Why Churches Need Small Groups

Small_Group_logo

Developing small group ministry in the church is important to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[1] Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other. And finally the church’s members need to serve one another and serve the community at large. Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[2] and inward-focused groups die. Dempsey then demonstrates the necessity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[3]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Earley and Dempsey further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[4] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Earley and Dempsey illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Earley and Dempsey convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[5] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold expounds, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[6] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[3] Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group.”

[4] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.

 

A Comprehensive Analysis and Plan to Stop Children From Leaving the Faith

Family ministry stick figures

Since the beginning of creation, God instituted the family as the primary place for parents to model, teach, and train children of His love, His nature, and His character. It is in this environment, a child should first experience the love of his or her earthly father, to gain but a glimpse of the Heavenly Father’s love. Unfortunately, due to the fall of man, sin entered into the world and as a result, Satan now wants nothing more than to attack the family because he knows if he can divide the family, the children will become isolated and defenseless. This strategy has proven very effective, spawning an entire generation of spiritual orphans, often referred to as the “fatherless generation,” many of which come from broken homes, facing deep-rooted abandonment issues, so the church is left with the dilemma of not only stopping children from leaving the faith, but also rescuing those who have. In order to reclaim families for God’s kingdom, the church must implement a comprehensive family discipleship strategy, which is rooted in the recovery of a biblical understanding of the pastor’s primary role being equipping the saints to do the ministry and refocuses on training parents to be the primary disciple makers in the home. Only by providing a biblically sound and safe environment, rooted in love, acceptance, and forgiveness will the church will be appropriately positioned to provide discipleship, restoration, and wholeness to this lost generation, which represents a vital component in the future of the church.

CURRENT STATE OF FAMILY DISCIPLESHIP

There is no denying the future of the church will largely depend on the success of family ministry. Roland Martinson offers the best picture of the current state of family discipleship, “Today’s 18- to 30-year-olds grew up in a time in which children were devalued. Forty percent raised themselves and grew up alone and very often they were lost in a complex web of changing human identity, relationships, and lifestyles. Disconnected from the church, this young adult generation’s religious drift is more expansive and has continued longer.”[1] This trend has only continued to get worse as Martinson further explains, “On almost any Sunday, these young adults are absent, invisible in our churches and as their faith experience shifts, more young adults go away and stay away. The chasm between language, symbols, and music of the church and the realities of their world has become great, making them feel like strangers in their churches.”[2] While there are multiple approaches to family ministry and discipleship, Randy Stinson could not be more correct in his assertion that: “Family ministry is necessary and significant because families are under siege, because husbands and fathers have been marginalized, because what we have been doing is ineffective, because the church is a family, and because families are wanting to be led.”[3] God calls every believing parent to train his or her children in the Christian faith and this model can be traced back to Abraham (Genesis 18:19), Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:1-12; Exodus 12:25-28), and any Jewish home as the primary place for spiritual training (Proverbs 1:8). Timothy Paul Jones further demonstrates, “When evangelism, worship, and discipleship for children and youth occur in isolation from, and, at times, with disdain for, their counterparts, it is difficult to see how the hearts of parents and children can consistently be turned toward one another.”[4] For many churches, Sunday school and services geared towards children and youth have become more about entertaining the kids and keeping them happy while mom and dad enjoy feel-good services. Churches and pastors are not babysitters and parents, as well as the children should be challenged each service, in the lessons being taught, to live a life pleasing to the Lord and one in which brings honor and glory to His name. For this to happen, families need to remain united in each other’s spiritual growth, because it is impossible to spiritually disciple someone further than the individual himself or herself has personally developed. No longer can parents delegate the spiritual upbringing of his or her children to teachers or pastors. No longer can parents just say, “Because I said so,” or, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The most important lessons in life are witnessed in the home and it is in this environment and context that children determine what is normal and acceptable in friendships and intimate relationships. For real change to occur, parents must consciously devote time to teach children, and the children must equally be open to instruction and discipleship. Parents must realize before correction can be given, instruction must first be provided and for many parents, this is not a high priority in the scope of parental responsibilities. Many parents feel this way because it was the same dynamic he or she experienced growing up and this cycle has continued to reproduce an entire generation who do not know the first thing about being a parent nor what God has called mothers and fathers to be and do. Thomas Frederick explains how spirituality is an important aspect of being human, but he takes this truth one step further by advocating, “Discipleship is the core of Christian spirituality, and is vital for fostering one’s relationship to the transcendent.”[5] The crisis of faith in the lives of young adults is happening earlier in life and David Wells illustrates how, “The issues of what we know, how we know, whether we can know with any certitude is now being made far more complex by the fact that our cognitive horizons have been unavoidably expanded. Now, our inward crisis is being framed by our globalized consciousness and that puts a slightly different edge on what it means to be postmodern.”[6] In an age where knowledge is relevant and perception is reality, reaching a generation that feels abandoned requires bridging a wide gap of affluence and lifestyles. However, Jesus, the King of kings, regularly did this during His earthly ministry as He dined and met with individuals who society deemed as outcasts. Christians too are called to be Christlike, so just as Christ came to set the captives free, the church must begin looking outside the four walls for areas of ministry in the local community.

Choices have consequences and many people, especially younger ones, learn life-lessons the hard way. Just as parents must devote time to teaching, children must also learn about the effects of sin. Tyndale shows, “Many parents want to make all the choices for their child, but this hurts him or her in the long run. When parents teach a child how to make decisions, they don’t have to watch every step he or she takes. They know their children will remain on the right path because they have made the choice themselves. Train your children to choose the right way.”[7] One of the biggest problems facing many parents today is a desire to be the child’s friend instead of being a parent, because being a parent requires doing things that might upset the child. This mentality is backwards and has caused many children to never be trained properly from a young age, resulting in a life full of bad decisions and regret.

The only way to break this cycle is for parents to take an active role in the discipleship process. Andrew Burggraff defines discipleship as the process of learning the Scripture, internalizing them to shape one’s belief system, and then applying them to change one’s life. Based upon this definition, it should then be the church’s role to be actively involved in training the parents to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Burggraff further explains, “Today, more than ever, it is essential that the church develop curriculum that accurately and systematically teaches believers how to be a true disciple of Christ. Contemporary research has revealed several concerns that the church must acknowledge as it seeks to disciple believers:

There appears to be a decline in biblical literacy among believers today; there appears to be an exodus of believers from evangelical churches today; there appears to be an acceptance of inactivity among current evangelical Christians; and there appears to be a de-emphasis in discipleship training within the church. When taken collectively, these four areas present a dark picture of the current state of discipleship within American evangelical churches[8]

Biblical illiteracy is widespread and a huge dilemma facing the majority of churches. To effectively reproduce mature disciples of Christ, churches must begin to either use or develop curriculum, which will accurately and systematically teach believers how to fulfill his or her God-given purpose. Biblical literacy is the foundation to stopping evangelical Christians from leaving the church or accepting the notion that inactivity is acceptable. These notions can be directly correlated with the de-emphasis in the need for discipleship within the church. The mindset of doing just enough to get to heaven is totally missing the mark, so it is the job of leaders in the church to initiate a paradigm shift in the vision and mission, by casting light and truth on the deceptive lie that doing just enough is good enough for God.

FAMILY-EQUIPPING MINISTRY

Just as there is a time and season for all things, there is also a place. In the case of discipleship, this is the home. Tedd Tripp and Margy Tripp understand the complexity of instructing and shepherding children and have identified the importance of the heart in these roles. Tripp and Tripp explain, “The heart is the seat of motivation, so the when of behavior is the circumstance for the behavior. The what of behavior are things that one does or says and the why of behavior is the motive.”[9] The heart is essentially what makes the person who he or she is and the actions of the heart produce worship and emotions. Tripp and Tripp then illuminate, all children are born to worship; the only question is what he or she will choose to worship: the created things or the Creator?[10] Satan has built his kingdom upon two pillars: ignorance and error, so the job as parents, educators, and leaders of the church is to remove ignorance and to correct error. Tripp and Tripp further clarify, “Our central objective in instruction, discipline, and correction is heart change, not behavior change. This profoundly shapes how we view consequences… Children, then, must understand consequences as God designed them, not as the world teaches them.”[11] With this new mindset established, parents and leaders will begin to treat the problem instead of just the symptoms. By reaching the heart and imparting biblical truth as the foundation in the discipleship process, the first stage in this model will be complete.

Lynn Wray emphasizes, “the most important task the Lord has assigned parents is to make disciples of our children and our own hopes and dreams come second. We do not make them disciples; that is the Lord’s and the Holy Spirit’s job to do the transformative work, but we are tasked with being a strong influence and impacting their lives.”[12] Wray identifies just how critical discipleship is and then demonstrates its ability to happen in formal and informal settings. Wray explains, “Formal times include instances, which are set aside to engage in devotions, family altar, and faith talks.”[13] Wray then explains the importance of these times when children are young because a child’s mind is like a sponge soaking up all the information and influences it is immersed in. Michael Abel’s research shows, “Past involvement in family discussions about religious or spiritual matters significantly increases the likelihood that teenagers will develop strong belief in: praying with family, parental encouragement to participate in a youth group, and church attendance.”[14] Time invested in the spiritual discipleship and equipping of others in the only investment that will pay dividends in heaven, but so many things compete for time, making this sphere of discipleship a major need in most households. Abel also found, “Respondents who reported having witnessed a miracle, receiving an answer to prayer, and having powerful spiritual experiences also displayed greater religious confidence.”[15] As children get older, Wray stresses, “Informal times are crucial because children are being bombarded with social influences and the relationship between parent and child is also strained.”[16] The Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is a great example of the discipleship model and is also a great illustration of the immense amount of time involved in forming an intimate relationship with children. Kathleen Beagles’ analysis pertaining to the relationship between interactions with youth shows, “The discipling attitude and behavior of family, Christian teachers, and the local congregation are significant in explaining adolescents’ responses to indicators of personal discipleship, so an increase in adolescents’ reporting of the discipling behavior correlates with increased self-reported scores by adolescents in personal processes involved in discipleship.”[17] Wray also stresses the importance of having one-on-one time with children and doing things each child enjoys, making them feel important and demonstrating one’s care for their interests. Tyndale further explains:

In the process of helping our children choose the right path, we must discern differing paths for each child. It is natural to want to bring up all our children alike or train them the same way. This verse implies that parents should discern the individuality and special strengths that God has given each one. While we should not condone or excuse self-will, each child has natural inclinations that parents can develop. By talking to teachers, other parents, and grandparents, we can better discern and develop the individual capabilities of each child.[18]

ACTION PLAN

Les Blank and J. M. Ballard illustrate, “The revival of hope to a lost culture is not just about winning converts but is the proclamation of the good news irrespective of results. Many of the youth and young adults in Generation X and the Digital Generation are not resistant to the concept of spirituality or the concept of God. They are resistant to the Christian church.”[19] The same mindset when engaging in foreign missions must be used in reaching young adults who feel estranged from the church. Only by meeting individuals where he or she are at in life and according to his or her customs and traditions will the church have an opportunity to reclaim a lost generation. It is hard to fathom, but there are entire urban centers considered as being un-churched and while America used to be the nation sending missionaries all over the world, she has become the destination for many foreign missionaries in his or her calling. Blank and Ballard explain, many estranged youth and even people raised in some form of Christian upbringing now view the church as being, “Separatist, segregated, institutional, irrelevant, judgmental, holier than thou and authoritarian. And to some degree, they are right. If this is the perception of the community of God, and if that perception is even somewhat accurate, there is no wonder why the impact of the Christian message is not penetrating the young generations.”[20] Perception is reality, and while this pill may be a little hard to swallow, the quicker it is done, the sooner the church can begin to address the problem. After establishing the biblical foundation, the second piece of the model is establishing mentors in the church who can impart wisdom on those considered less spiritually mature. The lack of any discipleship model in most churches is what has led to an entire generation of servant leaders passing on with no one to take his or her place. The United States Army instructs soldiers to teach his or her job to the person below him or her in rank. This is done, so if the person is promoted or killed, someone will know exactly what to do in his or her absence. The church could borrow this page out of the Army’s training procedures.

The battle over our souls is waged within us, (James 4:1) and all around us, (Ephesians 6:12) so, as Tripp and Tripp suggest, “First, we must identify the enemy and acknowledge his troop strength [and strategy.] Second, we must become skilled at using biblical formative instruction as an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy of our children’s souls (Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Peter 5:8).”[21] Times have changed, as Alejandra Cancino shows, “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, up 7 percent from 2009. Experts say the trend is likely to continue as the nation responds to the opiate epidemic. Military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated are other factors forcing grandparents to step into parental roles.”[22] This is a dynamic, which churches must be prepared to address and are currently missing the mark in. The concept of it taking a village to raise a child is long since past and many people are left alone, trying to figure things out as they present themselves. Because of this, Tedd Tripp explains the importance of, “Understanding your child’s inner struggles and the need to look at the world through his or her eyes. This will enable you to know what aspects of the life-giving message of the gospel are appropriate for conversation.”[23] Every child grows up to be the culmination of his or her own life experiences, so the past plays a huge role in training a child in the ways he or she should go. Some children feel as though their past defines them, while others are able to rise above it, but without Christ, there is still a feeling of void left inside. Poverty is an ever-increasing reality, which can impede a child’s upbringing, so telling people about how amazing God is when he or she is starving and does not have a roof over their heads is backwards. One’s most immediate and core needs must be addressed before earning the right and privilege to speak into his or her life or begin the discipling process.

The family is the model God designed and implemented for His Word and instructions to be passed onto future generations and for children, some of the most important lessons in life are caught and not taught, simply because children imitate what they see. Jason Lanker illustrates, “Previous research shows an important resource in adolescent development is the presence of natural mentors and the Christian community of faith has always been most fruitful in the accomplishment of this missional mandate when space is provided for all of God’s people to use their gifts in engagement with the world in which they have been placed.”[24] As parents and teachers, Michel Mitchell emphasizes, “we are always: being watched, being followed, and being imitated, so Mitchell encourages parents and teachers to be someone worth watching (I Thess. 1:5; I Cor. 11:1), to do something worth following (Acts 5:12; Matt. 20:34; Mark 10:52; Acts 8:11-13), and to saying something worth imitating (I Thess. 2:8; Luke 6:40).[25] Tripp then explains the importance of cultivating a child’s heart towards God because, “There is no such thing as a place of childhood neutrality; your children either worship God or idols. These idols are not small wooden or stone statuary; they are the subtle idols of the heart: fear of man, evil desires, lusts, and pride. These idols include conformity to the world, embracing earthly mindsets, and affections on things below.”[26] To have any chance of thwarting Satan’s strategy and desire to destroy the traditional family, children must be immersed with a biblical foundation, there must be mentors present, in order to teach, instruct, and emulate behavior. The third and final component of this proposed model entails children being taught how to develop and refine his or her spiritual giftings through serving. This final piece is crucial in the spiritual develop and discipleship process and is also vital in reproducing spiritually mature disciples.

Steven Frye illustrates, the earlier in life children are taught, the more equipped he or she will be to transition from youth to young-adulthood. Frye demonstrates, “During this time of transition, burgeoning young adults test the spiritual concepts and commitments of adolescence. External belief structures develop to inner beliefs, and these beliefs are sifted and self-tested.”[27] As Frye suggests, the transition from youth to young adulthood is one filled with uncertainty, so the more the parents can instill at a young age, the better off the child will be in developing into a spiritually mature follower of Christ. Sharon Parks uses James Fowler’s stages of faith as a starting point and then works to diagram the spiritual development process from youth through young adulthood:

  1. Adolescent/conventional—authority bound (accepts the conventions of the group and social norms) and counter-dependent (pushing against yet still authority bound).
  2. Young adult—probing commitment. A time of fragile inner-dependence (like a young plant): “healthy, vital, full of promise, yet vulnerable.”
  3. Tested adult—confident inner-dependence. The tested adult is “able self-consciously to include self within the arena of authority.” Inner-dialogue is vital as the adult begins to listen within. Mentors become peers and authority becomes “fully equilibrated within.”
  4. Mature adult—interdependent faith. A dialectic faith where dialogue is not only merely “expedient but essential.” The mature adult “can depend upon others without fear of losing the self.”[28]

Frye, then explains, each of these stages are vital in the development of children and for each stage missed, more is often required in the realm of discipleship on the part of parents and/or mentors/leaders in the church. Perry Shaw and Corneliu Constantineanu offer considerable advice when interacting with adolescents and young adults and identify how, “Space within community can be provided to children and youth such that they can be better understood, engaged, and empowered in using their gifts in service of the mission of God. The provision of hospitable space is a tangible expression of reconciliation, as well as being a practical necessity for emerging generations.”[29] However, this space Shaw and Constantineanu call for in community is unlikely to develop in churches and families without proactive intentionality on the part of parents and the church. Churches, which employ the family-equipping model, will be best poised to provide training for the parents, while also creating ways for multiple generations to serve together. Just as there is much knowledge and information the older/wiser generation can impart on the younger generations, there is also much the younger/learning generations can reveal to his or her counterparts. Malan Nel asserts, “Discipling youth is one of the key ‘missing links’ in developing missional thinking and missional local churches and this is even more so where churches suffer from a very obvious estrangement among generations.”[30] The segregation of ages in churches is a huge stumbling block to providing any good discipleship model. Many children and youth have a dedicated building and rarely come in contact with any other generations. This is a tragedy and just another reason adolescents have a hard time integrating into a normal adult service and why the crisis of faith is having such a huge success earlier in the lives of young adults.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, as George Barna emphasizes, “The primary formation of a child’s faith is not a job for specialists; it is a job for parents.”[31] This means the primary role of the church needs to focus on training parents to embrace their God-given primary responsibility for instructing children about God, in order for them to grow spiritually mature. David Bennett explains Jesus is more interested in counting disciples, rather than attendance on Sundays. Upon this statement Bennett poses the most important question regarding developing and stopping children from leaving the faith: “Are we producing people who have made a wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ and are we equipping the next generation to take over leadership of the church?”[32] Only by reaching the heart and imparting biblical truth as the foundation in the discipleship process, will the next generation be equipped for the challenges and temptations of life. After establishing the biblical foundation, the next most important piece is establishing mentors in the life of children and parents, who can then impart wisdom on those considered less spiritually mature. The lack of any discipleship model in many churches is what has led to an entire generation of servant leaders passing on with no one to take his or her place. Lastly, children must be taught how to develop and refine his or her spiritual giftings through the act of serving. This final piece is crucial, not only in the spiritual develop and discipleship process, but also in reproducing spiritually mature disciples.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abel, Michael K. “Sources of Adolescent Faith: Examining the Origins of Religious Confidence.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 7 (2011): 3-26, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1346931964?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Barna, George. Revolutionary Parenting. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007.

Beagles, Kathleen. “Growing disciples in community.” Christian Education Journal 9, no. 1 (2012): 148-164. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA289360002&sid=summon&asid=d9660eeb3a748cecdc1d81a509f47cec (accessed April 30, 2017).

Bennett, David. “The Leader as … Disciple.” Transformation 12, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 13-15. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43070175 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Blank, Les and J. M. Ballard. “Revival of Hope: A Critical Generation for the Church.” Christian Education Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall, 2002): 7-24. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/205418022?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Burggraff, Andrew. “Developing discipleship curriculum: applying the systems approach model for designing instruction by Dick, Carey, and Carey to the construction of church discipleship courses.” Christian Education Journal 12, no. 2 (2015): 397+. Academic OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA429498261&sid=summon&asid=ade420579921909ec161d6995fadd701 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Cancino, Alejandra. “More grandparents raising their grandchildren,” www.pbs.org February 16, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/more-grandparents-raising-their-grandchildren/ (accessed April 30, 2017).

Estes, Daniel J. Hear, My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1 – 9. Edited by D.A. Carson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Frederick, Thomas V. “Discipleship and Spirituality from a Christian Perspective.” Pastoral Psychology 56, no. 6 (07, 2008): 553-60, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/199312601?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Frye, Steven B. 2014. “Becoming an adult in a community of faith.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 2014 (143): 51-61. (accessed April 30, 2017).

Lanker, Jason. “The family of faith: the place of natural mentoring in the church’s Christian formation of adolescents.” Christian Education Journal 7, no. 2 (2010): 267+. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA239092337&sid=summon&asid=1db8938b3a6e6af818ab86ed42759ff7 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Martinson, Roland. “Spiritual but not religious: reaching an invisible generation.” Currents in Theology and Mission 29, no. 5 (2002): 326-340. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA93610956&sid=summon&asid=f753d5982c72999332bd6e19dccf9072 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Mitchell, Michael. “The Pillars of Personal Ministry,” HOMI: 601 The Ministry of Teaching, 2013, 1-9.

Mohler, Albert. “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem.” AlbertMohler.com. October 14, 2005. http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/10/14/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem/ (accessed April 30, 2017).

Nel, Malan. “Imagine-Making Disciples in Youth Ministry … that Will make Disciples.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 71, no. 3 (2015): 1-11, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1738751534?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Parks, Sharon Daloz. Big Questions Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Study Guide Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

Renfro, Paul et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. Edited by Timothy Paul Jones. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009.

Shaw, Perry WH and Corneliu Constantineanu. “Space and Community, Engagement and Empowerment: The Missional Equipping of Children.” Transformation 33 no. 3 (February 2016): 208-217. doi: 10.1177/0265378816633611 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Thompson, Tad. Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design. Adelphi, MD: Cruciform Press, 2011.

Tripp, Tedd and Margy Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008.

Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Revised and Updated 2nd Edition. Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2005.

Tyndale. Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Wells, David F. “CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IN A POSTMODERN WORLD.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 1 (03, 2008): 19-33, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/211233719?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Wray, Lynn and Dan Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 12:23. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588847_1 (accessed April 30, 2017).

Wright, Steve and Chris Graves. ApParent Privilege: That the Next Generation Might Know… Royal Palm Beach, FL: InQuest Ministries, 2008.

[1] Roland Martinson, “Spiritual but not religious: reaching an invisible generation,” Currents in Theology and Mission 29, no. 5 (2002): 326-328. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA93610956&sid=summon&asid=f753d5982c72999332bd6e19dccf9072 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[2] Ibid., 328.

[3] Paul Renfro et al. Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2009), 1-3.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] Thomas V. Frederick, “Discipleship and Spirituality from a Christian Perspective,” Pastoral Psychology 56, no. 6 (07, 2008): 553, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/199312601?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[6] David F. Wells, “CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IN A POSTMODERN WORLD,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51, no. 1 (03, 2008): 19-21, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/211233719?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[7] Tyndale, Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1041.

[8] Andrew Burggraff, “Developing discipleship curriculum: applying the systems approach model for designing instruction by Dick, Carey, and Carey to the construction of church discipleship courses.” Christian Education Journal 12, no. 2 (2015): 397. Academic OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA429498261&sid=summon&asid=ade420579921909ec161d6995fadd701. (accessed April 28, 2017).

[9] Tedd Tripp and Margy Tripp, Instructing a Child’s Heart (Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2008), 57.

[10] Ibid., 93.

[11] Ibid., 63.

[12] Lynn Wray and Dan Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 610, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 12:23. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_343442_1&content_id=_16588847_1 (accessed April 28, 2017).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Michael K. Abel, “Sources of Adolescent Faith: Examining the Origins of Religious Confidence,” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 7 (2011): 3-5, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1346931964?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[15] Ibid., 5.

[16] Wray and Burrell, “Parents as Disciple Makers.”

[17] Kathleen Beagles, “Growing disciples in community.” Christian Education Journal 9, no. 1 (2012): 148-149. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA289360002&sid=summon&asid=d9660eeb3a748cecdc1d81a509f47cec (accessed April 30, 2017).

[18] Tyndale, 1041.

[19] Les Blank and J. M. Ballard, “Revival of Hope: A Critical Generation for the Church,” Christian Education Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall, 2002): 7-8. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/205418022?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[20] Blank and J. M. Ballard, “Revival of Hope: A Critical Generation for the Church,” 8.

[21] Tripp and Tripp. Instructing a Child’s Heart, 15-16.

[22] Alejandra Cancino, “More grandparents raising their grandchildren,” www.pbs.org February 16, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/more-grandparents-raising-their-grandchildren/ (accessed April 28, 2017).

[23] Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Revised and Updated 2nd Edition (Wapwallopen, PA, Shepherd Press, 2005), 76.

[24] Jason Lanker, “The family of faith: the place of natural mentoring in the church’s Christian formation of adolescents.” Christian Education Journal 7, no. 2 (2010): 267, General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA239092337&sid=summon&asid=1db8938b3a6e6af818ab86ed42759ff7 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[25] Michael Mitchell, “The Pillars of Personal Ministry,” HOMI: 601 The Ministry of Teaching, 2013, 1-9.

[26] Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 21.

[27] Steven Frye, “Becoming an adult in a community of faith,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 2014 (143): 53. (accessed April 30, 2017).

[28] Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 77-87.

[29] Perry Shaw WH and Corneliu Constantineanu, “Space and Community, Engagement and Empowerment: The Missional Equipping of Children.” Transformation 33 no. 3 (February 2016): 209. doi: 10.1177/0265378816633611 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[30] Malan Nel, “Imagine-Making Disciples in Youth Ministry … that Will make Disciples,” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 71, no. 3 (2015): 2-3, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1738751534?accountid=12085 (accessed April 30, 2017).

[31] George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 12.

[32] David Bennett, “The Leader as … Disciple.” Transformation 12, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 13, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43070175 (accessed April 30, 2017).

 

Need for Ecclesiology and the Believers’ Church: Article Critique

christian-doctrine

Against the backdrop of America’s Industrial Revolution, Jason Duesing compares President Theodore Roosevelt’s call-to-action in conserving the nation’s natural resources[1] to, “The people of God needing to take action to preserve and protect the doctrine of the church.”[2] America was growing at a rapid rate, yet Roosevelt had the foresight to recognize the immediate threat if changes were not made. Similarly, Duesing seeks to show, “Believers, acting under various constructs – from liberalism to ecumenism to even evangelism – have also engaged in ‘old wasteful methods’ with regard to the ‘natural resources’ of the doctrine of the church.”[3] The purpose of this critique is to assess Duesing’s proposed solution to overcoming indifference and his call to awaken evangelicals toward both ecclesiology and the believers’ church.

SUMMARY

            Duesing begins by establishing the widespread doctrinal deterioration that has plagued the local church and contributes this breakdown of the Great Commission[4] to the local church not protecting the gospel message, internal disputes, and attacks from outside the church. Where parachurch organizations thrived in evangelistic outreach efforts, the local church has become sterile in reproducing disciples, even within close proximity. Duesing then proposes the only way the true biblical gospel message will make it to the next generation is the believers’ church.

As the first champions of the believers’ church, since the Constantine Synthesis, Duesing acknowledges the Anabaptists were, “The pioneers of ecclesiological conservatism in an age not of ecclesiological indifference, but of ecclesiological intolerance.”[5] This distinction separated them from the Magisterial Reformers who Leonard Verduin asserts, were primarily only concerned with, “The Anabaptists’ desire to move beyond Church reform to complete restoration of the church to its New Testament origins.”[6] Duesing demonstrates, “The Magisterial Reformers were not looking to make many ecclesiological changes, [but were concerned with] the economic and political ramifications of separating the church from the state.”[7] While the Anabaptists sought to conserve doctrine, Duesing contrasts, “The Magisterial Reformers sought to make membership contingent upon baptism as an infant, [and] just as the State carried the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing justice, so too did the Church support the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing the truth.”[8] Ultimately, the Anabaptists recognized, “The only way to accomplish biblical purity in the Church was to separate completely from the existing institutions and establish a believers’ church, [which] no longer supported the use of the sword and refused to call for the death penalty even for those with divergent doctrinal views.”[9]

STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES

            Duesing does a worthy job demonstrating the state of affairs within the local church and the need for doctrinal reform. The gospel message has become so diluted and religion in general has turned more into an environment of pleasing people, rather than training and equipping disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. The formation of the believers’ church was truly a radical paradigm shift, rooted biblical teaching. This writer agrees, “For the sake of preserving what is essential for salvation for the next generation, a new call is needed to awaken evangelicals from a state of indifference toward ecclesiology and the believers’ church”[10]

By only briefly touching on the decline of the church, Duesing’s call on believers to see “Ecclesiological Conversation as a Christian Duty” does not paint as vivid of a picture had the failure of maintaining a pure church been better demonstrated. For example, H. Leon McBeth illustrates how, “The eighteenth century proved devastating for the General Baptists, [due] to theological problems, antiquated church practices, and failure to recruit new leaders of stature.”[11] Had this been included in Duesing’s article, another comparison could have been made to the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived and the Intellectual Revolution challenged the way people viewed God, the universe, and themselves.”[12]

CONCLUSION

            Duesing’s use of America, standing on the precipice of its own demise by reckless indifference sets the stage for a solid argument for the need of ecclesiological conservation and a movement towards the believers’ church. Duesing is right, doctrines must be upheld and biblical principles must never be compromised, even for the sake of unity, and the Anabaptists are a great example of what is sometimes needed to form a pure church rooted in biblical teaching.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duesing, Jason G. “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving.” A White Paper from the CTR, Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006. http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/File/BelieversChurch.pdf (accessed April 6, 2017).

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997.

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, “Conservation as a National Day,” in Conferences of Governors (Washington: G.P.O., 1909), 3-13.

[2] Jason G. Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” A White Paper from the CTR (Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006), 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 28:16-20

[5] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3.

[6] Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997).

[7] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3-4.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 5.

[11] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 170.

[12] Ibid., 151.

Purpose of Apologetics

Apologetics2

Why do we engage in apologetics?

            Rich Holland clarifies, “apologetics should be used to break down the rational or intellectual barriers one may have, so [he or she] can be more receptive to the gospel [and that is why apologetics] is often referred to as pre-evangelism, because it helps explain and remove barriers, so people become more open to the gospel message.”[1] Holland closes the presentation summing up apologetics as what believers do when they love God and others. This profound truth explains why followers of Christ should be compelled to engage people in apologetics, by defending the faith and evangelizing the lost. Douglas Groothuis adds, “apologetics is offered not only in response to the doubts and denials of non-Christians; it also fortifies believers in their faith, whether they are wrestling with doubts and questions or simply seeking a deeper grounding for their biblical belief.”[2]

What is the audience of apologetics?

Holland further demonstrates, “the love of Christ should compel believers to become ambassadors of God and engage in apologetics. [However,] apologetics is not evangelism because it cannot lead someone to Christ, but apologetics should be directed towards the lost, those who do not follow Christ, atheists, or followers of other religions.”[3] Apologetics and evangelism do share a common goal in pointing people towards Jesus Christ, but it should not come, as a surprise the majority of people may not immediately be open to the message of the gospel. Thus, every believer should be prepared to offer a good defense and reason for God’s plan of redemption, since people are naturally going to have questions and objections.

A basic definition of apologetics:

            James Beilby defines apologetics as, “the attempt to defend a particular belief or system of beliefs against objections… The term derives from the Greek word apologia and was originally used in a legal context.”[4] The apologia was then used in the defense of a plaintiff, in an attempt to show an accusation was untruthful, or to prove innocence.

The biblical basis for apologetics:

            The clearest picture for the biblical basis of apologetics is found in Peter’s first epistle,   “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”[5]  Peter Davids illustrates how, “Both ‘make a defense’[6] and ‘question[7] indicate formal legal or judicial settings, but were also used for informal and personal situations.[8] Rather than fear the unbelievers around them, Christians, out of reverence to Christ, should be prepared to respond fully to their often-hostile questions about the faith.”[9] Beilby demonstrates, “Christian apologetics is the task of defending and commending the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a Christ-like, context-sensitive and audience-specific manner.”[10]

Internal and external apologetics:

Beilby defines, “Internal apologetics taking place with those inside of or internal to Christianity, [while] external apologetics engages skeptics, agnostics, or those outside of or external to Christianity in an apologetic conversation.”[11] Beilby adds, “Christian apologetics involves an action (defending), a focus of the action (the Christian faith itself), a goal (upholding Christianity as true, and a context (the circumstances in which apologetics occurs.”[12] The clear distinction between the two involves internal apologetics focusing on reinforcing faith, removing intellectual barriers, and helping to clarify issues, while external apologetics focuses on changing the mind of skeptics, atheists, and agnostics.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Holland, Rich. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462346_1 (accessed August 30, 2016).


[1] Rich Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics–What Is Apologetics?” (Video), 2015, 9:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462346_1 (accessed August 30, 2016).

[2] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 25.

[3] Holland, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week One Presentation “Introduction to Apologetics.”

[4] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 11.

[5] 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

[6] Acts 25:16, 26:2; 2 Timothy 4:16

[7] Romans 4:12; 1Peter 4:5

[8] Plato, Pol. 285e and 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:7 respectively

[9] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 131.

[10] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 30.

[11] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 27.

[12] Ibid., 13.

Muslims in Evangelical Churches

WWJD

       James Hood, in his article Muslims in Evangelical Churches poses the question whether loving your neighbor means opening the church doors to false worship? Hood highlights two churches, which opened their doors for Muslims to use the church buildings as mosques. At Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, pastor Steve Stone came to the decision to allow Muslims to worship on church property by asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” At Aldersgate Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia, pastor Jason Micheli appealed to evangelical and exclusivist reasoning stating, “When we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we do not just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father. We also mean Jesus’ way of live is the only way we manifest the Father’s love.”

       There are multiple theological issues at play in these scenarios and throughout Scripture the Great Commandment[1] and the Great Commission[2] are among the top appeals Christ calls His followers to perform and embody. In the Old Testament, the Shema[3] calls followers to love the Lord their God above all others, so the issue of allowing idol worship to happen in the church is a highly debatable topic. While the church is not confined to the traditional four walls, there is precedence with the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Shema, which cannot be ignored. Peter C. Craigie illustrates:

The Shema ultimately means: ‘Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is ‘One.’ These words, which have been called the fundamental monotheistic dogma of the Old Testament, have both practical and theological implications. The Israelites had already discovered the practical implications when they… discovered the uniqueness of their God… [and it] was because they had experienced the living presence of their God in history that the Israelites could call the Lord our God. The theological implications and the context of this verse indicate its source as a direct revelation from God. The word expresses not only the uniqueness but also the unity of God.[4]

       Growing up in a military community, the base chapel was shared by a multiplicity of denominations, some Christian and some far from it and it was the job of the chaplain to relate to multiple denominations of faith. This model and upbringing makes the Muslims’ use of Christian churches seem less about theology and more about embodying the love and compassion of Christ. At the same time, one cannot ignore when Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”[5]
If the churches in this article had opened up their doors as shelters due to a state of emergency, this writer wonders if it would have been an issue at all. Ultimately it comes down to stewardship. What churches do with what God has entrusted to them is the fundamental question. This writer believes by opening the doors and allowing the Muslims to use the facility acts as an olive branch of peace, which over time will hopefully develop into relationships, and is where the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will have the ability to be applied. Jesus came to seek the lost, the sick, and the hurting people. Christians must realize, “the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners,” and by opening the doors to Muslims they have increased their mission field exponentially.

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hood, James B. 2011. “Muslims in Evangelical Churches.” Christianity Today, January 3, 2011. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/januaryweb-only/muslimsevangelical.html   (accessed August 18, 2016).


[1] Matthew 22:36-40

[2] Matthew 28:16-20

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4-9

[4] Peter C. Craigie, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 168-169.

[5] Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV)

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement: Book Review

Sweeney-American-Evangelical-Story-cover-195x300

        The American Evangelical Story examines the role American evangelicalism played in the scope of evangelical history and demonstrates how evangelicals have continued to change the world. Douglas A. Sweeney, professor of church history and chair of the department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School[1] offers this work as an introduction to evangelicalism for Christians interested in the historical roots of evangelicalism’s recent, massive growth. Sweeney first, “provides a summary of recent debates concerning the scope of evangelicalism, he then tells the story of its birth in the transatlantic Great Awakening, and its development in the United States through many cultural changes and challenges. [Lastly, he] accounts for the broad range of individuals, institutions, issues, and doctrines that have made us who we are.”[2]

Brief Summary

       Sweeney sets the tone for the reader, by offering a prayer to demonstrate his underlining purpose: “I pray that the burden of this book – to refresh our shared, historical memory – may help us to regain our spiritual bearings. And I trust that a fresh appropriation of our common heritage, though surely limited by our own historical blinders, can be used by God to bless the church for many years to come.”[3] Sweeney begins by explaining evangelicals are gospel people, but quickly demonstrates the difficulty in defining evangelicalism, claiming there is no clear consensus among scholars. Sweeney then shows, “at the center of the movement lies a firm commitment to the good news (euangelion) that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’[4] [demonstrating] evangelicals’ doctrine clung to the gospel message as spelled out in the Bible (sola Scriptura).”[5] Other defining convictions include: the majesty of Jesus Christ, the lordship of the Holy Spirit, the need for personal conversion, the priority of evangelism, and the importance of the Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship, and growth.[6] Sweeney also connects the emergence of evangelicalism to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, crediting missions and evangelism as the catalysts. Sweeney concludes: “Evangelicals comprise a movement that is rooted in classical Christian orthodoxy, shaped by a largely Protestant understanding of the gospel, and distinguished from other such movements by an eighteenth century twist – the impact of the Great Awakening.”[7] This renewal movement forever changed the course of history of Protestantism in North America and the rest of the world.

Critical Interaction

       It is obvious Sweeney comes from an evangelical heritage he is proud of.[8] His narrative style, his attention to chronological detail, and his personal insights provide the reader with an unbiased view of history. Leading up to the Great Awakening, Sweeney correctly shows the conflict, which existed between Catholics, and Protestants and how the Reformation led to the Transatlantic Great Awakening pioneered by John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, George Whitfield, who actually convinced John Wesley to take up field preaching,[9] and Jonathan Edwards, who helped Calvinists come to terms on predestination and election. This era marked the first time Protestants worked together to spread the gospel internationally. Sweeney makes it clear the goals of this movement were made with the best intentions, but he also demonstrates when human nature is involved; there will always be division. “No sooner did the Great Awakening hit America’s shores than it led to some major realignments and rivals.”[10]

       Sweeney explains, “Despite the gains of the Great Awakening, by the end of the eighteenth century, many evangelical leaders had grown concerned about the spiritual life on the new United States,”[11] giving rise to the Second Great Awakening. This era shows immense diversity as some revivals split and new ones were formed. Sweeney illustrates, “the first major theater was New England, where Edwardsian evangelists prevailed, and the second stretched along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York, dominated by Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and the third was Cumberland River Valley, led by the Armenian Methodists.”[12] Sweeney highlights, “the best known event in this third theater was the Cane Ridge Revival (1801), often called ‘America’s Pentecost’ for the amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit there.”[13] Charles Finney is portrayed as the most important leader of the revivals in New York as he had immense influence teaching, “religion is the work of man and that revival is not a miracle, but the result of the right use of appropriate means. As a supernaturalist, he acknowledged that neither revival nor conversion ever occurs without the help of the Holy Spirit, but as an experienced revivalist, he claimed these things do not occur without human effort either.”[14] The second Great Awakening seemed to be more about man than about God, as it emphasized the role of a sinner needing to choose to repent. Regardless, it still led to more conversions, and it also formed more institutions, which helped the spread of the gospel. Overall, Sweeney accomplishes a comprehensive overview of evangelical missions, by detailing even the racial prejudice, which was rampant, and the birth of the Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Racism remains a sore spot in the history of the church and “while evangelicals did not invent the sins of racism… millions of white evangelicals have participated in or sanctioned one or more of these things, leading to four million slaves in America by 1860… and evangelicals are still untangling themselves from this sordid legacy.”[15] A. Derwin illustrates, “less than five percent of evangelical churches are multi-ethnic… [making the] evangelical church one of the most segregated people in America on Sunday morning. The gross smell of racism still lingers in our churches like a bad odor that will not dissipate.”[16]  Sweeney rightly emphasizes, “the importance of never forgetting the utter enormity of this evil or the extent to which evangelicals condoned it.”[17] The lines of color must be crossed and perhaps one of the best examples is the Azusa Street Revival. This Pentecostalism was interracial and as Frank Bartleman noted, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”[18] Paige Patterson best sums up the viewpoint of evangelicals, “If God has spoken, then one must heed what He says. For evangelical believers, the authority of the Bible must remain unassailable and un-debatable. We must applaud those who make other kinds of telling arguments against racism and join the chorus in at least a thirty-fold “Amen.” But, the time has come for evangelicals to bring the mother load, if you will forgive the pun. If we believe the Book, let us appeal to its lucid position on race and say to all of the tribes of the earth, “Eve is the mother of all living.” That, in effect, settles the issue!”[19]

Conclusion

       Sweeney makes a strong case, “the church needs evangelicals, evangelicalism functions as a renewal movement within the larger, universal church, and evangelicalism is not enough.”[20] Sweeney provides a well-balanced and clear history of American evangelicalism, while also demonstrating the major shift, which is currently taking place. No more is America or Europe the front-runners in evangelicalism; instead the shift is in Africa and Asia. While America and Europe used to be the nations sending missionaries to these countries, now those countries are sending missionaries to America and Europe. The future of evangelicalism rests on solely on whether denominations and ministry leaders can set aside minor differences and unify one another by embracing the Great Commission[21] and the Great Commandment.[22] The church is made up of many parts, and when those parts are working together, God will do mighty things as the world will come to know the love of Christ.

The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. By Douglas A. Sweeney. Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005, 208 pp. $22.00 (Paperback).

Bibliography

Baker Publishing Group Website, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/authors/douglas-a-sweeney/344 (accessed August 11, 2016).

Bartleman, Frank. How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman. Ed. Donald W. Dayton. New York, NY: Garland, 1985.

Derwin, A. “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

Patterson, Paige. “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History.” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005.


[1] Baker Publishing Group Website, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/authors/douglas-a-sweeney/344 (accessed August 11, 2016).

[2] Douglas A. Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2005), 10.

[3]  Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 185.

[4] Romans 3:28

[5] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 25.

[6] Ibid., 18.

[7] Ibid., 23-24.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 41.

[10] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 55.

[11] Ibid., 66.

[12] Ibid., 66-69.

[13] Ibid., 70.

[14] Ibid., 68.

[15] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[16] A. Derwin, “The Emergence Of The Emerging Church,” Christian Apologetics Journal 07, no. 1 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 35.

[17] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 108.

[18] Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: As It Was in the Beginning, in Witness to Pentecost: The Life of Frank Bartleman, ed. Donald W. Dayton, (New York, NY: Garland, 1985), 54.

[19] Paige Patterson, “The SBJT Forum: Racism, Scripture, and History,” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 08, no. 2 (Summer), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 82.

[20] Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 184.

[21] Matthew 28:16-20

[22] Matthew 22:36-40

Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth Book Review

Move_1000 Churches

            Greg L. Hawkins is executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. For twenty years, he has assisted senior pastor Bill Hybels in providing strategic leadership and his prior management experience came as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Hawkins received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Stanford University. In 2011 he became co-author of Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, which combines sound research with practical application on ways to improve the spiritual growth in churches. Cally Parkinson, the other co-author of Move… serves as the brand manager for REVEAL, an initiative within Willow Creek Association who utilizes research tools and discoveries to help churches better understand spiritual growth in the multiplicity of congregations. Following a twenty-five-year career with Allstate Insurance, she has also served as the director of communications at Willow Creek Community Church. Her diverse background and skills were formulated at DePauw University, where she received her bachelor’s degree and the American Graduate School of International Management, where she earned her master’s degree.[1]

            Facts on their own can be overwhelming, so what Hawkins and Parkinson set out to do was provide a model for any church, no matter the size, denomination, or location to become effective in producing spiritual growth within the congregation. After surveying one-thousand churches, Hawkins and Parkinson found that no matter the size, denomination, budget, or geography, the churches that were highly effective excelled in the following four best practices: (1) Getting people moving; (2) Embedding the Bible; (3) Creating ownership; and (4) Pastoring the community. This discovery was profound because for centuries, church leaders have known the primary goal of disciples is to produce more disciples, but the how has alluded many who have tried. Hawkins and Parkinson illustrate, “Jesus wants us to love God and love others, and it is pretty straightforward, making the what the easy part of church leadership… However, each new generation of Christian leaders has struggled to get a handle on the how: How do we foster the transformation of our people into disciples of Christ and how do we extend His love to others?”[2] Every church has a limited amount of resources, so it only makes sense to use those commodities in areas that provide the best return on investment. Move… provides the answers to these questions by utilizing thorough research, time-tested-principles, and by then providing sound practices to move people along the path to being more Christ-centered. There should be a deep desire in every believer to become more Christ-like and this book provides twenty-five high impact catalysts, which promote spiritual growth in the believer. In addition to the catalysts, there are numerous strategies, insights, models, and patterns to help any church become effective in producing spiritual growth within the body. The book is nicely divided into three parts focusing on: (1) The Spiritual Continuum: moving people from exploring Christ, to growing in Christ; (2) Spiritual Movement: identifying the spiritual catalysts, needed in the evolution of becoming Christ-centered, while also illustrating potential barriers to spiritual growth; and (3) Spiritual Leadership: defining best practices, analyzing spiritual vitality, and preparing leaders to get the body of Christ moving and doing what God has called them to do.

Critique

            Reading this work was very similar to reading something by George Barna, but Hawkins and Parkinson go a few steps further, by providing real-life-application and strategies to employ in order to bring about spiritual growth in any church. These premises are bold, but the statistics presented are frightening for any western church. To think, “The longer someone attends church, the less likely they are to become Christ-followers”[3] is terrifying. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research actually found, “people who have attended church for more than five years are far more likely to become spiritually stalled or content with their spiritual growth.”[4] This only shows the importance of engaging people in ministry as soon as possible because the longer an individual is classified in the getting to know Christ stage, the less likely he or she will feel compelled to serve in ministry. This is enlightening, especially since believers find so much about themselves and God through serving in some form of ministry or outreach. Hawkins and Parkinson have termed a church, which is only exploring Christ as being stalled in the rust belt. This is because the majority of the congregation is stuck on the spiritual fringe, investigating, but undecided about the claims of Christianity, attending, but not involved in church, and possibly a long-tenured churchgoer.[5] This is spot on and evident in all generations of church attenders, as the Abrahams feel any dues have already paid: monetarily or service oriented, the Isaacs are too busy with life to commit any more time to the church, and the Jacobs have a sense of entitlement, where everything should just be provided. All of these warped perceptions are wrong and indicate just how many churches are still stuck in the first stage of exploring Christ. Once someone truly begins to know Christ, the next logical step is to grow in Christ, which represents the largest segment of people surveyed at thirty-eight percent.[6] Hawkins and Parkinson provide valuable information as to exactly what this largest segment is looking for from the church: (1) Help in developing a personal relationship with Christ, (2) Help in understanding the Bible in greater depth, (3) Church leaders who model and consistently reinforce how to grow spiritually, (4) Compelling worship experiences, and (5) Challenge to grow and take next steps.[7] A problem many churches make is babying new believers, instead of issuing challenges and showing them how to find God and answers to life’s questions in Scripture. It is also crucial for church-attenders to see the leadership embodying Christ-like character in word and deed. Those considered to be growing in Christ are: on board with core beliefs, are comfortable with spiritual practices, and are poised for great spiritual advances and impact.[8] As the largest segment, Hawkins and Parkinson do a good job illustrating how to move this group closer to Christ, by teaching them how to love God and others.[9] Hawkins and Parkinson explain this is so crucial because those who are close to Christ engage in a deeper level of personal spiritual practices.[10] The next stage of evolution involves the, “Christ-centered believer emerging from a battle between two sets of values: the secular values that define personal identity, happiness, security, and success for much of the world, and the spiritual values of selfless love and dedication to others that characterize a life centered on Jesus.”[11]

Application

            Hawkins and Parkinson do a wonderful job explaining the “what and how” behind ministry, by pointing out the importance of each member taking ownership. This principle is true in many business models, as those who are involved during the inception of something, or feel a sense of being needed will have a much stronger commitment to see it succeed. It also follows the 80/20 principle, where twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Sadly, this is also the case with giving in the church. For these reasons, this is an area this writer will be focusing on. If twenty percent of the people are doing all the work, this eventually leads to burnout. Hawkins and Parkinson suggest three ways to create ownership are: (1) To empower people to be the church, (2) To equip people to succeed, and (3) To hold people accountable.[12]

            Another area of importance is evangelism outside the four walls of the church. Terry Inman once made the comment, “I do not pastor a church; I pastor a community.” Hawkins and Parkinson use this illustration to explain the flocks pastors are called to shepherd over are actually all the people in the local community. For many churches, this is a huge paradigm shift, but for this writer’s church, this is an area that has already been targeted. Hawkins and Parkinson found, “best practice churches pastor their local communities by bringing the same inspirational energy… to outreach strategies and initiatives that they bring to designing and executing weekend services.” Hawkins and Parkinson break this strategy down into three strategies: (1) Set a high bar for serving the church and the community. Often the senior pastor will set the tone for this model; (2) Build a bridge into your local community. This will develop strong and long-term relationships, which will also help address any immediate community needs; and (3) Make serving a platform for the gospel. Hawkin’s and Parkinson’s research shows there is a natural affinity between evangelizing and serving those who are struggling and broken.[13] Love and compassion are the best motivators for evangelism and by meeting the most basic needs of the community; the outreach initiative will poise the church to not only gain new people, but also advance the gospel at the same time. This book is a great resource for any church or individual looking to grow spiritually. In life, if something is not living, then it is dying and for many churches, they have essentially become stagnant cesspools, but by applying these principles and models, churches will experience real growth, as the result of the development of the congregations’ spiritual formation and desire to be more Christ-like.

Bibliography

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

 


[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 6.

[2] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 12.

[3] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 37.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Ibid., 44.

[6] Ibid., 50.

[7] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 55.

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Ibid., 75-77.

[10] Ibid., 75.

[11] Ibid., 84.

[12] Hawkins and Parkinson, Move, 231.

[13] Ibid., 239-240.

Hawkins, Greg L. and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 286 pp. $21.99 (Hardcover).