Review of Why Church Matters, Discovering Your Place in the Family of God by Joshua Harris

ImageChurch membership is not optional for Christians but too many are not committed to the church they attend.  They don’t consider church to be relevant to their daily lives.  It is just something that they do out of habit or guilt or to please someone else.  This must be remedied.

In this book Harris discusses why this has become an increasing problem in the church.  He explains how Jesus sees the Church, the necessity of the church, ways to choose a good church, and how we need to prepare and participate for the worship services we attend.  It is a small book that is easy to read and follow.  He gives real world examples that help to illustrate his points.  He leads the reader to a point that will require them to make a decision in their personal lives.

I can highly recommend this book to anyone.  I might even go so far as to suggest that it be required reading (in some form) to the youth attending churches today and parents might want to get their kids to read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books review program. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission�s 16 CFR, Part 255: �Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

A Great Theological Primer

Cover of "Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What ...

Cover via Amazon

I really enjoyed reading Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris.  Harris has written a serious theology book in a way that new or your Christians can understand.  He deals with doctrines such as God, Scripture, Jesus, the Cross, salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.

For each doctrine, Harris introduces the basics of it and then he gives examples from his life that illustrate the importance of the doctrine.  Harris does not shy away from the theological terms.  He defines them and them describes then in ways that are practical and memorable.  This method makes the teachings he gives more enjoyable to read.  Often, I think those reading the book would not realize they are being taught.

I think this book would be an excellent primer for a youth group or a new believers class.  The book includes a discussion guide for this very purpose.  I am considering having my daughters to read this book or to read it with them.  I can highly recommend this book to you.  Reading it will be time well spent.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books review program. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.*

To Make Our Churches Grow We Need To…..Make It Harder To Join?

If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and we need to be better about excluding people. We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world – that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christian should live, we need to follow what Paul said and, for the glory of God and for that person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her from membership in the church. [Mark Dever - 9 Marks of a Healthy Church - p. 170-171]

Dever’s comment surprised me. In fact I had to read it twice. Do you agree with it? After I thought about it for a bit I think I agree with it and here is why. I think it is an issue of commitment. We need to make sure that the people who wish to join our church are committed to Christ and our church before they are allowed to join. That would head off problems down the road. It also gives us a chance to let the prospective members know what is expected of them as members (Dever addresses this point also).

What do you think…should we accept anyone who wants to join as soon as they express the desire to join or be more deliberate in the process?

Mark I – Expositional Preaching

I have decided to review Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. Dever is the Senior Pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church. This book has been out for a while but I am just now getting around to reading it. It has been on my list for a while now though. So far, I am enjoying it. In this post I will give a review of Mark I.

Dever says

The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow. (p. 39)

So what is epositional (or expository) preaching? Click here, here, and here for some explanations of expositional preaching. Dever describes it this way.

Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.

Seems clear enough. Basically, Dever is saying that the most important mark of a healthy church is to let God’s Word speak for itself and let it be the focus of all teaching. When this is the case, God will be glorified and disciples will grow.

In the second half of the chapter Dever discusses the central role of the Word of God. He divides into three subsections. They are: “The Role of God’s Word in Bringing Life”, “The Role of God’s Word in Sanctifying”; and “The Role of the Preacher of God’s Word”. He summarizes these up pretty good when he says

We need God’s Word to be saved, but we also need it to continually challenge and shape us. His Word not only give us life; it also gives us direction as it keeps molding and shaping us in the image of the God who is speaking to us.

God uses His Word to bring life…physical and spiritual. Dever says that since the fall and our separation from God, God must speak to us if he wants us to know Him. If He chooses not to speak to us then we are doomed to be eternally separated from Him.  We need to listen for what He is saying to us.  Thankfully, we know that He does speak with us.  Hebrews 1:1-2 says “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

What emphasis do you place on expositional preaching?  Do you prefer a different style?  If so, why?  Do you agree with Dever that it is the primary mark of a healthy church?

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

I have just started reading Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.  I have had this on my list to read for a while now and after finishing Simple Church I decided the time was right.  I am debating posting a blog article for each chapter but I have not decided yet.

Have you read the book?  If so, what did you think of it?

Unexpected Good News At Church Last Night

Background:

Last Sunday afternoon we had our monthly church council meeting.  These meetings are mainly used to coordinate events on the calendar.  We are sometimes able to discuss other issues.  I had an opportunity to share about Simple Church.

I had finished reading the book about a week before.  It has really changed the way I think we should “do” church.  At the meeting I was able to give a brief overview of the book and how it had changed my thinking.  I offered to loan my copy to anyone who was interested in reading it and I also suggested that maybe the church could purchase several copies for the leaders to read.  As expected, I had no takers but at least I had put the thought out there.

After the meeting as I was speaking to the pastor I gave him the book so he could take a look at it.  I did not expect him to do much more than a quick review.  He has been talking about making some changes in our church since the beginning of the year and I tried to let him know, without being too pushy, that this book was something in line with the topic of change.

Good News:

At church last night the pastor told me that he was almost finished reading Simple Church (he had only about 20 pages left to read).  That itself surprised me a bit but that was not all.  He then told me that as he was reading he would stop and think about how we could apply the principles in our church.  He was also thinking about who in the leadership he would like to get to read the book next.  He even said that he really liked the Mr. Potato Head illustration and might use it himself.  At this point I was stunned…really.  The implications of what I had heard really did not sink in until I was home later (i had a migraine and was not completely myself so I was a bit slower than usual).

Now, I am extremely excited about the possibilities.  If the pastor really gets behind this type of change the next step will be the leadership.  That will be where the first resistance may come but that bridge is probably months away.  The leadership must get behind the change and understand the need for it before any progress can be made.  But as for now, things are looking up.

Simple Church – Chapter 9

Church complexity is costly. The cost is beyond time and money. The kingdom is not expanding. Lives are not being changed. Transformation is not happening. Churches are not growing.

Tragically, in most churches, the pain of change is greater than the pain of ineffectiveness.

This is the last chapter of the book. It summarizes some practical aspects of “becoming simple”. We are presented with a choice – Change or Die.

We must be concerned not only with what we are doing but also how we are doing it. Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus all come into play here. We are charged by God to do everything to the best of our ability. God wants excellence. “It in impossible to offer excellence when focus is so divided.” (p. 235) God is not satisfied with mediocrity.

This book has changed the way I view how we are to “do church”. Before reading this book I believed the way to draw in more people was to offer something for everyone. I guess that is the “if you build it they will come” philosophy. I no longer think this way. In most areas of my life I have made the effort to follow the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle but I did not apply that to my thinking about church. I was wrong….but now I have become consistent in this area.

If you have not read this book I highly recommend it to you. It will not be time wasted and I think you will enjoy it. If you do read it, let me know what you think.

Simple Church – Chapter 8

Staying focused is essential to being simple, and a church cannot stay focused without saying no.

Focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.

After you have designed and implemented the simple process you must maintain it. There will be pressures and temptations to add things back that are outside the simple process. We must remain focused at this point or we will fall back into our old ways. The authors give us 5 keys to remaining focused in this chapter. They are:

  • Eliminate nonessential programs
  • Limit adding more programs
  • Reduce special events
  • Ensure the process is easy to communicate
  • Ensure the process is easy to understand

When it comes to eliminating programs you are sure to step on someone’s toes. Someone is sure to say something like “we have always do it this way” or “we can’t stop this program because ______ (fill in the person’s name) will get mad.” The author’s make the point that eliminating non-essential programs is a stewardship process. They say “it is choosing to be wise with the time and resources God has given.” (p. 207)

Next we must be reluctant to add new programs. The authors state that complex churches are program-centered while simple churches are process-centered. Everything should run through the existing simple process. We can always add new options within the process without adding new programs. Adding new options does not divide our focus while adding new programs does.

Most churches put on numerous special events. You know what the standards are…a Christmas program, an Easter program, and Vacation Bible School, etc. There is nothing wrong with these programs but they split our focus and drain our resources. The special events require extra time for our people to prepare. They take the focus away from the process. Our people only have a certain amount of time and energy. We need to be leary of anything that divides their focus.

The last two go together. Our process needs to be easy to communicate and easy to understand. People will not be focused on things they don’t understand. “Understanding leads to focus and commitment.” (p.223) To maintain focus we must communicate the process often and in various ways. Understanding the process makes it easier for the people as the church goes through the process. When the everyday members can explain the process that is a good indication of understanding.

Simple Church – Chapter 7

Without the miracle of unity, churches divide and ministry suffers.

Unity reflects the glory and character of God because God is unified.

Both of these quotes are taken from page 167. Unity is extremely important to a church body. Once everyone is pulling in the same direction God can use the people to accomplish great things. Alignment is another word for unity. Alignment is defined as “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process“. Unity.

The authors give 5 points to help promote and achieve alignment in the simple church. They are:

  • Recruit on the process
  • Offer accountability
  • Implement the same process everywhere
  • Unite around the process
  • New ministry alignment

The leaders of the church must be on the same page for there to be alignment. For the leader to be on the same page they must share a ministry philosophy and be in agreement about the process. If the leaders are not in agreement on ministry philosophy or the process then there is no way the congregation will be. The best way to insure that the leaders are in agreement is to only put people into leadership positions who are committed to the process and philosophy of the church.

Next, the leaders must be held accountable to the process. “Without accountability, people naturally drift away from the declared ministry process.” (p. 175) There needs to be some sort of evaluation or feedback for the leaders so they know how they are doing in achieving the goals of their part of the process. This authors mention that this does not have to be “painful” for either side….it does not have to be adversarial. In the proper context, it can actually bring freedom to the leaders.

The same process must be implemented in all ministry areas. The children, youth, adults, etc. must all be following the same process. Each area is free to be creative in how it moves people along the process but the process is the same. For example, the children’s ministry will use different materials / program than the adult ministry to move people from one stage to the next in the process. Different ages and spiritual maturities will require different approach but with the same goals….moving people through the process. The authors mention 3 benefits to this: understanding is increased, unity is promoted, and families experience the same process.

When people are united, as I said earlier, they can be a powerful force for God to use. When there is alignment, people can unite around the process. They can all be moving in the same direction with the same goal. The group can accomplish a great deal more than all the people working individually. Uniting around the process means “leaders agree on how ministry is done at your church.” (p. 185)

The most challenging aspect of alignment is pulling existing ministries and existing staff in the same direction, especially if they have been moving in opposite directions.” (p. 187) This is where the rubber meets the road. When it is time to make the changes and is difficult. People do not like change. It makes us uncomfortable. To gain alignment all existing programs have to be evaluated for if and how they fit into the process. They may have to be eliminated or modified. Alignment is crucial to the success of a simple church.

Simple Church – Chapter 6

Stagnant believers and congested churches go hand in hand.

That is a powerful statement. It is taken from page 137. Chapter 6 focuses on reducing congestion and promoting movement within the simple process. Not just any movement but movement toward a higher level of commitment. This chapter is broken down into 5 steps that you can do to promote movement. They are:

  • Strategic Programming
  • Sequential Programming
  • Intentional Movement
  • Clear Next Step
  • New Members Class

The strategic programming step in vital. We must begin with a plan – a clearly defined process. The time spent on this stage will be well worth it. If we cut corners here it will cause confusion and require more time in the following steps.

The sequential programming step allows us to develop the flow for the movement. “Sequence produces movement.” (p. 145) We must put the programs for each step of the process in sequential order. This is simply logical. Why would we take the time to design a process and then put the steps of the process in any order other than sequential? The problem is that many of us do not even think about this problem and so when we add new things they will be placed in non-sequential order.

The next section talks about intentional movement. The authors discuss how in many churches people find a comfort zone and stay there. They remain in the same place spiritually for years, they stay in the same groups, the same routines, they sit in the same spot, etc. Does this sound familiar to anyone? People must be encouraged to move, to grow spiritually. To do this, the authors suggest we create short-term steps and capitalize on relationships in order to help people move. They say relationships are key. People who are moving through the process should help others to move through the process.

There should always be a clear next step. We should always seek to answer the question “what’s next?”. Design each step in the process with the idea of what is the next step. People are more likely to move through the process if they know where they are going next or what the goal is.

The last section discusses the need for a new members class. I like the idea of having a new members class. I actually taught the new members class a couple times at my last church (my current church does not have a new members class). I do not completely see how it fits into this chapter at this point but that in no way takes away from its importance. New members classes give people a chance to get to know exactly what they are joining. It allows the church to teach who and what it is and allows people who do not, and will not, conform to the vision of the church to find out before they have completed the joining process. The authors mention that “churches that require potential members to attend a new members class have a much higher retention rate than those who do not.” (p. 158)

Any way you look at it, Christians are supposed to become more like Jesus. Churches can help that process, they can hinder it, or they can be indifferent to the process. If our churches are not making disciples then they are not accomplish the task given them by Jesus in The Great Commission.

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