Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Principle of Receptivity

Last week, we discussed the Homogeneous Principle. This week I would like to discuss another principle found at the heart of the Church Growth Movement is the Principle of Receptivity. The Principle of Receptivity is derived from the observation that churches grow at a very uneven pace. Some populations become receptive to the gospel message while others do not. Equally, some segments of a given population may become more receptive to the gospel while other segments are not. The Principle of Receptivity argues that the bulk of the evangelistic enterprise should be focused upon populations who are demonstrating a higher receptivity to the gospel. In relation to this, C. Peter Wagner notes that there are several factors that one may examine in order to determine whether or not a given population shows a high degree of receptivity. First, is the establishment of new settlements, or an influx of people into an area. Second, is the return of travelers such as migrant workers or soldiers. Third is the conquest by a foreign power. Fourth is a rise in nationalism and the strong identity of a given population. Fifth is a shifting religious paradigm, such as the rise of postmodernism or the death of Confucianism. Finally, establishing freedom from control. This may be seen in the case of a group recently freed from prison to a nation which overthrows its dictator.

Theologically, Wagner defends this principle through what he calls a "harvest principle." The fundamental principle of farming is that of the harvest. The farmer's goal is to gather in a crop of whatever he planted. Wagner cites Jesus' parable of the sower whose seeds fell into four places. Only one of the four places was a fruitful location for the seed. The seed that fell on good ground produced fruit in great quantities. The "soil," according to this interpretation, is "people who have been so prepared that they hear the word and understand it." From this, Wagner concludes that effective strategies of evangelism attempt to identify the most receptive people. Practically speaking, Wagner supports this principle by pointing to various areas of the world that are clearly more receptive to the gospel than others, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Ralph Elliot is perhaps the most vocal critic of the Principle of Receptivity. He essentially finds two broad problems with the principle. First, because church growth strategists use sociological and anthropological tools to determine receptivity, Elliot finds little emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the role of the Holy Spirit. However, such critics misunderstand church growth when they fail to see the movement's dependence on the power of God in church growth strategy. Sociology and anthropology should not be set in opposition to the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Human effort does not exclude the work of God. Second, Elliot argues that the application of the principle would lead to the neglect of the most needy, simply because they are not receptive. He is particularly concerned about the neglect of the city and the church growth preference of the suburbs.

However, abandonment is not called for, as the fields must be sown. Stony fields must be plowed before they are sown. No one should conclude that if receptivity is low, the church should withdraw evangelistic efforts. Wagner notes that correct policy is to occupy fields of low receptivity lightly. The harvest will ripen someday. Their populations are made up of men and women for whom Christ died. While they continue in their rebellious and resistant state, they should be given the opportunity to hear the gospel in as courteous a way as possible. But they should not be heavily occupied lest, fearing that they will be swamped by Christians, they become even more resistant.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Homogeneous Unit Principle

In his book, The Bridges of God, Donald McGavran discusses one of the foundational truths of the church growth movement – that when people accept Christ, they generally do not want to cross racial, linguistic, or class barriers. From this finding, the concept of the Homogeneous Unit Principle was developed, and later propagated by McGavran’s student, C. Peter Wagner. According to Wagner, a Homogeneous Unit may be defined as a section of society in which all the members have some characteristic in common. This common characteristic typically has to do with race, language, class, or custom. Church growth advocates argue that when planning evangelism strategies, one should closely examine homogeneous units, and attempt to focus upon only one during the course of your evangelism. Practitioners of this principle often employ strategies similar to Rick Warren’s strategy at Saddleback. Discover the largest homogeneous unit in their community and identifying them as "Saddleback Sam" or "Saddleback Sally." And then gearing every aspect of the church toward reaching that group.

Proponents of the Homogeneous Unit Principle argue that this method is the best strategy for evangelism for two primary reasons. First, because it closely follows the evangelistic strategy employed by Jesus during his incarnation. It was God’s love for the world that prompted the incarnation (John 3:16). However, to reach the whole world, Jesus began with a defined target audience. His niche was among the Israelites. He ate, dressed, spoke, and lived like an Israelite. It is no surprise, then, that his tactical plan started with Israelites as his target audience. When selecting his disciples, Jesus remained in his homogeneous unit. No Gentile, Samaritan, Idumean, or even a Hellenistic Jew was part of the Twelve. Jesus gathered an inner circle of men from his target audience to begin winning the world. Second, pragmatically, Wagner argues we should employ the Homogeneous Unit Principle because it is a very effective means of evangelization. In his book, Understanding Church Growth, Wagner cites examples from India, Taiwan, Mexico and Denver to illustrate that when the Homogeneous Unit Principle is properly applied, the gospel quickly spreads.

Critics of the Church Growth Movement have often centered their critique upon the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Their critique often echoes John MacArthur’s question of why most churches always seem to focus upon white middle class families in their late 20’s and early 30’s? Critics of the homogeneous unit principle argue that focusing upon only one people group will lead to a deepening of the already sharply segregated religious landscape in the United States. Some, such as Liston Pope argued that the Homogeneous Unit Principle retarded the process of congregational integration that must take place to reflect the true nature and purpose of the church.

Both McGavran and Wagner recognized the fact that, if misused, the Homogeneous Unit Principle could lead to more segregated churches, thus their admonition to use the principle wisely. In addition both Wagner and McGavran both stress that disciples should be taught that all Christians are one in Christ, and thus should not divide based upon race or class. However, in the end Wagner recognized that the Homogeneous Unit principle was such a valuable tool, it should be used even if it created racial discord. Wagner notes ""If strenuous evangelism means to multiply homogeneous churches, multiply them . . .. The evangelistic mandate is more important than the cultural mandate."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Missouri Baptists and the Cooperative Program

In the Southern Baptist Convention, CP giving is being stressed now more than ever. When I was in seminary, lessons on the Cooperative Program became required for every student. I had one class that met for the specific purpose of learning convention history and function, which concluded with a visit to the ’05 National Convention in Nashville. In this class we discussed CP giving on the state side – and how it was originally set up so that states would keep 50% of their CP giving, and send the other 50% to fund national entities. While that may have been the original idea, that has not been the norm. In fact, the vast majority of states keep much more than their allotted 50%.

When I returned to Missouri in ’06, I was quite dissapointed to find out that my beloved convention was keeping 62% of its CP funds in state. In my mind this seemed like an enormous amount. In fact, I’ll admit that when I first heard this, I figured that our state probably kept more money in house than the vast majority of state conventions. Appaerentally, I am not the only one who has felt this way. There have been pastors from several sectors in MBC life that has complained of the amount that we keep to ourselves. Some have gone so far as to lead their church to skip the state level all together and send their money directly to the national convention. I breifly considered this option myself, but then thought it best to first study this matter a little further. What follows is the fruition of my investigation. I have arrainged our state conventions based upon their giving, highest to lowest (based on percentages), and listed their individual percentages. This information was gleaned from the SBC website here.

Rank - State - % Kept - % Sent
1. - Mississippi - 40.40 - 59.60
2. - SBTC - 41.01 - 58.99
3. - SBCV - 49 - 50
4. - Alabama - 57.71 - 42.29
5. - Georgia - 57.87 - 42.13
6. - Illinois - 58.03 - 41.97
7. - Arkansas - 58.23 - 41.77
8. - S. Carolina - 58.99 - 41.01
9. - Mary./Del. - 60.5 - 40.37
10. - Ohio - 60 - 40
10. - Oklahoma - 60 - 40
11. - Florida - 61.90 - 38.10
12. - Tennessee - 62.25 - 37.75
13. - Missouri - 62.5 - 37.5
13. - West Virginia - 62.5 - 37.5
14. - BGCT - 63.61 - 36.39
15. - Kentucky - 64.66 - 36.04
16. - D.C. - 65 - 35
17. - Louisiana - 64.5 - 34.36
18. - Alaska - 67.02 - 32.98
19. - Wyoming - 67.75 - 32.25
20. - Michigan - 68.26 - 31.74
21. - Hawaii - 68.5 - 31.5
22. - Kan./Neb. - 68.59 - 31.41
23. - Indiana - 69.03 - 30.97
24. - New Mexico - 70.02 - 29.98
25. - California - 70.16 - 29.84
26. - Colorado - 70.99 - 29.01
27. - Nevada - 71.25 - 28.75
28. - N. Carolina - 72.80 - 27.20
29. - Iowa - 74.22 - 25.78
30. - New York - 74.58 - 25.42
31. - Arizona - 75.03 - 24.97
32. - Northwest - 75.15 - 24.85
33. - Penn./S. Jer. - 75.76 - 24.24
34. - Montana - 78.07 - 21.93
35. - New England - 78.54 - 21.46
36. - Utah/Idaho - 79.00 - 21.00
37. - BGAV - 86.29 - 13.71
38. - Dakotas - 86.74 - 13.26
39. - Minn./Wis. - 86.79 - 13.21

There are a few surprises here. First, that percentage wise, Mississippi comes out as the top CP giver. Good job Mississippi! I honestly would have never guessed that myself, especially since the Southern Baptists of Texas keep tooting their own horn about how much they send on to the SBC.

Second, when compared to other state conventions, Missouri’s giving isn’t all that bad. Missouri is well above the median average in giving (n=20, Missouri = 13), and it is also above the national average in giving as well (n=33.07%, Missouri=37.5%).

Now, while I do not think that this is cause for celebration, I also don’t think it’s time for alarm either (at least not stateside). Our giving is considerably better than the vast majority of state conventions, and our current state leadership has a plan to increase Missouri’s CP giving for the next several years. That said, I think it would be prudent to stick with our current form of CP giving – through the state convention. If churches started to circumvent the state now, the loss of income stateside would likely give some the steam needed to move toward actually giving less to the SBC.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Church Growth and Its Relation to Evangelism

Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God's commission to "make disciples of all peoples"(Matt. 28:18-20). Students of church growth strive to integrate the eternal theological principles of God's Word concerning the expansion of the church with the best insights of contemporary social and behavioral sciences, employing as the initial framework of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran.

This definition, though wordy, includes some of the basic tenets of church growth. First, it emphasizes that church growth is a discipline, that is, a field of study or a system with distinct characteristics. Church growth is accepted around the world as a discipline worthy of recognition. As is evidenced by the number of classes taught at countless seminaries and that Bible colleges and professorships of church growth are increasing in number. Second, it shows that church growth is interested in disciple making. It is not merely a number-counting emphasis. Third, this definition demonstrates that church growth is founded on God's Word. Both implicitly and explicitly there is a high view of Scripture in the literature emanating from church growth writers. Fourth, it shows that church growth integrates social and behavioral sciences to help determine how churches grow. For example, demographic studies are one of many church growth tools. While demography is not necessarily a biblical concept, neither is it unbiblical. Any tool or method that is not contrary to the Bible can be used in understanding church growth. Finally, church growth, as a modern-day movement, began with the work of Donald McGavran in India. His book The Bridges of God, published in 1955, is the "birth certificate" of church growth, and is still often referred to as the foundational work on church growth principles.

Since the Bridges of God was published in 1955, the concepts of evangelism and Church Growth have been joined to such an extent that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. In many ways it can be suggested that evangelism is the purpose of Church Growth, whereas Church Growth is the process of evangelism. With that in mind it would be important to remember that while the definition of evangelism has largely remained unchanged, the process of evangelism (Church Growth principles) have changed dramatically in the past fifty years. The greatest reason that the process of evangelism has changed so much in the past fifty years is that there has been a great paradigm shift in our society. That shift has incorporated five basic changes in our culture.

First, the emergence of what may be called the "new paganism." Until the late 1960s Christians could use Christian language with a level of assurance that most of America understood them. However, in the span of about one generation, our culture has changed dramatically. Today, the typical lost person has little to no working knowledge of Christianity or its language. Second, the amount of free time to the individual has become very scarce. As such, time is a fiercely guarded. Because of this, many consider an evangelistic visit as an invasion of privacy or a theft of time. Third, a focus on unmet needs. Evangelism which does not recognize the hungering for fulfillment will not communicate the gospel effectively. Of course, the need for a Savior is the greatest need for humanity. Yet, most of the time other more temporal needs must be met to gain a hearing. Fourth, the break up of relationships, which discourage lasting, life-changing relationships. Finally, Lack of relevancy. Most churches today simply are irrelevant to most of society. The language, methodology, music, organizations, buildings, and sermons typically do not reflect the world in which most people live.

Church Growth methods have begun to change in order to address this paradigm shift. This can be seen in the Church Growth movement’s emphasis in areas such as small groups, the rescheduling of services, the relevancy and meaning of worship, and a new emphasis in evangelistic training methods.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Homeward Bound

Sometimes the best part of a vacation is heading back to the familiar – that which you thought that you wanted to escape from. We left Gatlinburg fairly early in the morning and began our 9.5 hour trek back to Festus for another night with the in-laws. Our route took us through the whole of Tennessee, a bit of Kentucky, and into the boot heel of Missouri. If I am not mistaken, I believe that this was the farthest south in the state that I’ve ever been. Somewhere along the way baby Jack developed a fever that stuck with him for several days, which was a bummer. But other than that it was a smooth trip.
I had heard that the new Cabelas in Hazelwood was a sight to see, so I dropped Andrea and Jack off at her parent’s house and headed up to see it. While it was a nice store, it was not all that people have made of it. It seemed roughly the same size as the one in Kansas City, but with fewer mounts. Its staff was what has become typical among the bigger sporting goods retailers – young guys who love to talk about themselves with no clue about the products they are trying to sell. Fortunately I had done my homework before going in, and ended up buying a belated Father’s Day present for myself – a 6ft medium light spinning rod from St. Croix’s new Triumph line. I’ve yet to fish it, but the rod itself is virtually identical to Croix’s Premiere line, but $20 cheaper. While I wasn’t overly impressed by the Cabelas, in Tennessee I did stumble across a growing chain of retailer’s called Ganders mtn. I was impressed by this store. It was fair sized & didn’t have all of the trinkets that many sporting goods stores sell (who needs a "Barry the Bass" mailbox any ways?). Their staff seemed OK and they had a lot of specialty items in stock that are tough to find in a catalog, let alone in a retail store. Of course this chain has a store in every state bordering Missouri, but not Missouri itself, which stinks. So if you’re a Ganders mtn. exec., who stumbled across this site by accident, open a store in Missouri. Preferably one near the Lake of the Ozarks, on the Eldon side.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Smoky Mountains

Today would be our most relaxing day of vacation & a day I have been looking forward to, a trip up into the Smoky mountains. I’ll be honest with you, I did not like Gatlinburg. Too many cars, too many people – picture Branson’s busiest day on super-steroids – that’s how bad it was. However, once we got into the mountains, things sort of cleared up. There would only be a few cars on the roads with you, and the trails were virtually people free. The only time things got bad is when you stopped on a major overlook, but even then it wasn’t too bad.
After a few hours in the park, momma and baby Jack were ready to head back. So we went to the hotel and got naps, ate, and just milled around for a while. Of an evening we decided to go to a Ripley’s aqarium that was just down the road from our hotel. In the beginning, I thought we were getting ripped off by paying $20 a head to get in (Jack was free), but we all really enjoyed it. We ended up staying for over three hours, and only left when it was time for Jack to eat. All in all, this was the best day of our vacation.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On The Road...Again

Most of my time on this vacation was spent driving. We drove three hours to Festus, spent a day, and then drove six hours to Louisville, and spent a day, and today we set out for yet another road trip, this time to Gatlinburg, TN, or, the "Redneck Riviera" as one of our friends from the area put it. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there from Louisville, so I MapQuested it, got directions, and was told that it would take about 4.5 hours to get there. I figured that wouldn’t be bad – as we could get there early in the day & buzz around before turning in for the night. However, Mapquest failed to mention anything about construction. That, along with traffic, rush hour Knoxville, and bumper to bumper traffic in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, made that 4.5 hour trip into a seven hour trip. Needless to say, by the time we made it to the hotel, the last thing I wanted to do was go out to do anything. My wife finally convinced me to go and walk down to a nearby restaurant, a Corkey’s barbecue place. It was quite good, but in Gatlinburg, I quickly found that the pedestrian traffic, somehow, is even worse that the vehicular traffic.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Back To School?

I don’t know why, but every single time I think about going back to school, I think about the song Adam Sandler sang in Billy Madison as he waited for the school bus on his first day of school. Since I have spent roughly 23 years of my 28-year-old life in school, you can bet that I’ve thought of that song way too much.
Today marks the "purpose" of this trip – taking an essay test and having an interview as the final step in the application process for a Ph.D. from Southern. Prior to the test, we were given a reading list that was two pages long, and a list of six possible essays to study from. On the test day, we were given two questions from the study sheet, and two hours to write on the one of our choice. I was given the one question that I didn’t want to touch with a 10ft. pole, and another that I was moderately comfortable with, wrote for about 1 hour and 50 minutes, and walked out feeling better about my essay than I did walking in.
After this ordeal was over, I couldn’t help but to feel blessed – whether I am accepted to this very competitive program or not, I feel blessed. God has seen me through many trials to come to a place that I never thought (or planned) that I would see. From what I understand, my great grandfather received a little "home" education. Grandfather dropped out of school when the depression started to help make ends meet. My father was the first to finish high school. I was the first to go to college, and earn a masters degree, and now I’m the first to aim for a terminal degree. Honestly, had someone told me about all of this ten years ago, I’d have laughed at them. But God will take you to unexpected places, if only you will let him.
That evening, we stayed on campus and visited with some old friends still living there. We went to the "stairwell," where we lived on campus for three years and introduced everyone to Jack, and got to meet a couple of new babies ourselves. God is doing great things in all of their lives as well, we should all be so thankful for it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Louisville Bound

Today on our vacation (technically one week ago mind you) Andrea and I began our day with worship at the First Baptist Church, Festus/Crystal City, where Andrea grew up. After a long search, they had invited a gentleman to come in view of a call for their Associate Pastor position. I forget his name, but he preached a solid, textually driven sermon, so kudos to him for that. We couldn’t stick around for the vote during the evening service, but I got the impression that everyone liked him, and that they would vote to call him. If so, I think he will be an asset to that church.
After the service we knew that we needed to get going if we were going to make it to Louisville at a decent hour, so we caught lunch on the go & hit the road. Depending on who’s driving, it takes about 5 to 5.5 hours to make it to Louisville from Festus. This was our first trip there with a baby in tow so that added some stops. Add in the time change and it was around sevenish before we got to the Legacy Center.
Southern, for those of you who don’t know, is my Alma Mater, and in many ways I was glad to be back on campus. My years at Southern prompted a sharp focus upon those things that I should have been learning in my church, but had not. My three years there were good years, where we made great friends, and fell even deeper in love with an awesome God. Even though I was born and bred in Missouri, and I’m serving there now, in a very real sense it felt as if I was home on Southern’s campus. Here’s hoping to many more "homecomings" in the future.

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