Saturday, January 01, 2005


Sometimes ideas come to me in the shower. For some strange reason while I was in the shower, I began reflecting on the Church Growth Movement and what I think are some flaws in its approach.

First some caveats. I graduated from Asbury Seminary. If Fuller Seminary is the epicenter of the Church Growth Movement, then Asbury is the first aftershock. It makes sense if you think about it. The Arminian tradition that has shaped Asbury has always placed more emphasis on the power of the individual person to follow Christ and the power of the church to influence others to be part of the church. So the Church Growth Movements emphasis on technique and methodology fits in well with the tradition.

Second, I have benefitted from practitioners of the Church Growth Movement. I even took a class with George Hunter called "Principles of Church Growth." There were things I liked about the class and things I did not like about the class.

With the caveats out of the way let me surface my main problem. It is not that the movement emphasizes evangelism at the expense of discipleship or that it emphasizes buildings or that it encourages pastors to be ranchers rather than shepherds. I do have problems with these things, but I think these are symptoms of a deeper problem.

The central inadequacy of the Church Growth Movement is that it assumes a faulty anthropology. It gives much more weight to the power of technique to influence the behavior of persons than I believe the Bible does. I think men and women are fallen and are bondage to sin. Even our wills are in bondage. Now, I am not a high Calvinist. I do place myself within the Augustinian tradition, but I see an "Arminian" like John Wesley in the Augustinian tradition as well. What do I mean by Augustinian? That the primary factor in moving men and women to believe in Christ, to join the church, to grow spiritually is the grace of God. Where I differ from a high Calvinist is that I think this grace is potentially available to everyone -- not just to a select few called the "elect."

Seeing people come to faith, seeing people grow, seeing people come into the life of the church is a WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. I am not saying that those who minister have nothing to do or that those who follow Christ do not need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. But the primary factor in the work of God in a person's life is the Holy Spirit undoing the bondage to sin we have all inherited from Adam.

The Church Growth Movement ignores this anthropology and proposes methodologies that are based on the power of human technique and assertion. But the progress gospel does not depend on right technique. The progress of the gospel is the result of a symbiotic combination of faithful articulation and embodiment of the Kingdom of God joined with the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women.

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