Using the Common to Advance the Sacred or Using the Sacred to Advance the Common?

One need not be a Christian to observe truths about the way organizations work. Those true observations are what I mean by “common” (not neutral). They are true because they are observations about the nature of God’s general process, even if they are not acknowledged as such. When I speak of the “sacred” I mean that which is intentionally devoted to the service of Christ’s kingdom considered narrowly as the church, which is the external manifestation of the kingdom of God on the earth and the minister of they keys of the kingdom. Reading Martin Hedman’s latest thoughtful post, which reflects on the way Peter Drucker’s insights should and shouldn’t be used and how strategic planning should be done by a confessionally Reformed church (are you reading his posts Brandon?), I was impressed with the contrast between Martin’s critical appropriation of Drucker, with the priority he gives to God’s Word and the Reformed confessions, and the shallow and even shoddy way the so-called  “church growth” lit makes use of  insights by secular (i.e., writers whose interest is not in advancing the mission of the church but rather the interests of business—thus I’m not using “secular” pejoratively). I was reading that lit back in the late 80s and early 90s. Because I didn’t know then how to distinguish the two kingdoms (because I missed this point in Calvin) and because I was desperate for my congregation to grow numerically I didn’t ask too many questions.

I tried to make conservative use of their pragmatism. What I realize now is that often times their use of secular writers served to make the church more like the world than it did actually to advance the mission of the church: preaching the pure gospel purely, of administering the two divinely ordained sacraments purely, and of administering discipline.

Now, the church growth gurus never advertised this result. What they advertised was numerical growth in the congregation. In other words, what was really being offered was a way to minimize the antithesis between belief and unbelief, between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light in order to make non-Christians feel “comfortable” in church so that they would stay or come back next week all to the end, ostensibly, of reaching them with the gospel. When exactly this bait and switch was to happen was not always made clear nor was it always clear what “the gospel” is.

Martin is quite right. Do we want “church growth”? Yes! We want to see sinners brought to a knowledge of their sins and to saving faith in Savior. We want to see them become disciples, members of the Christ-confessing covenant community. We want to see them grow in grace but, as Martin says, that  “won’t happen with clever ideas derived from a flawed strategic planning process.”

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Church growth in most pragmatic models is only about length and width. Depth seems to be missing. Depth takes time and diligence in the use of the ordinary means with the work of the Holy Spirit. I sometimes wonder if pragmatic church growth models result from a lack of faith in God’s preservation of his saints.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for posting this. I am not serving as the pastor of a church, but I wonder sometimes how much more time pastors would have to read material that is theologically and spiritually rich if they cut back on consuming the latest and greatest in leadership trends.

    On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been wondering if I could get your input on which edition of Melanchthon’s Loci Communes would be the best to purchase. Is there one that is viewed as the most reliable or definitive?


    • Personally I prefer the English trans. of the 1521 edition because it is the most interesting. It’s in the Library of Christian Classics vol “Melanchthon and Bucer.” There are English trans. of later editions from the ’40s and ’55 and ’59. They’re all interesting but not as easy to get hold of. I don’t know of multiple English editions of any one edition, however. Do you?

  3. Thanks for the suggestion. I’m just wondering if the Library of Christian Classics volume contains Melanchthon’s material on the doctrine of God. The table of contents, at least as I am viewing it online, is somewhat unclear to me.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    I don’t know if I was the Brandon you mentioned, but you sure got my attention. I saw this when I was teaching overseas: using the secular to try to advance the sacred. The organization I was working for was constantly trying to reach more people for the gospel, but the ways in which they were doing it were always driven by the “secular” rather than the “sacred.” We weren’t a church or a group of missionaries; we were an international organization that taught business ethics and ran international schools. Therefore, common business techniques, international business and globalization trend tips for global success were preached and practiced (i.e. The Tipping Point, etc.), but for the purpose of advancing the gospel, so the leaders said. However, as you mentioned, while that many times is the stated goal, I sometimes doubted to what extent it was happening, as it wasn’t happening through planting churches, preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, or exercising church discipline. Supposedly it was happening through taking over factories for the gospel, teaching peasant workers the “gospel” through dramas and having them discuss Christian topics instead of quality control in their meetings. Or, teaching Christian themes through ropes course-experiential learning.

    I wasn’t even thinking about Two Kingdoms then; now it makes so much sense. I knew something was wrong; I just didn’t know what it was. The lines were being blurred. However, a question I still have is: in a country which regulates churches and doctrine taught, and persecutes those who deviate from policy, how should the church grow? What should missionaries do? The excuse was that these innovative techniques were done to avoid detection, to be “reciprocal” and provide something for the host country that would give them incentive to allow us to stay. However, as you also mentioned, I too noticed that the antithesis between unbelief and belief was minimized. Do you have any thoughts regarding this topic applied overseas?


    • Hi Brandon,

      Thanks, no I was thinking of another Brandon who complained that Jon Payne’s 17 points weren’t really strategic just a series of goals.

      Thanks though, this is interesting!

Comments are closed.