Pragmatism giving theology the backseat?

I just finished the book “Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts“.  It is filled with lots of practical wisdom for church planters and their teams and is written by a couple of guys with lots of experience.  One thing that rubbed me though was the standard pitch for the homogenous model that has dominated North American outreach strategies.  In this book it basically says that you are most effective at reaching people like yourself, so do that.  In broader terms it is the idea that people like to be like people like themselves so you don’t need to or even shouldn’t try to plant or grow a church that ‘reaches’ to everyone.  Very pragmatic.  But is pragmatism what guides us in pursuing the Great Commission – giving whatever works top priority?  As Southern Baptists our answer would be of course not, theology leads.  In theory at least.  Unfortunately, our local strategies usually fall far short of this.  And to be honest, don’t always work.

The book tells church planting teams that when the work grows it actually needs more outside financial help rather than less and exhorts them to view this work similar to an overseas mission in which you don’t expect financial return.  My heart leapt to read those words as I have often contemplated the contrast in our methodologies for overseas missions and those here at ‘home’.  I must clarify here that my focus is specifically on those methodologies that either do or should involve multi-ethnic communities.  The pride and joy of the SBC is the International Missions Board.  There is no finer, more effective sending agency.  Here our theology clearly leads.  We devote most of our budget to sending and supporting missionaries into the mission field knowing there is NO financial return on investment.  We pour out resources so that the gospel may be proclaimed and disciples made.

Then we turn to the North American Mission Board where the theological model of the IMB is replaced by an economic model.  Here money is devoted to ‘new works’ which involve a business plan and a goal to be a self sustaining autonomous work in usually 5 years.  The rational – we do not want to be life support for church ministries.  On the surface this makes sense – very pragmatic.  But North America has become as much a mission field as the rest of the world and many of those who need to hear the gospel are not in ‘groups’ that will easily reach financial autonomy in 5 years or sometimes even 10 years.

The unintended consequence of our current pragmatic, economic model is that millions here in North America are going without meaningful gospel witness.  How long will we allow pragmatism to be our guide here at home.  Isn’t it time we live up to what we believe and submit our practice to what we profess?  It’s time for theology to lead again.  Our home mission field demands it.


1 Comment

  1. numa said,

    February 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Amen! the IMB should do some ‘consulting’ for NAMB, as NAMB’s economic model is somewhat dated. My guess is NAMB operates the way it does because they think it works, when in fact new church plants have a 50% failure/success rate

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