The first time I heard the term paradigm, I thought something had come back to haunt me from my unsuccessful trigonometry past. Curious, I asked a seminary professor about the term and received a copy of David Bosch’s Transforming Mission. I read this voluminous writing. Bosch covered it all from the paradigms of the Enlightenment, the Medieval Church, the Protestant Reformation, the Ecumenical movement, Postmodernism and many more. Later I attended a church conference where the leader presented a paradigm that he believed Jesus initiated. He called it the “missional” church model.
Since then I have crossed paths with church enthusiasts who offer mini-paradigms based upon programmatic church growth, natural church growth, and emergent church growth. Recently a pastor friend called to share his excitement over the emergent church paradigm where ordinary working people with a sense of call are starting churches in strip malls, taverns, deserted buildings, and old homes. Their numbers are small but lively. He believed this was the paradigm or the wave of the future. I asked whether he was willing to forego the presbytery minimum and do such, too. He didn’t answer.
I am not sure what paradigm I am into today.
In the course of ministry I have served as a missionary, a downtown pastor, a new church developer, a mission strategist, and now as a small-town church redeveloper. I have met a measure of success in terms of people joining the church, becoming disciples of Jesus, and giving of their persons as well as their possessions for the Kingdom’s sake. I must confess that I am politely and consistently experimental. If something does not work toward those aims then I ditch it and talk the session into trying something else. For the most part they comply and I believe they agree because they like me and trust my judgment. They also want to do something worthwhile for Jesus and the world about them. I make it my chief end to smile, to praise them, and to know what I am talking about. I remind myself that I am a temporary guest in their church or the church that Jesus had committed to them for its future wellbeing. So far I am still here and, at the age of 61, I am enjoying ministry as much as ever. Our average attendance has increased significantly. Young families are joining. The choir has cut a CD. Giving is on the rise. Moreover we are helping to build an orphanage in Kenya and aiding in establishing a ministry for women with chemical dependency. Our mission ministry is a spring of fresh ideas for the future. We want our members to see the church as a starting point rather than as a stopping point. And I have enough sense to say, “Thank you, Jesus for what is happening and will happen!”
I don’t wish to disparage the enthusiasm for new ecclesiastical models that are bubbling around us. I am thankful for the added excitement of what God may be doing even if we do not always grasp it like some of the mega-ventures that we see surfacing across the land. It all adds up to God taking humans and making them real live and loving human beings. If there is one paradigm He needs then it is the “paradigm of the open mind and the open life.” It is the most successful paradigm for anyplace and anytime. I believe that this is the paradigm that Jesus would heartily recommend for the future of His church.
Jerry Little is pastor of First Church, Bainbridge, Ga.