Churches, Cultures & Leadership, Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez (IVP Academic) $25
For decades church growth gurus have taught conscientious pastors that one important key to the numerical growth of congregations is the “homogenous principle.” That is, churches grow best when they focus on one type of person. “Like attracts like,” goes the popular adage. Who can deny the truth of this? A church full of young families, for example, is undoubtedly attractive to many other young families. In social settings people feel more at ease when they can identify others like themselves.
In their new book, Churches, Cultures & Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary professors Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez, challenge this conventional wisdom, arguing that church leaders need to take a fresh look the role of churches in God’s reconciling mission.
[C]entral to this book [is the question], what is the call of the gospel on churches? How can churches model gospel reconciliation and be agents of reconciliation and justice in our cities and in our nation? We believe that God’s grace calls us beyond racism and ethnocentrism. The question is how to express the new reality of the gospel in ways that both celebrates our differences and draws us toward unity in Jesus Christ (17).
They approach their subject with academic rigor, pastoral concern for the church as well as a deep awareness of their own ethnic narratives and experiences. They have both served many years in multi-cultural congregations and now co-teach seminary students.
The book aims at an ambitious target: to outline a practical theology of intercultural, congregational leadership. Any one of those themes would be challenging enough, but here, Branson and Martinez work at integration. In the end, this is a work of practical theology.
They begin by laying out the frameworks within which they will discuss the challenges and opportunities of intercultural life and leadership in congregations. Beginning with a practical theology framework, Branson shows church leaders how to be contextual theologians by weaving congregational stories with the Biblical narrative and contextual narratives to arrive at suggestions about how a congregation can engage with God’s initiatives. It also frames the conversation in missional terms by lifting the church’s focus to what God is doing in the world. Ultimately leaders and church members must broaden their understanding of spirituality from a concern about intimacy with God to a concern about participating in God’s initiatives.
Part two uses the tools established in part one and addresses the central issues of worldviews, language and power, self-perception, individuality and modes of thinking that are the hidden, but very real, obstacles to multicultural life. Part three focuses directly on the practical skills of communication and leadership by bringing together the learning from part two within the frameworks of part one.
Besides being well organized and tightly constructed, this book is also immensely practical. Each chapter includes Bible study outlines, which can be used in personal study and reflection as well as group processes. When understood within the framework of the practical theology cycle described in chapter one, these Bible studies have the potential to transform the perspectives of church members by raising their awareness of God’s healing and reconciling initiatives in the world. There are also suggestions included throughout the book for movies that can add to the individual and group awareness and understanding of intercultural challenges and give some exposure to other cultures. There are also exercises that can be used in church groups or classrooms to continue the conversation started by the authors.
Branson and Martinez have given the church a gift: a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary tool – both theologically rich and immensely practical – to guide congregations in shaping intercultural congregational life.