Healthy Churches Intentionally Make Disciples (Part 3)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2

REQUISITE FACTORS FOR AN INTENTIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING CHURCH

The study thus far has shown that the discipleship of God’s people is critical to the health of a church.  However, discipleship does not happen by chance.  If a church is to be healthy it needs to be as intentional as Jesus and Paul in disciple-making.  Four factors may be discerned from the disciple-making ministry of Jesus and Paul that are requisites for an intentional disciple-making church:

  1. A biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ,
  2. An effective process to make disciples,
  3. Committed and capable disciplers, and
  4. A church culture that promotes disciple-making.

The Disciple

If a church is to be an intentional disciple-making church it must first have a clear biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Chan envisages the NT disciple as a “certain kind of product”1 who is characterised by five marks.  He is: (1) grounded in the Word of God (Jn 15:7, Mt 7:24-27), (2) submitted fully to the Lordship of Christ (Lk 9:23, Mt 6:33), (3) walks in love (Jn 13:34-35), (4) bears much fruit (Jn 15:5), and (5) equips others and multiplies (Eph 4:12).2  Hull describes a disciple with the use of a “six-fold definition of being conformed to Christ’s image.”3  They are: (1) transformed mind: believe what Jesus believed, (2) transformed character: live the way Jesus lived, (3) transformed relationship: love as Jesus loved, (4) transformed habits: train as Jesus trained, (5) transformed service: minister as Jesus ministered, and (6) transformed influence: lead the way Jesus led.4  Avery T. Willis, Jr.’s MasterLife has a succinct definition for discipleship, from which a definition of a disciple may be easily developed.  He states, “Christian discipleship is developing a personal, lifelong, obedient relationship with Jesus Christ in which He changes your character into Christlikeness, transforms your values into kingdom values, and involves you in His mission in the home, the church, and the world.”5

Chan, Hull, and Willis provide a clear description of a disciple.  They may differ in the way they say it, but they are clear about the goal or the “product”—what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like.  It is imperative for every church to have a clear biblical description for the kind of disciple they want so that they can work towards “making it”.

The Process

The second requisite factor of an intentional disciple-making church is that it must have an effective process to make disciples.  Chan’s, Hull’s, and Willis’ definitions of a disciple show that the development of a disciple of Jesus Christ is multifaceted.  Furthermore, inherent in the idea of development is that a disciple goes through phases of growth.6  For this reason discipling must be seen as a process.  Hull comments, “To keep discipling effective, remember: discipling is not an event; it is a process…. The church has the responsibility to provide the clear vision and the vehicles that bring Christians into mature discipleship.”7  However, the philosophy of the disciple-making process varies between the proponents; from program-based discipling to relational discipling.

Willis’ MasterLife may be categorised as program-based discipling because the four workbooks it offers form a complete discipleship curriculum.8  Notwithstanding, Willis envisaged that MasterLife is to be used as a discipleship process.9  Hull deems Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church (PDC) model’s “Life Development Process”10 (LDP) as a program.11  However, Warren clarifies that PDC’s five purposes are arranged into a sequential process.12  A model like the LDP might best be described as a process with multiple programs, and that these programs may be replaced with improved programs to better achieve their purpose—to make disciples.  Or, in the words of Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger in the Simple Church, “A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”13  The definition acknowledges the need for a process to move people through the stages of growth.  However, Rainer and Geiger lament that most churches miss this truth.14  Whether it’s one program or multiple programs, discipleship must be developed into a process.  In other words, a process is a necessary means to achieve the goal for spiritual growth of the believers in the church and to make disciples.

Only four out of the 13 respondents surveyed opined that that their respective churches have a developed disciple-making process (see Appendix B).  The researcher has no detailed information about their respective processes, except that three respondents (out of the four) commented that their respective churches use common materials to disciple their members.  The materials may be changed when necessary.  These four respondents also indicated that their churches have a high degree of disciple-making intentionality.  Eight out of the remaining nine respondents indicated that their churches have a low degree of intentionality and lack a disciple-making process.

Ogden opines that one of the major reasons for the “low estate of discipleship is that most churches have no clear, public pathway to maturity.”15  He also advocates a discipling process; though, not a process with programs, but a process through relational discipling.  Ogden explains discipling to mean “a process that takes place within accountable relationships over a period of time for the purpose of bringing believers to spiritual maturity in Christ.”16  He advocates personal discipling in highly accountable, relational discipleship units of three or four.17  Both Hull and Chan advocate personal discipling as well as the use of small groups in disciple-making.18  One respondent in the survey indicated that his church has high degree of intentionality but it does have a developed process.  He commented that his church’s disciple-making focus is on building relationships and trust.  Every leader in his church is encouraged to spend time, serve together, and journey with the disciple.  This is perhaps illustrative of Ogden’s point on relational discipling.

The Discipler

The third requisite for an intentional disciple-making church is for committed and capable disciplers.  If discipling is a discipler helping a disciple develop into full maturity in Christ,19 then, the former by his (or her) life’s example must exemplify for the latter what it means to be mature in Christ.  Chan comments, “If you are not positively modelling, you are not positively mentoring….because things are more caught than taught, modelling is tremendously significant.21 through relational discipling.22

A discipler does not need to have the stature of a Paul or a pastor/elder.  If that were the case then very few would qualify.  Chan is right when he says that God intends discipling to be for every believer, not just the apostles.23  Colin Marshall and Tony Payne state that “to be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker.”24  In other words, any growing disciple can be a discipler of another.  Marshall and Payne go so far as to say, “All Christian should be disciple-makers….”25  Certainly, a discipler with greater maturity in Christ and training in disciple-making is likely to have a greater impact on a disciple.  For this reason, an intentional disciple-making church must be about training its people to be disciplers. Marshall and Payne believe that one of the critical ministry mind-shifts a church must make is a shift from running events to training people.26  A related mind-shift is from relying on training institutions to establishing local training.27  The challenge, then, is for the local church to provide training for its people to be “vine growers” or disciple makers.28

Church Culture

The fourth requisite for an intentional disciple-making church is a church culture of disciple-making.  One, or even a handful of disciplers do not make a disciple-making church.  If we accept Chan’s definition of disciple-making and what is meant by intentionality then disciple-making must form a most critical part of a church’s culture.  Aubrey Malphurs defines a church’s congregational culture as “the unique expression of the interaction of the church’s beliefs and its values, which explain its behaviour in general and display its unique identity in particular.”29  In other words, belief determines values, and values are expressed in behaviour.  A disciple-making church is one that is convinced and convicted by the biblical injunction and teaching on discipleship and disciple-making.  This shared belief leads the church to establish values about discipleship and disciple-making.  These shared values are so important that they are expressed in the common behaviour of the people in the church through their lives and ministry.

The persons most responsible to develop a disciple-making culture are the pastor and leaders of the church.  Malphurs opines that the pastor is the key church culture sculptor.30  Chan states that “the key to a disciple-making church is the disciple-making pastor.”31  The pastor together with the leaders do this through modelling, teaching and preaching, praying, developing a discipleship process, and training disciplers.  Hence, beside the pastor, church leaders must also lead in the example of disciple-making if the latter is to become a culture in the church.  Chan states,

“The right kind of leadership must be developed.  The disciple-making process must begin on the right leadership platform.  Leaders are inspiring when they model discipleship to the church and are actively involved in disciple-making.  Once we have leaders being effectively discipled, they will be discipling others, and the chain effect will be multiplied downwards.”32

From the survey sample, seven out of the 13 respondents indicated that many of their pastors are engaged in disciple-making (see Appendix B).  However, only three out of these same seven indicated that many of their church leaders (excluding the pastors) are engaged in disciple-making.  Furthermore, five (of 13) indicated that their churches have a culture of disciple-making.  However, only two (of the five) indicated that many of their pastors and church leaders are engaged in disciple-making; another two indicated that many of their pastors are engaged in disciple-making, but less so among the church leaders; and one indicated that not many of the church’s pastors and leaders are engaged in disciple-making.  Since culture is set by the leaders, it is incongruous for a church to have a disciple-making culture when the leaders do not exemplify it.  Disciple-making only becomes culture in a church when the church as a whole; pastors, leaders, and members hold a shared belief and shared values about disciple-making that are actualised.

CONCLUSION

The church of Jesus Christ has a mandate to make disciples, and fulfilling the mandate is a vital characteristic of a healthy church.  However, the success of a church to fulfil the mandate is hinged on the critical issue of its disciple-making intentionality.  The research has ascertained that for a church to be intentional about disciple-making it must have: (1) a biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ, (2) an effective process to make disciples, (3) committed and capable disciplers, and (4) a church culture that promotes disciple-making.

The ultimate objective is requisite number four: to a develop a church culture that promotes disciple-making.  The reason is because, once disciple-making becomes culture, the church simply does what it is.  However, the first three requisites—the disciple, the discipler, and the process—are also important components of the disciple-making culture.  The more these three requisites are developed in a church, the more deeply will a disciple-making culture be established be in the church.  In this regard, pastors and church leaders must lead by example.  All the leaders must be engaged in disciple-making.  Furthermore, a clear and effective process to make disciples must be developed for the whole church.  The church must not only be clear about the kind of disciple it desires to develop, it must also have an effective pathway to reach the objective.  Good intentions without a clear and effective process will not succeed.  Finally, while discipleship and discipling programs are necessary items in the process, even more important is the discipling relationship.  Relational discipling by the discipler with the disciple is key to disciple-making.

Healthy Churches Intentionally Make Disciples (Part 2)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1

INTENTIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING OF JESUS AND PAUL

The Rabbinical Tradition: Practice and Deviation

Discipling did not begin with Jesus or the NT church.  The Greek teachers and philosophers had their mathetes or disciple.1  The Hebrews had their own form of discipling as seen in the relationship between Moses and Joshua (Exo 24:13), Elijah’s school of prophets (2 kg 2:3), and the Jewish rabbis and their students.  Bill Hull observes five characteristics in the rabbinical tradition.  The student or disciple: (1) decides to follow a particular teacher, (2) memorises the teacher’s words, (3) learns the teacher’s way of ministry, (4) imitates the teacher’s life and character, and (5) raises up his own disciples.2

Akin to the tradition of the rabbis Jesus also gathered disciples around Him (Mk 1:16-20).  However, R. T. France comments that “it is misleading…to express this relationship (between Jesus and His disciples) in terms of a rabbi and his talmîdîm.  Rabbis did not call their followers; rather, the pupil adopted the teacher.  It marks him (Jesus) as a prophet rather than a rabbi.”3  Notwithstanding, there were similarities between the rabbinical tradition and that of Jesus’.  He taught the disciples more deeply; beyond His public discourses (Mk 9:30, Lk 11:1-4).  He trained them for ministry (Mt 9:35-10:16).  By His life and actions Jesus instilled His values into the lives of His disciples, and provided for them an example to follow (Mk 9:33-37, 10:35-45).  Lastly, Jesus also expected His disciples to raise up other disciples.  This is evident from the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20).

As the apostle Paul came from the rabbinical tradition4 the same pattern may be observed in his ministry.  He gathered around him disciples like Timothy, Titus and Silas.  He taught them God’s Word (2 Tim 1:13).  He trained them for ministry (Acts 16:1-3, 19:21-22).  He influenced them by a life lived out before them and from the example of his character (2 Tim 3:10-11, 1 Cor 11:1).  And he also instructed them to make disciples; to pass on to faithful men what they had learnt from him (2 Tim 2:2).  An important deviation from the rabbinical tradition is that Christian disciplers5 do not raise up their own disciples; rather, they raise up or make disciples for Jesus Christ.6  The people they disciple follow Jesus, learn and obey His words, serve His mission, grow in Christlikeness, and also make more disciples for Jesus.

 

Marks of Intentionality

Intentionality in the disciple-making ministry of Jesus and Paul is seen in the following:

  1. Focussed Discipling

Huge crowds followed Jesus (Mt 14:13-14) and gathered to listen to His teaching (Mt 5:1).  But He only chose 12 men for focussed discipling (Mk 1:16-20, 3:13-14).  He intentionally discipled this small group because they would carry on His work or mission when He ascended to heaven (Acts 6:2).7  Out of the 12, He concentrated on three: Peter, James, and John (Mt 17:1, 26:37).  And out of the three, He centred on Peter because He had marked Peter to be the initial leader and spokesman for the infant church (Acts 1:15, 2:14).

The focus on the 12 does not mean that Jesus did not disciple anyone else.  On one occasion Jesus sent out 72 of His disciples to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Lk 10:1-16).  When they returned from their mission stint He held a debrief for them to further teach and encourage them (Lk 10:17-24).  While the 72 did not enjoy the close, intense, and consistent discipling that the 12 had with Jesus, nonetheless, they were discipled by Him.  The difference is in the intensity.  Jesus was focussed on discipling the 12.  Ajith Fernando writes, “As the Savior of the world, he cares equally for everyone in the world.  That is why he came down to save the world….  But when he accepted the limitations of humanity, he took on a special responsibility for a few people, whom he trained to carry out his work after he left the world.”8

A similar pattern is seen in Paul’s ministry.  Many came to faith in Christ through his ministry (Acts 14:1, 1 Thess 1:6, 9).  He taught the people in the churches he founded and visited.  In a broad sense Paul discipled all of them through his teaching.  However, he devoted focussed discipling to only some; such as Timothy, Titus, and Silas.  Commenting on this principle, David Watson wrote, “Any wise leader will likewise concentrate his time with a small group of committed Christians, twelve probably being the maximum number for effective discipling.”9  In sum, intentionality (of disciple-making) is evidenced by focus (on selected persons for discipling).

  1. Clear purpose and goal for the disciple

Jesus planned for the day when He would leave earth.  He knew He would return to the Father after He had accomplished His foundational work of sacrificing His life for the sins of mankind (Jn 16:5, 17:13).  However, the follow through on His mission to evangelise the world (Mk 16:15-16) and disciple the nations (Mt 28:19-20) would be entrusted to His disciples (Jn 17:18).  The disciples had been with Him: they knew and loved Him, they were trained and empowered by Him, and they were wholly convinced and convicted about His person and mission (1 Jn 1:1-4).  In other words, Jesus intentionally selected and trained a special group of men with a clear purpose: to be like Him and to do what He did.  Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6:40).

Likewise, Paul had clear goals for the disciples under his charge.  The first concerned the growth of the disciple in Christ (1 Tim 4:15-16).  The discipleship encompassed the whole of life: personal (Eph 4:17-5:17), home (5:22-6:4), church (4:1-16, 5:19-24), work (6:5-9), and spiritual warfare (6:10-20).  The goal was for the disciple to become like Christ, or to be transformed into Christlikeness, in every aspect of his life (Rom 12:2).  The second goal was for the disciple to be empowered to multiply himself in the lives of others.  Paul’s instruction to Timothy is explicit, “And the things you heard from me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).  The reliable men whom Timothy was to teach were also expected to teach others.  The intentionality of purpose seen in both Jesus’ and Paul’s disciple-making is unmistakable.  Chan states, “The litmus test of an intentional disciplemaking church is twofold: spiritual maturity and spiritual multiplication.10  

  1. A plan to develop disciples

A careful study of the Gospels shows that Jesus did not leave the disciples’ development to chance.  While the growth is not in a straight line, neither is it haphazard.  Jesus had a plan to develop His disciples.  Hull agrees with A. B. Bruce’s perception of Jesus’ three-phase11 discipleship development for the disciples, and adds a fourth.  The four phases are: (1) “Come and see” (Jn 1:39) – where the disciples learned about the person of Jesus, His ministry and mission,12 (2) “Come and follow me” (Mt 4:19, Mk 1:16-18) – where Jesus taught the disciples the priorities of the absolutes of Scripture, importance of prayer, the need for community, and the work of outreach,13 (3) “Come and be with me” (Mk 3:13-14) – where Jesus prepared the disciples to take responsibility for world missions,14 and (4) “Remain in me” (Jn 15: 5, 7) – where the disciples began to learn to live with and be empowered by the Holy Spirit.15

Greg Ogden expands the “come and be with me” phase with a four-stage development of the disciples.  Stage 1: Jesus as a living example where the disciples watched Him carefully and began to absorb His message and ministry.  Stage 2: Jesus as the provocative educator where He informed the disciples of a new kingdom perspective and dislodged wrong ideas and assumptions.  Stage 3: Jesus as supportive coach, such as the time when He sent them out on a short-term mission.  And Stage 4: Jesus as the ultimate delegator that followed His death and resurrection, and the handing of His mission to the disciples.16

Similarly, Paul had a plan to develop those under his charge.  Paul may not have used the term “disciple”, as a study of the Pauline epistles shows.  However, it does not mean that discipleship was unimportant to Paul.  He simply stated it in different terms.  Ogden comments, “The defining, though not exclusive, metaphor that shapes Paul’s understanding of the goal and the process of disciple making is spiritual parenting.”17  The role of the spiritual parent is to nurture and guide the disciple to move towards maturity in Christ (1 Thess 2:7, 11-12).  Ogden perceives four stages in Paul’s model.  Stage 1: Infancy – Imitation; Stage 2: Childhood – Identification; Stage 3: Adolescence – Exhortation; and Stage 4: Adulthood – Participation.18  Paul’s plan of disciple-making included teaching (2 Tim 2:2, 3:10, 14), encouraging (1 Tim 4:12), disciplining (2 Tim 1:7-8), and empowering (2 Tim 1:6).  However, his overarching philosophy of disciple-making is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  In the process of discipling others Paul taught them to follow his life and character.19  Paul’s philosophy of disciple-making points to the critical role of the discipler.

Go to Part 3

Healthy Churches Intentionally Make Disciples (Part 1)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

INTRODUCTION

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is explicit about the primary mission of the church—to make disciples of the nations of the world.  This biblical expectation of the church is here assumed.  The focus of the paper is on the issue of the church’s disciple-making intentionality as it seeks to fulfil the mandate.  By “intentionality” we mean that “everything in the church ministry revolves around the intention of disciple-making.”1 “Disciple-making” is defined as “the process of bringing people into right relationship with God, and developing them to full maturity in Christ through intentional growth strategies, that they might multiply the entire process in others also.”2 The purpose of the research is to determine the requisite factors for a church to successfully implement intentional disciple-making.

Secondly, the research is also about the relationship between disciple-making and church health.  That is, how does disciple-making affect the health of a church?  This preliminary issue is the paper’s first point of discussion.  It is followed by a study of disciple-making by Jesus and Paul, with a focus on intentionality.  The third section of the paper is a discussion of the main issue about the requisite factors for an intentional disciple-making church.  The research includes a study of the theology and practice of discipling3 from the Bible, Christian literature, and its application among churches in Malaysia.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTENTIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING AND CHURCH HEALTH

In the paper, disciple-making is set in the larger context of church health.  In this section we explore the views of church health proponents about the relationship between disciple-making and the health of a church.  A healthy church may be viewed as a modern metaphor for the mature church in Ephesians 4:11-13.  Paul says that when leaders (God’s gifted men) and the people in the church (God’s people) fulfil their respective roles—to empower and to be empowered for service—the church grows to become mature (NIV) or perfect (NKJV).  The word “mature” or “perfect” is translated from the Greek telos which literally means “bring-to-an-end, finish, or complete.”4  The “mature man” or “perfect man” (andra teleion) may be seen as the end goal of the Ephesians 4:11-13 process.  Gene A. Getz posits that Paul uses the phrase “perfect man” as a metaphor to illustrate that all members of Christ’s body are to be mature reflections of God’s perfect Son, Jesus.5  This maturity, in the context of Ephesians, is to be understood in the corporate or collective sense.6  Akin to this view the paper uses the term “the healthy church” as a modern metaphor for the mature or perfect church, which is the desired goal of the Lord for His church.

In order to determine the level of health of a church many church health proponents have developed a list of church health characteristics.7  They do not fully agree on what should be included in the list.  However, they agree that understanding what constitute the characteristics of a healthy church and measuring a church against them, is critical to determine the health of a church.8  The church as the Body of Christ (Eph 4:12, 1:22) is often used as an analogy to underscore the need for and the use of a diagnostic approach to determine a church’s health.  Tim Koster and John Wagenveld in Take Your Church’s Pulse write,

“Viewing the church as the Body of Christ gives us a helpful way to develop an awareness of how the Holy Spirit is at work in a congregation.  When someone visits the doctor, the appointment always begins with the collection of certain basic data: pulse, temperature, blood pressure, …etc.  Those simple tests offer insight as to what is happening inside the body. If something is wrong, the tests also offer direction as to treatment….”9

It is beyond the scope of the paper to delve into a comprehensive comparative study of church health models and their respective lists of church health characteristics.  However, in relation to the subject matter of the paper, discipleship is a characteristic in many models.  Ten out of the 14 models researched include discipleship in their respective lists of church health characteristics.  However, the way the characteristic is described varies between models (see Table 1: The Discipleship Characteristic in Church Health Models below).

Seven models: Beeson, Dever’s Nine Marks, EFCS’s 10 Indicators, Koster’s and Wagenveld’s 10 Vital Signs, Lawless’ Church Health Survey, Searcy’s Healthy Systems, and Warren’s Purpose Driven Church use the word “discipleship” or one of its cognates for the characteristic.  Two models: Macchia’s Ten Characteristics, and Stott’s Living Church do not use the word “discipleship”, but their descriptions clearly indicate that they are about discipleship.  Getz also does not use the term “discipleship” but it is obvious that many of his model’s characteristics are about discipleship.

The findings from the comparative study of church health models show that proponents of church health believe that discipleship is an important component of church health.  They also believe that the level or the quality of discipleship in a church ought to be measured in order to determine the level of health a church enjoys.  Getz sums up the sentiment when he writes, “when measuring a church, we must have a comprehensive understanding of biblical discipleship.”10  If the quality of discipleship is critical to the health of a church, it is expected then, that churches must be intentional about disciple-making.  Chan comments,

“Spiritual growth is not automatic.  New converts and believers cannot be left on their own to grow.  There is an intentional follow-up of new converts.  There are intentional growth strategies for the development of authentic discipleship in the lives of believers.”11

A limited random survey was conducted by the researcher for the paper among 13 pastors and church leaders of English-speaking Malaysian churches.  Only Six out of the 13 respondents indicated that their church has a high degree of disciple-making intentionality.  The low proportion of churches engaged in intentional disciple-making among the sample churches might be representative of the overall picture of the church in Malaysia.  They know that discipleship is important, but pursuing the mandate through intentional disciple-making is deficient.  Hence, if disciple-making is to be intentional, how is the intentionality to be exhibited?  In other words, what are the marks of intentional disciple-making for a church?

Go to Part 2

 

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 4)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2, Click here for Part 3

THE ROLE OF CHURCH LEADERS

The second part of the research question asks, “What is a primary role of church leaders that is needed to develop healthy churches?”  By “role” we mean the function of church leaders.  The fifth column in Table 3 below presents the views of five (out of nine) church health models about the primary role of church leaders.  It appears that there is much agreement between them.

For Dever, the role of church leaders is to edify the church.  Koster and Wagenveld state that it is to help believers find their ministry according to their gifts.  Or, in the words of Callahan, their life’s searches.

Schwarz says it is to empower believers.  And for Macchia, it is to raise believers; in other words, to develop the believers.  While EFCA’s and Searcy’s models do not specifically explain their perspectives of the primary role of church leaders, nonetheless, they clearly sate that healthy churches are Intentional about leadership development.

In sum, the collective view of church health proponents about the role of church leaders is: to edify the people in the church for their spiritual growth and to empower them to serve the Lord with their God-given gifts in ministry.

A Theological Perspective of the Role of Church Leaders

A study of the NT shows that church leaders have many functions.  Norman L. Geisler states that an elder is an overseer (1 Pet 5:1-4), a ruler (Heb 13:17), an under-shepherd (1 Pet 5:1-4), a teacher (1 Pet 5;2, 1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:9), an apologist (Ph 1:17, Tit 1:9), an arbiter of disputes (Acts 15:2), and a watchman (Heb 13:17).1

Alexander Strauch distils the role of shepherd elders into four areas: (1) protecting (Acts 20:28-31, Tit 1:9b), (2) feeding (1 Tim 5:17-18), (3) leading (1 Tim 5:17a, and (4) caring for the practical needs of the flock (Acts 6:1-6).2  Grudem condenses the role of an elder even further to simply governing (1 Tim 5:17) and teaching (Eph 4:11, 1 Tim 5:17).3

From the foregoing descriptions it appears that the primary roles of church leaders are to provide spiritual oversight over the church and spiritual care for the people in the church.  However, this perspective fails to consider the mission of the church, and corollary, the role of church leaders in relation to the church’s mission.

The Mission of the Church and the Role of Church Leaders

Christopher Wright states that when we “draw our biblical theology of the church’s mission from the whole Bible…it becomes clear that the mission of God’s people is vast and various.”4  It is beyond the scope of the paper to discuss the depth and breadth of the church’s mission.  Suffice to say that God is on a mission in the world, and the church is called to participate in His mission.5  How the church participates in God’s mission is through its missions.  “Missions” in the plural, as Wright points out, refers to “the multitude of activities that God’s people can engage in to participate in God’s mission.6

In order for believers to effectively participate in God’s mission they need more than spiritual nurture for their own spiritual growth; they need to be empowered for ministry and mission.  For example, the Bible teaches and commands that all believers are to do the “works of service” (Eph 4:12) and to “make disciples” (Mt 28:19).  The ability to carry out these activities of God’s mission, as it is with all the other activities of God’s mission, does not come naturally.  Believers need to be taught, trained, equipped, and empowered to carry out God’s mission.

Ephesians 4:11-13 states,

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 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

According to the above text, the people in the church are to do the works of service.7  The people who prepare or equip (katartismos) them are the leaders that God gifts to the church, such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.8  R. C. Sproul comments,

“…in addition to ministering to the needs of people, leaders are called to train people, to give them the equipment, the tools, the knowledge and the skills necessary for works of service. The most effective churches that I know are churches where the ministerial staff devote many hours in training and mobilising their congregations to be mighty armies of saints, as they minister to a dying world.”9

The result arising from the leaders’ training and the members’ serving is the building up of the church.10  An end-goal is that the church becomes a “mature man” (andra teleion).  Or, to use our modern-day metaphor—a “healthy church”.

In tandem with the above, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne call for ministry mind-shifts.  Their list of 10 ministry mind-shift items include: from running programmes to building people, from running events to training people, from relying on training institutions to establishing local training, from engaging in management to engaging in ministry and from seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.11

They propose a mental image of the pastor as trainer who functions as a preacher and trainer, instead of a clergyman who is a preacher and service-provider or a CEO who is a preacher and manager.12  Their comparative chart of the three images of the pastor is helpful13 (see Table 4 below).

From the foregoing discussion we understand that church leaders have many responsibilities.  However, in the light of developing a healthy church that effectively engages in its mission, a primary role, then, of church leaders is to empower the people in the church for their mission.

Views on Leadership Roles from Pastors and Church Leaders

In the survey conducted for the research paper, the respondents were asked to choose one from out of six leadership roles that best reflected their leadership role in the church.  The six leadership roles were: (1) teacher and preacher, (2) intercessor, (3) counsellor, (4) pastor, (5) equipper, and (6) oversight.14  An “others” category was included for the respondents to write their own, should none of the above suitably reflected their leadership role.  The results were: teacher and preacher (7 respondents), intercessor (0), counsellor (0), pastor (1), equipper (2), oversight (2), and others (2) (see Appendix B, Table 6).

Secondly, the respondents were asked to rank the leadership roles that church leaders should perform in order of importance (1 being the most important, and 6 being the least important).  From the average ranking collated for each leadership role, teacher and preacher was placed as the most important (average rank of 2.46).  This was followed by the roles of pastor (2.77) and oversight (2.85).  Further down in order of importance were the roles of intercessor (3.61), equipper (4.77), and lastly, counsellor (5.46)15

The views of the respondents reflected the traditional theological perspective of the role of church leaders.  They considered teaching believers the Word of God, providing pastoral care for members, and ensuring proper spiritual governance over the church as the priority functions of church leaders.  Equipping members for service is given a low priority.

However, this view of the respondents goes against the emphasis of many church health proponents, and including Sproul, Marshall and Payne.  The aforementioned experts contend that a primary role of church leaders is to empower the believers for their spiritual growth, service, and mission so that the whole church may be built up (Eph 4:11-13).  For example, when leaders carry out their functions, such as teaching and preaching, it must be with the intent of empowering believers for their spiritual growth, service, and mission, so that the latter can effectively participate in the development of a healthy church and advancement of the Kingdom of God.

CONCLUSION

The research has ascertained that for a church to develop as a healthy church it needs a certain kind of leadership.  It’s a leadership that leads from out of the bond of relationship with the followers and empowers them for service, so that together they may build up the body of Christ.

This is not to say that the other types of leadership attributes are not important.  They are important, but relational leadership is like the foundation upon which all the other leadership types, like the visionary, transformational, and administrative types, build on.  When there is a strong, healthy, and trusting relationship between leaders and followers, the followers will follow the leaders, not because they have to but because they want to.

Similarly, the emphasis on empowering leaders as a primary leadership role is not to deny the importance of the other roles.  However, the leadership role must go beyond the “maintenance” of the personal spiritual lives of the members and corporate spiritual governance of the church to that of empowerment of the members for service and mission, so that everyone can effectively participate to build up the body of Christ.

Jesus exemplified the empowering leader.16  Beyond teaching and preaching to the masses and ministering to their needs, He focussed on training the twelve (Mk 9:30-31, Mt 10:1ff).  Paul exemplified the empowering leader.  Beyond evangelism, planting churches, and teaching, he focussed on training others for ministry and mission such as Timothy, Titus, Silas, Priscilla and Aquila.

The contemporary Malaysian pastor and church leader will do well to emulate their example if they are to develop healthy churches.  The neglect of this vital leadership role of empowering or equipping the church for service might be a major reason for the poor health of many churches in Malaysia.

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 3)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2

The Relational Church Leader

The three NT imageries for church leaders present a common factor that is critical to the meaning of leadership: the relationship between leaders and followers; like parents with their children, shepherds with their flock, and servants with those whom they serve.

“Relational church leaders” may be a suitable term to describe this leadership type.  They place a high value on developing healthy, helpful, and encouraging relationships with those whom they mentor, care for, and serve.  Their effectiveness to lead the church is directly dependent on the relational health they have with the people in the church.

Chin’s explanation of his Father Leadership model is illuminative of relational church leaders.  He writes,

“Father Leadership is a style of leadership based on relationships.  The primary focus is not on a task, but on the person, i.e. the follower.  It is about love and not about doing a job.  Most styles of leadership focus on skills and performance.  Father Leadership flows from the heart.  It is a very powerful and influential form of leadership.”1

Harris W. Lee opines that leadership is a call to three things, one of which is to relationship—with other leaders as well as the people to be led.2  One of John Maxwell’s laws of leadership is the “The Law of Connection: leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”3

Thom S. Rainer submits eight keys of “Acts 6/7 Leadership”; one of which is their “unconditional love of the people.”4  His research led him to conclude that breakout church leaders “communicate(d) clearly their love for the members of the congregation.”5

In a proposal of a composite framework for Christian leader development outcomes Keith R. Krispin’s third category, out of five, is “Relational Skills”.6  He writes,

“At the heart of the leadership process are the relationships between and among leaders and followers.  Thus, relational skills feature prominently in most approaches to leader development.  Relational maturity is also evident in a biblical understanding of leader and the nature of the church, as evidenced in the numerous “one another” passages where believers are commanded to love one another (Jn 13:34-35), care for each other (1 Cor 12:24-25), and forgive one another (Eph 4:2)…. The social skills category includes general communication skills… emotional intelligence…teamwork…conflict management…, and orientation to the broader community and world….”7

In sum, the relationship between leaders and followers is at the heart of church leadership, and the import of this factor calls for relational maturity, especially on the part of the leaders.

The five church health models in the study may appear to present different descriptions for their type of church leader.  However, upon closer scrutiny, an important underlying factor is observed: a healthy relationship between leaders and followers.  Macchia’s, and Koster’s and Wagenveld’s servant-leader is predicated on such a relationship.

Callahan’s four steps of leadership learning and Dever’s four aspects of Christlike leadership (BOSS) are meaningless without such a relationship between leader and follower.  Schwarz’s description is clear that leaders must not only be goal oriented but also relationship oriented.  It is evident that the underlying type of church leader for the above-mentioned church health models is the relational church leader.

Views on Leadership Types from Pastors and Church Leaders

A survey among some pastors and church leaders appear to bear out the above conclusion about the type of leadership that is called for in the church.  A limited random survey was conducted by the researcher for the paper among 13 pastors and church leaders of English-speaking Malaysian churches.

They were asked to choose one from out of seven leadership types that best reflected their personal type of leadership.  The seven leadership types were: (1) coach, (2) visionary, (3) servant, (4) transactional, (5) transformational, (6) relational, and (7) administration.8  An “others” category was included for the respondents to write their own, should none of the above suitably reflected their leadership type.  The results were: coach (2 respondents), visionary (2), servant (3), transactional (0), transformational (1), relational (4), administration (0), and Others – Team (1).

Secondly, the respondents were asked to rank the leadership types in order of importance that church leaders should exemplify (1 being the most important, and 7 being the least important).  From the average ranking collated for each leadership type, visionary leadership came out as the most important (average rank of 2.69), followed very closely by servant (2.84) and relational (2.85) leadership.  Further down the order of importance were coach (3.69) and transformational (4.08) leadership.  The least important types were administration (5) and transactional (6.9) leadership9

The critical importance of visionary leadership in the assessment of the respondents is supported by the views of Christian-based leadership experts.10  However, the respondents also viewed relational leadership as among the most important leadership types that church leaders should embody.  This view is in line with and supported by our study of the NT and the literature review about the church and church health.

It may be surmised that the critical place of relational leadership is likened to the shoulder on which the other leadership types stand on—including visionary leadership.  For example, after a vision has been cast, it is the relationship between the leader(s) and the followers that determines whether the latter will want to join and pursue the vision articulated by the former.

Go to Part 4

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 2)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1

THE TYPE OF CHURCH LEADERS NEEDED FOR A HEALTHY CHURCH

The first part of the research question is, “What is a distinctive type of church leadership that is needed to develop healthy churches?”  By “type” we mean the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders.

The fourth column in Table 2 below presents the views of six (out of nine) church health models about the type of leaders that are needed to develop healthy churches. They appear to differ with one another, if not in substance, then, in the way they describe the leadership attribute of church leaders.

Before we analyse their descriptions, it is essential that we first ascertain NT teaching on the attributes of church leaders.

New Testament Teaching on the Attributes of Church Leaders

Christian leadership characteristics were both demonstrated and taught by NT church leaders like Paul and Peter.  One such NT leadership characteristic is “leadership by example”, which Paul demonstrated during his missionary endeavour in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:5-6).  He also exhorted Timothy to do the same (1 Tim 4:12, 15-16).  Likewise, Peter prodded the elders to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3b).

Another NT leadership characteristic is “firm leadership” as seen in the strong words that Paul used to correct the church in Corinth (1 Cor 5:9-11) and Galatia (Gal 1:6-9).  He also told Timothy to be firm in his teaching (1 Tim 4:11), and to correct those who had erred (1 Tim 6:17).

Yet another NT leadership characteristic is “caring leadership”.  Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was “like a mother caring for her children” (1 Thess 2:7), and like a father who provided support, comfort, and encouragement to his children (v11-12).

The last-mentioned reference suggests another means of understanding NT church leadership characteristic—through the use of imageries.  Paul’s application of the imageries of a mother’s and a father’s relationship with their children, in reference to his relationship with the Thessalonians, illuminates the kind of relationship church leaders ought to have with the members.

The imageries also inform us of the motivation and the role of church leaders.  That is, they are to be motivated by love (1 Thess 2:7-8), and their role is to nurture and encourage believers in the things of God (v11-12).  Thomas Chin calls this “Father Leadership.”1

Closely related to the nuance of the parent imagery to characterise church leaders is the often-used biblical imagery of the shepherd.  Peter applied the imagery to the elders when he addressed them about their responsibility to believers whom he called “God’s flock” (1 Pet 5:2).  Paul used it when he gave his farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20: 28).

As shepherds, church leaders are to exemplify the leadership characteristic of caring for their flock by feeding, guiding, and protecting those under their charge; thus, ensuring that the latter are spiritually healthy.

A third imagery is that of a servant.  Peter told the elders that they were to be “eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you” (1 Pet 5:2b-3a).  Some have termed this as “servant-leadership”.  In contemporary leadership and management teaching, the concept of servant-leadership or servant-leader is attributed to Robert K. Greenleaf.2  Church health proponents such as Macchia,3 and Koster and Wagenveld4 agree that such an attribute ought to mark church leaders.

It is unsurprising that the abovementioned imageries of leadership; parent, shepherd, and servant; were used of Jesus.  They were both self-applied and applied on Him by others.

When the Lord lamented the duplicity of Jerusalem, He said He had come to them like a mother hen gathering her chickens under her wings (Lk 13:33)—which is reminiscent of the parent imagery.

Jesus used the shepherd imagery as He painted a picture of His relationship with His followers (Jn 10:11).  Peter also identified Jesus as the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5:4 to whom the shepherds of the church, the elders, were accountable to for the discharge of their leadership responsibilities.

Jesus applied the servant imagery when He told the disciples that He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).  At the event of the Last Supper He took on the role of a lowly servant and washed the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:1-17).

If Jesus as the Leader of the church exhibited these leadership attributes, it is incumbent then that His appointed leaders in the church also exhibit the same attributes.

Go to Part 3

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 1)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

INTRODUCTION

The New Testament (NT) states that Jesus is the Head of the church (Eph 4:15), and that He is the One who builds His church (Mt 16:18).  These statements make it plain that Jesus is the Leader of His church.

The leaders of local churches are those whom the Lord appoints, and through whom He leads the church (1 Pet 5:1-4).  The focus of the paper is on the leaders of the local church, however, the understanding that Jesus is the ultimate Leader of every church should not be missed.  In the words of Leighton Ford, “Jesus in us continues to lead through us.” 1

The paper assumes that a church must have leadership.  The focus of the research is on the kind of leaders that are needed to develop a healthy church.  The twin problems that the research seeks to answer are: (1) what is a distinctive type of church leadership, and (2) what is a primary role of church leaders, that are essential for the development of a healthy church?

For the purpose of the paper, “type” is defined as the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders.  “Role” is defined as the function of church leaders.  And a “healthy church” may be viewed as a modern metaphor for the mature church that Paul spoke about in Ephesians 4:11-13.2

A delimitation of the paper is that it does not include the factor of church polity.  The subject of church polity is huge and is beyond the scope of the present research.  Finally, the category of leadership viewed in the paper concerns the topmost leadership echelon of the church, regardless of the term that a church may use.  In essence, these leaders are equivalent to the elders in the NT churches.3

The paper begins with a brief review of literature on church health models.  The purpose is to gain an understanding about the relationship between church leadership and church health.  The review is followed by a discussion of the main issues of the paper concerning the type and the role of church leaders that are essential for the development of a healthy church.  The research includes a study of the theology, philosophy, and practice of church leadership from the Bible, Christian literature, and practice among churches in Malaysia.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND CHURCH HEALTH

A review of church health models shows that each model has its own set of church health characteristics.  Some characteristics are common to many of the models, while some are only found in a few models, or even unique to a particular model.

The leadership characteristic is found in many church health models.  Out of the 14 models the researcher has studied nine have included leadership.   However, the way the leadership characteristic is described varies between models, as Table 1: The Leadership Characteristic of Church Health Models below shows.

Getz and Dever stress on the biblical or NT teaching on church leadership.  Getz’s focus concerns the spiritual qualifications of church leaders.4  Based on scriptural references such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 Getz describes the character and maturity expected of church leaders.5

Dever also gives import to the biblical qualifications of church leaders.6  But he goes beyond the qualifications to note the purpose of church leaders; which is to use their spiritual gifts to edify or build up the church.7  Furthermore, he states that there are four different aspects of leadership; namely, (1) the boss commanding, (2) the out-front example, (3) the supplying of what’s needed, and (4) the serving; and that they are all needed for biblical church leadership.8

Macchia’s stress is on the kind of attribute that should be reflected in church leaders—which for him is, servant leadership.[efn-note]Stephen A. Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 115.[/efn_note]  He explains that a servant-leader is one who is led by Jesus, loves those whom he leads and serves, a life-long learner, listens to God and to others, lightens the load of others, empowers a team to pursue a vision, and leaves a legacy by raising others up.9

Callahan’s focus is on the development of a strong leadership team.  The kind of leaders (or leadership team) that Callahan envisages; (1) love those they lead, (2) listen to those they love, (3) learn as they listen, and then (4) lead as they love, listen, and learn.10

 

The remaining five models stress on the role of church leaders to empower believers in the church for ministry and leadership.  They may use different terms such as empowering leadership (Schwarz, and Beeson), mobilising leadership (Koster and Wagenveld), and leadership multiplication (EFCA), but essentially, they are concerned about the role of church leaders to empower the believers in the church.  Although Searcy does not use any qualifying term for his leadership characteristic, nonetheless, his survey questions disclose that his emphasis is also on the role of the leaders to empower others in the church.11

The foregoing discussion shows that a wholistic understanding of the leadership characteristic encompasses four areas: (1) biblical qualifications, (2) spiritual maturity and character, (3) leadership type, and (4) the role of the leaders in the church.

Only three out of nine models; namely, Getz, Dever, and Koster and Wagenveld, address the first two areas about the biblical qualifications and character of church leaders (see Table 2: The Type of Church Leaders of Church Health Models below).

These two areas do not appear to be the concerns of the other six models.  It is likely, although the researcher is unable to cite direct quotes, that proponents of these six models have assumed that church leaders must necessarily be biblically qualified and possess a Christlike character.  Their focus is on the type and the role of church leaders.

The researcher observes that they have different views about leadership types, but they have less differences about the role of church leaders.  All these become clearer when we scrutinise the details of their models in the following sections of the paper.

In sum, the study of church health models shows that:

(1) The leadership factor is one of the most critical elements that determines the health of a church.

(2) The church leadership characteristic in church health philosophy covers four areas: (i) qualification, (ii) character, (iii) type, and (iv) role.

(3) It may be assumed that church health proponents agree about the biblical qualifications, maturity, and character of church leaders.  However, they appear to vary in their understanding about what the distinctive type of church leader should be, and to a lesser extent about the primary role of church leaders.

Go to Part 2

Re-Envisioning Vocational Christian Ministry in the Church in Malaysia in Light of Change (Part 2)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

This paper was written in November 2020 when the government of Malaysia imposed restrictive curbs, SOPs, and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). This significantly affected the activities of the church.

Click here for Part 1

A DESCRIPTION OF THE VOCATIONAL MINISTER IN THE MALAYSIAN CHURCH

Hovorun’s point about self-awareness is also applicable for the vocational minister.  The vocational minister needs to be aware of his person, role and functions as a minister in the church.  Self-awareness allows for self-evaluation and self-correction.

In the Malaysian church the general perception is that the role of the vocational minister is to carry out pastoral functions and to meet the pastoral needs of the members of the church.  A simple example is the expectation of members for the main pastor to visit them in hospital and pray for them.  It is not enough that another pastor or a lay-leader visits and prays for them—it must be the main pastor.  The unfortunate result arising from the institutionalism of the church is the perception and expectation that the work of the pastor is to keep the church serviced.

The minister by nature of his role has many functions.  Seward Hiltner in Ferment in the Ministry lists at least nine important functions: preaching, administering, teaching, shepherding, evangelising, celebrating, reconciling, theologising and discipline.1  With so many and varied ministerial functions what should be the overarching function of the minister if he were to make sense and prioritise his varied functions?

The New Testament Image of the Vocational Minister

The NT word for the pastor is poimēn which means shepherd.2  The term is mostly applied to Jesus (Jn 10:11, 14, 16, Heb 13:20, 1 Pet 2:25, Rev 7:17) and once to describe one of the four kinds of men that the Lord gifts to the church (Eph 4:11).  Cognates of poimēn in the NT include poimainō,3 poimnē,4 and poimnion.5  They are used literally for vocational shepherds and their work of tending their sheep, and also figuratively of Jesus and church leaders and their work of ministry among the people under their care. The use of poimēn and its cognates makes the shepherd imagery an apt description for the minister.

The shepherd imagery, with cues from Psalm 23:1-4, sums up the primary role of the minister as leading, feeding and caring for the people in the church.  Leading includes leading the people to the Lord, to grow in their relationship with Jesus and to learn faith and dependence on Him (Gal 4:19).  It also means leading the church collectively towards the purpose of God (Acts 13:1-3, 15:1-35).  Feeding includes teaching the people the Word of God; its truth and application in their lives.  It also involves training them to be effective disciples and workers in the Kingdom of God (Eph 4:11-13, 2 Tim 2:2).  Caring includes spiritual nurturing, binding up the wounds of the soul through counselling and prayer (Js 5:13-16) and protecting the flock from false teaching (Acts 20:28-35).

The Role of the Vocational Minister in the Malaysian Church

As we return to the description of the vocational minister in the Malaysian church, it is clear that among the three functions of leading, feeding and caring, the caring function is the one most expected of the minister.  The least expected is the leading function, and especially in relation to directing the church towards God’s purpose for the church.  I will pick up on this point in the subsequent section of the paper.  The feeding function lies  between the above two functions in terms of what is expected of the minister.

The church in general may recognise the importance of the minister’s role in feeding the flock with the Word of God but in reality they do not place the minister’s teaching function as important as caring for their needs.  I have observed that many churches do not adequately provide the minister with time and resources to empower him to be an apt teacher of the Word.  Neither do they make the minister’s teaching function his primary role in the church.

Chow Lien Hwa’s article in the SEA Journal of Theology calls for a minister to be a theologian in his church.  It is important because, as Chow says, the minister-theologian has the ability to contextualise theology for his area.6  Sunny Tan Boon Sang echoes the sentiment in a review of Chow’s article, “A resident pastor-theologian would be one who could devote himself/herself to the ongoing task of facilitating and supervising the work of theology in a local church.”7  This reminder is even more critical in the context of change because the ability of the minister to determine and lead a right response to the challenge of change requires sound understanding and teaching from Scripture (2 Tim 2:15).

Go to Part 3

Church Strategic Planning Literature Review (Part 3)

(Click here for Part 1 & here for Part 2)

THE CONGREGATIONAL-CULTURE STRATEGY

The quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” has been attributed to management guru Peter Drucker.1  The statement implies that the culture of an organisation determines its success regardless of how effective its strategy may be.2  Hence, nurturing a healthy corporate culture that everyone buys into is critical to the success of the organisation.  In view of the foregoing statements it may appear that the term “congregational-culture strategy” is self-contradictory.  I am referring to the need for a church to attend to its congregational culture as a strategic means for its health.

Aubrey Malphurs, in his book Look Before You Lead: How to Discern & Shape Your Church Culture, defines a church’s congregational culture as “its unique expression of its shared values and beliefs.3  That means, one, a church’s congregational culture is made up of three components: its beliefs, values and behaviour.4  Two, these beliefs and values are held in common by the majority in the church.5  Three, these shared beliefs and values are seen in the expressions or behaviour of the people in the church which gives the church its unique identity6 vis-à-vis another church that, for the same reason, has its own distinct congregational culture.

Malphurs use of the term “beliefs” is not about a church’s doctrinal position but as it concerns the fundamental aspects of the church’s congregational life.7  These beliefs are convictions that the people in the church assume to be true and they are not subject to rational proof.8  It is from the root of its beliefs that a church’s values are formed.9  The values tell us why a church does what it does.10  However, they only become actual values when they are acted on.  Those values that are not acted on remain merely as aspirational values.11  When the values are acted on they are seen in the behaviour of the people in the church, which becomes the outward or visible evidence of its congregational culture.

If the culture of a church is vital to the success of the church, it is inevitable then, that conscious effort is taken to shape the church’s culture so that it produces a healthy church.  Malphurs states that the person that has the greatest responsibility to shape a church’s culture is the pastor.12  It is by no means an easy task, because shaping congregational culture requires change.  Malphurs explains the preparation, personnel and process required to shape the culture of a church.13  Preparation includes praying for change, doing a church analysis, reading the church’s culture, and managing change.14  Process includes reading the church’s current culture, thawing out the current culture, transitioning the culture to a new level, and re-forming the new culture at the new level.15  Personnel is about the kind of person the pastor ought to be if he is to successfully steer the church to a culture change.

Malphurs other book Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders16 is a useful companion to Look Before Your Lead.  Although the former was written before the latter, the right order to read the books would be the latter before the former.  Look Before You Lead provides the big picture about the necessity to shape congregational culture for church health and the steps that a pastor or church leaders may take to bring about the needed change.  Advanced Strategic Planning goes into the nuts and bolts about developing a church’s core values, mission and vision statements, and ministry strategy.

The importance of shaping congregational culture as a strategic means for developing healthy churches is found in Malphurs’ statement, “we’ve discovered that it’s a waste of time and money to attempt to lead a culturally toxic church that clings to the traditions of men rather than the clear teaching of Scripture through the strategic-envisioning process.”17  In light of this statement, shaping congregational culture is an indispensable requirement to develop healthy churches.  One of the research questions in Matthew C. McCraw’s dissertation made this inquiry, “Of the local churches that possesses a healthy organizational culture what steps were taken to intentionally create culture?”18  His research conclusion from the case studies “revealed the steps that each (church) took to create a healthy culture in their congregations.”19  In other words, shaping congregational culture has to be intentional and definite steps must be taken towards accomplishing that intentionality.

 

CONCLUSION

As I stated in the introduction, the three categories of strategic planning towards church health, namely Characteristic-Development, Process-Driven and Congregational-Culture are not mutually exclusive.  For example, the use of NCD principles or PDC model is not simply about establishing church health via the development of the critical characteristics of a healthy church or moving people through a process of discipleship respectively.  For the ethos of NCD or PDC to work effectively the churches that use these strategies need to have a congregational culture that upholds these philosophies of ministry respectively.  Hence, determining what ought to be the desired congregational culture and shaping it to become that which is desired must be the starting point for any strategic plan to develop a healthy church.

All three strategies are useful.  They are to be used at different phases of change and improvement of a church’s health because they are targeted at different levels of a church’s corporate life.  The congregational-culture strategy helps set the foundation for what the pastor and church leaders believe should be the overarching ethos of the church.  The process-driven strategy helps to establish a church-wide process that the church leadership believe will move its people, to use Rick Warren’s term, from community to core.20  Finally, the characteristic-development strategy helps church leaders to target attention on specific areas of church life and ministry.  When all three strategies are used in concert with one another it will serve to significantly improve the health of the church.

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Church Health Literature Review (Part 3)

(Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2)

THE ORGANIC-MISSIONAL APPROACH TO CHURCH HEALTH

With reference to the last point above, indeed one of the criticisms levelled against church health teaching, especially the principle approach, is that it is too much focussed on the church body.  Charles Van Eggen remarks that seven out of NCD’s eight quality characteristics, the possible exception being “need-oriented evangelism”, are concerned almost exclusively with the internal life of the church.1  Ed Stetzer, who propounds a missional matrix of christology, ecclesiology and missiology, comments that the Church Health Movement focuses largely on ecclesiology in order to grow.  Hence, Stetzer argues, “by emphasizing ecclesiology, with a limited Christology and an absent missiology, the Church Health Movement stepped outside of the scriptural and theological foundation leading to blindness to the world outside the church walls.”2  That is to say, if missions or the Great Commission is not the focus and pursuit of the church the latter cannot be deemed to be healthy.

This is where the organic-missional approach to church health needs to be seriously considered.  The primary proponent of this approach is Neil Cole who wrote Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.3  The purpose of “organic churches” is to multiply healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements,4 and this multiplication can happen anywhere and everywhere.5  They endeavour to accomplish their purpose by emphasising on the health and the natural means of reproducing the foregoing.[end_notes]Ibid, 23[/efn_note]  Cole argues for the organic nature of the Kingdom of God.6  He uses the agricultural-setting parables of Jesus as his Scriptural basis for organic churches: the sower7 (Mk 4:3-20), the growing seed8 (Mk 4:26-29), and the mustard seed[end_note]Ibid, 97-98[/efn_note] (Mk 4:30-32).

As far as the organic nature of the church is concerned Schwarz and Cole are in agreement.  How they apply that biblical truth, however, differ.  Schwarz would say that we need to produce a healthy environment for the church to grow.9  Cole would say we need to produce the right DNA at every level: the individual disciple, small groups, church and movement so that growth and reproduction take place.10

The stress on the organic nature of the church may at first appear to be the overriding characteristic in Cole’s idea of the church because of the name given to it, namely “the organic church”.  However, the missional aspect of his idea of church cannot be glossed over as secondary.  Missions is at the very heart or thrust of the organic church.11  Indeed his understanding of the DNA of the church is made up of Divine truth, Nurturing relationships and Apostolic mission.12  This DNA may also be seen as Cole’s short list of characteristics of a healthy church, and missions is not only one of three critical components it is also the outward thrust for the church.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis And The Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything13 has similarities with Cole’s Organic Church.  The trellis refers to the structures and programmes that support the ministry of the church.  The vine essentially refers to the people who are part of the Body of Christ or who will eventually be incorporated into His Body.  Marshall and Payne write, “This is what the growing of the vine really is: it is individual, born-again believers, grafted into Christ by his word and Spirit, and drawn into mutually edifying fellowship with one another.”14  In essence The Trellis and the Vine is the authors’ argument for the church to make paramount disciple-making.  “Church health” is not a term they use, but it would be right to say that in their view when a church gives attention to the vine work of making disciples the church will be healthy.  Their follow up book The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making15 provides a detailed roadmap for churches who wish to embark on this journey.  The two key things that such churches must do is one, to develop a culture of making disciples16 and two, multiplying gospel growth through training co-workers.17

It seems odd that while the title of the book is The Trellis and the Vine, nothing significant is said about the trellis.  When the trellis is mentioned it is written with a negative view—that churches have allowed structures, programmes, polity, management and the like to stifle disciple-making.18

Cole’s Organic Church has a better balance, to use Marshall’s and Payne’s imagery, of the trellis and the vine.  Cole writes, “Structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible, and internal rather than external.”19  He goes on to draw an imagery from the exoskeleton and endoskeleton of the human body.  He writes, “The structure should not be seen, yet the results of it should be evident throughout the body.  Organization must be secondary to life and must exist to help support the organic life of the body.”20  The church as a living spiritual organism must inevitably be organised.  However, the structures must not dominate the church’s missional purpose of making disciples but to serve it. 

 

CONCLUSION

Each individual approach to church health, principle, biblical and organic-missional, is insufficient to provide us with a comprehensive study and understanding of church health.  The three approaches should be woven together if we are to have a better grasp about what constitutes a healthy church and how we are to measure it.  The student of church health must begin by studying what the Bible says about the church—what it is and what it is to do, as the advocates of the biblical approach would counsel us.  What the Bible says must form the foundation for any definition and set of characteristics of a healthy church.

However, simply knowing what the Bible says about the church is, by itself, insufficient to determine the health of a church.  The latter needs to be analysed, and the process of analysis should include the use of social science research tools. This is one aspect that the principle approach to church health has to offer.  To be certain, the areas to be “measured” are not simply from an organisational aspect, collections and attendance at worship services.  What the Bible says about the life and calling of the church must be our guide.  In this sense the commitment and effectiveness of a church to its missional calling and the Lord’s commission to make disciples, that the organic-missional approach stresses, must play a prominent part in the assessment of the health of a church.

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches