Competing Worldviews: “Why Can’t You See the Gospel Like I Do?”

“Differing worldviews compete within me!”

I was struck by this realization as I ministered to a small group of new Christians and seekers in Kenya during a time of famine. Crops were dying in the fields. Women were walking miles to carry water on their backs to their homes. Everyone realized that if rain did not come soon, current crops would wilt in the fields. We decided to conclude our time of fellowship, teaching, and discussion by beseeching God for rain. Had we not been discussing that Creator God was the sovereign Lord of his world? Before we finished our time of prayer, clouds gathered and rain began to pour from the sky. In response, we gave God glory, honor, and praise. What a time of fellowship—and seeing God work—in a new church!

On the way home, as my short wheel-base Toyota Land Cruiser (the old type) slipped down the muddy road and twice slide into a ditch, I was surprised that it had rained only in the general vicinity of our meeting. My mind began to discern the reasons: Rain tends to come from the West, follow a certain ridge of hills, and then drop into this valley.

My thoughts then returned to our powerful time of prayer and our belief that sovereign God is the ultimate giver of rain. I realized that within me are competing worldviews. I am a secularist! I believe the world is organized around “laws of nature” which determine when and where it will rain. I am a theist! I believe that God is sovereign over the world he created. Within my mind I seek to merge these worldviews believing that God created the world to work with certain cycles or rhythms, but our loving, ever-present Creator willingly changes these rhythms he has created. Nonetheless, these two worldviews compete within me for allegiance—sometimes leading me to be more of a secularist than a theist. “Oh, God, help me trust your presence, think your thoughts, and walk in your paths so that I pray to you with expectancy!”  

What might we learn from this story to better understand ourselves and the people among whom we minister?

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Missional Helix

 

This Missiological Reflection provides a framework for cultural understanding by describing four types of worldviews and continues our discussion about “Cultural Analysis” within the Missional Helix. As you read this typology, ask yourself the question, “Which worldviews compete for my heart’s allegiance and for the hearts of the people among whom I serve? How must I live to make God my sovereign Lord?

The purpose of this Missiological Reflection is to provide categories for interpreting yourself and the culture in which you minister.

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Secularism

A secular worldview divides the world into natural and supernatural realms but focuses almost exclusively on the natural. God is considered either nonexistent or irrelevant to human affairs. Humans intuit that they have the ability to understand and shape their own reality. Secularism, which is rooted in Greek and Roman beliefs, became a philosophy of life in Western Europe during the “Enlightenment” or “Age of Reason” from the 1620’s to the 1780’s. It then spread to the rest of the world through colonialism, Western education, and media. Secularists tend to be resistant to the gospel until they realize, usually during times of trauma, that humans are unable to “direct their [own] steps” (Jer. 10:23), that the divine and the human are interrelated.

In the story about God giving rain I revert to the secular part of my heart and heritage. Euro-American Christianity struggles to be thoroughly Christian because facets of life have become secularized.

Animism

An animistic worldview presupposes that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs. During times of disease, death, and drought, animists use divination to discover which beings and forces are impacting them in order to ward them off or to employ their power. Animism has deep roots in much of Africa and in other “tribal cultures” who organize themselves around family, lineage, and clan and who believe that the spirits of the dead (and other spiritual beings and forces) have power over and influence the living. Animism easily intertwines itself with other worldviews and religions, as illustrated by terms like “Christo-Pagan,” especially infiltrating certain forms of Pentecostalism, and “Folk Islam.” Veneration of the dead, very prevalent in traditional Shintoism in Japan and Confucianism in China, is animistic. Animism is also present in Euro-American cultures, where bookstores sell thousands of books about divination, witchcraft, and veneration of ancestors, spirits, and gods and in organized cults like Wicca. Animism often integrates itself into the fabric of more organized forms of religion.

The Bible graphically portrays God’s people struggling with animistic powers. The Old Testament shows how the Israelites were continually forced to choose between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations. Thus Moses contrasts Yahweh to the gods of Egypt by saying, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11), and Elijah on God’s behalf challenges the fertility cult of Baal (1 Kings 18). The Gospels describe a struggle between Jesus and the demonic world. Mark summarized Christ’s ministry with the statement: “And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39; see also Matt. 4:23-24; Acts 10:38). In the Pauline Epistles the Christian’s battle is against principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) and the elementary principles of the world (Col. 2:8, 20). Although the terms change, there seems to be a consistent battle with spiritual forces throughout scripture. Animists interpret these references to spiritual powers literally; those of a secular heritage tend to overlook or deconstruct them (Note Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, pp. 95-126).

For animists to become God-followers, they must recognize that Creator God is approachable and concerned about human life, and unlike the gods, is “majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders,” the God of deliverance (Ex. 15:11). Through the death and resurrection of his Son, God has “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).

In ministering among animistic people, I am continually amazed how simple prayer by ordinary Christians for God’s healing, His indwelling, His deliverance delivers those under Satan’s bondage. By contrast, many Christians in the West have forgotten the power of God to answer simple prayers by everyday Christians.

Pantheism

A pantheistic worldview perceives that an impersonal, all-pervading essence, sometimes defined as “god,” fills the universe. As droplets of water merge to become a stream, then a river, and finally an ocean, so individuals become one with the essence of the universe through meditation and achieve a change of consciousness called “enlightenment.” Thus “god” is defined not as a personal being but the energy that fills the earth. Pantheism, taken from the Greek πᾶν pan (meaning “all”) and θεός theos (meaning “God”), assumes that God is the totality of existence. By meditation one merges with the oneness of the world. The end result is peace, tranquility, Nirvana—connection with the oneness of the world.

Pantheism has deep roots within classical Hinduism and Buddhism in India and Nepal and Taoism in China. The 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza popularized this worldview in the West by challenging Descartes dualistic theology that separated body and soul. He rather maintained the “monist” perspective that body and spirit are one.

Westerners find pantheism enticing as they search for inward peace in a hectic world where Christianity is nominalized and personal holiness is minimized. Neglecting the spiritual disciplines of walking in relationship with God by his Spirit has opened the door to new forms of spiritual mysticism. This syncretism begins by doing rites (meditation) to calm self—to come into unity with self—rather passionate prayer to our loving and faithful Creator God (like that of David in Psalm 51). Eastern meditation seeks unity with the oneness that is within everything (which ultimately is nothing, only ourselves); Christian prayer in meditation, on the other hand, is personal communication in the Spirit with God.

As pantheists encounter living illustrations of Christian meditation, they begin to experience God as living and personal, full of compassion and distinctively holy.

Theism

A theistic worldview presupposes that God created the heavens and the earth and continues to care for that universe. A theistic worldview is as distinctive as the holy and loving God who created us, as Jesus who came to earth to show us how to live and to die for our sins, and as the Holy Spirit that indwells us and leads forward in God’s mission.

At its core theism assumes that this world is intensely personal. God, who is loving and holy, created the world with the expectation that we would walk faithfully with him. But the world is broken, fallen, infiltrated by Satan, and we struggle to find our identity under His sovereignty. Our hope, however, is not in the world as it is today but in the new heavens and the new earth that our Father will usher in with the second coming of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The presence of Creator God walking with us and forming us as expressed in this song of worship, is central to a theistic worldview: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

We believe that there are some aberration to this worldview—the reinterpretation of Jesus as a prophet and the negation of the Holy Spirit, for example, in Islam. Thus some theists follow God’s distinctive way of salvation through Jesus Christ, while others focus on submitting to and honoring Allah.

Missionaries and ministers can use this typology of worldviews to discern the intertwining influences of secularism, animism, pantheism, and theism within their host culture. While most cultures emphasize one or two of these types, influences from all four may be syncretized in various configurations. Understanding the different influences in the culture enables missionaries and ministers to encode the gospel in theological metaphors appropriate to the context.

As you read this Missiological Reflection, please share your reflections with us:

  1. Which worldviews compete for allegiance within my heart?
  2. How have I learned to express the distinctiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ within my cultural context?

You can read a full development of the Missional Helix in Chapter 13 of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies (Zondervan/Harper Collins).

Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Facilitator of Church Planting and Renewal

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The Missional Helix—Cultural Analysis

Missional Helix for BlogIn the previous missiological reflection, I described theological reflection as the beginning point of ministry. Missionaries (that is, all Christian leaders) must yearn to know the heart and motivation of God— what God is about in his world and why he is doing what he is doing—so that their ministry aligns with the purposes of God.

Theology is always contextual—always done within the contexts of living cultures. Thus this reflection describes the second arena of ministry formation—“cultural analysis.”

The question might be asked: “Why segment theological reflection and cultural analysis? Should theological reflection assume cultural analysis since theology must be done within living cultures?” The answer, of course, is “Yes!” In reality, however, it is easy for us to operate out of our own cultural bias, that is, projecting upon Scripture our own cultural paradigms of understanding. Thus missiologolists like Hwa Yung (Mangoes and Bananas: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Theology,”[i]), Kwame Bediako (“Jesus in African Culture”[ii]), and Samuel Escabar (“The Identity of Protestantism in Latin America”[iii]) seek to articulate the Gospel in the metaphors and cultural categories of their particular cultural contexts.

In Communicating Christ in Animistic Cultures I describe the difficulty of Western missionaries to not only understand but also communicate the Gospel into the philosophical presuppositions of animistic culture—where people perceive “that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and, consequently, that human beings must discover by divination what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and frequently, to manipulate their power.” [iv] In this book I attempt to guide people to read the Bible with eyes wide open to the all-sufficiency of God’s work through Christ to defeat the principalities and powers (both personal and impersonal), and to live holy, faithful lives under the sovereignty of God. One prevalent theme is that Westerners attempt to domesticate Scripture to reflect their own secular heritages.

The questions thus become “How do we read Scripture to reflect the fullness of the kingdom of God in our cultural context? How do we faithfully communicate the Gospel and minister to human sinfulness and brokenness?” The technical word for this is contextualization, a term most vividly illustrated by the incarnation of Christ, who became God’s Word in flesh dwelling in our neighborhood speaking so that we can see and hear God’s glory, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thus Christian ministry does not occur in a cultural vacuum; it takes place in cultural contexts, where rival perspectives of reality vie for human allegiance. Missionaries must therefore become adept at differentiating worldview types and discern how these types influence the host culture. These understandings enable missionaries to communicate God’s message so that it interacts with the culture’s perspective of reality.

In the next missiological reflection I will describe four distinct worldview types that are present and often intertwined in world cultures.

Frequently, church planters analyze bits and pieces of a culture but are unable to make a systematic cultural analysis. Or they effectively analyze culture in broad, general terms, such as pre-modern, modern, and post-modern, but are not equipped to make localized cultural analysis.


 Overview of the Missional Helix

Missional Helix for Blog 3The Missional Helix visualizes ministry formation as a spiral. The coils turn round and round, passing the same landmarks, but always at a slightly higher level. This spiral, a helix, describes the process of effective ministry formation. The spiral begins with theological reflection – examining theologies which focus and form our perspectives of culture and the practice of ministry, such as the missio Dei, the kingdom of God, incarnation, and atonement. Cultural analysis, the second element of the Missional Helix, enables missionaries and ministers to define types of peoples within a cultural context, to understand the social construction of their reality, to perceive how they are socially related to one another, and to explain how the Christian message intersects with every aspect of culture (birth rites, coming-of-age rituals, weddings, funerals, and so on). The spiral then considers what has occurred historically in the missional context. Historical perspective narrates how things became what they are, based on the interrelated stories of the particular nation, tribe, lineage, the church, and God’s mission. Finally, strategy formation helps shape the practical methodology of ministry.  The Missional Helix illustrates how contextual strategies draw deeply from cultural and historical understandings to theologically discern what God is saying about the practice of ministry and to then develop actual practices to implement the strategies. This shaping of ministry, however, takes place within the environment of spiritual formation as Christian servants humbly submit their lives to a covenant relationship with God as Father and enthrone Christ as their King.


This missiological reflection thus encourages missionaries to perform an in-depth analysis of the local culture’s worldview. Much too often, this second element of the Missional Helix is excluded. Church planters naively project their worldview on other contexts and interpret reality in terms of their own heritage. This intellectual colonialism results in transplanted theologies, reflecting the missionaries’ heritage, rather than contextualized theologies, developed by reflecting on Scripture within the context of local languages, thought categories, and ritual patterns. Transplanted theologies are merely uprooted from one context and transferred to a new one, with the expectation that the meanings will be the same in both cultures. The beginning point of theologizing in a new culture is always a thorough analysis of the culture on a worldview level. With these cultural understandings, Christian ministers and missionaries are able to be theological brokers to people within the culture and minister alongside them in developing a local, contextualized theology.

In applying this missiological reflection, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the role of theological reflection in ministry formation?
  2. What is the role of cultural analysis?
  3. How are these two intertwined in ministry formation?
  4. What are the strengths and limitations of this missiological reflection?

You can read a full development of the Missional Helix in Chapter 13 of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies (Zondervan/Harper Collins).

Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Facilitator of Church Planting and Renewal

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[i] Yung, Hwa. 1997. Mangoes or Bananas? The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology. Oxford, U.K.: Regnuun Books International.

[ii] Bediako, Kwame. 1994. “Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective” in Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology, pp.93-126, edited by William A Dyrness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

[iii] Escabar, Samuel. 1994. “The Identity of Protestantism in Latin America” in Emerging Voices in Global Christian Theology, pp.199-228, edited by William A Dyrness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

[iv] Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 1991. Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts. William Carey Library, p. 20.

 

The Missional Helix—An Overview

I was sitting in a small group of pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders at a 3dm Learning Community, discerning what God was telling us about steps forward in ministry.  David described to our group how 25 years ago he had planted the church where he still ministers and which today has over 2,500 members. Though others see him as exceptionally successful, his heart is inwardly perturbed.  His church, he says, is more a vendor of goods and services than a community of disciples on mission with God.  Attenders (and even members) come with differing motives.  For some, it is a duty; for others, it is a place to meet people of influence; for still others, it provides moral instruction for their children.  Church attendance assuages guilt and declares to others (and to self) that “I am religious.”  A spiritual responsibility has been discharged; therefore, all is well. Observing the worldliness of his members and fearing for the future of his church in an increasing secular culture, he exclaimed, “What have I created!”  He was hearing God say that his ministry task during his final era of ministry was to transform this church into a disciple-making community on mission with God.

To leaders like David, the Missional Helix provides a process—a meta-narrative, a way of thinking—to guide them in forming the practices of ministry for church renewal and church planting. Missional Helix for Blog

The Missional Helix[1] visualizes ministry formation as a spiral. The coils turn round and round, passing the same landmarks, but always at a slightly higher level. This spiral, a helix, describes the process of effective ministry formation.

The spiral begins with theological reflection – examining theologies which focus and form our perspectives of culture and the practice of ministry, such as the missio Dei, the kingdom of God, incarnation, and atonement. Cultural analysis, the second element of the Missional Helix, enables missionaries and ministers to define types of peoples within a cultural context, to understand the social construction of their reality, to perceive how they are socially related to one another, and to explain how the Christian message intersects with every aspect of culture (birth rites, coming-of-age rituals, weddings, funerals, and so on). The spiral then considers what has occurred historically in the missional context. Historical perspective narrates how things became what they are, based on the interrelated stories of the particular nation, tribe, lineage, the church, and God’s mission. Finally, strategy formation helps shape the practical methodology of ministry.  The Missional Helix illustrates how contextual strategies draw deeply from cultural and historical understandings to theologically discern what God is saying about the practice of ministry and to then develop actual practices to implement the strategies. This shaping of ministry, however, takes place within the environment of spiritual formation as Christian servants humbly submit their lives to a covenant relationship with God as Father and enthrone Christ as their King.

The Relationship between the Five Elements of Ministry Formation

The Missional Helix’s spiral illustrates how the missionary returns time and time again to reflect theologically, culturally, historically, and strategically under the guiding hand of God to develop Missional Helix for Blog 3ministry models appropriate to the local context. Theology, social understandings, historical development of these understandings, and strategy all work together and interpenetrate each other within this environment of spiritual formation. Thus praxis impacts theology, which in turn shapes the practice of ministry.

The broken lines between the four internal elements of ministry formation demonstrate how each interacts with the others.  As Christian leaders humbly and prayerfully submit to God as Father and to each other within an environment of spiritual formation, they find identity, purpose, and are called to mission.

The diagram is called a helix because theology, history, culture, and the practice of ministry build on one another as the community of faith collectively develops understandings and a vision of God’s will within its cultural context.  The spiral grows to new heights as ministry understandings and experiences develop. Ideally, the missionary is always learning, growing in the Lord, always spiraling to a new level of understanding and competence.

Ideally, the missionary is always learning, growing in the Lord, always spiraling to a new level of understanding and competence.

Application

The Missional Helix is useful in at least two ways.  First and foremost, it provides a model of decision-making for the Christian practitioner.  The practice of mission must become intentional and with experience intuitive.  Second, the missional helix provides a model for curricular development in Bible schools, universities, and seminaries.  Equipping for ministry should not put high emphasis on some elements and give little consideration to others.

Two questions:

  1. What elements of the Missional Helix have you generally neglected in developing your model of ministry? What elements have you emphasized?
  2. How intentional is your current paradigm of ministry? What are the components?

You can read a full development of the Missional Helix of Chapter 13 of 2nd edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies (Zondervan/Harper Collins).

Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Facilitator of Church Planting and Renewal

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Copyright ©2015 by Gailyn Van Rheenen

All rights reserved.  We allow you to forward this article individually to friends and photocopy it for personal or class use.  Please do not reproduce this material in printed or digital form without reference.  If you wish to reproduce this material in printed or digital form or in any other way reproduce or distribute this information, please obtain permission by contacting me at gailyn@missionalive.org

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[1] The Missional Helix was first described in a Missiological Reflection in Missiology.org in August 2002 (www.missiology.org/?p=203) and then applied to church planting in another Missiological Reflection in January 2003 (www.missiology.org/?p=157). This Missional Helix was used to present the reformist view in the book Evaluating the Church Growth Movement (McIntosh 2004, 167–89).

 

 

 

MR #26: The Missional Helix: Example of Church Planting

In the last missiological reflection I described the Missional Helix and attempted to show the intertwining, inseparable nature of theological reflection, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation in the practice of ministry.

Developing practice of ministry was understood as a helix because theology, history, culture, and strategy build on one another as the community of faith collectively develops understandings and a vision of God’s will within their cultural context. Like a spring, the spiral grows to new heights as ministry understandings and experiences develop.

Above: The Missional Helix

Each of these four elements (theology, history, culture, and strategy) is essential in reflecting on and planning for all types of Christian ministry.

This Monthly Missiological Reflection examines each item of the Missional Helix as it relates to the practice of church planting. Because this is only an overview and application of the process, the material is simplified and reduced to a few reflections which illustrate the process.

Theological Reflection

Theological reflection is the beginning point for ministry formation and the most significant element in the spiral. All missiological decisions must be rooted both implicitly and explicitly in biblical theology in order to mirror the purposes and mind of God.

Too many church planters, while acknowledging the Bible as the Word of God, allow culture rather than scripture to shape their core understandings of the church. The Bible is used to proof-text practice rather define its essence. Without a biblically-rooted ecclesiology, the teachings and practices of the church are likely to be shaped either implicitly by the dominant evangelical culture or explicitly by random surveys to ascertain what people want1. A biblical understanding of the nature of the church, consequently, enables church planters to develop churches that are rooted in the mission of God rather than presuppositions of popular culture.

The Missional Helix proposes that church planters beginning their ministry must use scripture to form a biblical ecclesiology. For example, in Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul uses multiple metaphors to describe the nature of the church. The church is a new nation: Newly converted Christians are “no longer foreigners and aliens” but “fellow citizens” in a community of faith (2:19). The church is a family, or “God’s household” (2:19). The church is a holy temple, well constructed with each part joined together and built around Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. This fellowship comes into existence through conversion: Those dead in sin (2:1-3) have been made alive with Christ (2:4-7) by God’s grace (2:8-10). Paul stacks metaphors one on another to illustrate a redeemed fellowship “brought together under . . . Christ” (1:3-11) and existing “for the praise of his glory” (1:12). These perspectives form an inspired picture of God’s divine community.

Theological reflection, however, extends beyond textual study. The church planter must realize that all readers understand and apply Scripture within their historical traditions, based upon their rational systems of thought, and formed by their perspectives of experience. The church planter, therefore, must be cognizant of four different resources that shape theological reflection: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience (Stone and Duke 1996, 43-54). For example, in rural, face-to-face cultures Christians tend to perceive of the church as a “family,” in modern, industrial contexts as a “business,” and in postmodern, informational cultures as a “network” or sometimes as a “community.” Missionaries and ministers, as theological “meaning makers,” must theologically reflect upon the connotation of these metaphors using all four resources of theological reflection.

Cultural Analysis

In addition to theological reflection the church planter must undertake an indepth worldview analysis of the local culture. Much too often this second element of the Missional Helix is excluded. Church planters naively project their worldview upon other contexts and interpret reality in terms of their heritage. This intellectual colonialism results in transplanted theologies, reflecting the missionaries’ heritage, rather than contextualized theologies, developed by reflecting on scripture within the context of local languages, thought categories, and ritual patterns. Transplanted theologies are merely uprooted from one context and transferred to a new one with the expectation that the meanings will be the same in both cultures. The beginning point of theologizing in a new culture is always a thorough analysis of the culture on a worldview level. Based on these cultural understandings, trained missionaries are able to be theological brokers to those within the culture and minister alongside them in developing contextualized theology for their own context.

Church planting does not occur in cultural vacuums but in cultural contexts, where rival perspectives of reality vie for human allegiance. Church planters must, therefore, become adept at differentiating worldview types and diagram how these types influence the target culture. These understandings enable them to communicate God’s message so that it interacts with the culture’s perspective of reality.

At least four different worldview types are present in world cultures. Stated succinctly, a secular worldview divides the world into natural and supernatural realms and focuses almost exclusively on the natural realm. God is considered to be either non-existent or irrelevant to human affairs. Secularists tend to be resistant until they realize, usually during times of trauma, that humans are unable to “direct their own steps” (Jere. 10:23), that the divine and the human are interrelated. An animistic perspective of reality believes that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs. During times of disease, death, and drought, they use divination to discover which beings and forces are impacting them in order to ward them off or to employ their power. Animists must learn that creator God is approachable and concerned about human life, and unlike the gods, “majestic in holiness” (Ex. 15:11). Through the death and resurrection of his son God has defeated all the principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). A pantheistic worldview perceives that an impersonal, all-pervading essence, sometimes defined as “god,” fills the universe. As droplets of water merge to become a stream, then a river, and finally an ocean, so individuals can become one with the essence of the world through meditation, thus achieving a change of consciousness called enlightenment. The pantheist, through living illustrations of Christian meditation, must experience God to be living and personal, full of compassion and having a distinctive holiness. A theistic plausibility system presupposes that God created the heavens and the earth and continues to care for that universe. Some theists follow God’s distinctive way of salvation through Jesus Christ while others focus on submission to and honoring of Allah.

Based on these typologies, missionaries and ministers can diagram the intertwining influences of secularism, animism, pantheism, and theism within their host culture. While most cultures emphasize one or two of these types, influences from all four types may be syncretized in various configurations. Understanding the various influences in the culture enables missionaries and ministers to encode the gospel in theological metaphors appropriate to the culture.

Worldview analysis is only one of many tools of cultural inquiry. Other tools include study of the epistemological sources forming worldview, types of cognitive processes, a culture’s grid/group orientation, levels of technology and the resultant strategies for use of money and media, differing definitions of sin and related conceptions of salvation, and the logico-structural integration of its worldview universals within cultures.

Too frequently church planters analyze bits and pieces of a culture but are unable to make a systematic cultural analysis. Or, they effectively analyze culture in broad, general terms, like the premodern, modern, and postmodern, but are not equipped to make localized cultural analysis.

Historical Perspective

Likewise, church planters must develop ministry based upon historical perspective rather than being oblivious of what has previously occurred. Because of their short national history and focus on practical inclinations, many North Americans “rush into the future without looking back” (Hesselgrave 1994, 7-8). Samuel Escobar believes that North American missiologists tend to negate theory and historical background. In other words, they look at missions as a management task necessitating “a task-oriented sequence of steps to be followed in order to achieve” specified goals. He challenges the North American missions community to expand the horizons of their “managerial missiology” (1992, 13-14; cf. 2000, 109-112).

Historical perspective provides many insights that guide church planters to develop their practice of ministry. For example, the reading of history greatly aids contemporary evangelists to understand syncretism. Ancient Israel, like many people coming out of animism, was tempted to follow both God and the gods of the nations. “They bow[ed] down and [swore] by the Lord and . . . also by Molech” (Zeph. 1:5). Modern Christians have syncretized secularism and theism by negating the Holy Spirit and demythologizing spiritual powers. Postmodern Christians have brought new syncretisms, including pervasive relativism, fascination with spiritual powers, focusing on power and neglecting truth, and interpreting emotions and intuition as the work of the Holy Spirit2.

Church planters will find it difficult to understand the nature of syncretism or other issues in church planting without historical perspective.

Strategy Formation

Church planting, by its very nature, necessitates strategic planning. Strategy formation, however, should never stand by itself as a self-contained, “how-to-do-it” prescription. Never should practitioners merely ask the question, “Does it work?” Many strategies that “work” and enable the church to grow for short periods of time do not reflect the qualities and purposes of God. For example, the “health-wealth” gospel produces numerical results, but when God takes away health or wealth as in the case of Job, the faith of those who have come to Christ to receive His “benefits” will likely prove deficient. A question that better reflects the Missional Helix model is: “Does this model of praxis reflect the purposes of God within this historical, cultural context?”

The foundational understandings of theology and the perspectives developed through cultural analysis and historical perspective should, then, lead church planters to critical reflection upon praxis. The missionary or minister should return time and time again to reflect theologically, culturally, historically, and strategically in order to develop ministry models that are appropriate to the local context. The four elements work together and interpenetrate each other. Based on these understandings, I will define “strategy” as the practice of model formation for ministry shaped by theological reflection, cultural analysis, and historical perspective and by the continued practice of ministry.

Strategies for church planting currently are undergoing radical transformation as missiologists reflect upon the different social contexts of missions and the need for the church to be God’s distinct, called-out people.

Because the social contexts are vastly different, strategies for urban church planting are not appropriate for rural areas. Rural areas are largely homogeneous whereas urban centers are heterogeneous and pluralistic. In rural localities people tend to live in extended families and know everyone within the immediate village; in urban contexts people live in close proximity to thousands of other people but paradoxically are neighbors with few of them. In rural communities kinship is the dominant relationship connecting people; in urban societies associational and occupational webs overlay kinship relationships and frequently are considered more important. Church structures in rural cultures tend to coincide with families who know each other and interact with each other in many aspects of life; in the urban context, however, structures of community must be created in order for the church to function as a body of Christ.

Note, for example, some of Valdir Steuernagal’s points in his “map of challenges” for the new decade during the Iguassu Dialogue (2000, 128):

  • “Is there a friend around? The search for relationship in an environment of loneliness.”
  • “I am alone, without a ‘father or a mother?’ The crisis of the state.”
  • “The savage urbanization process and the absence of sanctuary. Urbanism is a mindset.”

The metaphors of Paul from Ephesians 2:19-22 take on a new meaning within this urban environment. Migrants from various areas are united to become a new nation. New community structures are created so that “foreigners and aliens” who have moved from a homogeneous rural environment become a family in a heterogeneous city. The church is a holy temple that stands as a beacon of light in the midst of the corruption and immorality of the city. The church must not be comprised of spectators who fail to receive nurture to become functioning members of the body of Christ.

The strategic implications of the above three paragraphs are immense. Churches can no longer operate as they have in the past. Because people in impersonal urban churches tend to get lost and slip out the back door, nurturing systems must be developed to incorporate new believers into the body of Christ. Church structures must move from impersonal models, in which Christians are spectators absorbing knowledge, to models that are participatory. Thus newly planted churches must make allowances for the anonymity of urban culture and develop intentional structures of nurture and incorporation. The house/cell church movement is predicated upon these social and theological considerations.

Conclusion

The Helix Metaphor is useful in at least two ways. First and foremost, it provides the Christian practitioner with a model of decision-making that is both intentional and instinctive. In other words, the missionary or minister should seek theological understandings, cultural analysis, historical perspective, and strategy formation in the process of developing patterns for ministry. Hopefully, this process becomes instinctive to the missional practitioner. Second, the Missional Helix could be used as a model for theological education. Equipping for ministry should not focus on some of the elements and give little consideration to others but form an integrated model of formation.

Finally I would like to include an insight from a reader: Lynn Anderson of Hope Network Ministries, responding to the missiological reflection introducing the Missional Helix, wrote that he has frequently “felt ping-ponged between theologians and practitioners” and concludes that “theologically impoverished practices are usually proven to be poor practices” and “theology divorced from practice is usually impoverished theology.” He speaks of once writing a satirical article in Wineskins entitled “Why aeronautic engineers don’t make good fighter pilots and vice-versa,” which only succeeded in making both poles mad (Anderson, 2002). The Missional Helix thus works to explain the relationship between theology and other aspects of ministry preparation.

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1 Christian A. Schwarz in Natural Church Development (1996) and George Barna at are two examples of church planting models that were devised based upon survey methodologies.

2 For a fuller description of syncretism and types of syncretism during modernity and postmodernity read my article entitled “Modern and Postmodern Syncretism in Theology and Missions” (1997, 164-207).

Sources Used

Anderson, Lynn. 2002. Personal Correspondence.

Escobar, Samuel. 2000. Evangelical missiology: peering into the future at the turn of the century. In Global Missiology: The Iguassu Dialogue, ed. William D. Taylor, 101-122. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Hesselgrave, David J. 1994. Scripture and Strategy: The Use of the Bible in Postmodern Church and Mission. Pasadena: William Carey Library.

Hiebert, Paul. 1993. De-theologizing missiology: A response. Trinity World Forum 19 (Fall): 4.

Steuernagel, Valdir. 2000. Learning from Escobar . . . and beyond. In Global Missiology: The Iguassu Dialogue, ed. William D. Taylor, 123-132. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Stone, Howard. W. and James O. Duke. 1996. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 1997. Modern and Postmodern Syncretism in Theology and Missions. In The Holy Spirit and Missions Dynamics, ed. C. Douglas McConnell, 164-207. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.