Planting Churches Cross-Culturally — some thoughts

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. 2d edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

David Hesselgrave brings a unique set of experience, education and expertise to the table which makes him the ideal author for a book such as Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. He holds an earned doctorate from the University of Minnesota in rhetoric and public address with a specialization in cross-cultural communication. He served in pastoral ministry for five years before serving twelve years in Japan with the Evangelical Free Church of America. He taught three years at the University of Minnesota prior to 26 years on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Since retiring in 1991, he continues to teach occasionally and has devoted much of his time to writing and speaking worldwide. His other major works include Contextualization, Communication Christ Cross-Culturally, Paradigms in Conflict, in addition to numerous articles. Thus, he is able to bring the heart of the pastor, the mind of the academic, the zeal of the missionary and the skill of the practitioner to bear upon this second edition of this monumental work (originally published in 1980).

In this book, Hesselgrave combines his paradigm for church planting derived from Acts 13–16 with his reflections upon contemporary anthropological, sociological, and communicational research with a view towards historical and contemporary practice. As a textbook, even handbook, for planting churches, there is not single thesis statement for the whole of the work, though the purpose is clear—Hesselgrave purposes to persuade his readers of the primacy of evangelistic church planting in mission and provide them a well-thought, practical and biblical paradigm for so doing. In part one of the book, Hesselgrave in three chapters introduces this purpose. In part two, he argues for the necessity of strategic leadership and planning, implementing target areas and analysis of results. The bulk of the book, expectedly, is the unfolding of “The Pauline Cycle”. Through the final three parts, Hesselgrave dedicates a chapter to each of the ten elements of the cycle, which is:

  1. Missionaries Commissioned—Acts 13:1–4; 15: 39–40
  2. Audience Contacted—Acts 13:14; 14:1; 16:13–15
  3. Gospel Communicated—Acts 13:17–41; 16:31
  4. Hearers Converted—Acts 13:48; 16:14–15
  5. Believers Congregated—Acts 13:43
  6. Faith Confirmed—Acts 14:21–22; 15:41
  7. Leadership Consecrated—Acts 14:23
  8. Believers Commended—Acts 14:23; 16:40
  9. Relationships Continued—Acts 15:36; 18:23
  10. Sending Churches Convened—Acts 14:26–27; 15:1–4

Before delving into this cycle, some preliminary considerations should be made. First, Hesselgrave’s attention to both the Great Commission and the ministry of Paul stand in stark contrast to other views of mission that overemphasize the ministry of Jesus, over against Paul, whom those regard as a later innovator of Christianity. In this, Hesselgrave’s theology of mission is quite healthy. Evident throughout the work is Hesselgrave’s detailed attention to biblical exegesis and biblical theology. Not only is this a very conservative approach, it makes his argument quite convincing to those who have a high regard for scripture.

Second, and related to the first, Hesselgrave’s identification of mission as evangelistic church planting provides a healthy, theologically sound rubric for understanding the holistic mission of the church. This discussion may be a little beyond the scope of Hesselgrave’s work; however, some quotes deserve attention. First:

The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).

Here, the local church is the locus not just of reproduction, but of service. By implication, as churches are multiplied, the centers of faith and service, even as signs and sacraments, to borrow from Bosch, reach further and further throughout the world. Second:

That the missionaries were concerned about social relationships, and about minds and bodies as well as souls, is patently true. But Paul’s primary mission was accomplished when the gospel was preached, people were converted, and churches were established. Obedience to the Great Commandment to love one’s neighbor was part of the commission to teach all things Christ commanded. But good works were the fruit—not the root—of Paul’s mission (24).

While Hesselgrave is explaining the primacy of church planting, he also elucidates the relationship of evangelism to social ministry. As with the first quote, evangelistic church planting multiplies the opportunity for Christian service.

Finally, and only somewhat related to the first two quotes above:

…the author is in a growing company of theologians and missiologists who are persuaded that the Bible itself—not just a statement of basic doctrines, or a list of biblical ideas, or a succession of fragmented Bible stories—constitutes the contextualization that God himself has provided, prescribed, and promised to prosper (see Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Various approaches might be used to make contacts, awaken interest, and gain a hearing. But in the making of disciples—students and followers of Christ—the larger story and full compass of Scripture must be taught, understood, and embraced. That is the way old idolatrous worldviews are exchanged for the divinely inspired worldview of the Bible, an exchange that is basic to biblical conversion and spiritual maturation (37).

And:

So once again we are brought back to the Scriptures, to both Old and New Testaments, to biblical theology, to the larger story. Why? Because a worldview is not formed by adding up a number of facts, even though those facts may be true. A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A Christian worldview is formed by hearing and learning the big story of Scripture and seeing how all the little stories, whether of tithe men and women of the Bible or of ourselves and our neighbors, fit into that big story (146).

This reviewer could not pass up the opportunity to commend Hesselgrave’s view of Scripture, not just in its role in doctrine, but in worldview formation. There is a great opportunity for missiologists and theologians to demonstrate how the world of the bible itself functions transformatively. Again, this is beyond the scope of this book, but an area for future research.

What of the cycle itself? Though Hesselgrave hedges against the rebuttal that there is no prescriptive/normative pattern within the book of Acts, the question remains whether or not he is imposing his cycle upon the text. This reviewer thinks the answer would be yes, but such an answer does not imply that the cycle is not biblical, nor unwise. However, there is much to be appreciated about the practical nature of the cycle. More than anything, the cycle should be understood as the right intersecting of ecclesiology and missiology. In fact, Hesselgrave’s ecclesiology is impeccable, a veritable strength of the work as a whole, and it remains biblical-theological rather than solely systematic-theological.

Finally, among many other notable features of his method, one should appreciate his comparison between the setting apart of elders and deacons to the setting apart of missionary-evangelists for service. By keeping the commissioning and sending of missionary-evangelists as ecclesio-centric, he produces a model that may keep the relationship of missionary-evangelists to sending and receiving churches consistent. That is, the missionary-evangelist relates to all parties as members of churches gifted for service, not as hired guns (please do not take this pejoratively). Some may object to his insistence that missionary-evangelists are specialists, but he retorts that the specialization refers only to the training required to minister cross-culturally. In other words, “the role of the missionary-evangelists and pastor-teachers is that of training laity for the work of the ministry. That is, the leaders must be trained to train others” (105).

This reviewer appreciated much that Hesselgrave presented. Nothing stands out as controversial or worthy of further discussion here. However, this book is a must read for anyone considering church planting anywhere in the world.

Chapter by Chapter Key Quotes

Chapter 1:

  1. The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).
  2. Wherever it is possible to proclaim the gospel and form churches, only those organizations that support evangelism and church planting in a significant way should be thought of as missions. If they do not engage in or support evangelism and church planting, they are not only parachurch, they are paramission (26).
  3. Today’s Priority: Cross-Cultural Church-Planting (29-32): UPGs and Church Planting are primary focus.

Chapter 2:

  1. Three sources for missiology: Revelation, Research (in the sciences), Reflection (on past experience)
  2. …the author is in a growing company of theologians and missiologists who are persuaded that the Bible itself—not just a statement of basic doctrines, or a list of biblical ideas, or a succession of fragmented Bible stories—constitutes the contextualization that God himself has provided, prescribed, and promised to prosper (see Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Various approaches might be used to make contacts, awaken interest, and gain a hearing. But in the making of disciples—students and followers of Christ—the larger story and full compass of Scripture must be taught, understood, and embraced. That is the way old idolatrous worldviews are exchanged for the divinely inspired worldview of the Bible, an exchange that is basic to biblical conversion and spiritual maturation.
  3. “Gold from Egypt is still gold”: (1) all such knowledge should be thoroughly tested in the light of Scripture to make sure that it is real gold (i.e., true) and not fool’s gold; and (2) scriptural knowledge is qualitatively (and even quantitatively) more important than secular knowledge (39).

Chapter 3:

  1. Paul’s message – Normative; Paul’s method – less so: “church planners and planters should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents” (46).

Chapter 5:

  1. Priorities: Both/And –Home/Overseas; Responsive/Unresponsive; Reached/Unreached; Urban Rural…but….
  2. Paul’s Selection Strategy (65-71)
  • Priority to responsivity
  • Special concern for those who had not heard
  • Establishing churches in strategically located cities; urban strategy: “(1) openness to change, (2) the concentration of resources, and (3) the potential for significant contact with surrounding communities
  • Openness to leading of Holy Spirit.
  • Chapter 6:

    1. Missionary-Evangelist as apostle (73–4)
    2. Role of Laypersons (74–5)
    3. Teams! (75–6)

    Chapter 8: Pauline Cycle 1: The Missionaries Commissioned

    1. God calls and sends missionary-evangelists in and through the churches (96).
    2. How (kinda how elders and deacons are identified in the church!):
      • First, God spoke to the men who were to be sent…
      • Second, God spoke to the church and its leaders…
      • So, in God’s time, the missionary-evangelists were selected by the spirit, separated for the work, released by their followers, and sent forth by the Spirit with the laying on of hands. This official commissioning entailed both a blessing and a recognition. It entailed a blessing in that the senders acknowledged that those who were being sent had been called to and equipped for the task; they were going forth with the approval of the church. But the ceremony signified more. Just as in the Old Testament the priest laid his hands on the sacrificial victim, thus signifying that the victim was taking the place of the offerer, so in the commissioning of the missionary-evangelists the church recognized that those who were being sent were going in the place of the church (97).
    3. Critique of Volunteerism:
      • We have built the greater part of our contemporary evangelists and missionary enterprise upon a vast program of volunteerism. New Testament missions were voluntaristic–that is, those who participated did so of their own free will. But New Testament missions were not based on volunteerism–that is, a general call for, and the sending of, anyone who would offer to go.
    4. Training Christian Workers for the Missionary Task (Is a specialist the same things as a professional missionary? What makes one a professional?)
      • While it is popular today to obliterate the distinction between laity and clergy. Scripture maintains the distinction. However, the biblical distinction is not the hierarchical one that some churches make today. Rather, it is in regard to the training of the workers that the true distinction is seen.
      • Development of the gifts granted to the missionary-evangelist requires a training program distinct from that for a deacon. Third, the role of the missionary-evangelists and pastor-teachers is that of training laity for the work of the ministry. That is, the leaders must be trained to train others

    Chapter 9: PC2: The Audience Contacted

    1. Preevangelistic Courtesy Contacts –recognition of authority structures in another society.
    2. Preevangelistic Community Contacts –understanding what is expected of a newcomer.
    3. Selective/Widespread – Creating relationships as doorways to a wider audience. HUP?

    Chapter 10: PC3: The Gospel Communicated

    1. Evangelism must be based on biblical theology rather than our systematic theology (see Carson, Gagging of God, 502).
    2. So once again we are brought back to the Scriptures, to both Old and New Testaments, to biblical theology, to the larger story. Why? Because a worldview is not formed by adding up a number of facts, even though those facts may be true. A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A Christian worldview is formed by hearing and learning the big story of Scripture and seeing how all the little stories, whether of tithe men and women of the Bible or of ourselves and our neighbors, fit into that big story (146).
    3. Elenctics (146–7)– preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

    Chapter 11: PC4: The Hearers Converted

    1. By using the phrase “process-sensitive call,” we direct attention to the fact that in dealing with those for whom Christ died, we are dealing with people who have numerous questions, frustrations, and trials. We should plan, therefore, to counsel some potential converts concerning the issues of repentance and faith over a period of time (182).

    Chapter 12: PC5: The Believers Congregated

    1. Every local family of believers need not evidence the full, variegated social and cultural richness that characterizes the larger family or body of Christ. Furthermore, no social or cultural distinctive should be significant enough to exclude a believer from any family of believers, nor to alienate local church families from each other or the larger body of Christ (198).
    2. If the new believer has a responsibility to join the believing group, the believing group has a responsibility to do everything possible to incorporate and integrate the new believer into the family of faith! (201)
    3. We conclude, then, that Christianity has no one sacred spot or shrine and and that God will meet with his people wherever they gather to worship and call upon his name. In this, true Christianity is uniquely the universal religion (209).

    Chapter 13: PC6: The Faith Confirmed

    1. It seems that whenever the gospel was communicated to Jews and proselytes in the New Testament, it was done in a way that clearly linked Christ and his work to Old Testament history and prophecy (221).
    2. Biblical text needs to be read and interpreted in dialogue with the confessional tradition—that is, with the way in which the Scriptures have been understood in the church down through history. No one person is an island. Neither is any church (222).
    3. The emerging church should constitute itself a caring community…First, special attention should be given to needs within the group of believers…Second, the believing community should make it a matter of high priority to find out the felt and real needs of the target community (238).

    Chapter 14: PC7: The Leaders Consecrated

    1. The local church trains and selects its own leaders!:
      • Efforts should be continued to promote the spiritual maturity of all believers in the congregation.
      • The believers should be taught how to recognize and select men and women who are gifted and spiritually qualified for leadership in the local church.
      • The church should be organized in a permanent form that is scriptural, functional, effective, and expandable (254).
      • Church Discipline!!! (270).

    Chapter 15: PC8: The Believers Commended

    1. Bible schools and seminaries need to provide training for the kinds of leadership required by growing churches.
      • The Christian training institutions in the West prepare comparatively few pioneers, with the result that few workers are adequately trained for planting new churches. By contrast many Christian training institutions in the Third World prepare evangelists (in the narrow sense of that term) and comparatively few consolidators, with the result that churches languish for want of adequately trained pastor-teachers. These imbalances are easily explained. In the West the educational focus is on hundreds of churches that need pasturing. In the Third World the educational focus is on thousands of unreached areas that need evangelizing. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are thousands of churchless communities in the West and thousands of churches in the Third World (286).

    Chapter 16: PC9: The Relationships Continued

    1. Interchurch Fellowship (297–8):
      • The churches founded by the apostles recognized that in Christ they had a common bond with one another
      • The churches regularly sent Christian greetings to each other.
      • They collaborated on a project to provide money for the poor saints in the Jerusalem church.
      • They sent representatives to one another.
      • They supported the apostles’ labor in other fields.
      • The shared letters from the apostles.
      • They encouraged one another by modeling the faith.
      • They cooperated in the common cause of evangelism.
    2. The Bible, then, does not allow for a missionless church or a churchless mission. It requires that churches be engaged in mission and that they send out missionaries (302).

    Chapter 17: PC10: The Sending Church Convened

    1. Understanding and participating in the whole church’s mission: “It is Christian to do good to all people, and especially to other Christians (Gal. 6:2). But Great Commission mission is more focused than that” (315).
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    1. Brother. Martin Henry Mbewe October 1, 2013 — 10:01

      The information is helpful. Thanks for the God Job

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