Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 5.

In March 2003 I attended missionary training sessions sponsored by the IMB at its Rockville, VA, international learning center. Until that point, access to the actual materials distributed among IMB missionaries-in-training had been rather inaccessible to Eitel and others. In the sessions on Church-Planting Movements taught by Curtis Sergeant toward the end of the training, missionaries were given a course notebook that contained ideas and strategies/methdologies that further raised concerns about the new CPMs. These materials highlighted the degree to which anthropological research, sociological analyses, and corporate business models were informing the missionary enterprise in a way that Patterson, Eitel and others who critical of Rankin’s administration alleged were undermining key Baptist distinctives as adopted in the BFM2000 Below I have excerpted some sections from the Sergeant’s training handouts:I. Curtis Sergeant on the models for Church Planting Movements:

“Secular sociologists have identified several characteristics which are common to movements which diffuse rapidly through societies. We will briefly examine some of these characteristics to see how Christianity can fit the bill in regard to these characteristics . . . .

The first of these characteristics is cellular organization with diffused leadership. A secular example of this would be the Communist Party in East Asia or Eastern Europe about fifty years ago . . . .

The second characteristic of movements that diffuse rapidly through societies is personal recruitment which is carried out through existing relationships. A secular example of this would be Amway. . . .

The third characteristic is personal commitment which is tied to an act or experience. A secular example of this might be the admission that one is an alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous. . . .

The fourth characteristic of movement that spread rapidly is a shared ideology which forms the basis of unity among a network of groups. Perhaps the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America would provide an example of this. . . .

The fifth characteristic of rapidly growing movements is that they have real or perceived opposition from the society or another group. For some reason, business examples come to mind here. I think about Pepsi, whose enemy is Coke. I think of Avis and Hertz, Macintosh and IBM.”(27)

II. Curtis Sergeant on the training of new church leaders:

“Once there are baptized believers in an area, they should be the ones providing the leadership up front.”

“It is best to send the less experienced leaders with new converts to keep the gap between maturity levels to a minimum.”

“It is important to share leadership on a rotating basis through the entire group so each individual has opportunities to develop his leadership skills.”

“Another way to reduce the reproduction cycle [of new churches] is to immediately place local believers in leadership positions in planting churches in a pioneer area.”(28)

III. Curtis Sergeant on gender roles:

“If you will follow the suggestions made in this book, what will the churches which are planted look like?

. . . They primarily meet in small groups, in many settings operating covertly. They usually have ten to twenty people. They are led by ‘laymen’ rather than by ordained, professionally educated clergy . . .. They frequently have women in key roles in the church. Women are viewed as ministers, as having spiritual gifts just as men, even in patriarchal societies.”Once I shared these materials with Eitel, we began sorting through Sergeant’s work, which we found to be surprisingly similar to a book published in 2001 by Operation Mobilization Publishing entitled Houses that Change the World. This book, by missiologist Wolfgang Simson, was readily endorsed by IMB personnel, and was required reading for missionaries preparing for service in East Asia.(29) In Houses, Simson makes the following statements:

“If you want to build an organization, use men. If you want to build the church, use women . . . . It seems clear that God’s Spirit is challenging women to get out there and save the country, as we men still sit and feel the need to discuss some more theology and strategy.”(30)

“No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional ‘holy man’ doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive, religious consumers, Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from Old Testament examples.”(31)

“If the traditional system of church does not allow for [women to be ‘right in the centre’ of the church], we should not change the women, but change the system.”(32)

With the resources I had gathered, coupled with rumors and reports from the field, Keith Eitel began formulating his critique on the Church Planting Movement strategy, and Dr. Patterson began disseminating that critique to IMB trustees. Before too long, the conflict between Patterson and Eitel on the one hand, and Rankin and Sergeant on the other, reached the field missionaries, who began taking sides. At a regional leaders meeting of the International Mission Board in Georgia, Rankin distributed Eitel’s paper. Many of them felt personally attacked. Others began writing their own concerns about the new mission strategies of the IMB to those of us who were known adversaries. On September 29, 2003, I received a letter from a career missionary serving in Thailand that validated at least some of Patterson/Eitel’s suspicions:I have lived in East Asia for 5 years now and am now home doing the quick turnaround and have just been accepted to go thru career appointment this fall. When in the career process application, I went through the BFM to make sure I believed that it was good doctrine, and I can say that I believe it is and I signed it with no problem. When confronted by the current CPM methodology, however, it just didn’t seem to go along with what I signed. My Strategy Coordinator, my regional staff, and most of the missionaries on the field in East Asia have bought it hook line and sinker as the ‘only way to do church planting.’ I have tried to voice my concerns before but I was always met with ‘But thousands are being save’ and was made to feel like I was personally against this in some respects. I sometimes feel as if this thinking has allowed for a viable reason to promulgate bad theological practices . . . I am familiar with [Curtis] Sergeant’s CPM manifesto and have pulled it off our regional website, so I know about it and have sat through several seminars on the field about aspects of his methodology.

What really put me out with this methodology was at a seminar in Thailand titled ‘how to take a Bible study to a church.’ Pretty much all it consisted of was telling them ‘OK, you’re a church now reproduce.’ An example was given of fruit sellers in Asia who were all women and considered a church by everyone in the room except me when asked. When I brought up the issue of women leadership and asked about the qualifications listed in the [Pastoral Epistles] and how this was addressed, I was told that they were all character issues, and that they were not gender specific. I then asked if the ‘husband of one wife’ could also be interpreted as the ‘wife of one husband.’ To my shock, I was told ‘yes’ by the leader of the group.

The reason I have used [an alias on the IMB’s bulletin board] was to protect my identity because I am sure I would catch flack for my convictions and would be seen as not being a team player.Up to this point, I had continued a regular dialogue with a group of trustees including conference calls with select board members who comprised a “caucus.” Trustees gathered in individual members’ hotel rooms for these conference calls and planning sessions, one of which was organized by Texas trustee Wyndham Cook. In August of 2003, I began pursuing a master’s of theology degree at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, an institution under the newly-hired leadership of Paige Patterson.(33)

While at Southwestern, I was given access to the secretly archived research project of Curtis Sergeant by the dean of libraries – all 500 pages of it – which I quickly culled for more potential evidences of uncritical reliance on anthropology and sociology rather than Baptist theology and confessions as the primary guiding tool for strategic missionary methodologies at the IMB. A professor of theology, Malcolm Yarnell, gave me his personal copy of the Sergeant dissertation over one weekend, during which time I made multiple copies and prepared them for mail-out to select trustees. Yarnell, at the time, was concerned about possible instances of plagiarism in Sergeant’s work, which, if discovered, would prompt a committee investigation and the possible revocation of Sergeant’s doctoral credentials. Yarnell asked that I highlight and note any potential instances of plagiarism to facilitate this process. By the end of the weekend, no reasonable instances of plagiarism could be found.

It is now to Sergeant’s research and writing for a doctor of ministry degree at Southwestern Seminary that we shall turn.


(27) These quotes are lifted verbatim from the notebook entitled “Planting with Passion” that was disseminated among all missionary trainees. The notebook was supposed to be returned when the sessions were over, but I kept mine, and it became a source of concern among several trustees of the IMB with whom I was in regular conversation and conference calls during the days immediately following my departure from the learning center.

(28) This, in spite of biblical admonitions to do the exact opposite. See 1 Tim 3:6, 10 et al. Rather than affirming the biblical offices of the church as clearly outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message, Sergeant opts for a new model – one that rejects the biblical offices and radically redefines gender roles within church-planting contexts.

(29) Dr. Eitel confronted Curtis Sergeant with the apparent instances of plagiarism in an email dated, ominously, September 11, 2003. Eitel wrote: “You show an amazing dependence on a published source entitled “Houses That Change the World: The Return of House Churches” by Wolfgang Simson. As a matter of fact you have lifted sections verbatim out of that source and claimed that the research was your own while giving no footnote credit or source credit to the author at all . . . . I know you’ve recently completed a DMin project at Southwestern. I don’t know about their standards, but here at Southeastern we’d call that plagiarism and you would never receive a degree with that level of academic research integrity here. I hear you helped edit Simson’s book, so maybe you got too familiar with it or conveniently neglected providing proper documentation regarding the use of someone else’s ideas. Either one creates a problem of integrity in my mind.” Sergeant protested any charge of plagiarism, insisting that it was Simson that employed his research – which was kept confidential due to “security concerns” – rather than vice versa. During the entire exchange, I was blind carbon copied on the emails that Eitel forwarded to Patterson and NC trustee Bill Sanderson to apprise them of developments.

(30) Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World. OM Publishing, 2001. 102, 103.

(31) Ibid., xix.

(32) Ibid., xxxiii.

(33) Patterson was elected as the president of Southwestern Seminary in the Spring of 2003, and he assumed the post in August of that year. Since his time there, he has hired Keith Eitel away from Southeastern, and awarded Jerry Rankin the “distinguished alumnus award.” Patterson often refers to Rankin as “the most important man of the face of the globe,” though such feigned words of endorsement undoubtedly ring hollow in Rankin’s ears. Indeed, the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:6.

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