The Time Has Come… surely…

At a recent Forge National directors meeting one of our crew shared this insight from American church leader Erwin McManus. During his time in Australia, McManus urged Aussies to be more diligent about responding to their own context and doing their own missiology. He insisted that we have to stop following what is happening in the US.

To do this he showed where we are in relation to Christendom.


The Australian culture is much more secular and further removed from a Christendom mindset than the American one (by and large). No surprises there hey? But the problem comes in that while the American church is responding to its own culture (de-churched / nominally Christian) the Australian church by and large has chosen to follow the American church.

For some reason we have chosen to imitate US models and practices rather than seeking to develop our own home grown approaches to church. In a highly secular context where church just isn’t on the radar for most people we must radically re-think what we are doing as our context is vastly different to the USA!

Back in 1981 when John Smith wrote Advance Australia Where he argued strongly that we have never had a truly Australian church. We have imported British forms and Americans models, but we just haven’t done the work of thinking thru what an indigenous expression of church would look like.

(And yes – I realise its ironic & amusing that I am quoting an American telling us not to follow Americans!)

33 thoughts on “The Time Has Come… surely…

  1. It’s a great diagram. I was talking to Jarrod yesterday and agreeing with him that British churches are closer to our situation.

    The other irony is that you have some American’s speaking at the Forge conference!

  2. Fairly simplistic….

    Culture in Aus is different from suburb to suburb therefore Churches need to be far more contextual that just stating “we need to reach Aussies”

    For instance, Joondalup is known as the bible belt of Perth, so maybe a more American model is relevant…I don’t know enough about it to be dogmatic.

    My philisophy is to take good ideas from wherever they come from, put them through my own filter and understanding of my local culture, and go from there.

    Another point, explain to me what is the American model of church? seems to me there is so much variance to make the statement that Aus churches are following their lead is far too simplistic.

    To just make the statement, we should not be doing what American churches are doing is so problematic, why make it?

    Even the EC style of churches seem to be radically different from each other in theology and philosophy of ministry.

  3. It is a generalisation.

    His point is that Americans typically still work with an understanding that the culture is nominally Christian (de-churched) and as I observe them, the different forms that have been imported over the years make these assumptions. Whether its Saddleback, Willow Creek, or Bordenism, these are American developments and we have so often simply bought them mindlessly.

    I believe he is on the money when he says we need to do our own missiology. Yes – that is local – and if the best means is a ‘seeker service’ in area then that’s great, but way too may churches are simply driven by pragmatism and looking for the ‘answer’.

    Americans market well and fool us into thinking they have answers we need!

  4. This is absolutely brilliant and so incredibly true.

    I have been thinking and talking about just this with people for many months now – but most still don’t seem to get it. The typical Australian-Christian mindset is still one which deals with Aussie culture as if it were marginally or nominally Christian. The fact is it isn’t!

    It’s my contention that the people we are now seeking to reach are at least 1 generation into being gospel tabula rasa – blank slates! Any approach that assumes even a basic gospel foundation in anyone off the street is going to missing the mark just about every time.

  5. To illustrate. I had a friend who tried Alpha (in another church) for a couple of weeks and pulled out because he didn’t know what they were talking about! He just didn’t have enough background to even get what we’d think are the basics.

    Discussions about EC, Borden, Purpose Driven, etc. are all fairly irrelevant IMHO. They’re questions of ecclesiology. The main issue missionaly is… mission. Isn’t it?

    Anyway, I think you’re onto something, Hamo.

  6. Mark E – I think you miss the point of Hamo’s general comment – which often happen to be simplistic. Yep – totally agree, in Albany, we’ve got the whole lot as well – Opps gotta go a local church is running a course – 20 Winning Ways to Lead Your Group, after that I’m off to Alpha – ttfn

  7. The Yanks have some stuff that’s usable but I think the days of “copying and pasting” their techniques are drawing to an end. McManus is a great teacher and Mosaic is def a community-driven church. Would be interesting to hear from the guys about to launch the Mosaic Church in Perth, how closely are they following the American model?

  8. Alex is right, in my view.

    Saddleback and Bordenism have nothing to do with style or how you do mission, but rather

    Saddleback: be purpose driven

    Bordenism: let leaders lead

  9. I disagree Mark.

    We buy 40 days of anything going, like it going out of fashion. We followed Willow Creek Seeker service stuff very quickly, or we imitated Saddleback’s ‘seeker sensitive’ approach.

    Now Borden is the flavour of the month among evangelicals and he is teaching churches how to run like corporations. If the pastor doesn’t meet the KPI’s he gets the bullet.

    The problem is not that all these things are wrong, but that just because they worked in one context it does mean they should be exported to ‘work’ all over the world.

    That is just poor missiology – it shows that people are not really thinking about their context, but are simply following what is ‘working’ in an American church environment.

    We have to stop looking to America to show us the way.

    I realise this happens to different degrees in different churches, but I find it hard to see how you can’t see our tendency to fall in line.

  10. Who’s we? I reckon you need to be specific, and not throw generalisations around (that sounds blunt, its not meant to be :))

    I don’t see many churches in my circles that are copying American churches, most of my peers are grabbing stuff from here there and everywhere, and then contextualising it.

    I agree with your critique of Willow Creek, my perception is that they pioneered the ‘seeker sensitive’ stuff, not Saddleback… But again, I dont know of churches in Perth who are copying their stuff, some may have used too…

    I state it again, Rick Warren does not advocate any style of service or methods of mission, just that we be purpose driven in what we do.

    The closest you could come to, would be 40 days of purpose. But interestingly that is based around small groups…..something which alternative expressions of church would applaud (?)

    I don’t think we are looking to America…we are trying to do what works. For instance, Riverviews “The Bloke” is not based on an American idea, its not a church service, they hand out beer, its a great event for those on the Engel scale about -4/5

  11. Mark E,

    not sure if you are aware as a baptist minister, but one of the main reasons your new movement chief was head hunted, was to help the board implement the borden-model of church leadership and carver governance style.

    having been a part of the leadership team at the chief’s last church when borden came and consulted us, i can categorically say – some of the things i heard suggested were down right scarey and inappropriate, and the long-term outcomes of implementing many of his suggestions, now see that church struggling to maintain their modus operandi which simply seems to be degenerating day by day – like a proverbial sinking ship.

    i for one, hope someone in the baptist movement stands up and asks for a review of both borden and carver before they continue to implement a ever-increasingly outdated and irrelevant method of leadership and governance in their churches.

  12. I am very glad we as a Baptist denomination made that decision, I actually went to the US on a study trip to study Borden first hand, and saw some incredibly wonderful things.

    One thing that most impressed us was the diversity of the churches using the (as you correctly put it) Carver/Borden model. From a large African church, to an inner city social justice style church to a church which was decidely influenced by Willow Creek, and most things in between.

    By all means critique the model, but don’t confuse it with a style of ‘doing church’

    Here is my view which hopefully presents Borden in a accurate light.

  13. anyone who says that an appropriate way of running a church leadership team can (shoud) involve offering financial rewards to individual staff members who successfully exceed their annual kpi’s, and to, consequently, have a pastor lose their job if they are to not meet their kpi’s two years in a row – represents a methodology that i believe is anti-christ (not satanic per se, but anti christ’s teachings).

    this is not hearsay – i sat in the meeting where this was suggested by Paul Borden as a way of tightening up a pastor’s performance and efficiency.

    as a business principle – maybe this has merit, but in a church – i’m sorry but this sort of thing gets a temple cleared in moments.

    In regards to your post – i think it is really well written and exposes your underlying motivation to honor God and serve people in your congregation. But i think you reveal a familiar mindset held by many senior pastors, which makes an open dialogue with “change” as an option, extremely hard. You say…

    “In the model I advocate, the person most accountable and responsible is the Senior Pastor. He/she must come up with a yearly strategy with goals included. This must be distributed to all the members, who themself are accountable to the Pastor to help. If the goals and strategies are not achieved, everyone will know about it, and there needs to be accountability. In other words the Pastor is held accountable.”

    Who says the senior pastor be the most accountable?

    Why should he/she be responsible to come up with a yearly strategy with goals included? Doesn’t this serves to elevate the senior pastor to hold a responsibility unparalleled to anyone else in the congregation – why should this person hold this much power or pressure?

    Is this implying they are the person who cares most about that congregation?

    Are they the most spiritual – if not, why are they the only one responsible for forming this annual plan?

    Do they hear God more clearly than anyone else?

    Could it make sense that the people who are in that congregation voluntarily week in and out, and have often been there a lot longer that the senior pastor, may actually care about the future of that place more than a person who gets paid to care?

    Does this set up and reinforce an imbalance of power (vertical vs horizontal)?

    These are by no means, questions meant to tear down – i honestly wrestle with the implications of these and many more. I spent many years believing in and reinforcing the borden/carver modus operandi – however, i am now convinced that in our situation this presented more long-term problems than short-term solutions. In our case, this model did influence how we “did” church – and therein lay the problems.

    In favour of bordon, when he visited our leadership team, he succinctly discerned areas of weakness in our church in relation to what we stated were our priorities. He was able to show us certain contradictions between what we said was important and our day to day practices – this is one of the benefits of being an outsider looking in, and in this way he was excellent.

  14. My point is simple and I remain unconvinced that we are really doing serious contextualisation.

    By ‘we’ I won’t point to specific churches because it varies broadly across the board. I have said this is a generalisation and it remains so.

    That said, I could probably name 50 churches who have done 40 days of whatever, or who have bought some variation of getting the church service right (seeker/ seeker sensitive / guest service). The Sunday service thing may work in one context – where people are open and receptive, but I am yet to believe it is a valid method for the majority of Perth.

    I was asked to do seeker services at one church where I was a youth pastor, because the senior P had been inspired by Bill Hybels. After a while we agreed to make it seeker sensitive (the term Warren was using) and then at the next church I pastored we ran ‘guest services’. Truthfully these were an awful waste of time and energy where we put on a big show to try and get people to church – and we learnt all we knew from the US. These were not Aussie/local ideas at all. I was there. know who were trying to imitate and who we were seeing as heroes.

    As far as Borden goes, I have talked with him, heard his presentations and read his stuff. There is no question that in employing the Carver model he is seeking to marry authority, responsibility and accountability. This is all well and good if you are running a business, but when it is churches then it starts to get very concerning.

    I don’t doubt Borden’s heart from mission and his concern that the church pull its finger out and get on with the job. But as Matt alludes to above when dealing with real people and issues we can’t control, (eg conversion & church attendance) the issue becomes quite problematic.

    If you listen to Borden’s stories they are almost all about getting more people in church on Sunday. I have heard him say that we can measure other stuff, (“what we count we value”) but it seems that the thing he counts more than anything else is bums on seats.

    I believe that in buying his package we are heading towards CEO driven churches and a strong Sunday focus over and above a serious attempt at missiology, where the service will be secondary.

  15. I just need to add Mark, that I love you and respect you as a bloke and as a leader. I have appreciated the way we have been able to disagree on issues and retain respect for each other and a sense of humour.

    This (copying big bro) is an issue I feel strongly about and the adoption of the Carver approach to church equally raises concerns for me. We have been on this journey for quite some time as Baptist churches and I am yet to be connvinced of its merits as a system or more significantly its biblical framework.

  16. I too appreciate the conversation with yourself and otherendup, and the fact we are dialoguing is good.

    At the end of the day I do believe the Senior Pastor needs to lead, and needs to be responsible, I like Bordens approach because I believe what we do in the church is more important than what any business does.

    But…what matters most is that people come to Christ, and I think we are all passionate about that…..which is wonderful.

  17. I too appreciate the opportunity for dialogue.

    I too think the church as a community of people is incredibly important in the plan of revealing the “new community” on earth as the kingdom of God unfolds on earth.

    I also think what businesses do is also crucial in the development (unwrapping) of the kingdom of God on this planet – in fact, people can run their businesses in such a way that it is worship to God and a faithful participation in the continual unfolding kingdom of God.

    however, the church, unlike a business, does not have a product to sell, and therefore can not, and should not, measure themselves like a business does.

    KPI’s belong in the business world where the tangibly measurable components of business can reveal the success of the business in question.

    But when we try and reduce the intangible growth of the church (fruit of the spirit), and the uncontrollable growth of the church (ongoing salvation of its people), into simple monthly columns and boxes which revolve around bums on seats and heads getting wet (things we can measure), AND make pastors personally responsible for the continual annual growth of these areas, it is easy to see how this methodology can, and inadvertently does, impact on how we “do” church.

    Yes, we are all passionate about people reconnecting with their maker and participating with Him as we walk through this life together. But let’s keep it simple – let’s continue to explore what it means to truly love God and one another, and let’s resist turning our gatherings into a christian assembly production line.


  18. We’re implementing ‘Borden/Carver’ at the moment too, but with some (continuing) mods.

    Borden (and BUWA) may emphasise bums on seats, but that doesn’t have to be the main focus. You measure what you want to measure (if you want to measure anything) – conversions, small groups, community contacts. I don’t know – it’s up to the church. This is why I think ecclesiology is largely (‘though not totally) irrelevant. If you’ve got the right missionally focused leadership, Borden or EC will work. Without it either will fail.

    Not that I want to defend B/C. We’re not running a pure form of the model (whatever that would be) and probably will modify it further. I’m just not that kind of leader. In fact, some things we’ve rejected out of hand (financial reward, for example – just not going there).

    The point is, you can do incarnational mission in this model, just as you can with Purpose Driven (BTW, that has nothing to do with 40 days). What do worship, ministry, evangelism, blah, blah mean in the Aussie context?

    The Bible doesn’t dictate leadership models, although leadership models must follow certain biblical principles. Biblical purposes are not contextual, but their application is.

  19. I often wonder how you would measure the primary command of Jesus, that is “To love…”

    How would this work as a KPI?

    We could set up a “Love level” in the foyer for accountability.

    Are we a loving people?

    I’m sure it would not be long before we started breaking it down into small columns for the ease of measurement.

    I guess I say all this with tongue in cheek to some degree.

    I just think our obsession with measurement comes from some deep seated insecurity to prove, to compare and compete…mainly men in leadership isn’t it?

  20. Ahhh you see the problem with KPI’s is that they are primarily useful for measuring ‘outputs’ against ‘inputs’. I think if you are a Christian you should be more interested in ‘outcomes’ – that is, has there been a positive change in peoples lives as a result of your work (I guess Hamo would phrase this as ‘Christ’s work through you’).

    The nature of the change would be the area of debate – i.e. were you looking for postive change in a material sense or a spiritual sense.

  21. And to add to that – we are dealing with complex creatures who are not easily placed in boxes for evaluation (at least not in any meaningful sense). To the individual it can often be the significance of the change that is most important rather than the extent of the change (if you get the distinction).

  22. Ken Blanchard, the author of the popular management book, The One Minute Manager, stated “the popular model of pastor as CEO is brain dead…This philosophy will only hurt the church in the long run.”

  23. i was meeting with someone today when I realised the diagram is flawed!

    The final arrow (US culture to Ox culture) shouldn’t be there as they are obviously not following us!

    Thanks Andreas for pointing it out 🙂

  24. Is it possible not to follow anything other than Jesus? Is it possible just to seek Jesus, hear from the Spirit and learn from the word on how to be the church, here in Australia, without copying something someone else has done? Maybe being in relationship with Jesus, understanding His word and hearing from the Spirit isn’t enough, maybe we need extra help?

  25. I would say we can learn from everyone but too often we just copy without really learning.

    Copying isn’t bad/wring/problematic if what we copy fits our context.

    I just haven’t seen too much real contextualisation going on, whereas I do see a lot of copying.

    I have to admit that part of the reason for this is the great marketing that Americans do. They advertise well and we like to buy…

  26. I have a feeling that sometimes we’re lazy. We go for the things that look like they work without first studying and implementing the principles and then letting the things happen with those principles in our context. What i have often found however, is that the principles that are the foundation to an effective mission / ministry are simply biblical and like Jesus, so why do I need someone to tell me that?

  27. Hi Glenn – I think we always benefit from hearing other people’s ideas. Often we are inspired by them. Its just that we then need to figure out whether they fit in our world.

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