Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

There are many ways of "doing church" today. Here's a closer look at the different ministry models and how their diversity contributes to carrying out the Great Commission.
The almost half-billion Pentecostal/charismatic Christians worldwide have set the pace for vital church life in the 21st century. At the same time, however, there are an alarming number of dysfunctional charismatic churches and frustrated pastors in the United States. Although churches captivated by the Great Commission vision (see Matt. 28:18-20) are thriving, other churches--even those having the name of being alive (see Rev. 3:1)--are, in all honesty, dead.

The present scene is a study in contrasts. The world is getting worse, and the church is getting better (see Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). Wheat and weeds are growing at the same rate. As the world grows darker, the church shines brighter.

In the church today, seemingly contradictory trends and emphases coexist:

* Congregations are getting older (boomers) and younger (busters or X-ers).
* Congregations are getting larger (megachurches) and smaller (metachurches). Labels matter less and less.
* Both innovation and tradition have become crucial values.
* Both the individual and the community are seen as all-important.
* Leaders in the know are seeking an integration of heart and head, form and freedom, celebration and reflection, theology and experience.

Surveying the present church scene, at least six models for "doing church" seem to have emerged:

* Traditional models (mainline, evangelical, charismatic)
* Saddleback model (purpose-driven)
* Willow Creek model (seeker-targeted)
* Apostolic model (apostolic leaders)
* Toronto model (revival orientation)
* Metachurch model (cell-based)

Perhaps Leonard Sweet's AquaChurch model, explained in his book AquaChurch: Essential Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture, should be added here as well (although it is more difficult to define at present).


Most renewalists are familiar with traditional mainline and evangelical Christianity. What is less often recognized is that the Pentecostal/charismatic stream is, as historian Vinson Synan has ably demonstrated, an established Christian tradition in its own right. The success and influence of periodicals such as Charisma and Ministries Today are evidence of an established and thriving Pentecostal/charismatic tradition in American Christianity.

Traditional wineskins can be old or new. Too often they are old and decidedly unfriendly toward the new wine of contemporary revival and renewal (see Luke 5:37-39). Old-time revivalists become stodgy opponents of newer revivals because "that's not the way we did it, and those aren't the signs we saw."

Jesus' words in Luke 5 serve as a needed caution to us charismatics who see ourselves in the forefront of what God is currently doing. American Christianity as a whole has yet to see the tumultuous transformations the Spirit is bringing forth in other parts of the globe. And that kind of outpouring is probably America's only hope for survival.

Examples of the Saddleback model for doing church can be found in almost every ecclesial setting. It may be the fastest growing and most influential model out there. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, California, unselfishly shares what he and his folks are discovering with all who are interested--including the Assemblies of God, which has adapted Warren's model to its own uses.

Warren persistently reminds us of what the purposes of the church are, according to the Scriptures, and exhorts us to do everything we do as a church on purpose. When we set out to obey God and to do it His way, we inevitably discover that He gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (see Acts 5:32).

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and those of the Willow Creek model were perhaps the first to sound a national warning that our Lord has called us to fish for people (see Mark 1:17). Jesus left us here to reach the unchurched, not merely to trade fish in a superficial "numbers game" that blinds us to our disciple-making mandate. Hybels will use any bait that works (which is not immoral, unethical, illegal or unscriptural) to catch fish. He has the Master's heartbeat on this, and large numbers of us are beginning to listen to what he has to say.

Ministry leader Peter Wagner has had this passion for decades. As he surveyed global Christianity, he noted that the most dramatic growth was found among the flourishing megachurches with their apostolic pastors.

While most of us creep along with our endless board meetings and political maneuverings, these present-day apostolic pastors and church planters are making disciples by the thousands. They are saying to their constituents, in effect, "Follow me as I follow Christ." Further, most of these dynamic leaders establish their own training centers to promote their God-given visions and to train others for the end-time harvest. It truly is an exciting phenomenon of our day.

When revival fires fell in John Arnott's church, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, many of us were given new hope: There is something more for us charismatics who find ourselves, in all honesty, dry and unfruitful in our Christian lives and ministries. Vineyard pastors such as Randy Clark set the pace and the example for us all in humbling themselves before God Almighty in the quest for a new anointing. And they experienced it!

The ultimate result of this awakening was a new model for doing church. I have called it the Toronto model. It may be the most controversial of them all because of the striking spiritual manifestations that regularly occur, such as laughter, spiritual "drunkenness," physical shaking and other phenomena that inevitably capture people's attention.

Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pastor Joel Budd noted that even though there was a mass exodus in his church of sincere saints who were simply scandalized by these seemingly bizarre revival phenomena, there also was a marked influx of new believers who were experiencing dramatic deliverances--and even the offerings increased! Visit a Toronto-type church today, and you will hear similar testimony and observe similar health and growth.

Finally, American churches are learning from David Yonggi Cho--pastor of the world's largest church in Seoul, South Korea--that the small group, or cell group, is simply the best context for accomplishing many of the spiritual oversight and disciple-making tasks to which our Lord has called us.

Pastor Larry Stockstill of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and author of The Cell Church, for example, has experienced a paradigm shift and encouraging results in his church's ministry since making cell groups the primary focus of the church rather than massive gatherings. And Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has introduced a "free market" spin on cell ministries, in which small groups of every variety (from spiritual warfare to snow boarding) provide effective outreach and discipleship opportunities.


What is becoming increasingly clear is that healthy, growing churches can be found in each of these categories. God revels in diversity (see 1 Cor. 12), as does the present postmodern cultural context in which we find ourselves. We make a mistake when we make the ministry method or model that seems to be working in our neck of the woods absolute.

When television came along, everyone thought that radio was on the way out. But not so--radio is more vital than ever. When the Internet exploded around the globe, everyone thought television would soon be obsolete, but that, too, was a premature judgment.

The electronic media have not supplanted the printed page. People value more than ever both high-tech and high-touch. Bottom line: People like choice. They like to be alone sometimes and to be with people at other times. They like to read, watch television, surf the Net, and so forth. Our cultural context demands choice. And that dynamic filters down to the ways we do church together.

We are fast learning that tradition is not all bad. In fact, it is necessary. The creeds and confessions of Christendom have most often developed rather than distorted the teachings of Scripture. We owe the essential doctrine of the Trinity to this dynamic.

There is, and always will be, only one gospel. At the same time, each new generation must find fresh, relevant ways to communicate and celebrate our faith. The ferment at present in this regard is intense.

Worship has metamorphosed in the last two decades. In spite of the so-called worship wars, Christians in general seem to appreciate worship more than ever. Innovative methods of outreach proliferate, and authentic fellowship and spirituality are increasingly prized. Ironically, the world often sees through our superficial forms of fellowship and spirituality before we do.

Religion, in the negative connotation of that term, is truly deadly. People want reality--honest, natural, human interaction as well as supernatural, divine/ human interaction. A healthy expression of any of the above models for church life has something to offer us all.

We often think of traditional as "dead." But the Pentecostal/charismatic stream is now, as has already been said, an established ecclesial tradition. There are traditional Pentecostal and charismatic churches, some very dead and some very much alive. The same is true of the mainline and evangelical churches.

This also is true in terms of leadership and ministry training. Perhaps the three most important models for ministry training are Sunday school, Bible school and divinity school. Sunday school was initially devised for the purposes of outreach and discipleship. Years ago, Ken Hemphill, presently president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, took a struggling church of 400 and grew it to 4,000 by using Sunday school as the vehicle for the church's total outreach, discipleship and pastoral oversight.

From the earliest decades of the movement, Pentecostals learned the value of Bible school training. Now, Peter Wagner is alerting the church as to how promising and powerful this model is as it has found new expression in the budding megachurches of our day.

At the same time, Pentecostal/charismatic churches have come to value graduate level seminary training for their pastors and other ministry leaders. I once headed up a Bible college and extension seminary. We were amazed at how many charismatic pastors there were who had come to the conclusion that they needed further training beyond what they had received through their local churches or Bible colleges. The seminary or divinity school model is still alive and well.

What shall we say to all these models of church life and ministry training? Surely, to each and to all we must say, "May your tribe increase!" There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all (see Eph. 4:4-6). We are all learning and growing--hopefully increasingly together.

No one ministry model will supplant the others. For years my mother church (the Southern Baptist Convention) has known that it takes both megachurches and minichurches to reach the masses. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a megachurch working at full throttle. But we must never lose sight of the vital role smaller churches play.

My home base of Tulsa abounds with megachurches (mostly independent charismatic). But I noticed that my Baptist folk still outnumbered them all, primarily through myriad minichurches. What is still the average-size congregation in our day? About 75 people!

We must continue to train and to turn loose our young apostles to pioneer the megachurches the Spirit is clearly ordaining in our day. At the same time, we must continue to equip and appreciate all the other pastors and church leaders God is raising up in these last days. Could there be a more exciting time to be in the kingdom enterprise? Whatever your ministry model, keep at it for the King and His kingdom.

Larry Hart is professor of theology at Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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