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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Arts and Sciences

We read church planting books, we go to seminars, and we study models, strategies, and formulas. We are driven by statistics of measurable lostness, reached-ness, and saturation. We calculate number of personnel, availability of resources, and total cost involved.

When it comes to missions, as with the rest of Christianity, we've tried to make a science of what is essentially (and necessarily), an art.

According to the unquestionably reliable Wikipedia,

Art: " the product or process of the effective application of a body of knowledge, most often using a set of skills..."

Science: " an attempt to explain the complexities of nature in a common, known and replicateable way."

While I'm not entirely certain that "replicateble" is even a word, I am convinced that the scientification (also not a word) of missions is the main factor that keeps us from knowing and participating fully in what God is doing around the world.

Most of the great artists in the world started as apprentices to great artists, not to great art teachers. Art lessons begin with philosophy; the master instills in his student a vision of why he creates, and then goes on to share how he creates. But a student will never be considered himself an artist so long as he is content to only copy the master's work. No, he's got to take what he's learned and use it to express his own creativity, applying the master's wisdom while creating a work that is uniquely his.

Discipleship cannot be taught in a classroom. Reading a good book by a proven and experienced church planter is not enough. We need mentors. We need current practicing disciple-makers to be teaching and leading others as they make disciples.

If I could have a conversation with someone of the IMB's Board of Trustees, this (among other things) is what I'd say. We need to radically rethink our approach to training and equipping disciple-makers. The bar has been set way too low. It isn't enough to have a seminary degree or to have signed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We need to be mentored. We need leaders who are currently in the thick of cross-cultural ministry to guide us in wisdom and that long-lost art of missions.

Until we have such a network of relationships, we will not be able to guarantee the theological integrity of our work. We will continue to be criticized by seminary professors and denominational politicians. We will remain on the sidelines of what God is doing around the world because we are debating the science of Christianity and mission while the artists are being used to build the Kingdom.


GuyMuse said...

This is a real keeper and belongs in the "Best of Stepchild" folder. I couldn't agree with you more, just wish I could express my thoughts as well as you do!

Compliments aside, I have toyed in my mind with suggesting to whomever would listen the idea of pairing newer M's (or struggling M's)with your artist "church planting coaches." What keeps me from doing so, though, is the fear of who might be chosen to fill that role. Just because someone has been on the field a while and even planted a few churches, doesn't make them the artist you write about. All I know is that I have so often longed for input/feedback from a more experienced "artist" missionary who has not just read all the books, but through experience has learned the ropes in our particular cultural context.

Anonymous said...

I like your thinking on this one. Although there might be a little science, CPing is way more art than science.

Our company has come a long way on the training aspect. Our region has a system with player-coaches mentoring 2 or 3 players. It is not ideal, but is moving us in the right direction.

mr. t

Anonymous said...


Where are the artists--the mentors?

We students are here. Know that. We grasp, study, and cling to science because it is all we have; it is all that is offered us. We attend the lectures and listen to the theory, but have never seen art. We have no one under whom to apprentice, yet we go for we have heard the rumors. They are faint and elusive, but they are enough. We are desperate to learn and we are comming to you to be taught. It is under your authority that we that we will grow.

Stepchild, are you an artist?

Will you mentor us in our undeveloped naivete or are we left once again to fend for ourselves?

It is your call.

ewinwe said...

i must say, i have had some very good mentors in my life. one led me through my early career, guiding me to explore different tools and methods. yes, he did teach me, but his teaching method was less of "do it this way" than "try this, see what happens when you do ... just play with that a bit".

too often, we are tempted to tell someone about what works for us and then encourage them to try it as well - we call this "mentoring" but it is really "instructing". or "teaching". if i were a seminary professor, i'd be tempted to do it that way, but quite frankly, i would have no clue how to teach someone with regards to church-planting. the very word sounds like you have to take a cutting or seed from one church and plant it in fertile ground somewhere, water it, and see if it grows. to me, that is what "planting" is, it's a gardening analogy ... but is that what we are doing?
we make the assumption, using this method, that the soil - the air - in fact all the conditions are the same in order to make it work. but even i, as a novice gardener, know that you plant things differently from zone to zone. different times of year, different depths, different harvesting schedules - heck, if i could take the whole garden analogy and merge it word-for-word with CPM methods then you'd think i was the "Victory Gardener of the year". i could even write a book on this "proven" method and sell it for a ton of money!!!

but let's face it, that just won't work ...

stepchild said...

In case my post was a little too focused on pointing out the obvious negatives and didn't suppply any encouragement/solutions, here are some of my thoughts:

-Start a renewed organization-wide focus on missiology and ecclesiology.
-Fly church planters (not organizational leaders) back to Richmond to conduct training at ILC
-Require all mentors to undergo training in how to be a mentor. We currently have lots of "mentors" that don't even know that they're mentors!
-Make the missionary apprentice program a true apprenticeship by not assigning them to a job until they've completed two years of working alongside (same city, same job, meeting daily) the experienced church planter who writes the job request. In other words, you don't get to bring in new people and leave them to fend for themselves anymore!
-Make no committments to missionary apprentices beyond the two years. Allow the church planter to decide whether the apprentice will "work out" or not.

We've made some progree toward this, but our policy of "Send as meany as possible" really undermines the mentoring process. Also, the further we gat away from a personal relationship between leadership and supervisee, the worse off we are.

Thanks. I think you're right to be concerned about who is selected as a mentor. I keep going back to personal relationships as the key. The RL should know all of his "direct reports" personally, and that pattern should coontinue all the way down to the line. That way, we can hold people responsible ("Hey, you trained Jimbo and allowed him to bring on some apprentices, but he obviously wasn't ready...")

Mr. T,
Okay, maybe a little science.

Sorry, I'm no master. I do my fair share of training, but always as one learner to another. I am a stepchild, after all.

I'm wondering about the wisdom in even having an agency-wide strategy. If we acknowlege the differences between peoples and cultures, why not focus on a company-wide ethos, and let the regions/clusters come up with the strategies?

Oh, yeah, control...

Bryan Riley said...

I generally like the metaphor, but I really like thinking of it as the difference between walking by faith and walking by sight. The difference between trusting God at His word and trusting God's word as filtered through my personal experiences. Interpreting the scripture to fit what I have seen occur versus letting God's Word speak. God often did the impossible in a new way each time so that the Israelites, for example, wouldn't trust in a method. Instead, they learned to simply trust God (or not). We don't see the Israelites trying the march around and blow trumpet method on other cities, for example. They had to believe and obey.

knnuki said...

It has only recently occurred to me that there is no scriptural command to plant churches. I wonder if the real task of the kingdom is to get the gospel to people, and let it do its work there (I believe the real, living gospel is powerful!). When it does its work, kingdom things (including church) will result. By aiming "intentional church planting", have we gotten things the wrong way around, in much the same way Art and Science are often applied the wrong way around? Just a question...

Watchman said...

I had lunch with a dude yesterday who also used to be on staff with a well known collegiate ministry. He left that position to pursue leadership development in academics. He told me of several books that he was reading, talked about models for social change, ideas about renewing culture, contextualization of the gospel, where are the key cultural centers that the gospel must penetrate, the importance of the eschaton and the echatalogical event. Somewhere in the conversation was mentioned the parousia, Os Guiness, and Q.

It was a nice lunch, but in the end it left me wondering how all or any of that is really going to help me in my conversation over a pint with my co-worker buddy who just got fired. Or for that matter, how is it going to help the guy I mentor?

stepchild said...

Thank you. I have ammended my orignal post in light of the wisdom in your comment.

I guess I've always seen three "steps" in "missions." Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Planting. It seems like focusing on the first might be to short-sighted. The second is something that is likely a natural consequence of disciple-making, which, of course, is the Commission.

Unfortunately, very little of the "Science" even recommends "conversation over a pint."

abrasseau said...

"Discipleship cannot be taught in a classroom."

A great principle. Of all the things I learned in college, church, or where ever, nothing has made as much of an impressions as life learning. It has been hands on experience combined with the knowledge of others that has perked up my learning. Someone can read the Bible everyday of their life through and through, but unless they give their life over to Jesus, it's all useless. Kind of like going to class, if we do not get our and do it what have we done. All of this to say, I listened to someone one day counsel a local about church planting, what repulsed me was the fact that their was not experience there. How can I justifiably suggest or tell someone how they should or should not do something if I have never done it. The problem with the advice was that it biased what was in a seminar, which in the same was not meant to be taken as "This is how you plant a church". Just because it was in a book, class, or seminar does make it law, right, or the only way. However, in your answer for the IMB and mentorship, the MAC Region somewhat adopted a mentorship program for incoming career; however, others such as ISC, Masters, Journeyman, fall through the cracks as far as I know. If you would like to see the brochure let me know.

Watchman said...

I'm all for academics, for learning, critical study, theology, doctorates and whatever else may land in the "science" side of things. Just so long as the experts really know what they are talking about because they are currently doing it, not because they've studied it or did it years ago during the Jesus movement or other time in history different than the one I am living in. When I realized I was telling 15 year-old stories, I knew it was time for a change if I was going to be of any use to the next generation.

David Rogers said...

Great post!

FYI, somewhere way down towards the end of the incredibly long article I just posted here I quote the last few paragrahps of what you say here.

Perry McCall said...

I think your thoughts on the apprentice model of training are excellent. I just participated in an ordination service for a man who has been through less than two years of specific pastoral training. the training was done exclusively by his pastor. the classroom discipline is an incredible advantage to be certain. I would argue that a strong liberal arts program might be more important than a seminary degree if one can only choose one. However, I was amazed at how much more prepared for the pastorate this man is than many of the guys I was in seminary with. My friend was teaching him theology, expository methods, care giving, and baptist foundations and ecclesiology. But what he was teaching him most was the ART of pastoring. I totally agree that it would have to equally effective and useful out on the mission field.

Paul Burleson said...


I've been on the road the past several days but you've been prayed for regularly during that time.

I have to say, this post is exceptional in my understanding of things. I think you're on to something with the art over science analogy and Knnuki hit on something profound with the questioning of intentionally planting churches. It may be intentionally building relationships is more the NT norm and those living people/relationships begin to function in a NT way as a living organism. Any organization would be secondary and even cultural it seems to me. That organization must not become a crib containing a growing enity that is bigger than the crib, but a Body that adapts the structure to let life out and free to be what life is. Just some thoughts but mainly grateful for your thoughts.

Paul B.