Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transference in Church Growth

I am in the process of preparing my notes for tonight's Church Growth class. Many thanks to my prof, Dr. Steve Wilkes, of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. His notes from that doctoral seminar have been priceless for me.

One thing that must be emphasized in any church growth class is the danger of transference. I know that many will recognize "transference" as a pyschological term. In fact, Wikipedia defines transference in a number of ways. Here is one affirmation: "One definition of transference is 'the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood.'"

Notice the words, "inappropriate repetition." Those words are key for the intents and purposes of this blog.

We often admire the "successes" of some of the mega and meta-churches around the world. To read and hear--better yet, to attend a service--of a church that thousands may attend is something that often makes us yearn for something more in our ministry. To read anecdotes of successful church planting in other parts of the world does much the same for a missionary. Yes, we rejoice in both cases. But often we also hope and strive to see something akin to it where we are.

And it is there that we are tempted to go down a road that is unhealthy for us. We begin to study the church or field in question, and we see what we can pull from it to use in our ministries. But we must be careful. This is where Dr. Wilkes' sage warning comes in. Dr. Wilkes told us early on [probably not his precise wording, but these are from his notes], "Church growth is a complex issue. Do not fall into the trap of oversimplification. Do not attribute church growth to a single cause. Do not assume you can transfer methods from one situation to another."

In a world where responsiveness to the Gospel varies from location to location, we need to heed Dr. Wilkes' advice. We do not need to be guilty of missiological or ecclesiological transference. God's plan and methods for India may not be God's plan for Guatemala. While our message remains constant, our plans and methods must reflect at least three things:
  • Prayer - the foundational principle of our work within the kingdom of God
  • Local responsiveness
  • Local socio-political and other similar factors

I fear we are so intent on not reinventing the wheel that we too often take unwise, poorly thought-out, and untested shortcuts, seeking the most pragmatic solution to immediate results. We need to be more concerned that we have spent enough time before God to have gotten his plan and methodology, concentrating more on the long-term results, than we do on short-term, immediate results.

Take a close look at your ministry, or your church's or mission's ministry; see if transference--the unhealthy repetition of someone else's ministry ideas characterizes yours. If it does, perhaps it is time to call a prayer meeting to begin the changes you need in your field.

Jesus is Lord!

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