Church Planter: The Man, the Message, The Mission is the latest book from the Re:Lit branch of Crossway Books. Written by Darrin Patrick, VP of the Acts 29 church planting network, it is essentially a church planting primer, or a boot camp in a book, or a field manual for those already deployed, depending on your current situation.As the subtitle suggests, the book is broken down into three parts that focus on what Patrick considers to be the key elements of planting and leading a church.
Before we even get into the main material, it is worth mentioning the introduction to the book. Here, the culturally sensitive issue of gender exclusivity in church leadership is raised and handled, in my opinion, very well. Though it would be nice if everyone agreed on all matters of Christian practice, that is not going to happen any time soon short of Jesus returning. As such, we need to handle our differences with grace. Darrin holds to a complimentarian stance, whereby the office of elder is held exclusively by biblically qualified men. He has existed both literally and intellectually on both sides of the debate and offers his position with grace and conviction – no easy task! Unlike some who hold similar positions, he does not exclude women from acts of ministry themselves, only from the office of elder. Women are free to prophecy, pray, serve, even teach, but not to lead as elder:
There is absolutely no indication in Scripture that gender plays any role in God’s sovereign distribution of spiritual gifts. (p.15)
I believe women can use any gift that God has given them in the church and that only the office of elder is reserved for men. This may seem paradoxical, but I think it is biblical. (p. 15)
The argument on teaching, briefly, is that the majority of teaching will be done by elders, therefore men, and that all elders are meant to be capable of teaching, but not all teaching must be done by elders. Elders are to oversee, shepherd and guard, so non-elders can do the same ministry actions (e.g. teach), but elders are responsible and ultimately accountable.
At the end of the day, Darrin makes a good case that, even if you disagree with his position about gender and church leadership, statistics are showing we have a problem to face about men in general and men in the church specifically.
The key points are that men are staying boys longer in both their actions and attitudes, and that older men are not mentoring these “Bans” (boy/man) to raise them into godly men quickly. As such, we have a dearth of biblically minded, gospel-orientated men and something must be done. So whether you’re in agreement with Darrin, or whether you think he’s wrong, the reality is that something must be done to not only retain, but to train men to lead effectively in the church. It’s a pretty compelling argument for reading the book regardless of doctrinal position on this point. For the sake of this review, I will be sticking with the use of ‘he’ when referring to the elder/pastor/undershepherd.
The Man – Ministry is more than hard. Ministry is impossible. And unless we have a fire inside our bones compelling us, we simply will not survive. (p.30)
The first section of the book deals with the church planter himself, and the kind of person he needs to be both in terms of qualification and potential success. If balance between theology and practicality is highly favored, this first section is the most likely to please you (theology gets the main drive in The Message and The Mission gives it all some legs, though none of the book is lacking in both elements). Patrick deals with the type of man, the confirmation and testing of his calling, his character and his ability to lead/shepherd well. It is a high standard that Patrick holds to and a thoroughly Biblical one at that. For anyone considering their calling to pastoral ministry, stare long and hard in this mirror and make sure that you are really called!
The Message – He went from the God of heaven out there to being the Lord of earth right here. God took the theory of his love for his people and wrapped it in skin and blood and gristle and bone. (p.107)
In the second section, the central message of the gospel is unpacked and its implications for pastoring the church are explained. In an age when preaching and teaching is sometimes akin to a friendly chat about feelings, or the best way to achieve happiness right now, or some such thing, Darrin makes it clear what the message is – historical, salvation-accomplishing, Christ-centered, sin exposing, idol shattering, to take from the chapter headings. As an introduction to the core of the Gospel message, this is a solid work and a great reminder to stay on track with the message. We must not make it about anything else than Jesus and what He has done and is doing. Sin must be dealt with boldly, our own idols exposed and the glory of Christ exclaimed!
The Mission – Men who are qualified, called, and armed with the gospel message are on a mission with Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost. (p.174)
The final section was one of the most engaging for me, dealing with the mission of the church, cultural context and compassionate evangelism. It is obvious that not only does Darrin have a heart for city transformation through the preaching of the Gospel and the life of the church, but that he has been in the trenches and is someone worth listening to with a humble heart. As I read through this final section, my own vision and dreams for God’s glory in the city I live in (Nampa, ID) was stirred up deeply and powerfully. Mission is more than social justice, but not less than compassion and care for those in need. We cannot get out of balance or we end up either with humanism, or a secluded church unwilling to fulfill her work here on earth.
Ultimately, I am so pleased to have this book in my library as a tool for myself and a resource for training other men for the work of leading and planting churches. If, like me, you would love to attend an Acts 29 conference but are restrained by budget and time, this is a great book to meet the need right now. Darrin asks pointed questions, sets the bar high and achieves the purpose of his work:
I think it wholly appropriate to take the opportunity this book affords to directly address men, to “call them out” for their sin and “call them up” to be more than just males. (p.13)
Grab a copy and let me know what you think. If you’re interested in doing a roundtable on this book, leave your name in the comments and a link to your blog and we’ll see what we can do.
I received this book as a review copy from Crossway. Like all good companies, no pressure was exerted by them to secure a favorable review.