Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Review: Church Planting is for Wimps by Mike McKinley

This book was strongly recommended to me by a friend so when I saw it on a www.10ofthose.com bookstall at SDCC I grabbed a copy.  In it McKinley shares with us the lessons he has learnt from 4 years of revitalising a church in the US.  McKinley is from the 9 Marks stable and much of what they did bears the imprint of that helpful organisation.

There are 9 chapters:
Intro: Justify your existence
1. Church Planting, slightly preferable to unemployment
2. So, how exactly does one plant a church?
3. One thing is necessary
4. Clearing out the sheaves
5. God always gets his way
6. How to ruin everything
7. No offense, but you're doing everything wrong
8. Redefine extraordinary

For those familiar with nine marks and some of the titles it produces and its emphasis on church membership, expositional bible teaching and so on some of those chapter titles will give you an early indication of what each chapter is about.

I found it to be engagingly written and disarmingly honest, this is not a 'how to' book this is someone sharing honestly and humbly their struggles and all account of plant/revitalising, realising they made mistakes and relaunching or adapting their thinking.  Throughout there are some really helpful lessons which can save us making similar or the same mistakes and Mike's passion for teaching the bible comes across loud and clear.  I just wish this book had come out in 2006 rather than 2010 so I could have had some of these insights before we planted.

So what were the highlights?  The emphasis in the first chapter on not targeting one particular group to reach was in contrast to a lot of other material about planting/revitalising a church.  But helpfully the strategy of focusing on preaching, reading, praying, and singing as being common cross culturally in worship was helpful.

Throughout the book the conviction Mike has that teaching the truth of God's word is the way to build the church stands out, and it needs to be said again and again, as we've discovered as we've gone through 2 Timothy.  The warning he gives planters to give their best energy to preparing and preaching is also vital as so many other things compete for our time.

His honesty in revealing the pressure plant/revitalising placed upon his and Karen's marriage is also honest and humble and ought to serve as a warning for all pastors everywhere not just planters.  The injunction to love your wife more than you love others opinions, and to prioritise her over your own successes needs to said and taken to heart again and again.

But there were two things in this book that I think resonated with me more than any other and which I found encouraging to hear that he had experienced.  Firstly that in the early years he devoted too much time to bringing and welcoming new people into the church instead of in cultivating leaders who would do that work alongside him.  This meant the church was too reliant on him and Karen(his wife).  Instead he advises us to focus on growing a leadership team as the way to grow a healthy church.

Secondly the final chapter is pure gold, it is convicting but worth reading and re-reading.  (I need to be honest here and say that I strongly share Mike's convictions in this area).  He argues that we need to redefine extraordinary, too many planters fall into the trap of the obsession with church size and he says it is killing many planters.  He also argues that we wrongly put pressure on ordinary pastors to do the extraordinary when all of us, bar a few, will do the ordinary faithfully as God calls us to do.  I loved this line "God scatters unimpressive clusters of believers everywhere to extend his saving reign."  He also argues here that a pastors ministry will become exponentially more effective the longer we stay in one place teaching and pastoring those God has given us.  I agree with him that the pressure to be seen to have a "significant" ministry leads many pastors to view ministerial promotion as a necessity rather than committing to one place.

Having said all that I love about the book, I have a couple of reservations about it, but mainly they all flow from one thing.  Mike, and the context he speaks of, is American and therefore the lessons in here need to be adapted to a UK context.  In that great final chapter he talks about ordinary ministers who plant ordinary churches which don't grow above two hundred or so.  That is not ordinary in the UK, especially not in the North of England, ordinary is more likely 50-70 adults rather than hundreds.  Unless we contextualise it it has the potential to demotivate and leave UK planters and pastors feeling less than ordinary let alone extraordinary.

We also need to think about the different cultural factors which come into play in the UK which must impact how we apply these lessons.  What are the implications for rural settings, specifically lots of small villages?  How do we think about overcoming not just the language but the class barrier, the literacy barrier, the negative experiences people have of church and so on?  I loved the idea of revitalising a dying church as a 2 for one deal - removing a bad witness and replacing it with a good gospel witness, but churches in the UK are closing faster than we would be able to revitalise them so how do we decide strategically which to revitalise?

Church Planting is for wimps is well worth a read for its honesty and insights into the joys, dangers and potential in plant/revitalising churches and for the way it makes us think about the task, the might of our God, the wonder of our salvation and the power of the gospel as it is taught.

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