Church Growth Literature Review (Part 2)

(Go to Part 1 here)


In 1982 Wagner invited John Wimber to teach the course MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth at Fuller’s School of World Mission.  As a result of Wimber’s influence Wagner’s views on the work of the Holy Spirit, like spiritual gifts, began to shift.  His shift moved even further in the following years through the influence of people like Cindy Jacobs and Chuck Pierce.  While Wagner was still focussed on church growth, he was, however, looking at other factors of church growth that were not under the classical Church Growth radar like spiritual gifts, prayer and spiritual warfare.  In the revised third edition of Understanding Church Growth (1990) (done with the consent of McGavran) Wagner added a whole new chapter on “Divine Healing and Church Growth”.[1]  In Church Growth State of the Art (1986) there was a whole section consisting of four chapters on “Church Growth and the Holy Spirit”.[2]  One chapter was on the supernatural anointing of the Holy Spirit for ministry and another was on the importance of power encounter for church growth.  The latter chapter being a contribution by John Wimber. 

Many books published during this time were about principles and strategies for numerical church growth.  They were mostly written from the perspective of the church as an organisation (albeit a biblical, living, spiritual organism). 

The following is a  sampling of such publications. Carl F. George’s How to Break Growth Barriers (1993).[6]  The basic thesis of his book is that if a pastor is to lead his church to growth he needs to move from being a shepherd to that of a rancher.  In other words, instead of being the primary caregiver the pastor needs to develop others to care for the members of church and do the work of ministry.  Gary L. McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All (1999).[7]  He says that the size of a church determines how it “does church” including how it is structured, the role of the pastor, how decisions are made, and the strategies it deploys to overcome obstacles and grow the church. 

From a more business approach George Barna wrote a highly controversial book called Marketing the Church(1988).[8]  It was about using the marketing tools of the business world to reach out and to win a church’s target group.  McIntosh comments, “This marketing emphasis effectively turned many people away from the popular notion of church growth, and caused a reaction toward a new paradigm of church health in the mid 1990s.”[9] 

Then there were the books that proposed models of what churches ought to be and do so that they may grow and fulfil the Great Commission mandate. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church(1995)[10] was one of the first books that provided a balanced approach (The 5-Purposes) to grow a church.  It detailed a process (The Life Development Process) depicted by the baseball diamond and a plan to move people from Community to Core.  It also incorporated the HUP (although he does not attribute to it) by describing Saddleback’s target group, aka Saddleback Sam and Samantha.  



As I draw the review of church growth literature to a conclusion, I return to the three questions I posted at the beginning of the article.  First, is church growth teaching to be defined by and limited to McGavran’s and Wagner’s views during the classical Church Growth period?  Advocates of CGM are adamant that church growth teaching must employ “as its initial frame of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran and his colleagues.”[13]  While I concur with this, I believe it would be limiting the usefulness of Church Growth teaching if it did not allow for additional structures to be built on that foundation.  A case in point would be Wagner’s “discoveries” in the healing-prayer-spiritual warfare factor of church growth.[14]  He was disappointed that McGavran and others did not see that it was very much a part of and concerned the Church Growth field and agenda.  Church health teaching falls in the same vein (I will pick up this thread again when I answer the third and final question).

The second question I posed was: what are the irreducible principles for church growth?  From the review of church growth literature, I believe they would be:

  1. Quantitative and Qualitative Growth.  Churches commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 must grow both numerically and in spiritual maturity.
  2. Research and Analysis.  Research must be done to learn (a) about the people the church is attempting to reach with the Gospel, (b) the best means to reach this specific group of people, and (c) the hindrances to the growth of the church, and
  3. Strategic Planning.  Determine the best strategies to be deployed based on the research and analysis to accomplish the purpose of the church with the use of planning and programming.[15]

However, to say that the above three principles of church growth are foundational it does not mean that they are exhaustive.  Upon these foundational principles of church growth I believe there should be an openness to allow for other well-tested tenets of church growth to be added to them.  These would include the contributions of specific subjects such as church leadership, spiritual gifts and ministry strategies as they are applied in the church growth context. 

Finally, what influence did church growth teaching have on the later development of church health teaching?  Church health teaching came about as a response to church growth teaching, whether as a correction in relation to some of the misgivings of the latter or as a development of the latter.  The bottom line is that we cannot separate the two.  Church health is a necessary factor for church growth.  The growth of a church, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, is dependent on the health of the church.  I will look further into this as I review church health literature in a subsequent article.

[1] Gavran, Understanding Church Growth (1990), 144-168

[2] C. Peter Wagner, Ed. Church Growth: State of the Art (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishing House, 1986), Part 6, Chapters 19-22.

[3] Elmer Towns, “Effective Evangelism View”. Gary L. McIntosh, ed, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004), 50. 

[4] Rainer, The Book of Church Growth (1993), 63-69.

[5] McIntosh, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004), 19.

[6] Carl F. George,  How to Break Growth Barriers: Capturing Overlooked Opportunities for Church Growth (Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books, 1993).

[7] Gary L. McIntosh. One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church (Grand Rapid, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1999).

[8] George Barna. Marketing the Church: What They Never Taught You About Church Growth (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress,1988).


[10] Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).

[11] Elmer Towns, “Effective Evangelism View”. Gary L. McIntosh, ed., Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004), 49. Towns explains in his endnotes that he has used the word Babel in “the sense that many languages were spoken rather than in a negative sense of disobedience to God’s directions”, 70.  

[12] McIntosh, ed., Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004), 18-19

[13] Elmer Towns, “Church Growth: Definition” in Evangelism and Church Growth: A Practical Encyclopedia (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1995).

[14] C. Peter Wagner, Wrestling With Alligators, Prophets, and Theologians: Lessons Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church—A Memoir (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2010) 180.

[15] I believe Gary L. McIntosh concurs. See Evaluating Church Growth Movement (2004), pp15-16

Church Growth Literature Review (Part 1)


Part of the interest in my research concerns the correlation between a church’s health and its growth, especially in view of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20).  This article is a review of literature on the subject of church growth.

The literature review shows two distinct phases in the development of church growth teaching.  The first phase was the classical Church Growth period[1] led by its founder Donald A. McGavran and his successor C. Peter Wagner.  McGavran’s publication of The Bridges of God in 1955 birthed the Church Growth Movement (CGM).  The second phase began around 1988 when Wagner moved into other areas of interests.  While his new interests were still in relation to the subject of church growth, they were nonetheless perceived as detours from classical Church Growth teaching.[2]  When he retired from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2001 it left CGM leaderless and rudderless.  As a result, the teaching on church growth that was already evolving became even more diversified.  Thom S. Rainer’s The Book of Church Growth (1993) provides a very helpful overview of the history and diversification in church growth teaching.[3]  For a more detailed and personal account of these changes in church growth teaching one may read Wagner’s fascinating memoirs Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets, and Theologians (2010).

While this article is a review of church growth literature it does so with three questions in mind: First, is church growth teaching to be defined by and limited to McGavran’s and Wagner’s views during the classical Church Growth period?  Second, what are the irreducible principles of church growth?  Finally, what influence did church growth teaching have on the later development of church health teaching?


Innumerable books on CGM teaching were published during the heyday of the movement from the 1970s to the mid-1990s.  The most important books to consider would be those by McGavran as the founder of the movement and by Wagner who succeeded him as its leader and chief spokesman.

As previously mentioned the publication of The Bridges of God (1955) birthed the CGM, but it was McGavran’s Understanding Church Growth (1970) that spelt out his mature thinking on the theology, sociology and methodology of Church Growth.[4]  Wagner said, “Understanding Church Growth is one of those classics which has become the indispensable foundational text for an academic field.  No one can claim to be a serious student of church growth who has not read and absorbed the content of Understanding Church Growth.[5]

The most persuasive point of McGavran’s book is that God wants lost people found.  The church cannot be content with just searching (Search Theology[6]) but to win the lost to Christ (Harvest Theology[7]).  Hence, evangelism is critically important and must have absolute priority over any other activity of the church.  In God’s schema it is His will for the church to grow numerically, for this would mean lost people are found.

In order to accomplish this evangelistic growth to the greatest effect, McGavran posits that the church should invest the greatest amount of its resources to the most (or more) receptive people (Theory of Receptivity[8]).  The way to determine who the receptive people are and what the best means are to reach them is through research, including the gathering and analysis of statistical data (Social Science Research[9]).  With the necessary information a church is then able to strategise (for example, by building bridges to receptive people) and to set goals to grow the church (Planning and Goal Setting[10]).

McGavran’s church growth principles are derived from well researched data of growing and non-growing churches in the mission field such as Ghana, South Korea and India.[11]  He quotes studies that he or others had done.[12]  Backed by such serious studies it is hard to ignore the findings, conclusions and principles of Church Growth teaching.

In Church Growth and the Whole Gospel (1981) Wagner writes to elaborate and defend the tenets of CGM.  For example, he defends the priority of the evangelistic mandate vis-à-vis the cultural mandate.[13]  Another concerns the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP).  It was not the most important tenet of CGM teaching but it became the most controversial.  McGavran observed that “People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.”[14]  Wagner defends the principle by saying that “McGavran’s statement is descriptive, not normative.  It is phenomenological, not theological. …Secondly, McGavran’s statement relates to discipling, not perfecting.  It is a principle of evangelism, not Christian nurture.”[15]  If HUP is accurate, it then provides the church with a useful key for “effective implementation of the evangelistic mandate.”[16]

In a later book Strategies for Church Growth (1987) Wagner starts by revisiting some of the basic church growth principles.  He explains how the advocates of CGM understand the terms commonly used in Christian circles.  For example, what does “make disciples” mean?  Wagner says that “The raw material of making disciples in the Great Commission sense is unbelievers who need to commit their lives to Christ for the first time.  The raw material of modern ‘disciple making’ is Christians who need to be helped along the continuing road of Christian discipleship.”[17]  Hence, he argues, “If we concentrate on church growth, we get to the heart of the Great Commission.  The more we evangelize and the more disciples we make, the more churches will be multiplied and grow.  And this is why, in planning strategies, we aim for church growth.”[18]

In other words, “making disciples” or winning the lost through evangelism is the goal of church growth and developing and carrying out strategies to accomplish this goal is critical to its success.  We can, therefore, understand why planning strategies is one of the hallmarks of CGM teaching.  Much of the book Strategies for Church Growth focuses on the importance as well as the practical steps to develop these strategies.

Understandably, Church Growth teaching during the classical era was not without its detractors.  I have already mentioned some of the criticisms such as those against the HUP,[19] the priority of evangelism, and the emphasis on numerical growth.  Perhaps, the chief criticism against church growth teaching is that it lacked a solid theological foundation.  Despite the attempts of CGM to address this issue, strong criticisms were levelled against Church Growth theology or lack thereof.  This is seen in the strong discussion generated in Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004).  For example, Craig Van Gelder charges that establishing church growth principles by simply listing some biblical texts does not mean that theology is done.[20]  Also, Gailyn Van Rheenen questions whether one should even be doing theology “with Church Growth eyes”.  He contends that biblical theology should form the lens through which cultural and contextual issues and praxis are viewed.[21]

(Click to go to Part 2)


[1] In this article the term “Church Growth” written with capitals “C” & “G” refer to the movement and teaching set by McGavran, while those written in the lower case refer to the teaching on church growth in a general sense.

[2] See Elmer Towns’ chapter “Effective Evangelism” View in Evaluating the Church Growth Movement edited by Gary L. McIntosh (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), p50.  See also C. Peter Wagner’s Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2010) for his personal disclosure about how McGavran and many of his church growth colleagues perceived and criticised him for abandoning the Church Growth field because of his new interest in healing, prayer and spiritual warfare which they deem to be a separate field distinct from church growth, p180.

[3] Thom S. Rainer, The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology and Principles (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1993), 27-69.

[4] Ibid, The Book of Church Growth (1993), 38.

[5] Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 3rd edition revised by C. Peter Wagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans 1990), vii.

[6] Ibid, 24-27

[7] Ibid, 27-30

[8] Ibid, 179-192

[9] Ibid, 78-87

[10] Ibid, 270-288

[11] Ibid, 99, 101, 126

[12] Ibid, 47-52, 93-105

[13] C. Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate (Harper Row Publications, 1981), 97-106.  However, it must be noted that Wagner’s views changed and became more holistic over time. See Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets, and Theologians (Chosen Books, 2010), pp257-258.

[14] McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (1990), 163.

[15] Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel (1981), 167.

[16] Ibid, 181.

[17] C. Peter Wagner, Strategies for Church Growth: Tools for Effective Mission and Evangelism (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1987), 53.

[18] Ibid, 55.

[19] Two contributors to The Southern Baptist Journal of Missions and Evangelism (Volume 2, Fall 2016), John Michael Morris and Troy L. Bush defended the Homogeneous Unit Principle. (1) HUP is not meant to exclude anyone, (2) HUP is a starting point for evangelism, (3) HUP is the same as “people groups” that missionaries use today, and (4) Examples of homogeneous churches abound, pp11, 19.

[20] Craig Van Gelder, “A Gospel and Our Culture Response”. Gary L. McIntosh, ed, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 65.

[21] Gailyn Van Rheenen, “A Reformist Response”. Gary L. McIntosh, ed, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (2004), 154-155.

The Organised Church (Part 2): Critical Components of Church Organisation

In Part 1 I wrote about the need for pastors and church leaders to seriously look into the organisational aspect of the church. It is my observation that churches that fail to organise themselves well, despite the fact that they may be solidly founded on sound theology and/or pray a lot, disadvantage themselves,

The New Testament-mention of the spiritual gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28) underscores the importance for good organisation in the church. What’s the point of the gift if the Lord did not think that effective administration (organisation) of the church is necessary and important? The meaning of the root word in Greek for the gift of administration is connected to the work of a shipmaster or captain. The job then, of the person with this gift is to help steer or lead the church (or a ministry). If he is not the leader of the church, then his job is to assist the leader to develop strategies, organise the people and implement the process.

Broadly speaking, there are three critical components in the organisation of a church: structures, systems and processes.

  1. Structures

These refer to the organisational structures of the church, such as the leadership, departments, ministries, small groups and communications. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Similarly for the lists in “Systems” and “Processes” below.)

Let me flesh out a couple of examples to help you understand what I mean.

The leadership structure concerns matters like the lines of authority and communication; which is often presented in the form of an organisational chart. It also asks questions like: Who leads the leadership team? What is the role of the pastor and the chairman respectively? How is the pastor accountable to the church board? Is the church effectively led by one person or by a team?

In the broader context of the church it asks: What is the role of the congregation in making decisions? What kind of decisions does the congregation make?

With regards to the small groups structure: How is the ministry structured? Are the group leaders accountable to the pastor or to a small group ministry head? If there are a large number of small groups does the church divide them into areas (or zones)? Within each small group, are mature Christians assigned to care for younger believers?

  1. Systems

These refer to the working systems of the church, such as the financial, leadership, small group, worship service and assimilation of new people .

The first thing you probably noticed is that I have included leadership and small group here, even though I had already mentioned them under “structures”. That is because they (and others) are systems in the body of the church that must be properly structured.

Under “systems”, however, we ask a different set of questions. For the small group ministry the focus here is on the workings of the system. We want to know: What level of importance does the church place on the small group ministry? (Is everyone expected to be part of a small group? Is participation in a small group a pre-requisite for membership in the church?) Is the nature, purpose and programme of the small groups standardised or does each group have autonomy? Is attendance monitored? Are small group leaders expected to send in monthly or quarterly reports? Are small groups expected to multiply within a certain period? What is the church’s philosophy of small group ministry?

With regards to finances we are concerned about the efficient and effective collection of the members’ tithes and offering, proper recording of the collection, accounting of income and expenditure, and not just the proper use of church funds but their purposeful use to advance the Kingdom.

We ask the questions: How is the money apportioned? Does the church have a budget? What’s the financial and accounting policy of the church? How is the money collected (physically at worship services and/or bank transfers and/or credit card payments)? What is the procedure to count and record the collection?  Who can authorise a payment and what is the quantum? What policies are in place to ensure the purposeful use of church funds?

  1. Processes

These refer to the steps taken to accomplish an objective, such as the assimilation of new people, discipleship, and ministry and leadership development.

For example, pastors tell me that they want to make disciples, but when I ask them how they are making disciples, they cannot articulate it—either they don’t have a process in place or it’s so vague they cannot tell you. Every church needs to have a discipleship process. If you don’t have one you may start with Rick Warren’s “baseball diamond” found in his book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Disciple making, leadership development (read, raising up next generation leaders for succession planning) cannot be left ad hoc! Neither can we leave the assimilation of new people to chance. That’s the reason many would-be-additions to the church fall through the cracks. Every church needs well thought-out and workable processes for things like these.

Every church needs to be well organised. This will happen when pastors and church leaders do what is necessary to ensure that their church’s structures, systems and processes are efficient and effective. There is no one size-fits all because of the differences in the make-up of our churches. Start with the Bible. Study your own church. Learn from other churches. Get the leadership team to read and discuss one or more relevant books on the matter, and implement what is helpful. This is the road to the administrative health of your church.

The Organised Church (Part 1)

There are three major areas that need attention for any church to be healthy: Doctrine, Spirituality and Organisation. The first two have traditionally been the focus. The New Testament letters deal primarily with these areas, for obvious reasons:

  1. At that time, the church was in its infancy and it was imperative that it got its doctrinal foundation right.
  2. Jesus’ teaching passed on by the apostles was being attacked and undermined by false teachings such as legalism and Gnosticism. The apostles had to correct them and defend the Gospel.
  3. The churches in the first century were generally small, and there were not many organisational issues to deal with (I will qualify this later).

Bible schools, since their inception, have also traditionally focussed on Bible knowledge. The main goal was to ensure that the students graduate with sound theology. That is perfectly valid, as they will be the primary teachers of the Word to their congregations. Hence, they should be empowered to espouse Scriptural truths accurately. But the intense focus on this has left training in spirituality and organisational skills on the back burner. I am happy to observe that training in spirituality has made a comeback in many seminaries. However, the same cannot be said for their training in understanding the church organisationally; its structure, values, culture, vision casting, and so on. This has to be corrected so that Bible seminaries don’t produce pastors who only know theology but do not know how to lead a corporate body.

It is incorrect to say that the New Testament letters do not deal with organisational issues at all. Among the first problems that the early church encountered concerned the care of widows (Acts 6). The Grecian-Jews complained against the Hebraic-Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the food distribution. Besides being a spirituality-social issue it was also a community-organisational issue.  And the solution was to appoint six Grecian-Jews to oversee the ministry so that no one was missed out, especially the widows among this group.

In some of his letters, Paul wrote about the leadership of the church. He instructed Titus to appoint elders for the church in Crete (Tit 1:5). He gave Timothy a list of criteria for those who may qualify as elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:1-13). This was necessary for two reasons. One, to provide pastoral care for the members, and two, to provide a leadership structure for the corporate body organisationally.

In the Old Testament, the often-quoted event that saw a paradigm shift in organisational structure concerned Moses’ leadership (Exo 18). Fortunately it happened in the early days of the Exodus, rather than later; or else, Moses would have died from overwork. He was personally handling every problem of this massive group of people until, Jethro, his father-in-law, gave wise counsel. He told Moses to appoint leaders over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens; in a pyramidal-like structure. In that way Moses was able to delegate his work to these sub-section leaders. He only needed to handle those cases that they could not manage.

Likewise, pastors and church leaders need to learn how to organise their church so that it is healthy and effective. It is not about copying the world or trying to be a sleek organisation. It’s about enhancing the life, ministry and missions of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The present-day church is much more complex than the church in the days of the apostles, or even just 60 years ago. The churches then were generally small and there were not a great deal of organisational issues to be concerned about. But not so today. And the truth is that it will get increasingly more complex. Because of this reality there is a serious need to look into the organisational health of the church, without neglecting the doctrinal and spirituality concerns.

What are the critical needs in your church to bring it to health or better health? How will you address them? Who do you have to walk with you as you think, pray, study your church, find solutions, implement them and evaluate their effectiveness?

(Taken from my booklet, Before ER: A Call for Church Health.)

Go to Part 2: Critical Components of Church Organisation

Church Facilities and First Impression

I have visited churches that don’t take pride in their buildings. After all, a church is not the building, but the people. As a result, the building is allowed to deteriorate into disrepair; the paintwork peeling off; entrances, ministry rooms and the main worship hall cluttered with all kinds of stuff (wanted and unwanted); and the grounds left unkempt.

This is particularly evident of churches that use rented shop lots (and in Malaysia, they make up a good majority). As the premises don’t belong to them there may be little ownership and motivation to keep the place in good condition. There is even less sense of responsibility for the common areas, such as the corridors; and public areas, like the five-foot way. I have been to churches where throwaways (by other tenants) were stuffed under the staircase leading to the church in the upper floors, unsightly debris along the five-foot way, and the only-to-be-found-in-Malaysia heinous Ah Long stickers plastered all over the external walls of the buildings.

I am not suggesting that church buildings have to be lavishly done up, but they must at least be smart and the facilities be in good-working condition. The surroundings do not have to be in manicured-condition but it must at least be clean and neat.

Why is it so important to keep church premises presentable? Because it shapes a  visitor’s first impression of the church. Consciously or unconsciously the following questions will be swirling around in his mind, and what he sees will inevitably lead him to make certain deductions about the church.

1. Are the people proud of their church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the members have an indifferent attitude towards their church.

A well-kept facility tells a visitor that the people are proud of their church and that they like their church.

2. Is the church serious about drawing in new people?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the church couldn’t-care-less what outsiders think about the church.

A well-kept facility says that the church is concerned about providing an environment that is welcoming to visitors. They want, at the very least, to give their visitors a good first impression of their church.

3. Is “good quality” a value of the church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that “good quality” is not a value of the church. If it cannot be seen in the care of its premises, it is unlikely that quality will be valued in other areas of the church’s life and ministry.

A well-kept facility is a sign that the church values “good quality”—in everything; with everything they have and in everything they do. I believe you will be hard-pressed to find a church with good quality ministries but whose building and facilities are out of whack through indifference.

4. Can I happily engage in worship in this church environment?

A poorly-kept facility, especially in the main worship hall, will put most visitors off from worship. The environment matters! If it is not conducive for worship because of clutter and peeling paint (and maybe odour) it is not going to encourage a visitor to return.

On the other hand, walking through a pleasant environment and into an equally or even more pleasant worship hall will enhance a visitor’s engagement in worship. This will certainly give him positive vibes.

5. If I am looking for a church, do I want to come back for a second look?

A well-kept facility may not be the deciding factor for a visitor, whether he would come back for a second visit or, for that matter, to join the church. However, a poorly-kept facility will guarantee that a visitor will not come back for second look!

If you are a pastor or church leader, let me encourage you to take some time this week to do a church facility audit.


The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 2)

In Part 1 I wrote about how the church has continually misunderstood the role of God’s gifted-persons such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (or, pastor-teachers). The wrong understanding is: Since they are gifted by the Lord then they should be the ones to do ministry, while the rest of the church just sit back and soak. Ephesians 4:11-12, however, teaches to the contrary. The right understanding is: The primary job of the gifted-persons is to empower; it is the job of all in the church, who have been thus empowered, to do ministry. In this way the body of Christ is built up.

Alright, so we now know what the gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. The follow-up question is: What is the former to empower the latter with? A misunderstanding of the former usually leads to a misunderstanding of the latter.

It’s apparent that we can only empower another person in the area that we ourselves have the ability or talent. A non-musician can’t teach someone to play the piano. A drummer can’t teach someone to play the saxophone. To state the obvious, only a bassist can teach a guitarist how to play the bass.

As it is in the natural; so it is with the spiritual. We can only empower others to do what we ourselves have been gifted to do. The apostle, among other things, pioneers ministries. Correspondingly, when raising up leaders in the body of Christ, his job is to empower others, for example, to plant churches or to start new Christian ventures.

As for the prophet, he is to train believers to hear and to speak a now word from the Lord. The evangelist is to raise up the people in the church to effectively share the Gospel with unbelievers. The pastor is to train the members in the body to provide pastoral and spiritual care for one another (and also for those outside the church). And the teacher is to teach others how to teach the Word of God.

It doesn’t mean that these gifted-persons don’t do ministry with their giftings. If they had not, they would not have gotten to know their gifts and ministry, and to develop them to the extent that they are now able to pass them on to others.

In fact, they rightly never stop exercising their gifts. The evangelist still evangelises the lost and the pastor still nurtures people in the faith. They still have to walk their talk; and not just talk about how they used to walk! More than what they had done, it is what they are doing that gives them credibility as they train others. It is from their current experiences of ministry that they can best illustrate and inspire others to do what they are doing.

I like what John Maxwell says in his Leadership Bible. I think it might be appropriately called “Multiplication Maxims”. They are stated in the first line of each point, and I follow-up with a bit of my own commentary.

  1. It takes one to know one. We tend to see what we possess ourselves.

It is not that we can never see what others have if we don’t have it ourselves. But it would be true to say that we can more easily recognise something in someone because we know what it looks like in us. Furthermore, we are able to evaluate the degree of the gifting and its potential for development.

  1. It takes one to show one. We cannot model for someone what we haven’t done.

I am stating the obvious: Nobody can teach what he doesn’t know. He won’t be able to explain it nor show how something is done when he has never done it himself. We can only model for others how to operate in a certain spiritual gift or ministry when we have experience in doing it ourselves. Besides the issue of ability it is also about credibility.

  1. It takes one to grow one. We cannot train someone until we’ve done it ourselves.

This kind-of-follows Maxim No. 2 about modelling. This is about training. And the more we have developed the gift and ministry the more we will be able to grow others in these areas.

Clearly, when a church puts into practise Ephesians 4:11-12 it will have many more people with an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching giftings and ministry (though, in varying degrees). Imagine how more effective the church would be when that happens.

The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 1)

Ephesians 4:11-12 is about one of the most misunderstood Scripture. Misunderstanding and misapplying it do not muddy-up our doctrinal beliefs but they certainly impede our effectiveness in building the church.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of  service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Whether there are four or five gifted-persons (I am being gender-sensitive) is not the concern of this post. Whatever your interpretation, you still have God’s gifted servants functioning as pastors and teachers; as a combo or separately.

The first misunderstanding I want to raise concerns their role. What do they do? What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?

Many would say, the job of the apostle is to plant, organise and oversee churches. It includes laying a Biblical-strong foundation for these churches, and also to raise, train and appoint leaders who will eventually take leadership of these churches.

As for the prophet, his (or her) job is to bring a now word of the Lord to the church and to the world. The evangelist is to preach the Gospel and win the lost to Christ. And the pastor-teacher, is to provide spiritual nurture to the converted, which includes teaching them the Word of God.

It is simply logical to expect a particular spiritual gift to naturally lend itself to a corresponding ministry. However, to say that the above descriptions are then their jobs is to miss the point of Ephesians 4:11-12. If we asked the second question, “What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?”, we will get a totally different answer.

Verse 12 states that the job of these gifted-persons are “to prepare God’s people”. To put it succinctly, in the context of your local church: The job of the pastor-teacher is to equip and empower the members. Does the pastor provide spiritual nurture and teach the Word of God? Of course, he does. But that is not his primary role. His primary role is to equip and empower the members.

To what end? “…for works of service.” The gifted-person’s primary job (or ministry) is not to do ministry but to prepare God’s people to do ministry. Unfortunately in too many churches they expect the pastor or the hired-hand to do all the work! From preaching, counselling and visitation to driving the van, printing the bulletin and being the key-man (literally).

If that is the culture of a church then what we have is just one man serving the rest of the body. Or, a bunch of paid staff serving the church. This is certainly not the body-ministry envisaged by the New Testament, where all the members of body builds up the whole body. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others also”, is not going to happen. Multiplication is not going to take place.

Now, part of the problem is the gifted-persons themselves. Unfortunately, many among them also have a misunderstanding of their own role. They believe, like so many others in the church, that they are the ones to do the ministry. “That’s my job!” “I’m the one with the spiritual gift; so, I’m to do the ministry!” In fact, for many, their identity is so tied up with their ministry that they cannot give it away—by empowering others to do “their ministry”.  They can’t see themselves doing “less” by empowering others to do “more”.

The awesome truth is that the body of Christ, the church, is only going to be built up when every member does ministry. It’s the kind of ministry ethos that says, ministry is not to be left to just the specially gifted-persons, but to be expected of all. The former is to focus on empowering the members—so that the latter can do ministry. In turn, the gifted-person is freed up to from having to do a lot of hands-on service and give more time to equipping, guiding and mentoring their mentees. Hence, effectively, multiplying themselves. That’s the import and genius of Ephesians 4:11-12 which both the pastor and members must heed if we are ever to see the church built up.

We now know what these gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. But what are they to empower them with? The answer will surprise you. That’s the other misunderstood item about Ephesians 4:11-12. Click here for Part 2. 

My Philosophy of Church Consulting (Part 2)

Apart from what I wrote in Part 1, which would form the basic framework of my philosophy of church consulting, the following, I believe, are also necessary elements for effective consulting:

Long Term. Consulting a church may be a one-off engagement. However, a long term engagement is not only more helpful, it is, I believe, necessary.  The leaders and executors need guidance from a trained consultant to help them carry out the recommendations, which includes planning, strategizing and execution. I would make myself available to the implementation team; to provide assistance in the areas where I have the gift-set. At the very least that would include guidance vis-à-vis the big picture needs of the church.

Driver. I do not believe that any attempts to implement the recommendations will work if there isn’t a clear driver from within the church. If it is something that concerns the whole church then the driver must be from among the top leadership; better still, if it was the pastor himself. If it concerns a particular ministry then the ministry leader must be the driver. The consultant cannot be the driver; it must be someone from the church. That person must have a clear sense of ownership of the church or ministry, and the issue. He must be passionate for the Lord, the church and what needs to be done. He must also have godly wisdom and good leadership skills.

Leadership Unity. Unity among the key leaders of the church is critical to the success of the consultation process. They must agree on the issues that need to be addressed, decisions about what to do (recommendations), their priority and the steps to take to implement the solutions. If any key leader is not in agreement it is very likely that it will fail. It is not good enough for a key leader to stand passively by the side and watch. It is spiritually damning as much as it is organisationally divisive. The attempted remedy may result in something worse than the original problem!

Similar to the item on Driver it is critical to secure the commitment of the whole leadership team–that they are united in their desire to deal with the issues of their church. That commitment is to be reiterated and affirmed at each phase of the consultation.

Authority. I believe that a church consultant must at all times work under the spiritual authority of the church leadership that has invited him, and in particular to the recognised team leader, such as the pastor. Care must be taken that he does not undermine the authority of the leadership nor diminish their esteem in the eyes of the members. As the goal of church consultation is to build up the church the consultant must do everything to help realise it and not do anything that may bring a reverse consequence.

Remuneration. It is very uncommon in Malaysia for invited speakers and itinerant preachers to state their speaking fees or even ask for an honorarium. This is usually left to the inviting church.  Secondly, church consulting is a totally unknown ministry in Malaysia. However, I have observed that once I have explained what I do, people immediately identify me as a “consultant”. Eventually they get round to ask about my fees. Still, I feel that it is premature to speak about fees as church consulting is not something that people in Malaysia, leaders included, appreciate nor understand.

My philosophy is to ask the inviting church to cover all my expenses, such as: travel, meals and accommodation. As for honorarium, it is best left to the discretion of the church. To help the church gauge what might be a reasonable amount I will append in my report an explanation of the work I’ve done and the man-hours taken to do it.

My Philosophy of Church Consulting (Part 1)

I believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, wants all His churches to do well, and fulfil His mission, aka the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). However, the sad reality is that many churches are unhealthy, and hence, ineffective. I do not believe that churches should remain in this state. Something can be done and must be done. I believe church consultants can point pastors and church leaders in the right direction. This is why I am stepping into the work of church consulting; apart from, what I believe is the Lord’s calling for me in this final lap of my ministry journey.

The work of church consulting (what) is simply and primarily coming alongside pastors and leaders to help them with the development of their churches. It may involve studying the church, providing solutions and assisting the executors in the implementation of those solutions. During this time there might also be a need for the consultant to offer coaching, training and ministry to the leaders and the implementation team in particular, and to the church in general, so that they are empowered to lead the change. I call this the Empowering Process, as shown in Diagram 1 above.

When it comes to helping or consulting a church there is no one size fits all. There is no one solution that will solve the problems of all churches. Every church is different. Each one has its own particular problems that are to be identified through prayer and discernment in the Spirit, and from a studied analysis of the church.  This is then followed up with wise custom-made solutions.

If a church has not done a comprehensive church health analysis, it would be a good first step to take. Such an analysis will help to objectively identify the real issues of the church. Notwithstanding, the leadership may determine the area of consultation they require.

Diagram 2 below sets out the Empowering Analytical Process to determine the what and how of the consultation.

The flowchart also details the methodology showing how a study of a church might be done. The first step is always to gather extensive and accurate information. This is done through asking for church data, conducting surveys, audits and  interviews, and from personal on-site observations. The information is then studied and analysed, conclusions drawn, and recommendations made to help the church become healthier or, to resolve the defined issue.

(Click on the link to Part 2 below on other aspects of my philosophy of church consulting.)

Discovering Your Church’s Purpose (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a 2-Part series. Go to this link for Part 1.)

Three Commands that Provides the Framework for Your Church’s Purpose

You may be wondering if this “strategy” is just as applicable to a secular organisation. Yes, it can be. Any organisation (whether religious, business or non-profit) can apply this strategy, except that we need to note a couple of very critical points.

We must never forget that discovering and fulfilling a church’s purpose is about doing God’s will. Hence, the first step must always be prayer; to seek the Lord for His leading. This was something Nehemiah did when he first heard the bad report about Jerusalem. The revelation and understanding about what he was to do came from his time of prayer. It is expected that pastors and church leaders are to do this first, and right through the whole process of determining the specific purpose of the church. (If a leader of a business or a non-profit organisation is a Christian, he or she should do the same. God did not intend that there be a dichotomy between the secular and the religious; everything is spiritual.)

Secondly, the church’s purpose must be etched out from a Biblical framework. The church’s purpose is not about making money; it’s bottom-line is not about profits. Or, even about growing bigger and faster, and having a nicer building than the other churches in town. The framework of a church’s purpose is shaped by the three Biblical commands: 1. The Great Commission, 2. The Great Commandment, and 3. The Great Mandate.

The Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20) is about making disciples. If we fail to do this, even if we might be pursuing some other noble cause and succeed at it, we have failed as the Church of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of the Kingdom is about saving lost people and transforming them into Christlikeness, and then engaging them in the mission of the Kingdom of God. Everything we do must begin and end with the Great Commission as our primary objective. That must shape a church’s purpose.

The second piece of the framework is the Great Commandment. Jesus said, “The most important one [commandment] is this: ‘…Love the Lord your God with all  your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’….” (Mk 12:29-31). The church is called to love God and people. If our purpose does not lead us to love God and people then there must be something amiss with our purpose. It cannot be God’s purpose. If making disciples is the church’s primary objective; love is the church’s primary motive in all that we do.

The third piece of the framework is the Great Mandate (or, Creation Mandate), which the Lord gave to the first man and woman. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Gen 1:28). The Lord’s mandate to mankind: To take charge of His world; has not been revoked. He made us His stewards, and as stewards we are to care for the world; not just consume its resources. It is also about how we manage (govern) our society, champion in matters of social justice and care for the marginalised. How a church carries out its purpose must not violate the Great Mandate; rather it must ensure that its purpose fulfils it.

A couple of examples of what a church can do includes cleaning up the streets and side-walks, and planting trees around the community. Not only does this fulfil the Great Mandate, the concern and care for the environment is a powerful witness to people around the church about the values of the Kingdom of God.  On a larger scale, we have the efforts of a number of Singaporean churches working in concert to carry out sustainable development in every province in the nation of Timor Leste. This is an incredible testimony to the Church of Jesus Christ which in turn gives it credibility and opportunity to witness to a whole nation.

When a church thinks about its purpose it needs to ask:

  1. Does our purpose fulfil the Great Commission?
  2. Does our purpose express the Great Commandment?
  3. Does our purpose honour the Great Mandate?
  4. How is our purpose guided by these three parts of the Biblical framework?

The church is not to do something simply because the need is there or because it feels like doing it. Neither does it just do anything simply because it has the resources to do it. Why the church is doing whatever it is doing must be guided by the above Biblical framework.


Putting the three components and the three commandments together is one of the best ways to help your church determine a clear Biblical purpose that is specific to it. But don’t do this by simply putting on your thinking cap. Do this with much prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit to show you the heart of the Father.

For Your Church Leaders’ Group Discussion

  1. What needs do we see in the community where our church is located?*
  2. What are we passionate about?
  3. What abilities and resources do we have?
  4. Where do the needs, our passion and our abilities align?
  5. How might we express in a statement what we believe may be the Lord’s specific purpose for our church?
  6. Does our purpose fulfil the Great Commission?
  7. Does our purpose express the Great Commandment?
  8. Does our purpose honour the Great Mandate?
  9. How is our purpose guided by these three parts of the Biblical framework?
  10. Does the purpose statement we wrote earlier need changing or refining in light of the Biblical framework? How might we express it better?

* This process may be used to determine your church’s purpose beyond your immediate community. But it’s good to begin here.