The Role of Practical Theology as Social Science

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Chapter 3: A Conceptual Framework for Church Planting Practices


As stated in Chapter 1, much of the current literature in the area of church planting reflects the demographics and culture of the United States. While this literature is insightful and useful for basic principles, it often reflects the characteristics of regions which are densely populated and have an evangelical base that is far more influential than is reflected in the Canadian population in general, and the population base of Atlantic Canada, in particular.
The growth of the church planting movement has created an opportunity for the examination of the fundamental principles and challenges which undergird church planting in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Problems with church planting in the North American context have become evident through the high percentage of church planting situations that do not achieve long-term viability. Robinson (2006, 27), commenting on church planting in North America, as well as Britain, asserts that problems with sustainability for many new congregations became evident by 1996. Robinson believes that many congregations failed as a result of a faulty church planting model. Robinson (2006, 28) says, Many of these congregations consisted of collecting disaffected Christians from other churches…Those disaffected Christians tended to bring their disaffections with them and so what resulted was a series of new congregations that were fundamentally unhealthy….
Robinson (2006, 28) concludes that much of the emphasis in church planting has been on the ‘how,’ to the detriment of the ‘what’ or on the foundations underlying church planting.
Murray (2001, 53), in his book, Church Planting: Laying Foundations, asserts that the neglect of the theological foundations for church planting has, at times, undermined the effectiveness of church planting. Murray writes about Church planting from a British and European background. He (2001, 53) says, We have argued that church planting can be located theologically at the interface between ecclesiology and missiology. Since both ecclesiology and missiology have been marginalized in theological reflection, it is not surprising that a topic on the borders of both has received little theological attention. This is unfortunate, given the significance of this practice throughout the history and global expansion of the church.
This argument is crucial to an understanding of church planting in an area such as Atlantic Canada that has relied upon the literature and research of sources outside the cultural setting and has little development of the theological assumptions of the region.
Stetzer (2004), commenting on Church growth formulas and their relationship to his church planting ministry, writes about the inadequacy of church growth programs which were promoted as universally applicable. He (2004, 1) holds, “Seven years ago my church growth world began to come apart. Many of the sure-fire, guaranteed, great-new-whiz-bang-programs weren’t working in my church or the churches we were starting….When I became seminary professor, my students told me the same thing….” Stetzer (2004, 4) concludes that church planting methods are not universal but that an understanding of the people one is trying to reach is far more important. He (2006, 115-123) continues to develop this line of thinking in Planting Missional Churches. He (2006, 115) writes,
Effective church planting is missionary work. Insightful church planters must begin by determining their mission—exploring questions of personal call and conviction—and by learning missions principles. Then they seek to understand the culture they’ve been called to reach. How do the people who live here think? What are their values? What events shaped their collective history, affected their group psyche? What are their needs and desires?…The missional church planter is performing an ‘exegesis’ of the target culture…to exegete the culture is to study the setting in such a way that one receives guidance for understanding the meanings of cultural patterns, systems and behaviours.
This is what it means to be missional; and this is why, in today’s new world of establishing churches, every plant is different. It’s because every culture is unique.
This, in itself, is both a practical and theological issue and ties church planting to a missional ecclesiology that recognizes the importance of cultural sensitivity. In a similar vein of thought, Hastings (2007, 47) argues for a radical independence of the church’s missionary message from the culture but also maintains the need for cultural dialogue and sensitivity. He (2007, 47-48) writes, “However, the church’s cultural discontinuity and independence can never be absolute since ‘the new church takes its place alongside the other churches of the world in the necessary ecumenical conversation between the various inculturations of discipleship.” In this sense, an understanding of regional distinctions proposed in this research is invaluable to continued church planting in the given region.
In the three broad categories outlined for this thesis in the research questions, namely, theological issues, structural issues and cultural/geographical issues (See Appendix B), there is often a gap in literature that addresses church planting practices in areas like Atlantic Canada that have a smaller population base and an even smaller evangelical presence. It is therefore necessary to address the theological, structural and cultural/geographical issues in this Chapter. They will be examined in the respective order, with attention being given to the sub-categories of each (-See Appendix A) as represented in the current and available literature.
Theological issues will be examined in terms of key Biblical principles and current theological issues. Structural issues will be examined with regard to church political and leadership issues. Lastly, cultural and geographical issues will be explored.
This chapter focuses on current literature which span from the late twentieth century, during a period of intense church planting in many denominations, to the first decade of the twenty-first century from authors such as Harry Gardner (1994), Aubrey Malphurs (1999), Ed Stetzer (2003, 2004, 2006), Stuart Murray (2001,2008), George W. Bullard (2005), Reggie McNeal (2003), David J. Hesselgrave (2000), Martin Robinson (2006) and many others from the similar time frame.

Theological Issues of Church Planting:

There are many theological issues which could inform the church planting phenomena. This study will be limited to an examination of key theological issues in the areas of foundational biblical concepts, current theological issues and vision statements. Concepts of church planting range from the theologically conservative Anabaptist model which stresses evangelism in and through the local congregation, to the more theologically liberal framework of mainline denominations. From a general perspective the mainline denominations operate within a theological understanding of North America as a churched culture and in which church expansion is primarily for those of the respective denomination. It is the intent of this dissertation, in view of the wide spectrum of theological positions, to be limited to the views of evangelical churches and literature being produced in that genre. Reference may be made to literature outside the evangelical community in areas where there is crossover, for the purpose of gaining a wider view of the issue, but not with the intention of examining the entire theological realm of church planting.
In regard to the Anabaptist model Dale R. Stoffer (1994, 210) asserts that Anabaptist and Brethren Churches have relied too heavily on modern church growth methods and too little on the principles derived from their own history. Stoffer suggests that the modern church planting emphasis may be lacking in biblical and theological depth. He (1994, 211) says, “In fact, in the modern church planting and church growth movements, there is all too little attention given to developing a theological rationale for new practices. Pragmatic considerations seem to be the litmus test for any new technique.” Church planting, Stoffer (1994, 215) maintains, must be rooted in the church, as a community of faith with accountability structures in place to provide both service to the individual and an opportunity for the individual to serve the community. Stoffer is concerned with the development of congregations that are decidedly Anabaptist and emphasizes the need for accountability for church planters and new churches. He (1994, 215) says, “I need the accountability of a community to which I am committed and which is committed to me. Growth, both individually and corporately, occurs in the church, paradoxically, as each members serves the needs of the others in sacrificial love.” Although Stoffer (1994, 216) argues against new methodologies such as a need-oriented model or a user-friendly model his emphasis quoted immediately above betrays a need for those same things, albeit, within an Anabaptist theological framework. His emphasis is also decidedly missional as he (1994, 218) describes it in these words.
In my own church planting work I sought first to introduce the people to Christ and his Word. From this foundation I could then reinforce the importance of key Anabaptist principles not because they were Anabaptist but because they were biblical and true to Christ’s teaching and example.
Approaching the issue from a slightly different perspective and in relation to the theological rationale Joel Rainey (2008, 19) highlights the Christological reason for church planting. Church planting should take place because it is the means by which God, through His Spirit has chosen to proclaim, illustrate and confirm the gospel. Rainey (2008, 19-20) says, “Everything begins and ends with Jesus and His gospel. The centre and circumference of your church planting conviction should be no less than a realization that Jesus is not yet worshiped as He deserves to be, and a determination to do something about that.” Rainey’s perspective is also missional in that he promotes a church planting model based on being called and sent by God. He (2008, 20) says,
As you explore your calling to this task, one crucial element of that calling will be not only the conviction that a Gospel-centred church be planted, but that it be planted in a particular place, among a particular people. Like the Apostle Paul, who was forbidden to enter Asia and Bithynia and the very next day led directly to Macedonia, God has a place and people among whom He desires this church be planted.
This way of thinking establishes the need of culturally sensitive outreach and evangelism in church planting specific to the cultural milieu to which a church planter is called.
In contrast to this and at the other end of the theological spectrum are many of the mainline denominations. Commenting on mainline denominations, such as the Lutheran Church, of which he is part, Mervin E. Thompson (1993, 19-21) indicates that there is a need for his and other churches to rethink their understanding of North American culture as being Christian in its basis. Thompson insists that the need for change within his own denomination is crucial for church growth. He maintains that the change needed is in the area of leadership training and focus, so that the church becomes more mission minded. He (1993, 25) says, Leadership for growth is a crying need within the Christian community. The day of the professional minister is over; the day of the missionary pastor has come. The day of clergy-dominated church is over; the day of lay leadership has arrived. The future of the church will be determined largely by how well we respond to these changes in our midst.
The need for changes in leadership training, according to Thompson, are based on an understanding of church planting that is centred on denominational development rather than missional ministry. This leads directly to the importance of Biblical concepts for church planting.

Foundational Biblical Concepts

Thompson’s (1993) views are in keeping with a current emphasis on the missional church and leadership that has become the basis for much of the modern church planting movement. Literature from many sources give high priority to the concepts of mission, discipleship and evangelism in church planting. Often the terms are used together and even interchangeably in the sense that missional churches define their mission in terms that are inclusive of evangelism and discipleship. In relation to this Bosch (2011, 28-30) promotes an understanding of the church’s mission as being all inclusive. He (2011, 28) says, What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both the poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinner and the devout. His mission is one of dissolving alienation and breaking down walls of hostility, of crossing boundaries between individuals and groups.
Later on Bosch links this inclusive mission of Jesus with discipleship. He (2011, 37) says, The sequence of events cannot have been accidental. Mark, in particular, clearly has an explicitly missionary purpose in mind in his account of the calling of the disciples…the true scene of Jesus’ preaching and the lake is for him a bridge toward the Gentiles. Mark thus puts a missionary stamp on his gospel from the very first chapter. The disciples are called to be missionaries.
Bosch (2011, 37) concludes that calling, discipleship and mission belong together. In this sense Jesus’ evangelism, or calling of His disciples to follow him, is linked indivisibly with mission and discipleship.
It is important to recognize the missional, discipleship and evangelism basis for church planting in that it provides the means for those involved in church planting to look beyond themselves and their own religious traditions in order to serve and witness to the community in which they find themselves. In relation to this Hirsch (2006, 235-236) argues, If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission, and not ministry, that is the true organizing principle of the church. Mission is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest that the church’s orientation to the “outsiders,” and ministry as the orientation to the “insiders.” Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministries, need a greater cause to keep them alive and give them their broader meaning.
A missional church, in this context, sees itself as sent to the community in which it exists, and beyond the community and region to even global applications, for the purpose of discipleship and evangelism through ministry to those outside the confines of the traditions of the church. Hendriks (2007, 1012-1013) supports this understanding of what it means to be missional. He (2007, 1013) comments, A missional theology does theology by focusing on global, local and particular issues with the intention of doing something about the reality and problems confronting society. It does this because God, in God’s coming to us in and through Jesus Christ, initiated something that changed people and formed them into a missional community of people called to love God and their neighbour.
Hendriks conclusions are based on his understanding of what it means to have a missional theology. In regard to this he (2007, 1001-1002) asserts, Theology is a faith-based endeavour. The following are basic assumptions on which a missional methodology and its stance on development are based. Theology is basically one (it should not be divided by its many sub-disciplines) and missionary by its very nature (Bosch 1991: 389-393). Theology’s epistemological core is a faith-based focus on the Triune God who reveals Himself as a fountain of sending love (mission Dei) through scripture and through the Holy Spirit’s ongoing, life-giving and not-to-be-manipulated work…The missional paradigm pursues a missional and practical ecclesiology: it develops a methodological strategy on how to be a contextually relevant church.
In this sense missional theology, discipleship and evangelism are not separate entities but a practical outworking of the great commission and the mission of God.
In one of the foundational works, by an evangelical, for church planting in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, Aubrey Malphurs (1998, 28-30), identifies church planting as the practical expression of Jesus’ promise, in Matthew 16: 18, to build His church and Jesus’ calling, in the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20), to make disciples. He asserts that 80-85 percent of churches are not accomplishing discipleship and that a new emphasis on evangelism and discipleship, through church planting, is necessary to correct this. The essential foundation for new church plants is missional in that it fulfils the great commission. Malphurs (1998, 64-65) says,
Early in the twenty-first century, America will see the planting of a number of new, high-impact churches that will measure their success not so much by how well their people know the scriptures (as important as that is) or how many programs they have, but by whether or not they are making disciples…Biblical knowledge is critical and programs are essential in any church. But far too many of our evangelical churches have majored in these areas, to the exclusion of Christ’s more important Great Commission Mandate.
Malphurs work is decidedly missional and thorough in its scope for American church planting, discipleship and evangelism, but often demonstrates the bias of church planting in heavily populated urban areas. An example of this is Malphurs’ expected timeline for the birth of a congregation which assumes a fairly receptive target group and population size that facilitates fast growth. He (1998, 299) says, “How long, then, should it take? What time is necessary to prepare for birth? In most cases, this ranges from three months to a year, depending on whether or not there’s a pre-existing group of interested, committed Christians in the target area.”
Malphurs’ missional emphasis on discipleship and evangelism through church planting is at the heart of evangelical theology and pervades much of the literature from evangelical sources. Church planting, in this sense, displays a missional ecclesiology. This is clearly evident in literature sources with a distinctly American bias. George William Garner (2006, 31), in his dissertation outlining a model of leadership for rural church planting, contends that the great commission and Biblical authority are essential elements for effective church planting in the Southern Baptist Convention. He (2006, 31-32) says, “There is a decided emphasis on Biblical authority and the importance of the great commission. Mission theology and mission practices must have the Bible as their ultimate foundation if they are to be Christian.” He (2006, 32) maintains that an understanding of biblical authority, or lack thereof.

Chapter 1: Identifying the Issue 
1.2 The Aim of the Study
1.3 Background and rationale
1.4 The research problem of the study
1.5 Hypothesis
1.6 The methodology of the study
1.7 Key concepts of this study
1.8 Anticipated Outcomes
1.9 Limitations of the study
1.10 Chapter Outline
Chapter 2: Practical Theological Framework
2.1 Introduction:
2.2 The Role of Practical Theology as Social Science
2.3 A Missional Ecclesiology of Church Planting
2.4 Theological and Biblical Perspectives, Cultural and Social Systems in Church Planting Practices
2.5 Conclusion
Chapter 3: A Conceptual Framework for Church Planting Practices 
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Theological Issues of Church Planting
3.3 Structural Issues
3.4 Cultural and Geographical Issues
3.5 Sub-Conclusion
Chapter 4: Empirical Research
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Research Design
4.3 Qualitative Research Methodology
4.4 Analysis
4.5 Two Case Studies
4.6 Sub-conclusion
Chapter 5: Analysis of Empirical Research Data
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Prevalence of the Codes in the Data
5.3. Additional Codes That Were Not Universal in the Data
5.4 A Comparison between the Empirical Research Data and the Literature Study
5.5 Sub conclusion
Chapter 6 Conclusion
6.1 Overview of the Research Project
6.2 Chapter Summaries
6.3 Summary of Findings
6.4 Contribution to Practical Theology to the Theoretical Base
Viable Long-term Church planting situations in the Maritime Provinces of Atlantic Canada: An analysis of common characteristics

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