Tension between Good News, good works? Baptist authors offer modes of biblical orthopraxy

To help local churches avoid the pendulum swing between mere social help or a proclamation-only approach to missions, three new resources authored by Southern Baptists offer methods for mixing tangible works with the verbal witness.

A LIVING SYSTEMS NETWORK

Two professors from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary are calling the church to re-evaluate its nature and values in light of its actions. Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr co-authored “Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-aligners,” hoping churches might learn to align their actions and ministries with their stated beliefs.

Essentially a design book for new and established churches, “Church Turned Inside Out” centers on the belief that kingdom churches should be seeking holistic community transformation. The authors use many metaphors from various disciplinary fields but have borrowed language from the wildly popular ecological movement to describe the church’s role in social issues.

“Churches are living things, not mechanical,” the authors write, referring to the description of the body of Christ in 2 Peter 2:10 as “living stones”?a metaphor that dovetails nicely with an emerging worldview that is quickly eclipsing postmodernism.

“The adjective I use most frequently to describe this worldview is ‘ecological,'” said Bergquist in an interview with the TEXAN.

Noting that she didn’t coin the term and employs it differently from secular philosophers, Bergquist, who also serves as a church planting missionary for the San Francisco Bay area for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, said “ecological in the broad sense of the word means something like systemic, whole, networked and connected. When you really think about it, it is a way of looking at the world that changes how we interpret all kinds of formal and informal relationships.”

In short, this new worldview “demands a way to help people know how to live together on and with the earth,” the authors write. As such, the church must take the task of improving the quality of life for all people more seriously.

“One of the new design tasks of today’s church is to learn how to create contextually relevant, biblical structures that serve this kind of world,” the authors state, urging church planters to create “a fresh expression of church” around a network or community.

In short, Bergquist and Karr offer the Living Systems Network as a metaphor for organizing the church around the organic idea of community. Interdependence is the key to this new paradigm for church design, a concept rooted in relationships rather than “completed tasks.”

The authors are careful to distinguish between a secular understanding of living systems, and the metaphor employed in their book. “The living systems metaphor is holistic and systemic. If we view ministry and evangelism as part of a whole, we begin to see that they are not opposites but counterparts,” Berquist said.

The authors use the idea of sustainability to convey how mercy ministries fit into the living systems paradigm.

A STAKEHOLDER APPROACH

In their new book “The Convergent Church: Missional Worshippers in an Emerging Culture,” two Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professors employ a metaphor taken from corporate America to demonstrate how social ministries and evangelism may be fitted together in the local church.

Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism and student ministry, and Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian ethics, co-wrote the book as a response to the growing philosophies of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) and the call to reflect a missional lifestyle among conventional churches.

“We are convinced that fresh, relevant, and effective ministry requires a convergence between two paradigms of thought and ministry: so called ‘conventional’ Christian approaches and ‘emerging ones’,” the authors write.

Although typical, Bible-based “conventional” churches have been effective in taking doctrinal stands, the authors believe more is needed to transform the culture with the gospel. But because churches can easily fall prey to over-contextualizing the gospel message in the search for relevance, the authors recommend the convergence of the conventional churches with the positive elements of the ECM.

And while the authors propose convergence on a variety of religious issues, two chapters of the book are given to the issue of harmonizing the biblical mandates of mercy ministry cited in James 1 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

But because finite resources often require local churches to make difficult budgetary decisions, the authors offer a recent example from the world of business ethics in the allocation of ministry funds called the Stakeholder theory.

“Typically, businesses seek to serve the interest of their owners—the shareholders—by maximizing profits,” the authors state. When profits are maximized, society is “protected” as the community enjoys a higher living standard from the overall increase in wealth, and social concerns are alleviated.

In contrast, the stakeholder theory speaks to the moral obligation of businesses to “serve the interests of all those who have a ‘stake’ in the company, not just shareholders.” Stakeholders can be “anyone who affects or is affected by the company’s missions and objectives.” So, in addition to the ‘bottom line,’ businesses “must also consider the interests of everyone who has something at stake in the company’s success—employees, customers, suppliers, and the community in which the business firm operates.”

As with any metaphor, the authors state that these businesses can only cautiously serve as an analogy between evangelism and social mission.

“There is no question that evangelicals have tended toward ‘shareholder theory’ of evangelism in which the bottom line of ‘saved souls’ is really ‘the only line that matters’,” Reid and Liederbach write. “While there is no question that this approach has effectively ‘increased the bottom line’ in regard to soul winning, one wonders whether the converts ‘produced’ via this ‘bottom-line’ form of Christianity are birthed in a context that embodies the full mission of God for redeeming all of creation.”

“By serving the needs of all ‘stakeholders,’ [the church] does a superior job of ensuring its pivotal role in the community as a whole and provides a much wider range of ministry exposure for discipleship and ministry training,” the authors write. However, verbal proclamation of the gospel and a solid theological foundation always must be included.

A PRACTICAL MODEL: MINISTRY BIBLE STUDY
For churches needing a more incremental approach toward incorporating social ministries with evangelism, a third resource offers a small-group Bible study on servanthood evangelism. As a part of its Growing Disciples Series, LifeWay Christian Resources offers a new study called “Minister to Others.”

Co-authored by Richard Leach, servant and ministry evangelism team leader for NAMB, and former Texan David A. Wheeler, professor of evangelism at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, “Minister to Others” is a six-week study that focuses on using God-given gifts to serve others. Some of the study’s objectives include: surrendering to the lifestyle of servanthood; learning how to assess and meet needs; connecting social concern with the gospel; and learning principles for announcing God’s kingdom.

“Churches today are discovering that they can increase their relevancy to their communities by building relational bridges through which they can meet needs and intentionally share the gospel,” the authors write in the study’s introduction, stressing the distinction between pursuing good deeds and becoming a servant.

Each lesson includes daily devotionals and a study for small-group discussion. From a practical perspective, the study may help develop ministry plans connected to spiritual needs.

“Ministry is incomplete if it doesn’t lead to a communication of the gospel,” the authors write. “When you meet someone’s physical needs, always be ready to introduce them to Jesus, the only One who can meet their spiritual needs.”

Each lesson showcases biblical examples of balancing good works with the good news, such as the Apostle Paul in Acts 14 and the life and ministry of Christ. And the study concludes with four pages of ministry action ideas detailed according to concepts, equipment needs, cost, and weather conditions.

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