Bruce Ashford on Church Planting Movements

Bruce Ashford is the Director of the Center for Great Commission Studies and associate professor of philosophy and intercultural studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He is also on the team of the best SBC blog, Between the Times, and has written some very helpful articles on a theologically-driven missiology as well as contours of a great commission resurgence.  While I would like to commend all his articles to you, allow me to post an exerpt speaking to church planting movements.  You may recall that I wrote briefly about a word-driven movemental Christianity and raised several questions regarding David Garrison’s paradigm that is being used (seemingly uncritically) by the IMB (and others).  Dr. Ashford writes (emphasis mine):

In recent days, much has been said about Church Planting Movements (CPM), and rightly so. David Garrison defines a church planting movement as, “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.” Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, have long been praying for and working towards the birth of CPMs among the unreached people groups of the world, and indeed, even in our own country.

But there is much work left to be done to ensure that, here in the United States and across the oceans, our methodology is driven by the Scriptures. It must be biblical theology that gives church planting methodology its starting point, trajectory, and parameters. Of the many substantial missiological issues that cluster around CPM theory, here are two that must be treated:

First, in regards to CPM as a goal: As laid out in Part Three of this series, our ultimate goal, above all others, is the increase of God’s glory. No goal that we have should subvert this goal. For this reason, we are concerned not only with rapidity, but also more importantly with the purity of the gospel and the health of the church. On the one hand, if the church multiplies rapidly, but is not healthy, the long-term picture is bleak. An inordinate emphasis on rapidity will likely lead to reductionist methods of evangelism and discipleship that will harm the church in the long term and actually curb its growth. On the other hand, if the church is “doctrinally pure,” but not seeking to multiply, the long-term picture is bleak. Or maybe it would be better to say that a church cannot be doctrinally pure without praying for, and working toward, the healthy and rapid growth of God’s church.

A final note regarding CPM as a goal: CPMs are not the only worthwhile missiological accomplishment. Sometimes, God does not grant such a thing or He does not grant it immediately. In Hebrews 11, we read of men and women of great faith whose reward was not a CPM; instead, their reward was torture, destitution, affliction, and martyrdom. Many faithful workers who labor in prayer and in deed, hoping with all that is within them to see a CPM, never see the birth of a CPM. This does not mean that their labor is in vain. If they have labored for the glory of God, then He is pleased with their efforts. (Also, it should be pointed out that the early church experienced its most explosive growth only after many years of prayer and work. See Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Early Christianity.)

Second, in relation to leadership development: The rapid reproduction of the church will lead to some challenges in leadership identification and development. If multiple churches are planted in a short period of time, the churches are faced with the question of how recent is “too recent” for a believer to be recognized as an elder. Further, in a context where the church is persecuted, how will these elders train for pastoral ministry? Also, how will they be discipled if they are not able to read? These are not hypothetical scenarios; there are multiple church planting situations, globally, that are facing these challenges at any given time. We must take seriously the biblical teaching concerning the church, discipleship, and elder qualifications and work hard to apply it in challenging situations such as the one above.

Dr. Ashford is hitting on many of the things I have attempted to bring up but only in a more articulate and substantive way.  There’s no question that we all want to see a movement where churches are being planted and multiplied, but pragmatism cannot and must not win the day when it comes down to what drives our methodology.  As Ashford explains, we must have a theologically-driven missiology, one where the Word of God does not merely play a supporting role but is the driving force behind the movement.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Planting, Ecclesiology, Excerpts, SBC

Tags: , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

8 Comments on “Bruce Ashford on Church Planting Movements”

  1. Tony Kummer Says:

    Just for the record, I still think P&P is the best SBC blog

  2. Dennis Muse Says:

    Really church planting is not a movement in the sense of the normal church definition, a program, a mythology, or a thesis. The only movement in church planting is us Going, us moving out into the world and doing, A.K.A. the people getting off their pews.

    Church planting is nothing more than the by-product of Going and doing what Jesus said to do. Go into the world, preach the gospel and make disciples. A church planting movement is us moving, that is Going into the world, and doing what Jesus said

    He said “Go out into the world” and Take the gospel to them out there in the world, go out and meet them in everyday life like I showed you how to do with my life and make them disciples, just as I did with you with my life.

    Jesus said when two or more are gathered in my name, I am there, and where two or more and Jesus are, is church. No buildings required, no programs, no paid professional staff needed, not even money.

    And when everyone starts Going and doing as Jesus said, church happens all over the place, in the work place, homes, everywhere.

  3. Kelly Says:

    Timmy,

    Ashford’s quote was very encouraging and helpful:

    “CPMs are not the only worthwhile missiological accomplishment. Sometimes, God does not grant such a thing or He does not grant it immediately. In Hebrews 11, we read of men and women of great faith whose reward was not a CPM; instead, their reward was torture, destitution, affliction, and martyrdom. Many faithful workers who labor in prayer and in deed, hoping with all that is within them to see a CPM, never see the birth of a CPM. This does not mean that their labor is in vain. If they have labored for the glory of God, then He is pleased with their efforts.”

    As a pastor of a small rural church I glean a great deal from your thoughts on Word driven movement and Ashford’s cautions (along with the entire “Between…” series) above and pushing-back with Stetzer’s Movemental paradigm.

    In other words, this may seem to be a discussion for merely North American church-planters and international missionary/church-planters, but as one dealing with many of the mentioned issues (hurried pragmatism, flimsy biblical theology, premature leaders) these posts ought to be read by large established “healthy” churches (by asking are we too stationary to even be dealing with these issues? Or, “how come we don’t have problems like this?), small established churches (who seem too naively eager to jump on any band-wagon that promises quick growth).

    You mentioned Finney in your discussion with Ed. I think that is very important as an analogy here with the CPM’s mainly with the pragmatism of hurrying the conversion without really understanding and building on the Word of the Gospel and the very real danger of not really sharing The Gospel.

    The application my way is that rural churches, as I’m experiencing them, especially with revivals etc. are often way too hurried in pushing conversion without substantially establishing the priority of the Word and building on that. Of course, revivalism hearkens back to Finney-ish pragmatism etc. emphasizing “decisions” and coming to “the altar.”

    Moreover, the line of thinking, especially here and at “Between . . .” needs to be made to have deep effect in the pews. It is a leadership issues, always, as this discussion is among leaders. In addition though, unless the people in the pews get this and are trained/taught towards this, we will only be half-way ready for rapidity in conversions and church-planting, wherever it happens globally or locally. Keathly gets real close to this in the 5th installment but Ashford, again, is particularly helpful in part 7.

    You and Ed seem to be on the same page but I just wish he would emphasize some sort of hierarchy/subordination to his paradigm. He indicated initially that there really was not one.

    grace. Kelly


  4. Kelly,

    You wrote:

    “this may seem to be a discussion for merely North American church-planters and international missionary/church-planters, but as one dealing with many of the mentioned issues (hurried pragmatism, flimsy biblical theology, premature leaders) these posts ought to be read by large established “healthy” churches (by asking are we too stationary to even be dealing with these issues? Or, “how come we don’t have problems like this?), small established churches (who seem too naively eager to jump on any band-wagon that promises quick growth).”

    This reminds me of the pastor’s conference and state evangelism conferences where the megachurch pastors from the celebrity circuit get up there and say if you evangelized and loved the lost like us, you would be much bigger than what you are.

    Regarding Finney, I really believe that much of the methodological differences come down to whether you side with Finney or someone like Edwards on regeneration. For the past hundred years, Finney’s theology and new measures has for the most part been imbibed through the popularization by Billy Graham and others, and whether critically or uncritically, the results have proved to be very similar to that of post-Finney spiritual landscape. I think one of the remedies or correctives to this is to have a long-term perspective driven by a theological vision to transform a people and a generation with deep and enduring impact. Pragmatism, paradigms, and programs tend to offer quick results that appeal to immediacy and satisfy the urgency of evangelism, but often times due to lack of theological reflection, these paradigms or programs don’t deliver on what they promise and turn the urgency of evangelism into either despair on behalf of the church or despondency on behalf of unbelievers.

    Regarding people in the pew, I also think we should be working to instill a richer appreciation and fuller understanding of the gospel and how God works in salvation. For the past year or so, about 10-15 men in our church have been reading together and discussion Edwards’ Religious Affections. This book is tremendous in helping in this regards–seeing what is a true work of grace and what is not. Churches tend to focus on discipleship and emphasis commitment while devoting little to the prerequisite to discipleship–conversion.

    Principles and paradigms are inherent within any philosophy of ministry or design, but when the driving force is something like speed or the end something like decisions, then the outcome is inevitably disappointing in the long term. So going back to the issue of regeneration, this is why the Word is so important. All methodology flows from theology, and if the gospel you preach puts the power of conversion in the hands of man or effected by new measures, then the power of the gospel is not the power of *God*. That is why I am arguing that all missiologically-based disciplines, church planting included, must be first theological before it is anthropological. If we do not understand God and His gospel, then the mission we are on might very well be one where God is not on board (regardless of what the numbers say).

    I do think that Ed and I are on the same page. We may not agree on everything, but I have a lot of respect for Ed and the work he is doing. I simply want to contribute something to the conversation (more than Ed you are the man!!!).

  5. Kelly Says:

    Timmy,

    Religious Affections should be absolutely mandatory reading for every Pastor . . . Youth Pastor, Family Pastor, Small Group Leader, Sunday School teacher, Associational Director, IMB Leader, NAMB Leader, missionary etc. etc. We coddle the lost on their way to hell weekly dumbly convinced by a few “signs.”

    I am thinking a lot about the leading and work of the Spirit in relation to a Great Commission Resurgence/Word-Driven Movemental reality. I do not have anything to offer about Him but His Movement is the breath of life to any of this. It’s the one glaring obvious to me.

    When this conversation began over Ed’s, after he’d posted his work-in-progress paradigm, S.Camp mentioned several times the work and dependence of the Spirit leading.

    He wrote:

    “I am convinced, if the Holy Spirit were to withdraw Himself from most movements that function in the name of Christ today, there would be no noticeable change in their structures or organizations.”

    You’ve mentioned recently teaching through Paul’s prayers and it reminded me, along with this current topic, and burdened me to be humbly aware of the work of the Spirit, the Primacy of the Word as the sword/tool of the Spirit and our praying Spirit-led prayers . . . like Paul prayed. I pray often out of my own heart, but I have prayed entire letters with greater effect/affect, so your mentioning that particular series chimed well in my own thoughts.

    I do pray that the Spirit of God direct your steps.

    Kelly


  6. Kelly,

    I think that Word and Spirit paradigm really needs to be developed more. I wrote about this a little bit when I wrote a paper on The Mission of the Holy Spirit: Examining Pneumatological Inclusivism.” There are many who have the Word without the Spirit; others have the Spirit without the Word. A Spirit-empowered Word-driven movemental Christianity is what we need today, and man I hope that topic gets some blog attention in the future!

    Thanks for the prayer. I likewise pray that you will be filled with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him!


  7. Dear friends,
    Warm and lovely greetings to you from Uganda,
    My name is Frank Tibagendeka, a pastor of Conquerors Christian Life Church under a Christian ministry known as Conquerors Ministries International ( CMI ) based in Uganda, East Africa. I request you go through our ministry website; http://www.conquerorsministries.net that you may learn more about who we are.

    My major concern of contacting you is to build relationship with you and to work in partnership in ministry with you if you can allow it. There is still much need for missionaries from different parts of the world to come and help in the establishment of Christian ministries here in Africa and Uganda in particular. For example, our ministry is based in a rural geographical location to preach the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ through various activities like church planting, making disciples, school ministry, crusades and leadership conferences, youth ministry, medical ministry and many other developmental projects and programmes among others. We need more people to join hands with us in prayer in order to carry out this work effectively. You will learn more when you navigate through our website.

    If you can also have opportunities of sending us some good Christian reading literatures and textbooks for the benefits of the Ugandan people of God, it will also be a very big blessing to our ministry.
    The mail address where to send them is here below;

    May God richly bless you and I will be so grateful when I happen to hear back from you.

    Yours in HIS service,

    Pastor Frank Tibagendeka
    Executive Director
    Conquerors Ministries International (CMI)
    P.O.BOX 31958 Kampala, Uganda – East Africa.
    Emails: tibagekafrank@yahoo.com or
    contact@conquerorsministries.net
    Tel: +256 782 135 999
    Website: http://www.conquerorsministries.net

  8. Alex Araujo Says:

    When the disciples saw what happened before their eyes ath the transfiguration, they were so amazed that they wanted to quantify, formalize it, and repeat it forever. When the Israelites received manna for the day, they wanted to accumulate it and save it in case it was needed.

    Perhaps when we see God working around the world,we naturally want to capture the formula he used and replicate it ad infinitum. Garrison has observed what he interprets to be the work of God in a number of situations and analyzes common characteristics. But, is that how God works? If what Garrison describes are byproducts rather than formulaic ingredients of how God works, striving too hardto reproduce the by-product is not going to generate the desired results.

    The wind blows where it wills … no one controls de wind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: