Thursday, July 02, 2009

Book Review: The Deliberate Church

There has been a flood of books on the church in recent years. From the Purpose Driven Church, to Liquid Church, to Emerging Churches, to Contagious Churches, to Cell Church, and the Provocative Church, you can have any type of church you like, and probably far more - this was just a selection from the books on my shelves.

So what's different about The Deliberate Church? Isn't it just another type of gimmicky church built around what we want? Well, no. Building on the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander lay out the road map for taking a church from a single pastor who does everything, to being a biblical church which is healthy, and functions for the glory of God and the extension of his Kingdom.

Rather than being another program of church growth, Dever urges us to return to the Word, to let the Word of God build and shape the Church of God - in everything, not just in some elements. As part of this, he urges that the classical definition of church is not sufficient: a faithful gathering of men where the word is truly preached and the sacraments duly administered. Rather, to these he would include the practice of church discipline.

On this matter, he urges for strict and definite boundaries concerning who is a member of the church or not. He recommends interviews and a unanimous vote by the elders before anyone is welcomed into church membership. New members are also made to sign a covenant of membership which governs their conduct as a member of the church. These steps are recommended so as to be sure of who is a member, and to make sure that they are truly converted before becoming members, so as to not bring public disgrace on the witness of the church through having unregenerate members, and so as to be sure of who is included in the pastor's remit, as he will be answerable for them on the Day of Judgement.

While I can see some benefits in what he says, the situation is more complicated in a 'traditional' or 'mainstream' church such as the Church of Ireland. Church Discipline is, as far as I can see, few and far between.

Further, he recommends the extension of the staff team over time to include pastoral assistants, assistant pastors, associate pastors and other interns. This seems to me to be the American way of building superchurches, which I'm not convinced is the way to go - much better a smaller church where everyone can know each other and be supported.

All in all, some of his recommendations seem way out there, and based as much in his American culture, and not really applicable in the Northern Ireland context of ministry. The book is useful, though, as something to stir us up to think through what we do and why we do it, as well as returning us to the Bible to see what God says on his church. Deliberate on the Deliberate Church - it will serve you well!

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