The Changing Landscape of Church Growth

The Christian Standard offered a set of articles/reports “How Churches Grow” in its latest online edition. See it here. I found it interesting that two of the four featured churches are led by Nebraska Christian College graduates, Scott Beckenhauer and Bryan Myers. This is doubly interesting to me because Scott is the lead minister at my home church, Calvary Christian Church in Bellevue, NE. The article about Calvary, “One Life at a Time,” can be seen here.

Calvary Scott BeckenhauerI have been following the ups and downs of the church growth movement and its practices for four decades now. There have been good things and bad things that have emerged. Let me mention some of the things that happened that seem unwise to me now, things I actively participated in and yet now judge with my perfect 20/20 vision of hindsight.

First was a push in the 1980s to have the church become some sort of a marketing business. In this model, the minister was a CEO, the church was his business, dedicated members were his sales staff, and visitors were customers. Everything on Sunday morning was based on appeal to the newcomers who might show up each week.

A second, related, way in which this came out was through the emphasis upon “seeker sensitive” worship services, a technique that was particularly popular in the 1990s. It was the church as marketing business redux, with almost every aspect of the church’s ministry aimed at the “seekers” out there, spiritual people who had not embraced Christianity or a particular congregation.

A third realization is that a lot of church “growth” was reshuffling of church folks. This fed the consumer mentality of Americans: doing church better than anyone would cause believers to flock to a growing church and leave the lesser, dysfunctional churches of their past. It was somewhat rare to find a growing church that was actually growing through conversion of non-believers.

There are other things that have come and gone, but the some of the core values of the church growth movement still hold. One of these is that Christ intended his church to grow, because this growth was the working out of his command to go worldwide and make disciples. Second, the church growth folks pushed us to start new churches, understanding that many older churches were mired in infighting and had lost evangelistic focus, and that growing communities always needed new churches. I think both of these are very good things.

It has been interesting for me to engage with Rory Noland, a new faculty person for Nebraska Christian College, on these issues a little. Rory was the music director for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicagoland for many years, and was right in the middle of the “seeker” approach. He notes that Willow had moved away from this some years ago. (See this 2008 article from Christianity Today.)  Rory sort of assumes that wise churches will have followed Willow’s lead in abandoning and/or de-emphasizing this approach, since the church that pioneered it has done so, but I don’t think that is the case. The “seeker sensitive” model has left a lasting imprint on many Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, my tribe, and some still see this as a desirable way to achieve that elusive status of being a growing church.

Calvary Christian Church has grown for several reasons. Scott Beckenhauer is a gifted preacher and brings worthwhile things to the congregation every week he preaches. The repurposing of facilities has given a more contemporary feel that seems to work well. The worship music is excellent, led by another couple of Nebraska Christian College graduates, Drew Scates and Jeremy Lalk. There is constant and consistent outreach into the community, making Calvary known as an active, caring church. There is a vibrant small group ministry. Perhaps the most important thing is Calvary’s emphasis, led by Scott, on a “One Life” ministry. It is not so much about numbers, but about each individual life. Each life is important, because each life is a child of God created in the image of God.

And maybe that is where church growth initiatives must go. Church growth is about numbers only insomuch as numbers are made up of individuals. Community outreach is care for the people in the community. Focus is outward, not inward. Resources such as buildings are to be used, not guarded or hoarded. Church music touches the heart and uplifts the soul, not impresses the spectator. Church members are looking not so much to be led, but to participate. I think this is the church of the future, a church the millennial generation wants and will support.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Women Called to Ministry

I have been blogging about women in church leadership positions for a couple of weeks now, and would like to do one more before moving on to some other topics.

Female preacherEphesians 4:11 is a key text when it comes to church leadership, and it has unfortunately been mistranslated and generally misinterpreted and misused for many years. The older NIV (1984) is a good example of this mistranslation:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers …

Let me offer a more literal translation that I believe reflects Paul’s intent here:

He himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers …

There is no “to be” in the original Greek text. This mistake makes it sound like apostleship or prophetship or evangelistship or pastor/teachership is a gift that is bestowed upon certain folks chosen by Christ (or God). The intended meaning is that Christ provided these various sorts of leaders for his church. The emphasis is upon the gifting for the church, not the individual.

What does this have to do with women as church leaders? Lots. Let me tell a story to illustrate.

When I was doing my Ph.D. work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I was fortunate to take a seminar on church leadership from Wayne Grudem. For those of you that know the players of the egalitarian/complementarian debate, you will recognize this name as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the complementarian side. Grudem believes in male leadership primacy in the family and the church. In this seminar, it quickly became clear that I was the only voice for egalitarianism, which made me the punching bag for Grudem and the others in the class. (One of the students told me he had never met a “real live egalitarian” before, apparently thinking this position was a hypothetical straw man created by conservatives.) Don’t feel sorry for me, I did just fine in this environment and it gave me plenty of opportunities to reexamine and refine my positions.

There was one other aspect to this class that made it interesting: we had one woman student. She was Korean-American and did not have great confidence in her English skills, so she did not participate much in our lively class discussions. I learned outside of class that she was the Pastor of a large Assemblies of God church in Chicagoland, a bigger church than any of the other students had ever pastored (including me). There did come a day when Grudem and the gang were piling on me pretty mercilessly, and they had me truly exasperated. They were attacking the very idea of women as church leaders beyond teachers of children or leaders of women’s Bible studies. In desperation, I reached out and said, “I would like to hear what Mrs. Lee has to say about this. She is the Pastor of a large church. I wonder how she justifies this?”

Her answer caught even Dr. Grudem by surprise. She said, basically, “In my denomination we become Pastors not by training or church vote. We are called by God and that call is confirmed by other Pastors. That is what happened to me.” This left the class is a momentarily stunned silence. Grudem, because of his work with the Vineyard Church, could not swat this argument away so easily. If God had called Mrs. Lee to be a Pastor, did we have any authority to challenge this?

I think that is what we are dealing with in Ephesians 4:11. We participate in training church leaders, that is what most of my life’s work has been about. But it is God who calls them. It is God who provides appropriate leaders for his church. So what if God calls a woman to ministry? Who are we to say “no” to God? When I talk to the young women at my college, some of them have felt a call by God to preach or be church planters. Am I supposed to say, “No, that can’t be true. God would not do that.” I’m not willing or wanting to say that. God will call whom he chooses to call, and he does not seek or need my approval. Let me conclude with a quote from Romans, only slightly out of context:

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?


Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Women in Ministry: Just Lead!

just lead!I recently read a book entitled Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church. The authors are Jenni Catron (CEO of MOPS International) and Sherry Surratt (Executive Director of Cross Point, a megachurch in Nashville). I recommend this book to all women interested in being church leaders.

Let me tell you what this book is not. It is not a detailed theological or exegetical analysis of scripture to serve as an apology for women in church leadership. I will say more about that in a minute.

Let me tell you what this book is. It contains the personal stories of these two women and several others as they navigate the waters of church leadership in the male-dominated churches of the evangelical world. It contains accounts of breakthrough and progress as well as instances of opposition and frustration. It also has sage advice for women in two ways. First, what are the general challenges that American women face as they tackle leadership roles? A good example is chapter 3, “The Monster You Are Avoiding.” Here is a quote:

That same feeling follows us into adulthood as we ask ourselves, Am I smart enough? Do I have enough education for this position? Do I have the experience this job demands? The questions may change as we get older, but they all point to one lurking monster that may feel as if it’s getting bigger by the minute: insecurity. Insecurity can hit you unexpectedly. One minute you’re feeling pretty cool and together, and then wham! You’re left with sweaty palms asking some pretty big, unsettling questions. Am I enough? Can I measure up? Do I have what it takes? Do I even belong here? (p. 36)

Men reading this may think that this is an issue that all people have. We all feel at times that we are unqualified for our tasks and that we are in over our heads. But with women, this is wrapped up with issues like body image and expectations of our society. I will admit that I do not fully understand everything this chapter has to say, but it was not written for me. I think it speaks to men and women, but especially to women leaders.

A second area that the authors address is the resistance of some men to women leaders and how to handle this. We could hope that the gender of a person’s boss would not be important, but in the real world, it is. We are foolish to act as if there are no men who have problems serving under women leaders. I don’t fully understand this, but I have observed it many times in the church and in the classroom. There are male students who find it difficult to respect women professors. There are many explanations for this, I’m sure, but there is no real excuse for this behavior. Here is how the authors frame it:

There isn’t a leader reading this book who doesn’t want to succeed when it comes to working together with the opposite sex. But I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s complicated, frustrating, and just plain hard. Men and women have different communication styles and react with different levels of emotion. Then, just for fun, let’s throw in fear of sexual tension and deeply rooted theological differences. In fact, it’s amazing that any mixed-gender teams get anything accomplished.

I think this chapter alone is worth the price of the book (chapter 8) because I have never read anything that addressed this issue in such a straightforward way. There are many other treasures here as well as a good, up-to-date list of resources. And it is an enjoyable read because they are good authors. I recommend it for men or women.

Final note: I mentioned the book doesn’t delve into a biblical basis for women church leaders. Instead, there is an assumption that God calls people into ministry, and if a woman experiences God’s call, she should answer with the surrender of her life. More on this in the next blog.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Women Preachers: Form Follows Function

Form Follow FunctionMy blog on Monday about women preaching has generated quite a firestorm of activity. This forum is not really the place to hash our scriptural arguments, you will need to wait for my book for that. I made the claim that for some folks, this issue was not even open to discussion. I did this without evidence, but some of the comments received have confirmed this.

I want to make a modest proposal today about the nature of church leadership, borrowing a principle from the architectural world. Architects are taught that “form follows function.” A successful building will be constructed when the developers understand what its necessary functions will be, and architects draw plans for accommodating those functions. This principle is often extended into many other areas, including organizations. Successful organizations are built to facilitate necessary functions and must adapt to the changing functional needs of the organization. Form should be dynamic based on actual, vital activities of the organization. If there is rigid structure that resists change, functionality will suffer.

I have thought that this principle should be applicable to the church in several ways. First, I think this is what was going on in the first century. The earliest leaders in the church after the ascension of Jesus were the twelve apostles. In Acts 6, the evolving functions of the church necessitated engaging a different set of leaders, those who would do food distribution duty.  Why? Because the apostles could not keep up with this function and still perform their vital function of prayer and ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). So the organizational form of the church adapted.  In Acts 15, the leaders of the Jerusalem church met to consider the necessity of circumcision for Gentiles, and we see another modification of the church’s leadership structure. Now we have “apostles and elders” (Acts 15:6), and the leader of the church is James. He is not an apostle. We assume this is the brother of Jesus and that he would be considered an elder. A little after this, we get one of the earliest descriptions of the leaders of a church in 1 Corinthians 12:28: apostles, prophets, and teachers. No preachers or ruling elders in sight!

The Pastoral Letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus are often cited as authoritative for church form, the definitive structure for all time. But we may observe that Paul commanded Titus to “appoint elders” in every church (Titus 1:5). Who is the Titus who does this for us now?

All of this is to say that perhaps we get this backwards. We think we need elders in our churches, but I have been involved in more than one church where a newly elected elder asked, “What am I supposed to do?” We think we need deacons in our churches, but often there is confusion over the division of labor between elders and deacons. We think we need a church board (a concept completely absent from the early church), but we are not sure who should be on it, and how it divides responsibilities with the “Preacher.” Does the Preacher work for the board, does the board serve the Preacher, or do they serve together?

It seems to me that the church needs folks to oversee operations. If we need to give them a title, they can be called “Overseers.” We need mature, wise people to teach sound doctrine and refute heresy. Maybe we could call these folks “Older, Mature Leaders.” We need caring people to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the congregations. Maybe we could call these folks “Shepherds.” We need people to see to physical needs of the church and minister to the community. Maybe we could call these folks “Ministers.” We need people who are well grounded in the word and have the time to develop helpful, scriptural sermons. Maybe we could call these folks “Preachers.” If we want to sound more traditional, maybe we could use the titles Bishops, Elders, Deacons, and Preachers, but when we do this we potentially lose a lot of the functionality aspect of the role. But maybe if we approached it this way, the gender issue would not seem so important.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Women Preaching without being Preachers

Woman in PulpitA recent article in the Christian Standard online weekly version was entitled “Women Preachers.” This was brought to my attention by several friends (and thanks for that).

First, let me say that I have written many articles for Christian Standard and do a lot of writing for Standard Publishing, so I respect both organizations very highly. Second, let me also say that I understand this is a touchy issue. It has been for forty years now. This article attempts to be positive and even a little progressive, and I commend it for that intent.

But I think the truth is that there is a group of church folks for whom this is not even open for discussion. There is a determined mindset that says that women are disqualified or prohibited from leadership roles within the church. Any attempt to move away from this position is decried as a betrayal of Scriptural teaching and compromise with the ever-lurking threat of liberalism. Women may be leaders in government, business, entertainment, literature, art, music, military, and serve on the Supreme Court, but not leaders in the church. And frankly, I don’t think the persons who take this position are open to dialog or modification.

The article points to a Christian college that has opened its preaching classes up to women students. How can they do this, the article asks, if such Scriptures as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 seem to prohibit women from teaching (or even speaking) in public church forums? Here is the carefully nuanced answer:

The key issue . . . is differentiating between the act of preaching and the role of preacher. Preaching has to do with proclamation, edification, and teaching of the gospel. The role of the preacher is more than that. [A preacher is] the teaching elder, the spiritual leader of the church.

So, it is OK for women to preach, but not for women to be “preachers.” I must say that this opens up many possibilities I had not thought of before. I guess it is OK for women to eld but not be elders. They can deak without being deacons. They can teach without being teachers. The can minister without being ministers.

I’m sorry, my sarcastic side got the better of me there for a minute. Back on topic! But here is the problem with this argument. The role of “teaching elder” is convenient, but not biblical. All elders are to be “apt to teach.” And there is no biblical justification for seeing a single “teaching elder” as the “preacher” of a congregation. There are several Greek terms in the New Testament that we could translate as “preacher,” (nominal forms of kerusso, euangelistes, perhaps prophetes), but none of the words for “elder” or its office (presbyteros, episkopos, poimen) imply anything about preaching.

So we are back to the issue of whether or not women can be elders. I believe they can, and if you agree with me, this entire line of thinking become irrelevant. If we continue to limit women and their potential for ministry and leadership in the churches, we will continue to lose the millennial generation, for whom this is not an issue. I’m not OK with that, and I don’t believe I have sacrificed or compromised any biblical principles to arrive at my position. So let women preach and be preachers. We need them.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Hiding Poverty

1-DSCN1070I’m still getting rested up from the great trip to Uganda. Our team worked with LivingStone International University while in Mbale. We also visited the main facility of the Child Restoration Outreach (CRO), a world-renown Christian NGO that ministers to street children in Mbale and other cities. This picture shows two of our team members, Brooke Anderson and Mike Cahill, trying to make balloon animals for these CRO children in their compound. They were only able to do this for a short time, because the children mobbed them in a way that was nearly out of control. You might notice that one of the taller boys is wearing long pants and a baggy tan/white jacket with long sleeves. This seems strange in the hot African weather, but I think this was to hide the obvious skin symptoms of his AIDS condition. He was barefoot, and I saw the tell-tale lesions on his feet. Very sad.

Why do we dress the way we do? This question confronted me several times while in Uganda. At lunch, a Ugandan student asked me a question concerning people in American, something that puzzled him. A paraphrase of his question was, “Why do rich people in America dress like such slobs?” It was hard to answer. I guess they do this because they can. They can do whatever they want. There is no dress code for the rich in America.

At another Q & A with Ugandan students, the issue of dress came up. One of our team members, Daniel Norton, mentioned that he appreciated how the Ugandan university students always dressed well. Daniel’s comments were well intended and perceptive, but did not grasp the entire picture. I had also noticed that they were nicely dressed, but that most of them wore the same clothes every day. They had managed to acquire one nice outfit, but did not have a closet full of them. When Daniel said this, the Ugandan students were surprised, and one of them offered a comment that provided tremendous insight for me, “We dress to hide our poverty.”

The poor boy with AIDS dressed to hide his condition. The poor university students dressed to give the appearance of affluence. The rich celebrities in America wear jeans with holes and don’t wash their hair. What a contrast!

When Princess Diana was alive, every public appearance was observed and scrutinized by the relentless British press. It was said that she never wore the same dress in public more than once. Some of her dresses were donated to charities, so I don’t want to label her as selfish or ostentatious. But she was not hiding poverty. She was flaunting wealth.

James 2:1My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

I’m not sure I understand all of this, but in the end I don’t think we can hide poverty, as much as we might want to do so. In a rich country like America, we still see poverty. In a poorer country like Uganda, it is more evident. May we just be sure we judge people by their hearts, not their clothes.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College