Book Review: “A New Kind of Church” by Aubrey Malphurs (2007)

In his book, A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century, Aubrey Malphurs not only argues for change in the way the majority of American Christians do church, but also seeks to meet head-on the hostile arguments against those churches willing to change and to curtail the arguments’ damaging influence away from the ministerial good which new-model churches have recently been able to affect. The following paper offers first a brief summary of New Kind, then a critique of the ideas and approaches found therein, and finally a discussion concerning what good this information does for the author and reader alike.

New Kind is rich in information specifically aimed at those forcing contention amongst the ranks of Christ’s worldwide church, most often out of the goodness of their kind yet misdirected hearts. This first section will briefly discuss Malphurs as a man, and then take a quick skim through the major aspects of this ten-chapter book.

Dr. Aubrey Malphurs, founder of The Malphurs Group which helps non-profit organizations and ministries in leadership training and strategic planning, is a prolific author of more than twenty books and is also a Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). Malphurs both writes and teaches from an extensive background of experience in church planting, pasturing and leadership. He has partnered with other like-minded organizations both here in the United States and all over the world. Malphurs received his Master of Theology from DTS in 1978 and his Ph.D. in 1981 and has spent his most recent years teaching at DTS and consulting for the Malphurs Group (Malphurs Group).

Part One of Malphurs’ New Kind contains three chapters which tackle the difficult problems churches face during changing times (New Kind, 15), the fact that churches are changing (Chapter 1), the reason for the changes (Chapter 2) and the common arguments against changing churches (Chapter 3). In Chapter One, Malphurs points out that not only is Christianity on the decline, a whole host of cults and religions are on the rise. The answer to this problem, suggests Malphurs, is what he calls “new-model churches” (26). In Chapter Two, Malphurs targets the reasons for this decline in Christian churches by suggesting such things as the changing cultures (31-32) and traditions (33-34) in America. He suggests also that the church has dropped the ball by failing to catch up to the quickly changing culture (35), by failing to take advantage of opportunities (37), by failing in the area of evangelism (40) and by failing to recruit the right kind of leaders (42). In Chapter Three, Malphurs introduces a topic that becomes the focus of much of the rest of the book—who should implement the changes (46), and what the common critiques of changes in churches are (55).

Part Two of New Kind extends to the end of the book and ranges from such topics as discovering the biblical principles for making changes in a church (Chapter 4), the preparation for change (Chapter 5), the development of a theology of culture (Chapter 6) and actually discovering the meaning of the local church. Malphurs continues by addressing servanthood in churches (Chapter 8), the evaluation of the various models of churches (Chapter 9) and the planning for new-model church development (Chapter 10).

In Chapter Four, Malphurs discusses the importance of proper hermeneutics in deciding the principles behind changing churches. He emphasizes the understanding of traditions, preferring the prescriptive over the descriptive principles (66), the positive over the negative principles (68) and the principle over the pattern approach (70).

In Chapter Five, Malphurs covers the theology of change based on three Fs: Function, Form and Freedom (75). Functions, he writes, are the mandates of the church, while forms are the methods (87). Freedoms must be viewed in light of their limitations and restrictions (91-92). The author follows this discussion on the theology of change closely in Chapter Six by showing how one can develop a theology of culture (95). He emphasizes most the fact that the church must recognize that culture is nothing more than a vehicle (105), something to be used and not feared.

In Chapter Seven, Malphurs defines the local church as “an indispensible gathering of professing believers in Christ who, under leadership, are organized to pursue its mission through its functions to accomplish its purpose” (116). He completes the chapter by dissecting and explaining this definition.

In Chapter Eight, Malphurs describes Servanthood as one necessary quality of the new-model church. He does so by expounding on both Matthew 20:20-28 (128-130) and I Corinthians 9:19-23 (131), and then by offering three modern-day examples of servant-churches.

In Chapter Nine, Malphurs discusses the process of evaluating church models (135). He then lays out (141-151) and challenges (151-159) many of the arguments critics of these new-model churches often make.

In his concluding chapter, Malphurs brings together the central themes of the book and focuses finally on the methods for strategically developing a new-model church (163). He takes the reader through the preparation phase (165-169) which involves building a team, doing the research and raising support, among other things. He then moves on to the process phase which culminates in the development of a strategy (175) and concludes with the practice phase which involves both the implementation or evaluation of the new-model churches (178-179).

Now with a proper summary of Malphurs’ New Kind firmly laid out, it is possible to continue with a critique and evaluation of the ideas and approaches found within. The following critique and evaluation will focus first on Aubrey Malphurs as an author of church planting books, then on the filters Malphurs brings out in this book, and finally on the arguments and critiques he mentions against new-model churches and their attackers.

First, as mentioned above, Aubrey Malphurs is a prolific author of books that relate to church planting and contemporizing church methods for the twenty-first century. In New Kind, Malphurs opens with some startling information pointing to the serious decline of the church in today’s generation (9). He brings this reality out most clearly through his very descriptive graphs in Chapter One. For example, he reveals the decline of clergy who are 35 years old or younger from 1975 to 1999 and shows that this decline from 24% to 7% (19) testifies that not only are the younger generations losing interest in Christianity, they are also quickly losing the leadership who could potentially help them revive that interest. He also lays out some very unambiguous numbers which detail the growth rates of various cults and non-Christian religions (23-25). With such an obvious growth in spiritual interest in the last two decades, it is a wonder that Christians have been so slow to attract these searchers as successfully as the false religions have done.

Malphurs’ writing of this decline in the church seems at face value to be somewhat pessimistic. However, one would have to wonder why this man would write as much as he has on church planting if he did not think that this trend or decline was somehow reversible. In his book, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, Malphurs also writes of this decline. However, in Growing, Malphurs displays a much more evident optimism concerning the future of the American church than he does in New Kind. In fact, in Growing, Malphurs charges his readers to reproduce, to plant new churches all across America, because he is optimistic that Christ’s Church will not only survive, but will in fact thrive in the United States because of Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18—that Christ is the One who ultimately builds and protects His church and against it the Gate of Hell could never prevail (Growing, 13, 40). Malphurs’ optimism in this section of New Kind is most evident when he writes that “new-model churches offer an answer to this problem” of the church’s decline (New Kind, 9).

The second evaluation of Malphurs’ New Kind comes in regards to his discussion on the filters necessary for addressing error in the church. These three filters go by many names, but most often Malphurs refers to them as the following: the essentials of the faith (50), the non-essentials of the faith (51) and love in all things (53). The first of the three filters is described in many various ways throughout the book, referring to the essentials of the faith as mandates (87) or functions (90). These mandates include five key essential beliefs: belief in the inspiration of the Bible, in the existence of God as the Trinity, of the deity and sacrifice of Christ, of Christ’s bodily resurrection, and of His eventual, imminent physical return to this world (50). These essentials, he notes, cannot be compromised in any way throughout the process of change from an old- to a new-model church.

Just as the first filter was described in many various ways, the same goes for the second. Malphurs refers to the non-essentials as methods (87) and forms (90). These non-essentials deal mostly with the tradition (sometimes up to 90% of what churches regularly do each week, 109), those practices not found in Scripture and not even necessarily based off Scriptural principles. Some examples he gives of such traditions are prayer meetings on Wednesday nights, singing the great classic hymns, Sunday School and potluck dinners (62). Such traditions for most Baptist churches have become so engrained into the religious fabric of their members that to even suggest changing them becomes a question of heresy over practicality. While Malphurs’ arguments certainly are right on target, his choice of wording is less so. He calls these traditions “nonbiblical” (62), though a much better and more accurate term would  be “extra-biblical.”

Third, two critiques against Malphurs’ New Kind can be found in his section concerning the general arguments people make against the new-model churches. In this section he attempts to reason away the critiques against such changes that have been made within the last few decades, changes that have certainly effectively upped the attractiveness of Sunday Morning Worship services. One argument Malphurs tackles in Chapter Nine is the church’s methodology. While some claim that the church uses secular means to attract newcomers, Malphurs’ argument against this critique is: “Why would a church go to all the expense and trouble merely to entertain people?” This reasoning is inherently faulty, and most late- or never-adapters (11) would never accept such reasoning, because the answer to this hypothetical question is “even believers still have a nasty sin nature to deal with.” Entertainment, love and attention are desirable things, and even churches are not above ministering out of wrong motives.  Another argument Malphurs tackles is that of the church’s goals. After stating that the church’s mission is to get the people’s attention in their services so that they come will return to the church the following week, he hypothetically asks “How else will they lead them to Christ and disciple them?” Perhaps Malphurs has spent too long ministering specifically to churches, but it seems he has briefly forgotten that the mission of the individual is just as important as the church. While it is obviously important for the church to be pleasant enough for people to want to return, ultimately if the church fails in this regard, it is still the mission of individual believers to follow the Great Commission as well. The church’s responsibility and the individual’s go hand-in-hand.

Now that we have taken in a brief summary of New Kind and also expressed some evaluation and critiques of the text, it would be useful to discuss how this information could apply to me the reader. First I will reference the quality of the book itself, then some personal reflections on what I found most appealing about the work, and finally how I could one day implement the lessons learned from this book and improve my own prospective ministry.

Having read Aubrey Malphurs before, this book, New Kind, did not stand up as well to his other writings as I had expected. I did not find, for example, the flow of the book very engaging or desirable. Oftentimes I had to return to part- and chapter-headings just to remind myself what the topic of my reading was at the time. Malphurs’ book Planting Growing Churches, on the other hand, was a fast-paced, well-designed book that kept me interested throughout. While that book is nearly twice as long, I felt that I whipped right through it for its practicality and usefulness to my own life right now. I certainly would not say that I  hated New Kind, and I will probably hang onto it, specifically for the potential time when I might face a battle between tradition and a new-model church. I will probably not pick it up again until that time, however.

With the above said,  that I will not use this book until I face this particular problem of tradition versus necessary change, there were several aspects of this book that I did find personally appealing. I enjoyed specifically his choice and use of statistics and his examples of servanthood.

First, I enjoyed how Malphurs employed the various statistics strewn throughout his book. In Planting Growing Churches, one of the major aspects of his study on how to approach church planting in this new century was to reveal many of the current statistical studies of both the churched and unchurched by researchers such as George Barna. He does the same with this book, specifically in Chapter One as he reveals all of the cult and non-Christian religion statistics. I found that these percentages of growth in various religions really set the stage for the immediacy of new-model churches and church planting in general. If so many others, heretics and pagans alike, are doing it, why are we Christians not as active as they are in spreading our message of Good News?

Second, I enjoyed Malphurs’ eighth chapter where he discussed servanthood, both in the New Testament and in our contemporary culture. He first takes a passage from Christ’s life where Christ tells his disciples the pattern for servanthood—that they are to be servants before they can ever be great (130). Malphurs then looks at an example from Paul which states that, although he is free in Christ, Paul has intentionally made himself a slave to Christ (131). Finally, Malphurs looks at the contemporary examples of Vineyard Community Church which has taken on the mission of attacking their community with kindness, and of Willow Creek Community Church which has sacrificed and scrambled their own schedules as believers in order to reach out to the seekers on Sunday mornings. Such examples are certainly worth emulating.

The final application I would like to make concerning New Kind is how I could one day implement the lessons learned from this book and improve my own prospective ministry. As my ultimate goal is to eventually plant churches in South Asia in a particular area where there are considerably few churches or Christians, I do not foresee myself having to deal with overcoming such preconceptions and stubbornness as can be found in many traditional churches facing changes toward new-model churches. I will however face a great deal of preconceptions about Christianity in general; I will face a great deal of cultural barriers; I will face the problem of implementing a fitting church model. I will also certainly need to attack my region with servanthood and proper living. All of these aspects upon which Malphurs touched in A New Kind of Church are useful, but there are so many other books out there that deal with intercultural church planting specifically, including Planting Growing Churches, that New Kind will just not prove as useful for me in my ministry as the others would.

RESOURCES

Malphurs, Aubrey. A New Kind of Church: Understanding Models of Ministry for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

_______________. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1998.

The Malphurs Group. “Aubrey Malphurs, Founder.” http://www.malphursgroup.com/AboutUs/Team.html (accessed on September 4, 2010).

© E.T. 2010

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One Response to Book Review: “A New Kind of Church” by Aubrey Malphurs (2007)

  1. Emmanuel N. Ngwang says:

    I was very impressed with Malphurs’ attempt to revolutionize evangelism to conform to cultural relativity. In fact, many Christian evangelism has not taken solid and permanent roots in the third world countries since the introduction of Christianity thereof because of the new faith’s resistance to adapt its message to the culture of the people. In Achebe’s “Arrow of God,” the African Chief Priest challenges the European missionary by alluding to the divisive tendencies the new Churches preach. According to Ezeulu, the measure of religion is evidenced by the ability to co-exists with other forms of religion and to thrive and even surpass other religions, rather than an attempt tp degrade the other religions. So the Africans who were attracted to the New Religion eventually find themselves inevitably retracting to the fundamental religious practices of the people- a religion that adheres to the traditional beliefs and commonsensical practices of the people.

    We have confused cultural values and practices with religion that we completely fail to appreciate what is religious and what is cultural. Jesus Christ was highly cultural and religious, and that is why He grew in favor both to God and Man. The cultural context created a milieu for his ministry, but in Africa , we dismiss the milieu as satanic. What a pity.

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