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Malphurs - Eric Meyer

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Eric Meyer

CMN 7713: Biblical Foundations Of Ministry & Leadership

John Brown University

Professor: Dr. Robert V. Cupp

October 14th, 2008

Aubey Malphurs, “A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century,”  Baker Books, 2007.


Introduction:  The Purpose of this Book

·         New Model Churches: “The major issue we must address is wrapped up in this question: Is there a standard model for doing church?  Does the Bible give us a correct, prescribed model to follow?” (9)

·         Why Write This Book:

o   Malphurs’s love for the local church

o   Malphurs’s has spent much time studying the subject

o   He wants to pass on his experience as a consultant

o   The local church is in serious decline in America

·         Who Should Read This Book: “…this book is must reading for those congregations that are going through church renewal or church planting.” (11) “Finally, this book is for seminarians and others who are preparing for ministry.  It’s important to the future of their ministries that they think through the issues of this book so that they know why they’re doing what they’re doing and can at least articulate the reasons they minister in the context of a particular model, whether it is traditional or contemporary. (11)

·         Malphurs’s Perspective: “What is important is what the Bible teaches or doesn’t teach on these maters.  My authority is the Bible.” (12)

·         The Book’s Plan:

o   Part 1: Addressing our changing times

o   Part 2: Seeks to provide the reader with information necessary to make wise decisions about new-paradigm churches.


Chapter 1: Who is Changing?  Churches Are Changing

“The question in the title of this chapter is important because the answer affects increasingly how a growing number of churches do church – whether they stay with an older model or search for and embrace newer ways of doing church.” (17)

·         The Changing Church

o   Plateaued and declining: “…churches experience a beginning, some initial growth, and in time plateau.  And if something doesn’t change the situation quickly, they will then begin to decline and eventually die.” (18)

o   Dying: An article in Ministry predicted that , of 350,000 churches in America, as many as 100,000 would close their doors,” (19)

·         The Unchurched, Cults, and Religious Groups

o   Unchurched People: “In 1991 there were thirty-nine million compared with seventy-five million unchurched in 2004” (19)

o   Those involved in cults and non-Christian religions: “Not only have the ranks of unchurched people increased, but many cults and religious organizations are growing as well” (23)

o   Religious Groups: “I believe that the information above is evidence that people are most interested in spirituality, but they aren’t looking to today’s typical neighborhood church for answers to their spiritual questions.” (25)

Chapter 2: Why Are Churches Changing?  The Buck Stops Here

“Often we Americans find it difficult to accept the blame for our mistakes.  Instead, we follow the time-honored tradition of passing the buck.” (29)

·         Why American Are Not Attending Church

o   People think differently: “Young unchurched adults are asking a different question: Which God is real?” (31)

o   Faith is no longer tied to church

§  Authority: “Far too many American are individualists who are convinced that “religious authority lies in the believer – not in the church, not in the Bible…” (32)

§  Poor Ministry:  “An important current movement among Christians is either dropping out of church altogether or adding other alternatives to church gatherings because they view traditional church involvement as harmful to their faith development.” (32)

o   Sunday morning is no longer sacred:  “…and a number of rivals have surfaced to compete with the church for the hearts and souls of the American citizenry on Sunday.” (33)

·         Where Churches Are at Fault

o   Too slow to change: “The question every church faces is, What can and must change, and what must never change?” (36)

o   Failure to take advantage of opportunities: “Our assessment is that churches succeeded at putting on a friendly face but failed at motivating the vast majority of spiritual explorers to connect with Christ in a more intimate or intense manner” (38)

o   Lack of value of evangelism: “America is clearly becoming less Christian, less evangelized, and less churched.  Yet too many of those in our churches seem oblivious to this reality.  The problem is that the overwhelming majority of American churches aren’t committed to evangelism.” (40)

o   Not recruiting gifted leaders: “My experience in working with churches as well is that if the senior pastor doesn’t have a leadership gift, then often the church moves to plateau and eventually slips into decline.” (42)  “Remember, the church rises or falls with godly, gifted leadership from top to bottom.” (42)

Chapter 3: Should Churches Change?  Arguments against New-Model Churches

“My goal in this chapter is two-fold.  First, I want to address the concept of Christians policing their own ranks.  Second, what are the arguments being used by those who attempt to police the church ranks for us, especially those who are most suspicious and critical of the new church models?” (45)

·         Who Should Address Error?

o   Churches must address error: “The answer is the body of Christ.  In other words, Christians must police their own.” (46)

o   How to address error: “The church in general and leaders in particular need a biblical-theological grid or sieve that consists of several filters through which they run any and all teaching that claims to be of God.” (49)  “In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; in all things, love.” (54)

§  Filter 1: The essentials of faith- “There are five essentials: The Bible is the inspired Word of God; there is only one true God as three coequal and coeternal persons (namely, the Trinity); the deity and substitutionary atonement of Christ provide for salvation by faith apart from baptism or works; Christ was bodily resurrected; and Christ will physically return to earth.” (50)

§  Filter 2: The nonessentials – “The nonessentials are views that we hold that may be based on scriptures, tradition, or on both.  The nonessentials aren’t clear biblically, and that’s why evangelicals disagree on them.” (51)

§  Filter 3: In all things love – “The final filter addresses both the essentials and the nonessentials.  It argues that we must always treat others with love.” (53)

·         What the Critics are Saying

o   The proclamation of scripture: New model churches soft-sell scripture

o   The focus of Sunday morning worship: Incorrectly focused on the unsaved

o   The church and evangelism: The Gospel has been weakened in their teaching

o   The church’s means or methodology for ministry:  Too marketing focused

o   The motive’s for the church’s ministry: More concerned about numbers than purpose

o   The church’s goal for ministry in general: Bring in lots of people


Chapter 4: Doing Church.  Interpreting the Biblical Passages

“I have divided this chapter into two parts.  The first presents the problem – that various people view church ministry differently.  The second proposes a solution – a solid biblical hermeneutic for handling the passages that address church ministry.” (61)

·         The Problem of Different Views of Church Ministry

o   The influence of tradition: “These are non-biblical practices, because Scripture doesn’t clearly mandate them and in some cases doesn’t even mention them.  And the church comes to observe and value them to the extent that they become an integral part of the church’s culture.” (62)

§  Traditions based on the Bible: “Traditions that are supposedly based on the Bible are those that many congregants believe are the clear teaching of God’s Word.  It is a dangerous situation when we don’t recognize these practices as traditions and, instead, believe they are biblical mandates demanding our allegiance.” (63)

§  Traditions not based on the Bible:  “There are good and bad church traditions.  What is the difference?  Good church traditions is always subservient to the Bible” (64)

o   The Church’s need for a hermeneutic: “I am arguing that we need a proper biblical hermeneutic to interpret not only the Bible in general but the passages that address the church’s ministry in particular.”  (65)

·         A Special Hermeneutic for Church Ministry

o   The Descriptive versus Prescriptive principle:  “A major question facing contemporary church leaders is whether certain first-century practices are normative for churches today simply because they appear in the Bible.”  (66)

§  The descriptive principle: All 1st century churches functioned the same way, and a biblical description of one will describe all.

§  The prescriptive principle: “Prescriptive, not descriptive , passages are divine precepts that address and mandate how churches are to conduct their ministries.” (67)

o   The Negative versus Positive principle: “Contemporary church leaders must also consider whether church practices can be legitimate if they are not found in the Bible.” (68)

§  The negative principle: “The negative principle argues that is a practice isn’t found in the Bible, we can’t do it.”  (68)  “There are several reasons, however, why this principle isn’t correct.” (68)

§  The positive principle: “The positive principle argue that the church is free to pursue practices that aren’t found in the Bible, as long as they are not prohibited by the clear teaching of scripture.”  (69)

o   The Pattern versus the Principle approach: “Another question for the contemporary church to ponder is whether we must follow the practices of the early church or just the principles behind these practices.” (70)

§  The pattern approach: “General proponents of the pattern approach argue that the practices or patterns of the apostles and the early church are universal and binding on al congregations everywhere at all times.” (70)  “Patternism assumes wrongly that all early churches shared the same practices and patterns.” (71)

§  The Principle Approach: “The principle approach argues that the church is obligated to follow only the principles, not necessarily the patterns and practices, of the early church.”  (73)



Chapter 5: The Changing Church.  Developing a Theology of Change

“I believe that a major reason why 80 to 85 percent of the churches in North America are plateaued or in decline is because they don’t know how to deal with spiraling, turbulent change. (75)

“A good theology of change consists of three F’s.  Function, form, and freedom, and the rest of this chapter will address them.”  (76)

·         Function

o   The definition of a function:  “Functions are the timeless, unchanging, and nonnegotiable precepts that are based on scripture, and are mandates for all churches to pursue to accomplish their purpose.” (77)

o   The Church’s functions

§  General: “The church’s general functions are those for which all believers are responsible” (79)

·         Teaching: “Just as Jesus taught His disciples, they were to teach others.” (80)  “Not only must the congregants know the Bible well, they must apply or live the Bible well.” (80)

·         Fellowship: “Fellowship signifies a strong human relationship or, better, a deep friendship that is reflected in the use of the word together as experienced by the Jerusalem church in Acts 2:44 and 46.  It involves doing life deeply together.” (81)

·         Worship: “Prayer communion, and praise are forms of worship, as well as giving, singing, and other expressions that attribute worth to God.”  (82)

·         Evangelism:  “Though not a prophet, I predict that if churches don’t begin to value and pursue evangelism, they will experience further decline.”  (83)

·         Service: “The point is we’re all to be involved in ministry in our churches.  Service or ministry is necessary and vital to the life of every church.”  (83)

§  Specific: “Specific functions are those that apply to only certain believers, not all believers, and aren’t necessary to spiritual maturity.  Examples are leadership, administration, and others.”

§  The discovery of functions:  “One way is to use the definition of a function: a timeless, unchanging, and nonnegotiable precepts that are based on scripture, and are mandates for all churches to pursue to accomplish their purpose.  All activities of a church can be evaluated against this definition.”  (85)

o   Form:  “I define forms as the temporal, changing, and negotiable practices that are based on culture and are methods that all churches are free to choose to accomplish their functions.”  (85)

§  Temporal:  They are not absolute.  “Each church must ask the question, What practices and forms best serve our constituency or the people we desire to reach?” (85)

§  Changing: “Times change, and so must our ministry forms if we are to remain culturally current.” (85)

§  Negotiable: “…we can pick and choose the forms that are best for our churches.” (86)

§  Cultural: “Whereas the basis for the church’s functions is the Scriptures, the basis for its forms is culture.”  (88)

§  Involve methods: “They are the methods through which the church accomplishes its functions.” (87)

§  Nonabsolutes: “Since the church’s forms are nonabsolutes based on culture and serve as methods for its ministry, the implication is that all churches are free to choose the ones they will use.”  (87)

§  Fulfill church’s functions:  “Most people are familiar with the cliché, “form follows function.”  I would say, “Form serves function.” (87)

o   Discovery of forms: “To discover forms, we also ask two questions: Is this a means to accomplish an end?  Functions are end, while forms are means to ends.  The second question is, “How will I implement a particular function?” (90)

·         Freedom

o   Implications: “In two places, James clearly states that the Bible, which he calls the “perfect law,” gives us freedom (James 1:25; 2:12).  This certainly applies to the area of form.  All churches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit are free to choose the methods or forms that best accomplish the functions.”  (91)

o   Limitations:  “We limit our freedom and that of others when we assume that there is only one way to implement a function such as worship.”  (91)

o   Restrictions: I propose that there are only two restrictions that affect our freedom to choose forms.  The first is that the forms must agree with the Bible.  The second restriction is that our forms – whether for general or specific functions – must help us accomplish the absolutes and grow in Christ.”  (93)

Chapter 6: The Connecting Church.  Developing a Theology of Culture

“In this chapter, I’ll briefly discuss five areas that will affect your fundamental thinking about culture.  We must explore the reasons culture is so important to us and our churches; we need to define culture, and be aware of the various kinds so that we know what we’re talking about; we’ll discuss how best to respond to culture; and we’ll address how the church should relate to culture.”  (96)

·         Four Reasons Why Culture Is Important

o   It profoundly shapes our life and all of our beliefs

o   It affects the development of our theology and what we believe about the Bible

o   It affects the way we conduct our ministries in the church

o   It helps us to understand better the different people we seek to reach for Christ

·         The Definition of Culture

o   What culture is: “I define culture as the sum total of what people believe, and how they act on their beliefs.” (98)

o   What culture isn’t: “The most common misconception is that culture is inherently evil.” (101)

·         Our Response to Culture

o   Isolation: “Isolationists believe incorrectly that culture is inherently evil and an enemy of the Gospel.” (103)

o   Accommodation: “Accommodation is the other extreme.  It is when the Christian accommodates or accepts the culture.” (104)

o   Contextualization: “…plant or reestablish churches within people’s cultural context…”  (105)

·         Culture and the Gospel

o   Supracultural and cultural: “We must remember that the gospel is supracultural in its origin and essence but cultural in its interpretation and application.” (107)

o   Distinguishing between the Gospel and culture: Don’t interpret biblical cultural forms as biblical functions

o   Using culture to clarify the Gospel: “When we put the Gospel into other people’s cultural forms, whether North American or some other, we make it possible for them to understand it, embrace it, and communicate it to others.” (107)

·         Culture and the Church

o   Culture affects all churches: “There are no exceptions” (108)

o   The extensive impact of culture: “I’m convinced that as much as 80 to 90 percent of what we do in our churches is culturally, not biblically directed.” (109)

o   Some people excluded: “…a church that attempts to reach everyone in general will reach no one in particular.” (110)

o   No superior culture: “No culture is distinctively Christian and thus superior to another.” (111)

o   Remaining relevant: “…we should understand our times so that we know how to communicate well, and reach people…” (111)

Chapter 7: Defining the Church.  Developing a Definition of the Local Church

“With all of the new model churches that are out there and the ones to come, how can we know if they are legitimate New Testament churches?” (115)

“I believe that a local church is an indispensible gathering of professing believers in Christ who, under leadership, are organized to pursue is mission through its functions to accomplish its purpose.” (116)

·         Indispensible: “…the local church is God’s only divinely sanctioned institution to reach the world for Christ.” (117)

·         A Gathering of Professing Believers

·         Under Leadership: “Leadership is vital to the spiritual health of every church.” (119)

·         An Organization: “Organization involves bringing structure to something.” (121)

·         Pursuing a Mission: “The church’s mission is and always has been the Great Commission.” (121)

·         Functions: “Functions are the church’s means to accomplish the mission.” (123)

·         Purpose: “As stated earlier in this book, the church’s purpose is to glorify God.” (124)

Chapter 8: The Serving Church. The Biblical Concept of Servanthood

“My goal in this chapter is to focus specifically on the teachings of Jesus and Paul on servanthood and apply them to today’s churches.” (127)

·         Jesus’s Teaching on Servanthood

o   The context of servanthood in Matthew20:20-28: “Somewhere along the way they had missed what their journey was all about.  It was not about them, the twelve disciples; it was all about Him, the Savior.”

o   The concept of servanthood in Matthew 20:20-28

§  Leading with humility

§  Service, Not status: “We serve to benefit other, not ourselves” (131)

·         Paul’s Teaching on Servanthood

o   The context of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: Paul voluntarily gives up rights to establish his integrity in serving others.

o   The concept of servanthood in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “What are we willing to give up, change, or set aside to win lost people to faith in Christ?” 132)

·         The Contemporary Church: There are a number of examples of churches that have embraced a servanthood mentality.  For the sake of Brevity, I’ll comment on three…” (132)

o   Vineyard Community Church

o   Fellowship Bible Church

o   Willow Creek Community Church

Chapter 9: The Thinking Church.   Evaluating Church Models.

“I’ve written this chapter to accomplish two purposes.  One is to help us adopt a fair and impartial process for the evaluation of models, whether new or old.  The other is to examine the arguments of many of the critics of the new models in light of my process for evaluation.”  (135)

·         A Process for Evaluating Church Models

o   Filter 1: The essentials of the faith – These essentials are the propositional truths that are both clearly taught in the Bible and are necessary for one to be considered orthodox or sound in the faith.

o   Filter 2: the nonessentials – Agreement with the nonessentials doesn’t affect one’s faith or standing before Christ as agreement with the essentials does.  The key word is Liberty,” (137)

o   Filter 3: All things in love

·         Additional Ideas for the Process

o   A biblical hermeneutic: As addressed in chapter 4

o   A biblical theology of change: As addressed in chapter 5

o   A biblical theology of culture: As addressed in chapter 6

o   A biblical definition of the Church: As addressed in chapter 7

·         Key Arguments of the Critics of New-Model Churches – “Below I’ll present the argument, respond to it, and issue a challenge to the churches.” (141)

o   The proclamation of scripture:

§  The argument: New model and seeker churches downplay the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.

§  The challenge: “The Bible must be central to all preaching and teaching in the church.” (143)

o   The focus of Sunday morning worship:

§  The argument: Critics fault the Seeker church method of focusing Sunday morning services on the un-churched

§  The challenge: Even Seeker churches must stay culturally relevant if their audience appears to be changing preferences for worship

o   The church and evangelism:

§  The argument: New model churches soften the requirements of the Gospel in order to fill the pews.

§  The challenge: “I believe there are some churches out there that fail to challenge their converts to make Christ Lord of their lives after they are saved…” (148)

o   The church’s methodology:

§  The argument: Critics believe it is not proper to use secular means of reaching people for Christ.

§  The Challenge: “New-model churches must determine if their forms are promoting or hindering the gospel, and consider the reason for using a particular form.”

o   The motives for the church’s ministry

§  The argument: New model churches have motives other than the Great Commission

§  The challenge: “I would challenge al of us, critics included, to set aside some time to list our major ministry goals.  Once we have these down, we would be wise to consider the reasons for our pursuing each one.” (150)

o   The church’s goals:

§  The argument: New model churches are in the entertainment business

§  The challenge: “Is their primary goal the Great Commission?  If not, why?” (151)

·         A Critique of the Critics

o   Generalizations: “Critics make sweeping generalizations” (151)

o   Questionable sources:  “Many critics base their information on secondhand and thirdhand information (152)

o    Logical Fallacies: “This is when a person creates or describes a situation that isn’t true to begin with but that he or she thinks is true…and then the critic tears apart the situation.” (153)

o   Being close-minded: “…don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.” (153)

o   Unloving criticism: Eph 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

o   Assessing true motives: “I sense that deep down below the surface much anger lies.” (155)

o   Assessing one’s general outlook: “I find that criticism rolls naturally and quickly off of the lips of most pessimists.” (156)

o   Grumbling and complaining: Phil. 2:14-15 “Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure”

o   Define terms: “What do they mean when they use this term (marketing)? There is a real need to define these vague terms” (158)

o   Mishandling scripture: “(Many critics) fail to properly interpret the Bible” (158)

o   Consider other alternatives: “If you are so unhappy with the direction of this church, why don’t you find a church that meets your standards for ministry?” (159)



Chapter 10: The Strategizing Church.  Developing a New-Model Church

“In this chapter we’ll look first at a common problem that face new church models and discover how not to develop it.  Then I’ll provide the solution that is a process for developing future churches that will glorify the Savior.

·         The Problem Facing New Church Models: “My point is that a model that works well in one locale may not work at all somewhere else.” 

·         How To Develop New Church Models

o   Preparation

§  Secure Support: The church’s leadership must support directional change

§  Recruit a team:  “Now leadership is better accomplished through a team.” (166)

§  Communicate with the congregation: “You can’t lead them if they don’t trust you!” (167)

§  Assess readiness: “…have the team take a Readiness For Change Inventory…” (167)

§  Conduct a church ministry analysis: “A good one consists of both an internal and an external analysis.” (168)

§  Set time expectations: “My research and experience say that it will take a least three years and sometimes as long as eight years for a church to embrace a new model.” (169)

§  Lay a spiritual foundation: Use the opportunity for renewal to revive the spiritual foundation of the congregation.

o   The process phase:

§  Discover your core values: “Discovering your church’s core values will help the church understand why it does what it does or doesn’t do what it should do.” (170)

§  Develop your mission:

·         A mission is broad

·         A mission is brief

·         A mission is biblical

·         Addresses a purpose

§  Develop your vision: “I define a vision as a clear, challenging picture of the future of the church, as you believe it can and must be.” (174)

·         A vision is clear

·         A vision is challenging

·         It is a picture of your future ministry

·         It drips with good potential

§  Develop you strategy: “The strategy answers the question, How will we accomplish what we’re supposed to be doing?” (175)

o   The practice phase: “It consists of 2 steps – implementing and then evaluating the new model.” (179)




Strengths – This is a book that instructs at many levels.  While it is fundamentally a process for evaluating and fixing plateauing or declining churches, it also provides a framework for evaluating your individual faith and for developing church programs at the micro level. 

For the congregation that is struggling, Malphur’s offers hope.  There are specific reasons why the church has plateaued, and there are ways to fix the problems.  It will not be a quick fix, but the congregation need not lose hope. 

The individual can also rejuvenate his or her faith by evaluating it through the process defined in these pages.  The underlying principle that works at the macro level also works at the micro level.  Jesus Christ transforms lives.  If your life is not what you would like it to be, Malphur’s has created a process for evaluating and structuring your relationship with Jesus.  In the introduction he states, “Finally, this book is for seminarians and others who are preparing for ministry.  It’s important to the future of their ministries that they think through the issues of this book so that they know why they’re doing what they’re doing and can at least articulate the reasons they minister in the context of a particular model, whether it is traditional or contemporary.” (11)

Simply believing in Jesus is not enough.  He has called us to memorize and follow His mission statement, and Aubrey Malphurs helps the reader to think through his or her reasons for following Jesus, and then determine how to establish a personal mission and vision.  If a church is going to succeed in its mission, the individuals within the congregation must understand why they are doing what they are doing.

Weaknesses:  Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal applauded the city of Omaha for an exceptional job of long term community planning.  Many years ago, city planners with a vision realized that the population was leaving the city for the suburbs, and that meant a shrinking tax base.  If the trend continued, Omaha would look like a doughnut.  The center would be a hole of despair with no tax base and no hope, while all of the “good stuff” would be in the outer ring.  Those planners put in place an aggressive plan to annex suburbs into the city of Omaha so that the tax base would benefit a wide range of communities within the city proper.

Today Omaha is a thriving city consisting of many diverse neighborhoods, and a downtown that is healthy, vibrant, and filled with homes, not just businesses.  I think a church can be much the same.  The body of Christ is comprised of a huge variety of people, and that mix is what makes it so powerful.  At the micro level of the individual church, the body needs to maintain that mix of ages, cultures, experience levels, wealth levels, and Christian maturity levels.  A homogenous church will have an extremely difficult time surviving.  If it is all one age demographic or one social status demographic, cultural or societal change will dramatically affect the health of the church.   Heterogeneous congregations can probably withstand or adjust to change in a healthier manner.

I believe Malphurs emphasizes a process that can lead to a homogenous congregation if the reader is not careful to consider that pitfall.  Congregations must remain culturally relevant, but we need to be careful to emphasize compromise amongst the various groups within our congregations.  I don’t believe the question is “traditional or contemporary” as Malphurs wrote in the quote listed above.  I think a congregation can consist of more than one worship style, though all involved will have to work hard at maintaining a common sense of community.  Maybe one of the reasons 85% of American churches are unhealthy is because they don’t have visionary planners like those city fathers in Omaha who realized long ago that a diverse mix would be the key to long term health.


As I mentioned in the “strengths” section above, Malphurs has written a book that can be used at many levels.  It should not just sit on a book shelf after being read, but kept on each congregant’s desk as a resource manual for maintaining a healthy relationship with Jesus.  We all need reminders to ask questions like, What am I doing to further the mission of Jesus?; to think through the reasons we have for certain ministries or behaviors; to evaluate our vision from time to time; and to make sure we are staying culturally relevant.  This is a resource that I will continue to use for developing my own personal relationship with Jesus, for teaching others, and for leading other members of my congregation.



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