Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century

By Aubrey Malphurs
Grand Rapids : Baker Book House (1992). 256 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
3.2 (Fall 1992) : 228-230

The title of this volume will certainly catch the attention of pastors, at least in the United States, if for no other reason than the reality of this statistic cited by Malphurs: "Currently 80-85% of American churches are either plateaued or dying with no revival in sight" (15). Unquestionably, the local church in America is experiencing a time of major transition, thus the motivation for publishing on the subject of vision.

Malphurs treats his subject with a six step approach to a new vision for the church. The book is organized around these six steps as follows:

The first step: To realize the importance of having a ministry vision.

    Chapter 1

The second step: To understand the definition of a ministry vision.

    Chapter 2

The third step: The process of developing or "giving birth" to a vision.

    Chapters 3 and 4

The fourth step: To communicate the vision.

    Chapter 5

The fifth step: To implement the vision.

    Chapters 6, 7, and 8

The sixth step: To preserve the vision.

    Chapter 9

The final section contains various worksheets such as "Developing Your Vision," "Developing Vision Slogans," "Casting Your Vision," "Building a Team - I," "Building a Team - II," "Planning Your Ministry," and "Preserving Your Vision."

The positive value of Malphurs' work is to produce the realization that the twenty-first century and the third millennium is just about on us. Those who are not considering a direction for ministry at the moment and where it will take them in the year two thousand are sadly naive about how fast the world is moving towards this monumental date and how rapidly life is changing around us. For example, though only one hundred and ninety identifiable countries existed in 1992, the prediction is that in the next twenty-five years there could be as many as three hundred countries resulting from the dramatic geopolitical changes occurring now, with more changes expected in the near future.

However, Malphurs' volume reads more like a management manual than it does a ministry forum. He appeals strongly to logic and common sense, but not so much to Scripture. Recent literature by such well-known names as George Barna, George Gallup, Jr., Warren Bennis, and Burt Nanus dominate the book, dealing with such subjects as the demographics of this country, the nature of churches in general, and the latest recommendations in current church-growth literature.

All-too-little reference is made to the Word of God and its abundance of instruction on the building of Christ's church. Also, one must search diligently to find any reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, the place of prayer, or spiritual qualifications for leadership. The author spends little time discussing spiritual giftedness as outlined in Scripture, but quite a bit of time discussing the evaluation of men in leadership according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

The strongest point in the book for this reviewer occurred where a sample listing of values and a vision statement for a local church appear (74-75). These include: (1) a commitment to relevant Bible exposition, (2) a commitment to prayer, (3) a commitment to ministry, (4) a commitment to small groups, (5) an appreciation for creativity and innovation, (6) a commitment to excellence, (7) a commitment to growth.

The most notable weakness in the book is Malphurs' definition of a Christian leader: "A godly person (character) who knows where he or she is going (vision) and has followers (influence)" (20). Many people in this world know where they are going and have followers, but that does not necessarily make each of them a spiritual leader who represents the will and the way of God. Even some Christian leaders know where they are going and have followers, but go against the flow of God's biblically revealed will. This reviewer believes it imperative to edit the definition to read, "A Christian leader is a godly person who is walking on the path of righteousness, who conducts ministry according to the will of God as revealed in Scripture, and who has followers." That seems a better parallel to what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthian church, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1).

This volume can be valuable in its intent`to call the church to a new level of awareness and action in the midst of a major worldwide change point. However, evaluate the practical recommendations with Scripture before adopting Malphurs' method wholesale. Also, be aware of what Scripture teaches that this volume does not consider. The Bible must remain the one sufficient text on how Christ is building His church (Matt 16:18).