Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Phillip Jensen on God's church-growth strategy

One thing about Phillip Jensen: his ideas are often simply brilliant. As in brilliant in their simplicity.
Phillip's excellent article on The Strategy of God, which appeared in the July edition of the Briefing, in now on-line (which, by the way, is very generous of the Briefing). He helpfully distinguishes between unchanging imperative to prayerfully tell people about Jesus, and the changeable, culture-bound ways we do that. His does this by distinguishing between "strategy" and "tactics".

Strategy is the big thinking—the overall plan and the means for getting there [...] Tactics is more immediate thinking: it's manoeuvring the pieces on the chessboard to achieve the smaller milestones that go together to make up the strategy. [...] Tactics sit under strategy, and are circumscribed by strategy. [...]

Phillip has no doubts that the Biblical gospel has an unchangeable, non-negotiable content. Early in his article, he uses "God's strategy" as shorthand for God's redeeming action in the world - God's mission - that is, the gospel itself.
Our strategy is understood by revelation. It is God's strategy—his cosmic plan—and his way of getting it done. [...] This is the strategy of God for gathering his elect people from all over the world: that the Christ should suffer and rise, and that the gospel of repentance and forgiveness should be preached to all nations.
Later in the article, Phillip uses "God's strategy" to mean the way we participate in God's work - our participation in God's mission - our mission. Phillip discusses this in terms of prayer (not fatalism); proclamation (not being distracted by other, worthwhile things); and people (not programs). These, say Phillip, are not negotiable; they have also been given to us by God.
I take it that Phillip thinks these three are the necessarily evangelical manner for us to enact the gospel, the evangel. If we really believe the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, we would tell ("proclaim to") people about this crucified and risen Christ, and pray that they would accept the message.
That sounds about right to me - what do you think?
Tactics are the particular, localised, culture-bound means we use to prayerfully tell people about the crucified and risen Christ. They're infinitely flexible: kid's clubs, open-air preaching, music, drama, English classes... etc. I think (I, not the Dean) that when it comes to tactics we must make them fit our target demographic as closely as possible. We are free to be creative and flexible in our tactics; we are responsible to use our creativity so as to invent tactics that best connect with the people we're trying to reach.
Phillip warns us against making too much of our particular means of enacting the gospel.
Tactics sit under strategy, and support strategy. [...] Tactics are secondary, provisional, and almost always break down and fail eventually. [...] Our problem is that we think too highly of our tactics, and even confuse them with the strategy. We think that if only we come up with the right tactical moves, then success will be ours, and God's kingdom will explode everywhere. [...] Understanding the difference between God's strategy and our tactics [...] liberat[es] us to try different things, and to let other people try different things.
Again, this sounds correct to me. People and places change - especially in modern, multicultural cities. So our tactics, our methods, need to keep changing. We need to keep being creative, thinking laterally, coming up with new ideas. inventing new ways of reaching out.
I think that's both liberating and motivating.
What do you reckon...?

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