This book is written well. The styles of both authors blend together smoothly. In the Foreword, the aim of their writing is plain. They know that the church is about God and sometimes leadership worries more about what the congregation thinks. They challenge anyone seeking to live, share, or promote the gospel to keep in mind that “no one is keeping score” (12). It is “not about getting it perfectly right.” This resonates with my own understanding and experience in my research as a student and minister. Perfection has never been the aim, but rather faith seeking understanding. The authors reiterate this later in the book as well.
In the Preface, the authors share what they believe church is all about. What ultimately makes a great church? One in which “Jesus Christ is found in word and deed” (13).
The first part of this book is a drawing and engaging read. I couldn’t put it down. Patrick and Carter share their experiences starting out life and early ministry. Though the stories are concise, they do not leave out the experiences we all have with those less-than-great choices we’ve made. Both authors share in a way that is heartfelt and humorous.
Carter shares the differences between models of doing Church that are IN the city, AGAINST the city, OF the city, or FOR the city. In the latter perspective, the church’s focus is seeking shalom for the city in which they live; utilizing all resources, gifts, time, and money. Patrick shares how bringing church to those who felt more spiritual than religious garnered criticism from all sides but yet brought the gospel in an effective way to those who desired the truth.
The next section has the meat of both their experience and model for ministry. An important discussion is centered on contextualization. This is maintaining a balance of sharing a culturally relevant gospel, but staying clear of a gospel of relativism or sectarianism. It is one that communicates the gospel in a way the local culture can understand without watering it down to appease or seclude the church by extremely conservative views. I loved the comment that the internal problem with all of us is “the heart’s worship of anything other than God” (79).
Something else very helpful was their discussion of community. “The perfect model that meets our longing for relationship…is found by looking vertically” (86). They share that God created us for relationship. Foremost, a relationship with him, and secondly, and also important, a relationship with others. The example they use is that after Adam was created, God gave him a helper equal with him. It was not good for Adam to be alone. He was incomplete. They advised not to “go it alone” or separate from the culture (99): two important take aways from this very good chapter.
No missional or church-planting book would be complete without a chapter dedicated to equipping leaders to go out and minister, and outlining the different ways they have experienced meeting the needs of the community. This was good information and practical advise. But the section that followed was empowering. The idea is of suffering.
How would we have responded to some of the horrific ways in which early Christians suffered? Some were strewn up on poles and burned as torches for Emperor Nero’s pleasure. They were made examples of for those who would dare to go against the emperor. But yet another part of suffering is the hurtful experiences and twists in the lives of those coming in the church doors. Jesus is our model for suffering well and if we will follow him it means denying self (143). The authors included examples of godly suffering and how the church lovingly and sacrificially responded.
True to form, both authors again allow the reader to peer into their hearts when they share failures and expose sin they were struggling with. Great leaders have discovered this: being real and open leads to followers who are real and open. As difficult as this is to do, sharing such stories motivates others to overcome areas in their own lives and trust that their leaders are actually human. They mess up like the rest of us! Who would have thought? There is credibility that comes out of sharing one’s struggles because those who listen can resonate and feel more comfortable exposing their own.
The book concludes with some remarks about Jonah. He too was called into a difficult place and a ministry he otherwise would have thought was never going to succeed. But he ultimately went where God called him, however imperfectly, and was more successful than he thought possible because there was a move of God. It wasn’t about Jonah.
I recommend this book. It is not only for church planters or leaders. It is written well, thoughtful, and helpful on many levels. I will leave you with one quote from the end:
“A church for its city is willing to dream big and take scary risks because the God who began a good work in and through the church is the God who will use the church to bless cities, nations, and the entire world” (177).