Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Tension of Growth

Written by: on May 18, 2017


Shaping The Church, The Promise of Implicit Theology by Martyn Percy is an academic and yet simple view of the status of the church in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the United Kingdom. Percy gives an overview both statistically and ideologically of how the church is working in England, especially with conversion, confirmation, and baptism. He presents both sides of the equation with balance and simplicity, not taking a side or deeming one right or wrong. He investigates how the church is doing numerically, spiritually, contextually, and historically. He also looks at the “ why” the church is doing pragmatically and programmatically. Again Percy really gives both sides of the story and challenges the “small” church to not settle for just being faithful, but to grow and expand in spiritual maturity. To the “large” numerically growing church he challenges the temptation to chase more or cool. It is a challenging insight to church.

For me, the take home was found on page 106 when he presents the subject of tension (which happens to be the subject matter for my dissertation): “Accommodation and resistance are, of course, closely related. What they share in character, is resilience. We might say that accommodation is a ‘soft’ form o f resilience: flexible, pliable, adaptable and so forth. Whilst resistance is a ‘hard’ form of resilience: concrete, unyielding and defiant. The true character of ecclesial resilience – construed in almost any local church context – will show that most congregations will simultaneously resist and accommodate culture. The church albeit unconsciously for the most part, understands that it lives between two cultures.” (Percy, 106). Percy looks at the differences of churches and culture not as something to shun but to embrace. The embrace of the inevitable present tension, both soft and hard, is the sweet spot where the Church becomes the Church that God intends.
The subject of tension is evident throughout the book. The conversation begins with implicit verses explicit theology; then it develops to traditional verses “fresh expressions”; ending with conservative verses liberal. All of these are internal tensions that produce and resilient church that can engage and impact a lost world. The expressions of the tension is found in leadership styles, ministerial training, and differing church polity. Again, not a right or wrong way to do any of the aforementioned, but rather the management and not the eradication of tension produces a God honoring church.
This is brilliant on Percy’s part not to side with one style or approach, but rather to let the differing tension produce a resilient church. To choose a side or perspective as correct or incorrect only relieves the tension, therefore diminishing the staying power resulting a resilient church. This is what I find beautiful about the Body of Christ, we are not all the same but different. In the difference of traditional verses non-traditional, conservative verses liberal, and implicit verses explicit theology is where the blessing of the Church is found. It is in the the tension producing resilience that the Church grows and prospers.

About the Author

Aaron Cole

10 responses to “The Tension of Growth”

  1. AC,
    For you, how do you manage the tension of what is being said (explicit) versus what is being caught (implicit)? For me the biggest takeaway is that implicit shaping is sometimes more significant than explicit. Would you agree?

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Jason, well said. I agree with you, because actions are so much more powerful than words. The implicit becomes more powerful than the explicit. Especially when people are seeking the truth.


  2. Great thoughts Aaron. How does one constantly live in that tension? What can leaders create to help ourselves and our churches embrace tension in the name of resilience?

    • Aaron Cole says:


      I think the tension of leading in a local church has and is always present. I would simply suggest that we identify it instead of ignoring it and work to use it our advantage to fix problems and bring about solutions that advance our mission forward. For instance, present a real need of human sufferering in our world (at home or abroad) and then do not dispel the uncomfortable tension, but rather ask, what can I as a Christian or we as a church do about this need? What should or could our response be? Instead of ignoring the tension we confront and embrace it. Therefore allowing the tension to move us forward to be more like Jesus and advance his mission forward.

      Hope this makes sense,

  3. Phil Goldsberry says:

    This book is a great book for your dissertation – tension. How do you process “implicit theology” in your setting at Life Church? Do you see yourself challenged by any of the areas that Percy presents? If so, what “strand” combined together to get your church there?


    • Aaron Cole says:

      I think the implicit part of leadership is relatively simple and easy if you realize that everything speaks and you as the leader intentionally use that to communicate your message and DNA.

  4. Marc Andresen says:


    I was fascinated by the statement, “The true character of ecclesial resilience – construed in almost any local church context – will show that most congregations will simultaneously resist and accommodate culture.” This is a great insight into the realities of church life.

    How would you assess or evaluate the tension in the overworked phrase, “Can we agree to disagree?”

    I heard this more times than I could count through several decades in the PCUSA. It sounds good, but in that cultural context what it really meant (implicitly) was that the liberals didn’t need to accommodate any of their beliefs and evangelicals had to totally compromise ours.

  5. Aaron Cole says:


    I have never given much thought to the phrase agree to disagree, but in light of your comments and our reading you make a great point. You are right.

  6. Aaron,

    When the tension is between the truth and opinion, how does that get resolved? When the tension is between scripture as the GPS or cultural opinions?

    I know a lot of our denominational tensions have nothing to do with truth or the Bible so I can see disregarding them but what about when it comes to theology? How do you manage the tension?


    Great book for your dissertation!!!!

  7. Garfield Harvey says:

    Great observation about the tension between small and large churches. After serving in large and small churches during my years of ministry, it seems like we’re always playing the numbers game to inaccurately measure church health. We’ve also tried to minimize the effectiveness of ‘small’ churches when the numbers don’t compare to our ‘large’ church. There is no doubt that smaller churches view their members as faithful even without the large numbers. The reality is that both context still search for faithfulness and church health. Dr. Percy does offer a balanced approach that is vital for church growth and health.


Leave a Reply