Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Contaminated DNA"?

In the name of furthering Church Planting Movements, in contexts where there are already other existing churches, it has sometimes been expressed that it is important to "protect" new believers and new churches from "exposure" to already existing churches, so that they don’t get "infected" with their "contaminated DNA." It is often stated that "traditional" churches, with their own building, and paid leadership, can never be truly "reproducible". And I would agree that missions research (as well as common sense) has overwhelmingly confirmed these as reproduction-limiting factors.

Perhaps among certain Unreached People Groups this isn’t even an issue, as there are no traditional churches to get in the way and expose the new believers and churches to their "contaminated DNA." But in areas like Western Europe, where the churches are few, but they DO exist, I wonder if "strategically shunning" is the most biblical and loving thing to do. And, as I intimated in my last post, if your initial "end-vision" does not embrace the unity of the overall Body of Christ in your region, I question whether, from a biblical, and Christ-honoring point of view, that end-vision is ambitious enough.

As North Americans, we have a tendency to be entrepreneurial in the way we do things. This can be a very good character trait that God can use greatly for the advance of His Kingdom. But whenever our entrepreneurial tendencies run roughshod over or snub the efforts of our national brethren, or even of other foreign missionaries who are not quite so much on "the cutting edge" as us, I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves whose kingdom it is we are seeking to build.

Am I inferring we ought to do away with CPM methodology? By no means. I remain to this day a strong supporter of "New Directions" at the IMB and of CPM methodology in general. But I am afraid that some of us, in our zeal to be among the few to achieve a bona fide CPM, and our quest to be faithful to God’s call upon our lives, have forgotten that He will one day ask us about some other things besides whether or not we were responsible for being the strategic catalyst behind a CPM.


Neill Mims said...

David, I appreciate your posts! I hope my replies aren't too long.

I believe there are ways to bless existing churches, help them understand our goal to start new churches, and even spend 5-15% of our time doing things to help them. The key is understanding AND appreciating the different roles of pastors and missionaries. If so, we can be unified that different parts of the body do different things. If unity means all trying to find the same goal or two that all Christians should be active at -- then few will agree what those activities will be.

One way to try to help new believers not be confused by existing churches is to help them understand that we know what we are doing in planting new churches -- and helping develop a happy/healthy ethos in doing this new work (without "attacking" existing churches in negative ways). Believers in our churches (starting with one or two) have to come to the point they believe in what they are doing for evangelism, discipleship, church formation, and leadership multiplication.

That is difficult if missionaries are hiding behind such "secure" walls that the people they are leading don't know they are experts at church planting. Then if a local pastor or believer tries to confuse them, then the local believers think, 'Why should I follow this person who is just a businessman / NGO worker, when this pastor tells me I should be part of an existing church?'

[And I haven't found many places where there is not confusion from either existing Christians or other religions -- In so many cultures every "real" religion should have buildings, priests, etc.]

Also, sometimes we have been so "security" conscience we have made it difficult to be effective in missions/ministry. (And in some places that is a tough thing to balance I agree.) At least those who we make progress with in the Gospel we will have to "expose" ourselves as CP experts even if we don't do so with the larger communities.

Instead we have to help the existing believers and new believers understand, lovingly, the benefits of starting new churches and being "entrepeneurial" in the best senses of the term (and losing much of the negative).

Let's ooze graciousness to all believers... we often don't have to "fight" or gripe even though Satan would love to sidetrack us in so many ways about arguing about/with each other. Let pastors and churches do their God given work (feeding the flock, reaching more people who join their churches), and I hope we can in unity, do ours as missionaries (new people groups, new churches where they are needed near or far).

Blessings in our Christ, Neill

Neill Mims said...

Oh... and let's ooze graciousness to the lost too.

mr. t said...


This is my third assignment with the company. Two in Latin America and now this one in South Asia. I faced what you are talking about in Latin America, and I face it in South Asia, even in a very unevangelized context. I think Neill makes a good point. Let's work with established churches but not allow that to sidetrack us from the missionary task among the lost. Giving part of our time to develop loving relationships and offer help to traditional churches does not mean we have to submit all of our work under their authority structure. We can work side by side as equal partners but not in exclusive relationship.

I have learned not to put all my eggs in one basket. I try to develop multiple tracks for ministry knowing that most of that will not lead to cpm but does go a long way in building unity. It can lead to some good things happening even through the traditional churches (which I have experienced). But the majority of my time is with those that I believe will produce the most fruit and work toward the vision of expanding God's kingdom.

Exclusive relationships, or one-sided relationships are not the same as real partnership. Let's respect each other as we obey the Lord in what He calls us to do. We respect our national brethren and maintain a cooperative spirit, while at the same time look for those that will multiply disciples, churches and leaders.

Donald said...

Thanks for another thought provoking post. It made me think of what comes to mind for me when someone is led to Christ. I immediately think of starting a new church with that person. The last place I consider taking most new converts is to a traditional church. Call it contaminated DNA or whatever but I want them to have a vision to reach their alrededores.

As others have pointed out, while this may be my strategy, it does not preclude me from developing deep and real relationships with leaders from conventions, other missionares, and traditional churches. It is a both/and approach, not either/or. Granted, the bulk of my time is not spent fostering relationships with existing churches and conventions but even investing 10-20% of our time in this work can be productive.

I have found that much division has been created by not having a complete understanding of what we are doing. Often, after explaining our vision, others will agree and pursue a similar strategy. One key to this is that we must earn the right to be able to share our vision. In most cultures, this is not something that happens overnight. Only after we have spent time developing that relationship have we culturally earned the right to have an influence. I think that most of this falls under using common sense when developing relationships.

One other thing... while we may try to be a unifying factor, there are few cases I can think of where there has been true unity amongst believers. Just because one person likes a certain style of worship doesn't mean he can't fellowship with someone who has different tastes. The same can be said for church structure. Just because one likes a traditional building and baptized order of worship doesn't mean that there cannot be fellowship with those with a more open and shared leadership.

Anyway, good topic to think about. We need to be a unifying factor in as much as it is possible realizing that differences of preferences do not necesarily mean division within the body.

Anonymous said...

In my view of CPM methodology, it's a "must" to get other churches involved. A true CPM has multiple streams of movements so it is difficult and selfish to try to start all those streams yourself. If we can train and cast the vision for other people for our people group, then the streams they start may not be exactly as we wish, but it is much better than no streams. Churches around the world are filled with Christians without training and vision that they can start churches. That's just as much part of the CPM strategy as starting from scratch.

GuyMuse said...

I smiled at your "strategic shunning" as a nice way of dealing with a sticky issue :-)

I wish we had more training, direction, insight into these matters from our leadership. My own observation is that traditional churches DNA is having more of an impact on CPM, than the other way around. What I have to keep in mind through it all is that this is God's Kingdom, not ours. He is free to work as he pleases with ALL his children.

Alan Knox said...

Along with the other commenters, I thank you for a thought-provoking post. I am not on the mission field, but I often interact with people with different "DNA" in the U.S. Your post has caused me to ask myself several questions: If the church is one - and I believe it is - and if the church should interact with itself not just portions of itself - and I believe it should - how do we edify and encourage those believers with DNA that differs from our own? Is it enough to focus on that which binds us together? Are we able to discuss and learn from one another?

Unfortunately, in my experience (and I realize that experience is dangerous), many tend to focus on differences and end up discouraging or angering one another. I'm still learning how offensive believers can become when someone questions their beliefs. Instead of carefully explain, many tend to attack. However, I do not think this is what Christ has in mind for his church.

I hope you don't mind my ramblings. Like I said, your post caused me to think about situations here in the U.S.


Anonymous said...

I am all in favor of a life changing, disciple making, and church starting Holy Spirit movement. I have grown to fall in love with Biblical phrases like: “the number of disciples multiplied greatly”, “the word of God increased and multiplied”, “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the region”, the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”. However, I am weary and if you will leery now of terms like CPM, DNA, envisioning, T4T, MAWL, etc. I am a long-term company man but could it be that we have elevated human terminology and pragmatism over divine terminology and ways? New Directions is no longer new. It is in fact almost 10 year OLD! I am afraid that we have fallen in love with new terms and methodologies and lost our first love for the Savior. It is a daily task and wonderful privilege to walk and abide in the Lord. If we do so He will reveal to us His way of reaching people groups and populations segments. And because He wants to receive the glory the way he does it in Spain probably will be much different than He does it in South America.

Neill Mims said...

Hi Anonymous.... wow... we all have to stay in love with Christ, fellowshipping with Him, and we only do all for him. It is a danger to try to "generalize" the spirituality of the organization... but it is made up of individuals...

Which ones may have lost their first love? Each person has to stay in love with Christ and do all our service for Him and in cooperation with Him. Does anyone believe that we cause the change? The unbelievable miracle that happens when a person turns to Christ? That we plant the churches? (I find it humorous in any church planting that one person thinks they are the "planter" even when they plant one church -- it is a cooperation of many and the Spirit of God that draws people to Him.

It is God and we only cooperate, serve, see where He is working and follow Him. We can do it graciously, humbly, but with vision that the things that happened in the New Testament (that you mentioned) will happen again and again.

Let each missionary stay close to Christ. The IMB can't be accused of wanting anything else than salvation for all peoples and seeking to provide spiritual, Godly leadership in a large, spread out organization. If anyone's heart grows weary -- let's not "mirror" any temporary (hopefully) spiritual dryness onto the organization.

Donald said...

Dear Anonymous,

Moving past the terms, I believe that the principles of strategic directions (you are right, it hasn't been new for 10 years) is exactly what you are talking about. You say

"I have grown to fall in love with Biblical phrases like: “the number of disciples multiplied greatly”, “the word of God increased and multiplied”, “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the region”, the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”."

That looks like a pretty good definition of CPM to me. Just because the terminology may be different doesn't mean that end goals are not the same.

I agree with you that the way God will be glorified will probably be different in Spain and South America. To me, this has been one of the greatest benefits of becoming more strategic in our missiology. Now we actually realize that because of the differences in cultures and peoples, the way God moves throughout a people will look different.

At the risk of being called a newbie, I must admit that we came on board with the company right when New Directions was introduced. We have never seen it another way. I understand that some of you will quickly dismiss my input as not knowing how it was prior to ND, but that's who I am. If you want to go back and use other terminology, it doesn't bother me. I just look back to the book of Acts and find the same principles there.

That's all for now.

Kiki said...

HI. Good writing. You might be interested in the new European Missions Research Group website:

DAWN-served, church-planting-focused.



Anonymous said...

David, Thanks for your efforts at communicating. I know you work a lot at it and are doing a great job. I am a long term company guy but in a new post. Yesterday, the leader of our Baptist group shared with me that he had gotten wind of the "contaminated DNA" idea and knew that for years he had been "strategically shunned." He agreed there were things within almost all of their churches that hindered rather than helped. He agreed that there were tendencies and default setting for "how church is done" that are not helpful. He asked two questions I thought were insightful: first, could these characteristics not be said about many of our church plants and SBC churches? Second, if the church is the body of Christ, even as imperfect as it is, are we not rejecting the DNA of Jesus? He suggested, rightly I think, that this would be a dangerous position to take.