

(d) Your organisation also seems to overlap in aim and purpose with certain others; so that an impression of duplication, if not rivalry, is often created. This does not seem to me healthy.

(e) Sometimes you actually seem to be opposing or contradicting what we are doing in the church. You seem constantly to minimise what we are doing while exalting your own programme. You also set up rival calls, claims and programmes run by churches. Or else you win converts, related to our church fellowship, but redirect them to other local fellowships because you do not see some of our churches as “Bible-believing” or sufficiently “evangelical.” You say we are not sound; perhaps before you make such presumptuous judgments, you should sit with us:

(i) to discover what we do or do not, in fact, believe about the Bible;

(ii) to discover what “being sound” means; and

(iii) to examine the long-term not the short-term consequences of directing our members, nominal though some of them may have been, to other fellowship

(f) You say you are serving the churches, but who gave you that mandate? I do not feel you are, in fact, always sensitive to what the church is, or where we are in terms of our needs, even in terms of assistance with evangelization. Should not true service to us involve setting this right?

(g) As I read my New Testament, I see only two basic concepts of the Church. One is the Church universal (the whole company of believers) and the other the local church (e.g., at Ephesus or Corinth). Now I accept you as part of the Church universal. But you and your like often have little or no real involvement in a local church, and this weakens both you and the local church. You need to learn, give and receive more fully and holistically, and the local church needs your gifts, insights and energy. To miss out here is to land not only in a distorted ecclesiology but in truncated and impoverished spiritual growth for all of us.

(h) You speak of having a specific mission which the church cannot or will not fulfil. Please do not force a disjunction between church and mission, because we feel the church which is true to itself is the church in mission. So you weaken the mission of the local church when you do “your thing” outside it, or with no reference to it. You contribute to the local church’s losing its missionary vision and dimension. Thus, even when—or if—you say you only want to cooperate in local, regional or world evangelization, I find this hard to receive unless I have first experienced your cooperation at other levels and especially in fellowship and in comprehension of my view of all this.

(i) Truthfully, I also admit there are times when I envy the freedom, success or effectiveness of the para-church agency and I must rid myself of feelings of jealousy, rivalry or self-condemnation. Your fellowship and love would help me in this.

I must also share an ambivalence. On the one hand, I can and do understand that there are tasks and assignments which we who are caught up in the church structures cannot fulfil. And I recognise that God can and does raise up specialist agencies to tackle these. And we need to look at these in Christian togetherness so that we are clear as to who is doing what, and why. On the other hand, I confess to a lingering feeling that there is something anomalous, something slightly theologically eccentric, in the para-church agency. I can’t help feeling that the existence of para-church agencies says somehow that we in the church structures have failed. The church has failed in some way to be what it exists to become. Perhaps you know that even the great missionary-minded Hendrik Kraemer argued that the maintenance and extension of missionary societies amounted to the perpetuation of a deformity of the Church. There is also the fact that local churches everywhere are catching renewed glimpses of the task of evangelising which we need to undertake. Whether this feeling of anomaly or ambivalence can be resolved, I am not sure, but we need to discuss it.

(k) Another point. Para-church agencies often do excellent evangelistic work, but because you do not thoroughly integrate both the endeavour and its fruit within the local church(es) the effects are short-term and of passing value.

In conclusion, I recognise the need for us to meet and talk and theologise and plan and pray. We need to do it at four levels—local, regional, national and world.

Maybe this Lausanne network of which you speak could be the catalyst for this. I know of it, but many of my colleagues do not. So you may need to do a bit of public relations to get this going. At the local level you could simply encourage Lausanne individuals, wearing whatever hat is most appropriate, to take the initiative. I suspect it may have to begin from the para-church side of the fence. Anyway, I am ready. Are you?

(ii) Para-church leader to church leader

Thank you, my Lord Bishop, Mr. Moderator, Mr. President, brother, Archbishop, or whatever label you like (you know I’m not much into the church scene myself). Let me respond.

(a) More seriously, I think I do come from a model No. 2 type parachurch agency which seeks to be pretty responsible about relating to the church leadership. And most in LCWE would profess the same sort of thing. But even so, I have probably not taken you seriously enough. For this I apologise.

(b) I like your idea of the need for communication at four levels and am willing to cooperate.

(c) I agree LCWE could be the catalyst.

(d) However, I want in response to say a word about the history of my type of structure. I recognise that there is no talk of a “missionary society” in the New Testament, though some have interpreted the actions of the congregation in Antioch (Acts 13) as more or less those of a missionary society. I admit that in the first centuries there is very little which points to a missionising structure alongside the church. However, it has been suggested that the position began altering with Constantine, when the church became the state church; and the consequent superficialisation resulted in the protest out of which the monastic movement was born. Numbers of these communities and cloisters in due time engaged actively in mission, as archbishops, bishops and even priests disengaged. Missionary initiative shifted to the Orders, and this process continued throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, by the end of the Middle Ages, it was secular and often colonial powers (e.g., Portugal and Spain) which sent out missionaries under patronage. In the 19th century, the situation improved and successive popes took an interest in missions. Yet even today there are more Order missionaries in Roman Catholicism than those, directly sent forth by bishops which are relatively few. What does this say?

(e) Turning now to Protestantism, we note the extraordinary fact that the Reformation churches had a very poor missionary record for almost three centuries. The reason, believes missiologist David Bosch of South Africa, is that “it had no Orders at its disposal,” Luther and the other reformers having almost tossed out the baby of missionary outreach with the bath water of monasticism. Those Protestant efforts which did develop in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had, according to Bosch, one thing in common—”in not one of these instances was the official church involved”… The initiative lay with individuals, or kings, or colonial powers, or with some few emerging societies once we get into the 18th century (e.g., The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts – 1701). Then came the Moravian “brotherhood” (first half of the l8th century) with its powerful missionary push. But still the official church stood aloof.

Missionary-minded believers were thus compelled, in the late 18th century and early 19th century to form “Missionary Societies.” This process accelerated in the 20th century, especially in the U.S.A. In the entire period up to 1900, 75 mission agencies were formed. But in the 80 years since then, six new societies—on average—per year have been formed, a total of between four and five hundred. And almost half of all North American Protestant missionaries are in service with organisations having no formal connection with churches.

So you see, it seems that the development of sodality* structures has, in fact, often happened historically because the official churches were inward looking and doing very little about mission.

(f) Now, brother, what do you say to that? It still seems to many of us in sodality*structures that you modality* chaps rarely actually get into effective missionary evangelistic undertakings, in spite of pious talk. Your energies are occupied with keeping your structure going. And often you are also too involved with internal theologising, ecumenics, or oiling creaking machinery to get on with the task of world evangelization. Sorry if I offend you, but this is often how it seems. Please show me if I am wrong.

*See Appendix A for explanation of sodality and modality.

(g) While on this, I must also quote the view of some mission specialists that even in a number of Third World situations, the national churches are actually hindering mission societies (sodalities) from getting to people who cannot be reached by the usual near-neighbour evangelism from the churches. By doing a “thumbs down” on missionaries, they are frustrating the fulfilment of the Great Commission. May we add this problem to our agenda for discussion?

(h) In that connection, you may know that the late Max Warren argued that it has frequently happened in history that church leaders have been slow to grasp the missionary need, and have shown a frustrated response to it by embracing the view that modality leadership is the Church. Says he: “Official leadership does not by itself constitute the Church. Nor is the central administration of a denomination the Church. The Church is far bigger than either.

(i) In any event, I recognise that we have not sought adequate feedback and comment from you. And perhaps we are, therefore, in the dark as to what you are not only thinking, but feeling, and why.

(j) Basically, as I see it, we sodality people should be your shock troops, your commando units and your sub-contractors tackling those specialist tasks and functions which have “seemed good to (all of) us and to the Spirit” (Acts 15:38). This will help both parties to come to a clear description and understanding of the specific aims of the sodality concerned. Perhaps where you see different sodalities having confusing or counter-productive overlap, you should say so and help the respective bodies to eliminate this, both with each other and with you. Or else again, we could encourage LCWE to help in this.

(k) Perhaps this brings us to the warp and woof* idea. Modality and sodality, church and para-church, must function as members, one of another, and partners together in the gospel.

*See Appendix A for explanation of warp and woof concept.

We sodality people must discourage the proliferation of agencies unrelated in fellowship to churches. Conceivably we should go further, and say with Prof. David Bosch that the missionary society has a right to exist only if it keeps ties with the Church. But you modality leaders must cooperate from your side, alter some of your perceptions and make room in your thinking, relating and planning for sodality endeavours genuinely spawned and led by the Holy Spirit.

Cassidy concludes: “It seems to me that this type of encounter and dialogue is long overdue—even when it may not initially have a direct and immediate bearing on world evangelization. My point is that without this type of initial and more basic encounter, it is impossible to move on to the agenda of mutual co-operation in world evangelization. A lot of relational debris and misunderstanding must be resolved first. This is a basic prerequisite to getting on to our priority concern.”

We must not forget that part of the Commission’s mandate was also to suggest ways of furthering co-operation between the different para-church groups themselves. While some specific areas of conflict will be discussed in the next section, we repeat that dialogue is again the first priority. It may well be that lack of communication and understanding is an even more serious problem here; because as Cassidy says, “While para-church agencies occasionally tip their caps in the direction of seeking church blessing, they do it even more rarely with each other. The need therefore is for contact and togetherness both formally and informally.

A Campus Ministry Model

February 14, 2011 — 1 Comment

For my Systematic Theology III class this semester, we have to write a position paper on a certain topic.  I’ve chosen the relationship of parachurch agencies to the local church (part of Ecclesiology, or the structure of the church).  I’ll start writing the paper in a few weeks.  I have thought through some of these issues for awhile now using my own experience (6 years of involvement with a campus ministry) as well as through a theological grid on this blog before.  Parachurch structures are essential in furthering the church’s mission:  through Bible translation, coordinating missionary activity, and in student evangelism.  In this post, I’ll continue to try to develop a model for how a parachurch campus ministry (CM) relates to the local church structure.

Purpose and Mission

I. Serve as a gospel witness and outpost of the church on the college campus, with the aim of saturating the campus with the gospel through evangelism, discipleship, events, media, service, unity of believers, and any other activity that promotes the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

II. Identify and train spiritual leaders who will be able to serve and advance the mission of the church in their present and future contexts through spiritual multiplication.

III. Connect college students to the local churches.


I. A team (at all levels); consistent with the plurality of leadership that is normative in the NT.  There could be a person who leads this team as a “first-among-equals”.

II. The leadership team of the ministry (including students) should be accepted based on some application of the principles for Christian leaders in 1/2 Timothy and Titus.

III. The team should only consist of those whose local church has affirmed their involvement in leadership of the ministry.

Relationship to the Church / Accountability

I. A church advisory board should be formed to oversee and advise the ministry.  This board should consist of leaders from local churches representing major evangelical denominations with similar statements of faith to the CM.  The functions of this board would be as follows:

  1. Meet at the beginning of each semester to receive a report on the strategic plan of the ministry, ask questions, inform the ministry of any messages from the churches, and present opportunities for partnership.
  2. Be the go-to representative and advocate for the campus ministry to the local church, keeping in touch with the leadership team, working with their local church to help them partner with the CM, and perhaps even attending some CM events or volunteering in some capacity.
  3. Work to strengthen the financial and prayer support of any leadership team member from that representative’s local church or denomination.
  4. [What other roles could this advisory board serve??]

II. Unanimous requests from the advisory board should be honored by the CM, and the advisory board should be able to veto a decision of the CM through unanimous consent.

III. This concept of an advisory board could function not only at the local campus level but also the regional and national / international levels.


I. The local church membership of college students is of primary importance.  Students involved at any permanent leadership level should become involved only with the confirmation of their local church.

II. Participants in ministry activities or events (weekly meetings, small groups) should be discouraged from identifying the ministry as a type of church.  This could mostly be accomplished through portrayal of the ministry as “a ministry of the churches of ______” and individual / group encouragement to become a member of a local church.  This identity will become a part of the culture of the CM.

III. Those who participate in ministry activities who are non-believers will obviously not be members of the church, but should be invited by members of the ministry to come to the church to hear gospel preaching and see the assembled body of believers.  In the event of their conversion, they should quickly be encouraged to become a member of a church by being baptized.

Ministry Activities

Worship, Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Service // that is consistent with the special purposes of the ministry

Leadership Training / Equipping of Believers

Conferences //  consistent with the special goals of the ministry

Relationship to Other CMs

I. Multiple CMs on one campus should evaluate their goals in light of the purposes stated above.  If the goals are practically the same, then methodology should be compared.  If there is no significant difference, then there is no purpose for the ministries to exist independently.  A process of integrating leadership teams, etc. should be discussed and implemented, perhaps mediated by the church advisory board.  National affiliations and systems can be retained, while at the local level they operate functionally together.  If issues of size become a factor (such as in weekly meeting venues, etc.), the campus can be split up into sections and multiple weekly meetings of the integrated ministry can be held.  The only obstacle to this functional integration is pride.  The potential benefits are incalculable.

Well, those are some thoughts so far.  What do you like?  What’s missing?  What obstacles are there to a model like this one?  Is this model theologically / biblically valid?  Are there parts that are unnecessary?

The Bottleneck

February 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

From Wikipedia:

bottleneck is a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or limited number of components or resources.

From Operation World 2010, pg. 17:

“Leadership development is the crucial bottleneck to Church growth.  There is a worldwide lack of men and women truly called of God and deeply taught in the Scriptures to lead the churches, people willing to suffer the burdens and responsibilities of leadership for the sake of the Savior who redeemed them…those who accurately and effectively expound the Scriptures are few, especially in areas where churches are growing rapidly.  New methods and means of multiplying well-trained, godly, effective leaders must be developed; traditional methods alone will not suffice to produce the number and quality required to meet the need.  Ministers who are seminary graduates are often the least likely to have a biblical worldview.  Pastors, ministers, and elders need constant upholding in prayer.”

How can the church develop more leaders?

Check out my friend Tim Casteel’s blog on college ministry and leadership for thoughts on how it relates to the campus context.

Spiritual leadership?

February 2, 2011 — Leave a comment

Tim Casteel raises a great question about the best way for campus ministries to raise up better leaders.  In the comments I try to answer the question while evolving my view on spiritual leadership development in general.  Looking back on it, I’m more certain with my final comments than I am with the early ones.

Here’s the post.

John G. Turner.  University of North Carolina Press 2008.

I don’t even remember how I came across this book.  Somehow it ended up in my Amazon wishlist (probably through their recommendations based on my purchase patterns) and after it sat there for awhile I decided to get it after Christmas.  I couldn’t put the book down.  As an evangelical Christian whose spiritual growth was catalyzed by students involved with CCC, and who has worked for the organization for two years, I was simply fascinated to trace the development of Bill Bright’s ministry.  The book follows the history of CCC within the context of what was going on in post-World War II evangelical Christianity. If you are involved in or have any interest in campus ministry or even just conservative evangelicalism, I highly recommend you read this book.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

  • An outside yet sympathetic perspective, not colored by institutional bias.  Turner, the historian, had some involvement with InterVarsity and describes the religious space he occupies as “somewhere between mainline Protestantism and evangelical christianity.”  His personal conclusions are easy to spot, allowing you to form your own opinions.
  • Extensive research.  Turner has interviewed a ton of Bright’s associates, acquaintances, staff, and personal contacts from the breadth of his life.
  • Observations about how Bright’s environment shaped his ministry; how his early influences shaped Crusade’s theology and methodology.

Some observations from the book:

  • Bright initially belonged to a church called Hollywood Presbyterian, where he was impressed by the quality of the young people who were members.  Henrietta Mears, who ran the college department at the church, was a huge influence on future evangelical leaders like Bright and Billy Graham.  There was an entire network of Presbyterian ministers who came from her college department.  Her college department moved away from rigid fundamentalism, and held social gatherings, dances, etc. to embrace the prevailing mainstream culture.  All of her teaching always contained the “plan of salvation” – the formula for beginning a personal relationship with Jesus.  The college ministry practiced personal evangelism on nearby college campuses, targeting campus leaders.
  • Throughout his life, Bright remained committed to evangelism.  This commitment trumped everything for him in terms of organizational decision making.  As a result of his efforts, millions if not billions were exposed to some form of the gospel message.  While other evangelical leaders grew rich or experienced dramatic falls, Bright lived a consistently simple and pietistic life.
  • Bright struggled early on to juggle a business and seminary.  His grades suffered.  When Israel officially became a nation, one of his professors came in, shut his books, and set something to the effect of “well, boys, this is it, the fulfillment of prophecy.  no use lecturing now.”  Bright couldn’t stand being in seminary while millions were perishing.
  • Keswick Theology was a huge influence on Bright (from Mears).  It emphasizes a second experience of total surrender after salvation, and perhaps even more crisis turning points after that, leading to exponential spiritual growth and power.  In response to the spirituality of the charismatic movement, Bright defined his theology of the Holy Spirit.  Christians were divided into “carnal” and “spiritual” to explain the lack of spiritual power and fruit in 90% of Christians.  CCC has since evolved this teaching to emphasize more the continual struggle of the Christian life, but it is still based on this inappropriate foundation.
  • CCC originally began as an evangelism-only ministry.  The idea was to hit the campus, cover it in evangelism, plug the converts in to the local churches for discipleship, and move on.  One problem was that Bright wasn’t satisfied with the local churches.  “Bright believed few congregations would actually nurture the evangelical faith of his converts.”  This reflects the evangelical dissatisfaction with mainline denominations of the time, resulting in many of the nondenominational churches of today.  It’s important to note that the discipleship ministries of CCC grew out of dissatisfaction with the local church’s capacity to disciple students.
  • There were many early clashes with other parachurch ministries.  John Alexander, the president of InterVarsity in 1965, made the comment “It is impossible for CCC and IVCF to cooperate on campus” based on the many failed attempts at coordination and cooperation.  Targeting the same students always resulted in clashes, and this eventually lead to the various campus ministries targeting different niches of students on different campuses.
  • Bright often used “God spoke to me” as a justification for an organizational decision.  He was very authoritarian in his operation of the ministry.  No dissent or criticism was tolerated, and was interpreted as disloyalty.  In several instances almost his entire staff disagreed with a decision he wanted to make, and he overruled them on the basis of “this is what God wants us to do.”
  • The threat of Communism played a huge role in Bright’s ministry outlook.  Even after the threat of Communism had long faded, Bright often spoke using anti-Communist rhetoric to raise support for the ministry.

If you have any interest at all in the above, you HAVE to read this book.  I’d love to read it again while asking the question, “In light of the history of this type of ministry, what is the role and primary mission of such a ministry today?”  How can we learn from history?  I think this book is full of information that can help committed evangelical Christians answer that question.

“Family” Ministry

November 28, 2010 — Leave a comment

December 13-17, I’ll be taking a one week intensive class on leadership and family ministry.  I’ve already begun some reading for the class that has brought up some major issues in the philosophy of “youth” and children’s ministry for many churches.  I just finished Brian Haynes’ Shift, and am working on Timothy Paul Jones’ Perspectives on Family Ministry.

The premise of both books (and of my current educational institution) is that for the past 50+ years, there has been a widening cultural gap between age generations (influenced by many historical developments over the past 200 years but truly taking off in the 50s when the word “teenager” was first added to the dictionary).  This cultural gap has had its most serious effects in the segregation of the nuclear family, resulting in various relational and developmental maladies and including the outsourcing of just about every aspect of a child’s education and activity, including their spiritual development.

Rather than taking a counter cultural stand against this trend, churches over the past 60 years have adopted ministry philosophies and strategies of developing age-specific attractional programming where the “professional” minister and church staff is seen as having the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of youth.  In the worst cases, youth are kept entertained as far away from the adult congregation as possible until they are “mature enough” or “become adults” (whenever that is) and join the adult congregation.  Or, perhaps, go to college and never join a congregation at all until they are 30 and start having kids who they will want to make sure are discipled in the faith by another “professional” youth ministry.

The thesis of the books I am reading is that churches must return to the biblical perspective of families being the foundational unit of Christian discipleship, and thus parents bearing the primary responsibility for the discipleship of their children.  They advocate gearing a church’s structure toward supporting, equipping, supplementing, and partnering with parents in this role.  What is envisioned is a youth and children’s ministry not organized around mega-events or creating youth hangouts, but rather on providing support for parents in the discipleship of their children.

The biblical basis for this begins with Abraham, who is chosen in Gen 18:19 to command and instruct his household in the way of the Lord.  It continues in Moses’ exhortation to the people of God in Deut 6:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.(Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)

There is no apparent shift in this mindset in New Testament times.  Although synagogues probably played a significant role in spiritual instruction, there is no reason to assume that the primary responsibility to disciple children in the Lord did not continue to lie with parents.  Paul implicitly demonstrates this perspective when he commands fathers in Ephesians 6 to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Other early Christian writings confirm this responsibility of households.

Some churches have taken these observations and completely swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, scrapping all age-focused curriculum and programs of any kind.  While this extreme may not be what is called for, what is clear to me is that there definitely needs to be a shift in ministry philosophy of many churches (and the families that make up those churches) from seeing the “professional” ministers and programs of the church as the primary means of their children’s discipleship, to seeing parents as the primary disciplers and the church staff as overseers, equippers, and partners in this discipleship network.Programs and events should be oriented around this kind of philosophy, in addition to highly valuing and promoting intergenerational community.

This will definitely take some work and meet up against a lot of resistance in such an individualized, generationally isolated culture.  But it is worth it even on the sole basis that this is the biblical perspective, and when we do things God’s way we can expect more of God’s blessing.  Not to mention the many benefits that stand to come from strengthened families and generational community.

There are many challenges.  Many parents have no idea where to start in the discipleship of children.  This is where the church comes in, teaching parents and equipping them with easy to use resources and strategies.  What about children who come from homes where the parents do not follow Christ, or come from divorced homes, or are in step-family situations?  Sorting through these issues are challenges, but not impossible obstacles as a church seeks to focus on strengthening family discipleship.  These difficult situations are where the church family steps in to fill gaps and meet needs.

How does the church you are or were a part of approach the discipleship of youth?  How do you or they see families as part of the discipleship process?  How is inter-generational community promoted within the church?