“No one in the world of missions today is so profound a thinker, so traveled an investigator, so fearless a critic, or so constructive a force as Donald McGavran. These lectures throw down the gauntlet to today’s Christian leaders, theologians, and executives like no other book. What a bold challenge, what a fascinating biographical approach, based on ninety years of perceptive existence!” Ralph D. Winter “In a day of great opportunity for world evangelizationand no little confusion as to the nature of our mission I [would] urge evangelical divinity schools and theological seminaries to read what Dr. McGavran has to say and to give serious consideration to following his primary suggestions. “ David J. Hesselgrave “No church will enjoy the blessing of God when it forgets its evangelistic imperative. Tragically, however, many pastors have had little training to equip them effectively for this vital task. Ironically, the majority of theological seminaries and Bible colleges in America have relegated courses in evangelism to a secondary status in the curriculumor even oblivion. Now Donald McGavran has set forth a bold and yet simple proposal to make required courses in evangelism a central part of every minister’s education. His proposal would not only revolutionize theological education, but could bring new vision and vitality to the churches of America. I heartily endorse his proposal.” Billy Graham “. . . an outstanding contribution to the evangelical divinity schools and theological seminaries of America.” Elmer L. Towns “As the founder of the School of World Mission and ‘Father of Church Planting,’ Dr. McGavran has served on the faculty of nine theological seminaries and lectured in many more.... He has interacted with and shared ideas and theological truths with thousands of Christian leaders during a long and rich ministry for our Lord. He is quite likely the most qualified man in the entire world to write on this extremely important subject.” William R. Bright
A Theological Mandate
Donald A. McGavran
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company Phillipsburg, New Jersey
This book is dedicated to Betty Ann Klebe to whom I am deeply indebted for her invaluable assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.
Foreword Roger S. Greenway 1. Theological Education and Effective Evangelism 2. God Commands Church Growth 3. The Urgency of Church Growth in America 4. Biblical Soundness, Spiritual Renewal, and Church Growth 5. How Can We Assure Effective Evangelism? 6. The Rise of the Church Growth Movement 7. Church Growth 193365 8. Church Growth 196571 9. Church Growth 197185 10. Ideological and Theological Concerns 11. Segments of Society and Church Growth 12. Seeing the Actual Facts 13. Church Growth by Clergy or Laity? 14. The Heart of Today’s Opportunity Afterword Roger S. Greenway Index
This book may send shock waves through the halls of Christian colleges and seminaries. Liberal and conservative schools alike come under indictment, as Donald McGavran, the dean of modern evangelical missiologists, examines the strengths and weaknesses of theological institutions in the area of evangelism and calls for a serious reprioritizing of theological curricula. If the author’s arguments are accepted and his proposals applied, the growth patterns of Christ’s church throughout the world are likely to be dramatically improved. McGavran argues that theological institutions should accept responsibility for training tomorrow’s leaders for ministry in the real world, the world in which over two billion people  still need to be reached with the gospel and millions are adrift in a sea of secularism and religious confusion. He pleads for curricular revisions of a kind that will make the effective communication of God’s Word and multiplication of viable churches a substantial and required part of every school’s program. This is a theological issue, McGavran maintains, because the God of the Bible who is the object of true theological study is the God who has revealed His missionary intention for all races and people of the earth. God wants the world evangelized and discipled, and to study theology in a way that misses or minimizes this point is to adopt and perpetuate a distorted view of God and is, effect, a heresy. The chapters of this book were first presented as lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This seminary, like many others, is increasingly aware of the need for greater integration between evangelism and the other departments of theological education. Awed by the rapid growth of nonChristian populations and the burgeoning cities, and sensitive to the fact that theological education must be geared to the needs of churchesinmission, Westminster invited Dr. McGavran to spell out for faculty and students the implications of a missionoriented curriculum that would produce effective communicators of the gospel in this country and abroad. His analysis and challenge to the seminary, presented now in this volume, should be taken seriously by every institution that train workers for God’s kingdom. Woven throughout the book is the story of McGavran’s own pilgrimage as the founder of the church growth school of missiology and the struggles through which he and his coworkers passed they defined effective evangelism in terms of the multiplication of living, growing churches. They confronted opposition from the theological left, which did not share their commitment to the authority of the biblical mandate, and from the conservative right, which felt threatened by the constant demand for accountability in terms of measurable church multiplication. Basic to the church growth understanding of the missionary mandate is a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture. A major reason, says McGavran, for today’s vast indifference to evangelism and church growth is the prevalent low view of Scripture. Wherever the authority of Scripture has eroded, the church loses its power and the call to biblical mission falls on deaf ears. God’s command to proclaim the gospel to panta ta ethne, leading them to
obedience of faith, is of importance only to those who hold to the inspired and utterly dependable Word of God, the ultimate authority for faith and practice. In schools and churches where the Word is loved and honored, the urgency of winning the lost will be felt by professors, ministers and lay people alike. Biblical soundness, however, does not by itself guarantee healthy church growth. There is a kind of biblical soundness that focuses exclusive attention on particular doctrines and interprets them in such a way that they have little bearing on evangelism. Even spiritual renewal, which is the desire and concern of many churches today, will not translate into church growth if the focus of renewal is mainly in terms of the existing congregation and its activities within the church building. At the same time, biblical soundness of the kind that recognizes the missionary intention of God who saves sinners through His Son and who sends the church on a redemptive mission to the world certainly will produce healthy growth and robust churches. Likewise, spiritual renewal that sees Christians recommitting themselves to living the life of the Spirit under the directions of the Word will burst though old social and cultural barriers and lead to a greater harvest of souls and discipling of many segments of society, as well as a host of new ministries to the needy and oppressed. IN the biblical balance of doctrinal soundness, spiritual renewal, and evangelistic outreach lies the secret of growth and effective ministry. Theological schools and Bible colleges can play a vital role in the evangelization of North America and all other nations, says McGavran, if they are willing to make necessary changes in the way they train future leaders. They must rethink their curricula and require a that all students take basic courses in evangelism, church growth, and Christian vocation that breaks with the traditions preoccupied with the maintenance of beautiful buildings, the niceties of denominational life, and the preaching and hearing of sermons that say little to the uncommitted and unconverted. From the perspective of a seminary teacher and mission executive who listens regularly to the complaints and cries for help of church members in this country and abroad, I can think of nothing more needful, indeed, more revolutionary for the church and its theological schools, than the appeal contained in this volume.
Roger S. Greenway
Theological Education and Effective Evangelism
Do theological seminaries have anything to do with effective evangelism? Or are seminaries and Bible colleges concerned only with correct views of the bible and with inculcating true doctrines? Must not a theological seminary deal exclusively with theological concepts required by the Bible? Is not effective evangelism a part of life outside the seminary? Though we might be tempted to separate theological education from evangelism, we are reminded of our eternal God’s command to disciple all the peoples of the earth and His promise that in Abraham all the peoples of the world would be blessed. We therefore affirm that seminaries and Bible colleges should do two things. First, train their students to communicate to members of the church correct views of the Bible and correct doctrines. Second, train future ministers to make every congregation they serve evangelistically effective at home and abroad. Effective evangelization is an essential part of correct doctrine.
Most Theological Seminaries Do Not Teach Church Growth or Effective Evangelism During my lifetime I have served as a faculty member in nine theological seminaries. I have lectured in many more and met many fellow theological professors in several continents. Though I have never done a careful research on the subject, I believe that I am correct when I state that most theological training schools do not count evangelism or church growth an essential part of their curricula. In a few schools a two or fourhour course on evangelism is an elective. In many, however, no course on effective evangelism is offered. Under the impact of the worldwide church growth movement this regrettable state of affairs is slowly changing. For example, in March of 1983 at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia fortyeight leaders of the Reformed tradition gathered to discuss reaching the unreached. Inevitably they discussed the theological seminary’s place in world evangelization. Professor Harvie M. Conn rendered a notable service to the world church when he published the contributions of nine of the participants under the title, Reaching the Unreached. In his forward Professor Conn asks, “What must be done…to mobilize theological seminaries for the work?” 1 He concurs with Addison Soltau’s statement that seminaries tend to be “static and isolationist.” Quoting Roger S. Greenway, Conn also asks, “Will ‘unreached peoples’ become another missiological fad if the church remains preoccupied with its own edification and doctrinal 2 purity?” Again Professor Conn asks, “Is our traditional language of ‘home’ and ‘foreign’ 3 missions…too geographically oriented to find the unevangelized…of our own neighborhoods?” In the chapter titled “Mobilizing the Seminaries,” Addison Soltau says, “Seminaries are 4 looked upon as institutions to prepare for the parish ministry, rarely for…evangelism.” Soltau
also says that missions are perceived as having “no rightful place” in a theological seminary 5 “alongside the established disciplines.” This tragic view is held by leaders in other branches of the universal church. For example, Dr. Paul Benjamin, head of the National Growth Research Center in Washington, D.C., has some unshakable convictions on exactly this sorry situation. In his 1986 book, The Vision Splendid: Believing, he writes: I know many ministers who want to become more involved in outreach. However, neither their academic background nor their experience has equipped them for evangelism. Again he says, A minister/evangelist must always be conscious of the world arena in which the individuals he hopes to win are living. He can never bridge the gap between 6 Christians and nonChristians by continuing to ignore secular thinkers. In his entire book Dr. Benjamin insists that every minister shepherd the sheep in his fold and bring back to the fold multitudes of sheep who are lost in the wilderness, a prey for wolves and evil men. The extraordinary state of affairs discussed in this first chapter is evidently well known to theological leaders in many branches of the church. The reason for this regrettable condition is easy to state. Protestant theological seminaries were born and their curricula fairly well established in the years 15501800. During these years Roman Catholic mission orders were very active in Latin America, the Philippine Islands, and a few other sections of the world. But the Protestants, sealed off by Muslim armies in the south and east and Spanish and Portuguese navies in the Atlantic to the west, believed that their main task was Christianization of the masses of nominal Roman Catholics who had been swept into the Protestant church by the Reformation. The concept, therefore, of the theological seminary as an institution that trained ministers to maintain and improve existing churches became very firmly established. A maintenance mentality still dominates most seminary faculties. Today, however, we look out on a very different world. Christians can reach any part of the world in a matter of a few hours. Enormous numbers of Americans cross the oceans to visit Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa. Citizens of all these different nations flock to the United States. The concept of one world inhabited by one great human family is voiced again and again by today’s media. It becomes part of the everyday thinking of most American citizens. Furthermore, Protestant churches today are led by highly trained ministers. Most American denominations require that those ordained be at least college graduates. Many denominations insist that on top of four years in college there be an additional three or more years in seminary. The Christian minister must be a highly educated man. He must think that
way and speak that way. This almost guarantees that he will remain out of touch with bluecollar America and some of whitecollar America also. Today seminary faculties in all six continents look out on a world that is wide open to the gospel. True, some nations are closed to missionaries from any land, but the number of unbelieving, unreached populations open to world evangelization is enormous. The existing evangelistic efforts of most denominations are touching only a fringe of the available populations. Any exact and truthful picture of the spread of the Christian faith indicates that, while in a few places it has spread very greatly, in most places the number of believing, practicing Christians is relatively small. Even in Europe and North America committed Christians are a small proportion of the total population. They will remain a small and sometimes shrinking part unless seminaries begin to train their students in effective evangelism. I repeatthey will remain a small and sometimes shrinking part unless seminaries begin to train their students in effective evangelism.
All Seminaries Need to Make Effective Evangelism A Substantial Part of Their Required Courses A typical seminary requires thirtysix fourhour courses successfully completed to gain the coveted degree of Bachelor of Divinity or Master of Divinity. Of these thirtysix fourhour courses one may be an elective or very occasionally a required course in evangelism. In most seminaries, however, many complete the Master of Divinity curriculum without learning how to win men and women of the own neighborhoods to Christ. Furthermore, they learn nothing about the world’s vast unreached populations of thousands of varieties and multiplying congregations in each. I am speaking about the seminary world in general. One thirtysixth of the seminary curriculum (or no evangelism at all) will not satisfy God’s will for today. It is not theologically correct. It states a theology that is untrue to eternal God’s oftexpressed purpose to seek and save the lost. It is also functionally inadequate. It does not recognize that every American and European minister goes out into a world that is largely secular, humanistic, and often pagan. It does not even see that the European and American world where everyone was once a Christian and had only to be educated no longer exists. Our world population today is only onequarter even nominally Christian. Tomorrow only onefifth will call themselves Christian. Practicing Christians are, of course, a much smaller proportion of the total. As I look at the very complex mosaic of mankind in North America I am sure that one fourhour course could not possibly instruct future ministers in how to reach effectively the multitudinous segments of population they will find in the cities and countrysides where they labor. At one end of the spectrum will be the secularists. Some of these educated men and women follow the religion of scientism. Others are openly agnostic or atheistic. Many believe that God the Father almighty described in the Bible does not exist. At the other end of the spectrum will be the recent immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Add to this picture the fact that ministers in North America face the need for sending missionaries to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe to find the lost there. In France the Roman Catholic Church calls large sections of the nation mission territories, because in them less than 5 percent of the population ever attend mass. Similar statistics could easily be quoted
for Roman Catholic and Protestant populations in most other European nations. In Finland less than 5 percent of the population is found in church on Sunday. This whole unwon population in our own nation and around the world is now immediately accessible. Students in American Bible colleges and seminaries speak English, and English has become during the past fifty years the most widespread language known to man. English is to the latter part of the twentieth century what koine Greek was to the apostle Paul. It was in koine Greek that he wrote to all the members of ten or more house churches in Corinth, “I am … seeking… the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3311:1). Theological seminaries preparing effective ministers of Jesus Christ should pay considerably more attention to how the correct doctrines and the correct Scriptures they must teach can be communicated and believed by multitudes in order to carry out eternal God’s command. The minister is a communicator of the gospel. He must know how to evangelize effectively. Would it not be highly desirable to rule that of the thirtysix fourhour courses required for the Master of Divinity, five be devoted to effective evangelism? The five I suggest are by no means the only possible ones. Each seminary and Bible school would determine five great aspects of effective evangelism that it wanted to teach. Some would emphasize certain aspects of the giant task. Others would emphasize other aspects. However, to make my proposal concrete, let me mention the following five. The first would teach the theology of evangelismfinding and folding the lost