Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: For The City

Now the title of this book might raise a few eyebrows among readers of my blog. After all, Brookeborough isn't a city, and Aghavea definitely isn't a metropolis. So why would I be reading a book about church planting in a city setting? Several reasons. Firstly, I've never really seen too many books about rural, small church strategy. If you know of any, send them my way. Secondly, it's good to think about church planting and growth in general - with a view to adapting and adopting what's learnt to the situation on the ground. Thirdly, the book was on special offer a while back on Kindle. And fourthly, the authors (Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter) themselves acknowledge that they will have a wider readership than just urban church leaders.

As the book begins, the authors ask the question: 'What makes a great church?... Many of us think that we go to a great church. After all, nobody ever sets out on a spiritual journey to find the most mediocre, lukewarm church around. No, when most of us describe a great church, a successful church, what we are really talking about is a church that meets our needs.' (p. 13) Rather, we should define success in God's way: 'A God-honouring, gospel-loving church is one where the Word of God is the primary motivator for doing the work of God.' (p. 14)

The authors share their stories of church planting in urban environments, their successes and their failures, in an honest account of finding the right way to seek the shalom of the city.

As with some other literature, there was a push for the importance of the city - although to their credit, it wasn't as forward as some other authors. Nevertheless, there is this insistence going around that the only place to be is in the city, something I'm not entirely convinced of:

'Cities are at the epicenter of God's earthshaking movements today, and it's important that any model for starting new churches takes into account the unique nuances of ministry in an urban context. But for those of you who aren't located in a larger city, many of the concepts we discuss will work equally well where you are. Much of what we show and tell in this book is transferable, from an urban church in New York City to a village in West Africa.' (p. 26)

As their stories unfold, as they show and tell, there are important lessons to learn - on building a church environment where people will feel welcome; on living surrendered to Jesus; on introducing people to Jesus through Bible teaching; on contextualising the message without changing it.

There was a useful section on relationships within the church family:

'The perfect model that meets our longing for relationship is not found by looking horizontally, within the community of humanity. Instead, it is found by looking vertically - at the community of divinity. God, by nature, is community. God, by nature, is relational. And we know this is true because of the Trinity.' (p. 86)

'Here is the reality for a true disciple of Jesus. Following him will always take you into relationships that make you uncomfortable. In other words, if you are not currently in some kind of relationship with a drunk, a prostitute, a beggar, an outcast, or a modern social equivalent to one of these people, you are not wholeheartedly following Jesus.' (p. 100)

The authors are also realistic and blunt when it comes to the difficulties of church planting:

'When God promises something, we can take it to the bank. That is certainly an encouraging word. But the promises of God begin to lose a little of their lustre when we consider the fact that God also promises us the very thing that we spend most of our lives trying to avoid: suffering. Yes, God promises us suffering - suffering for both the Christian and the non-Christian.' (p. 137)

'Most of us don't like to admit this, but most church planters believe, at some level, that numerical growth is the definition of their success. But numerical growth is not the definition of success. However, because deep in our hearts we believe that numerical growth indicates success, we sell our souls and the souls of our people to get it. If, as a church planter, you can avoid getting caught up in the numbers game, you might actually be able to do it right the first time!' (p. 160)

The church planter will find this a most useful book, as if you were sitting down with the authors, hearing how they have done it. Those in church leadership will also find it a good book to check the priorities and purpose of the local church. All in all, this book was another good encouragement to keep going in the realm of church leadership and growth, even if I'm not sold on cities nor ministering in an urban environment. You can get it for Kindle and in paperback.

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