I promised someone quite a while ago that I would write something about church models. So I am going to deliver on my promise—even if it is slightly belated.
Generally when we think of church models we think of systems. When we think of Saddleback Community Church we think of seeker services and concentric circles, we think of the bases (101, 201, 301, 401) and moving around the baseball diamond. Spiritual growth is seen as moving through the bases. At Grace Community Church of which John MacArthur is the senior pastor we think of “unleashing God’s Truth one verse at a time.” While a slogan, it summarizes the model—large and small teaching environments. Preaching on Sunday Morning and Sunday Night, teaching in Sunday School classes for all ages. Spiritual growth is seen as right living stemming from comprehending right doctrine.
For many, these churches represent (but did not originate) opposing models. They have been commonly named the “outreach” church model and the “teaching” church model. If you stand in the “outreach church model” you may view the teaching church model as simply a different methodology. You see a difference between “the message” and the method. In fact the common view is that the message should never change, but the methods should always change so as to be relevant to the culture trying to be reached. If you stand in the “teaching church model” you see the preaching of God’s Word as the method and the message. Thus any tampering with the method is a tampering with the message. As Mark Dever has written in the Deliberate Church, he would rather see every other area of his personal ministry fail, than to see his ministry of the preaching of the Word to fail. In the teaching church the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry of the church and there is no close second.
I want to say that the discussion deteriorates from here to a lot of name calling. So, I am going to lay all my cards on the table and use a secular tool to guide what I think is the real issue underlying church models, why the debate is so fierce, why outreach vs. teaching church is a false dichotomy, why “balance” is a “sucky” term and should not be part of any well meaning Christian’s vocabulary and ultimately what I think is the real solution to the church model problem.
The secular tool I am referring to is what has been developed by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras in several articles on vision & leadership, among them the books Built to Last and Good to Great. So throughout the rest of this blog I will be referring to the way they have defined the terms: core ideology, core purpose and core values, envisioned future, tangible image and mission.
(For those who think that the secular market place (if you haven’t stopped reading already) has nothing to say to the church organization, I ask that you bear with me a little longer. I am not asking us to judge the church by worldly standards. I am just trying to establish a common vocabulary and define the terms in the clearest possible fashion. Collins and Porras have been the only ones who distinguish between all of the terms we commonly use in the church interchangeably.)
Collins and Porras see vision as an envisioned future that stems from core ideology. Core ideology consists of an organization’s core purpose (why it exists) and core values/philosophy (what it believes). These two things are so part of the culture of the organization they are virtually impossible to change. Out of the core ideology is birthed the envisioned future which consists of a tangible image (what do we want to become) and a mission (a time sensitive plan on how to get there.) The mission may be constantly changing as it is achieved or needs to be revised, but it should never be incompatible with the core ideology. (For further study see “Building the Vision” in Built to Last).
Most discussions on church models jump to systems and ignore the core ideology. We assume that the core values of Bible believing evangelical churches are the same. Sure we differ on some minor issues, like worship styles, baptism, communion etc . . . But we all acknowledge that many of the issues that divide are secondary. This we know is true because the statements of faith from the two example churches are virtually identical. Equally true however is the fact that churches can have the same beliefs and yet have very different core values and ministry philosophy. That would be the case for Saddleback and Grace Community Church. We can’t assume that agreement theologically means agreement philosophically. We muddy the issue because we like to point out how philosophical differences in others are mis-readings of the text or theological inconsistencies. I think that this confuses the issue. Well meaning traditional Calvinists are always trying to make Arminians of the Rick Warrens of the world. In the end, I think we are sidestepping the real debate; theological name calling is as old as time.
The best place to start is an understanding of core values and ministry philosophy in these two church models. In my next blog that is where we will begin. To be continued . . . .