- Absence of Trust (Invulnerability)
- Fear of Conflict (Artificial Harmony)
- Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity)
- Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards)
- Inattention to Results (Status and Ego)
I’ve just finished reading Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church. Although I had heard a lot about postmodernism during the early to mid-nineties, I was really introduced to the topic of postmodernism while my wife and I attended a course in children’s evangelism in 1999 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. An extremely bright young New Testament professor (whose name I forgot) spoke to us on a number of occasions during the course of the training to open our eyes to the postmodern view of life to help us to understand that youth need to be approached in a different way than when we were their age. On his recommendation I later bought D A Carson’s The Gagging of God which extensively researches the topic of postmodernism.
Over the past few years I read a number of books from so-called emerging church authors and a lot of what they said impressed me – authors such as Alan Roxburgh, Brian McLaren and many others. From many of these books I could sense a desire for the church to reach its full potential as described in the book of Acts. But there were also things that I felt uncomfortable with, almost as if some of them wanted to apologize for being a follower of Christ. When I recently read a review on Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, I ordered a copy and immediately felt that I could resonate with his way of thinking. Starting with a discussion of the main points of concern that the emerging church has against the traditional church, Belcher, who comes from a Presbyterian background, then proceeds to discuss these points of concern by critically evaluating both the traditional view as well as the emerging view and then merging (no pun intended!) the positive points to come up with what he describes as a third way or the way of the deep church, a term borrowed from C S Lewis who described the body of believers committed to mere Christianity as “Deep Church”.
With positive reviews from leading authors such as Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball and Rob Bell, this is a book which cannot be ignored.
One of the concerns that Belcher has with certain proponents of the emerging church (not all of them) is that they recognize the problem of the postmodern world view which the church needs to address, but their solution is that the church itself and its message also needs to become postmodern. So instead of making adjustments in the method in which the message needs to be proclaimed, the message itself needs to be adjusted.
The seven points which Belcher identifies as the main points of concern that the emerging church has with the traditional church, are the following:
- Captivity to Enlightenment rationalism: The church had no way of standing apart from the world view of the culture which resulted either in a social gospel or fundamentalism
- A narrow view of salvation: The church focused too much on how an individual becomes saved and not enough on how such a person lives as a Christian
- Belief before belonging: A person needs to believe the correct theology before they are welcomed into the church
- Uncontextualized worship: Music and traditions that are hundreds of years old are used in the church and it does not speak to the present culture
- Ineffective preaching: The preacher is the fountain of all knowledge and therefore he is the only one who speaks
- Weak ecclesiology: The church is more concerned with form than mission. It cares more about institutional survival than being the sent people of God
- Tribalism: The church is known more for what it is against than what it is for. It has lost its ability to model a different way of life.
In the second part of the book Belcher looks at each of these points, both acknowledging the truth of the emerging church’s protest but also looking critically at its solution and indicating the weak points in their solutions – a method which I personally like to use when evaluating something. (At least this gives me the impression of greater objectivity.) Belcher’s solution then is to search for the “Deep Church”, through Deep Truth, Deep Evangelism, Deep Gospel, Deep Worship, Deep Preaching, Deep Ecclesiology and Deep Culture.
An excellent book as far as I’m concerned with serious challenges both to the traditional church as well as the emerging church.
I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:
- The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
- That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:
2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year
I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:
- Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
- Renewed attitude for servanthood
- More strategic prayer effort
The two other factors that followed in line were:
- Setting goals
- Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation
Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:
- Growing deeply in love with Jesus
- Growing deeply in love with the community
- Growing deeply in love with the lost
- Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
- Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences
Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.
- Love Jesus
- Love the community
- Love the lost
Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:
- Love Jesus
- Tolerate the community
- Condemn the lost
This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.
This post started off as a comment on another blog, but became so long that I decided to post it on my own blog instead.
Scot McKnight is in South Africa at the moment and my son had been attending some of his sessions. You can read more about this on his blog at McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion as well as Acts 15-20 for South Africa today. Tom Smith has also been blogging about these sessions and wrote two excellent summaries of what had been said at Scot McKnight – part 1 and Scot McKnight – part 2. I want to urge you to read these posts.
I absolutely agree with what many of the modern church leaders such as Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Ron Martoia and David Watson, to name just a few, are saying. What I hear is that they are telling Christians to treat much more seriously the whole story of the Bible. The story of salvation encompasses much more than only the story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And I also hear them telling Christians to stop treating the gospel as a quick-fix for all problems. “Listen to me, pray with me and be blessed!”
What they do miss, in my humble opinion, is that each one we meet up with, is at a different place in their spiritual lives. (Actually, I think they are saying this, but I don’t think they take enough into consideration that a great number of people have been church attenders all their lives but have just not yet come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.) If I go on a mission trip somewhere in the Amazon where people have never heard of the Bible or anything related to it, then my approach would be vastly different than when speaking with someone who had been a member of a Christian church from birth but who has never acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Lord of all. In the latter case (although there would be exceptions) I would see no need to start with the story of Adam, Abraham, David, the exile, etc, as they would probably know it already. On the other hand, should I want to speak to someone from the Jewish religion (as we find in the first part of Acts) then this would obviously be a good place to start. And should I speak to a Muslim, starting with the story of the Old Testament also makes good sense. The same applies to someone who has no knowledge of what Christianity is all about.
My concern is that people are merely rejecting one method (and I am not a Four Spiritual Laws devotee) for another method – a much more elaborate method – which becomes so complicated, that the “normal Christian” (i.e. the non-theologian) will feel totally inadequate to master or share this story. I said the same thing in my review on Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which you can read here. I fear that our modern evangelism methods will eventually lead to people believing that evangelism is best left to the professionals, lest they make a mistake.
I think that it is extremely important that we re-think our evangelism methods, mainly to do away with the quick methods of rushing in and out of people’s lives. But if I look at the rate at which Christianity is expanding in countries like India and China, where Christians stand a good chance of paying with their lives because of this faith, then I’m not convinced that we need to reject everything that was done in the past as wrong.
Although I’m not a devotee of the Four Spiritual Laws, I think it also needs to be said that this booklet was intended to be used in conjunction with the Jesus Film (the word-by-word dramatization of the Gospel according to Luke). Where a group of people had been exposed to this movie, usually over a period of four days over which time certain parts of the movie are repeated, I can well think that sitting down with these people after the last session and explaining the essence of the gospel once again, with the use of something like the Four Spiritual Laws, may be extremely effective. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions of Christians who have indeed accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord of their lives through this method.
We need to keep on thinking critically about evangelism. In certain countries we will need more professional evangelists. But if my next-door neighbour and his wife come to me (as has happened to me) and with tears in their eyes tell me that their lives are a mess and that they know that they need Jesus right now, then I don’t think that I need to start telling them the entire story of the Old Testament. Then I tell them “that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20), or something to that effect.
I’ve been “audio-reading” Leonard Sweet’s book, So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church over the weekend and today, as I had to spend many hours driving. Before sharing some thoughts on the book: If you’re not aware of it yet, you should take note that www.christianaudio.com has a free audio book each month and for April it is this book by Leonard Sweet. Make a point to check the Free Downloads each month if you like books and want to save some money.
As I was listening to the book, I thought of the story we used to share in South Africa in the pre-1994 (Apartheid) years. It went something like this: How do Americans, the Germans and the South African Police catch an alligator?
The Americans: One hundred people, armed with rifles, all driving in pickup trucks move down to Florida for a weekend, wade into the swamps and with a lot of shouting, drag an alligator out of the water.
The Germans: Get a group of biologists to study the habits of the alligator, determine where the best place would be catch it and send a two-man team to do the job.
The South African Police: Catch a lizard and hit it until it admits that it is an alligator!
Leonard Sweet uses the well-known medical abbreviation MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to explain what he believes the church should look like. For him, MRI stands for:
I found myself in agreement with most of the things he writes, except that I came to the point that I felt that he was, at times, hitting the Bible until it fits into one of these characteristics of the church. And I just felt at times that he was overdoing it in an attempt to make his point. Leonard Sweet is an excellent writer and has the ability to use the English language in a remarkable way, constantly playing with words to get his point across. Now, I’m not sure whether it was because I was listening to the book instead of reading it, but after a few hours it became an effort to keep on listening to the word-play. And here I had the same impression, that he likes playing with words and formulates his sentences specifically to enable him to do so, but in the end this makes it very difficult to follow his arguments, because the sentences are formulated to accommodate the word-play rather than to strengthen his arguments. He also constantly uses quotes from a wide variety of authors to prove his point. Some of these are excellent. But at times I had the feeling (and my wife, who had been in the car with me over the weekend felt the same) that he had read a good quotation and then adapted his own text to be able to use the quotation.
Those who can still remember the 1984 movie, Amadeus, will remember that Salieri was once asked what he had against Mozart’s music, to which he answered: “Too many notes!” And this is almost the feeling I had while listening to this audio book: It was just becoming too much towards the end. Too much word-play (although remarkable taken one at a time), too many quotes, too much saying the same thing over and over again in different words and eventually losing the thread on what the argument was that he was trying to defend.
I think the voice of the reader contributes to the fatigue I experienced while listening to the book. For one thing, I felt he was reading too fast. The book fits on six CDs (six MP3s which have to be downloaded) but it was impossible for me to listen to more than two CDs at a time, after which I just had to listen to something else.
Would I recommend the book? Certainly. Leonard Sweet is a highly respected author and he undoubtedly challenges the church to re-think its purpose in the world.
Would I recommend the audio book? This depends. I find that I have so little time to read nowadays and so many books which I want to read and also I spend so many hours unproductively driving my car, that I would recommend that anyone in the same position download the MP3s and listen to them. But if your circumstances are different, with more time on hand to read, then I would probably recommend that you rather read the book yourself.
Some leaders are born while others are developed. And there are thousands of books available to teach people how to become better leaders. I’ve read many of them. Some are good. Some are less helpful. But James Autry’s book, The Servant Leader, is, as far as I am concerned, a winner. I am of the opinion that every leader, be it in the corporate world or in the church, should read this book. It’s not written from a Christian perspective. In fact, the author never mentions anything about his own religious beliefs, but what amazed me was to find how this book brings into practice the principles of leadership as taught to us in the Bible.
I myself have often spoken about the necessity of servant leadership, especially in the church but also in the corporate world where Christians often fill leadership positions. In fact, I published a post on my blog on 14 April last year, with this exact heading: “Servant Leadership” and on another occasion I tried to explain something of how we try and put servant leadership into practice in Swaziland in my post with the title: “Washing each other’s feet”. Each time we train a new group of home-based caregivers, I refer to the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and when he said, in Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What makes this book by James Autry authentic, is that he himself applied these principles in real-life situations in various leadership positions that he filled and he also coached others to apply the same principles, with good results. And in most other books about leadership, the authors only write about successes, while Autry also writes about the problems which may occur – such as layoffs, legal battles, personal problems in the lives of employees and their family members, and many more. As I read this, I realised that he was echoing many principles which I try to apply (with varying success) in our ministry in Swaziland. Working with volunteers make it both easier and more difficult for a leader. It is easier in the sense that the people who are doing the work actually want to be there. They’re not doing anything because they are forced to do so through some contract. But it is also more difficult because people can leave at any time, without fearing that they will lose their income (because there ís no income).
I’ve had to make some serious decisions about my personal leadership style and I have chosen for the servant model, believing that this is the closest to the model that Jesus demonstrated. And I believe that we are reaping the fruit because of this decision.
Servant leadership is scarce amongst church leaders. And for this reason I want to recommend that every church leader read this book. If it doesn’t change your life, hopefully it will at least get you thinking about your leadership style.