Not by the Numbers: a domestic-center for interpretative reimagining of church growth (Domesticating Church Growth)
The word domesticating in the paper’s title has been chosen carefully in referring to the concept of church growth. Obviously, the word choice could be read negatively. The concept of domestication is related to animals that have been tamed for domestic (or household) use, creating a dependency on humans, where, in turn, the animal loses its ability to live in the wild. The word is not chosen, however, to convey control or the taming of church growth, but to reimagine the church experience (i.e., the gathering of believers) as domestic affairs, that is household life and its social relationships.
Our passage at hand (5:15-6:9) is not typically considered a church growth text. First, the text does not imply outcomes in numbers attending a “church” and, second, at the application level, the text seems focused on individuals. Typically, the Ephesians 5 filling of the Spirit text is narrowed down to the personal and private spheres of individual Christian faith (“you be filled with the Spirit”) rather than as a corporate reference to the church. Additionally, the haustafeln (i.e., household code) that follows seems—per our experience—to target individuals to behave in specific manners toward others. This straight away biases interpretation of the whole section, which grammatically begins at 5:15 and ends at 6:9. A corporate setting and referent, along with the original (i.e., a different) “church” experience, offers potential reimagining church growth outcomes. It seems we should leverage the intertextual framework in Ephesians within the social-cultural location of its “church” experience and life as experienced in Ephesus rather than one based on our building-centered church experience or our cultural social values today. The liturgical nature of the text of Ephesians suggests a “church” setting. Paul’s emphasis on church as temple (2:17-22) and the Letter’s dynamic referents regarding how contemporary society (at Paul’s time) was sinfully ordered (2:1-3; 4:17-24; 5:3-12, 15; cf. 6:10-13) suggest a potential for church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers in attendance. The social-cultural location is both temple-religious and is domestic: the local church as God’s temple and its house/home setting as “church” experience.
*For those following my thoughts on "Church Growth" as I prepare a paper for the upcoming November 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta. Other Not by the Numbers posts >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.