Monday, January 8, 2018

Building the Body by Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson

I like the authors' emphasis on a fit church as opposed to a healthy church. They draw the parallel to a healthy human, with low blood pressure and cholesterol levels, who is unfit and can't do physical activity. They identify five fitness levels of churches: beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite. Fit churches must be strong, able to endure, be flexible, and eat right (from the Word). Being a fit church requires being intentional and having discipline.

The authors go through the twelve characteristics of a fit church, including a Plan of Action for each fitness level of churches. They also include guidelines for developing ministry, such as effective evangelism. They give many church success stories and some enlightening stories of churches not being successful.

I liked some of their insights. For example, some churches assume, in error, that having building in the community makes them present in the community. (Loc 671/3396) They also note that some churches learn to function well with their dysfunctions, their dysfunctions becoming the norm. (Loc 244/3396)

I did not like the emphasis on the paid staff. Paid staff is to be the financial priority in the church's budget. (Loc 1108/3396) The pastor is described as the SEO (spiritual executive officer) of the church. He is responsible for hearing from God and setting the vision for the church. (Loc 2025/3396) Lay people, I guess, are not invited to be part of the discerning process. I think that emphasis sends the wrong message to lay people who often minister several times a week in addition to their 9 to 5 job. This especially hurts when the pastor's salary and benefits are far above the average income of the lay people. Lay people are quick to conclude that they are not important. The authors had previously written, “Becoming a fit church is directly proportional to the degree the people of God are active in ministry.” (Loc 879/3396) Pastors and their visions come and go. It is ultimately the lay people who keep the church moving toward fitness.

Another area of the book puzzled me. When the authors write about worship, they include lots of characteristics and strategies. They recommend development by a team, evaluation, planning, paying attention to things like pace and flow, being culturally relevant, being Christ exalting, and more. The authors never mention intentionally seeking what pleases God in worship nor praying to God to ask the Spirit to lead the worship planning process.

The authors have left the importance of prayer to the last quarter of the book. I would rather have had prayer emphasized at the beginning of the book, as an initial foundation, not near the end. But then, this book is pretty much a facts and figures kind of book. For example, the authors describe the baseline of the health of a church as the number of salvations, baptisms, and funds invested in disciple-making initiatives. (Loc 1920/3396)

For a book on the church to be really effective, I think it needs to be meaningful in all nations and cultures. It seems like this book concentrates on American churches. A fit Chinese underground church probably would not consider hiring a sound technician as part of their worship ministry, let alone even have a building that required sound. A pastor in Africa probably would not be able to plan out his sermons a year in advance nor think about hiring a paid worship staff person.

I did realize a couple of truths in reading this book. I found out that being a fit church takes a great deal of intentionality and work. It is not going to happen by accident. Just the development of lay ministry, including mentoring and encouraging, would be a full time volunteer job. I also understand that my discomfort with some churches has been because they were not fit.

I do recommend this book to lay people and paid church staff to get a good idea of what a fit church is like. There is a great deal of informative material in this book. Potential readers need to realize, however, that “fit church leaders” (Loc 1117/3396) may be few in number and not a reasonable expectation for your church. It may be up to you as a lay person to initiate the movement of your church to fitness. This book will give you a good start on that journey. I would recommend that you read this book along with another one that emphasizes the spiritual nature of a healthy or fit church.

This is a critical review from a lay person who has been active in churches for fifty years, on church boards, director of adult education, teaching adults classes (often twice a week), all while working full time at the small Christian bookstore I owned. My criticism of the emphasis on paid staff arises from the year our church was without pastoral staff. I was on the church board during that year, chair of the deacons. We had more people involved in ministry that year than I had ever seen. People stepped up and volunteered to preach, to lead worship, to lead ministries. People later told us they had never seen the church function so smoothly. It can be done if the lay people are well informed and included in every aspect of decision making, including seeking God for vision and direction.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Gary L. McIntosh is an internationally known author of twenty five books, speaker and professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has written extensively in the field of pastoral ministry, leadership, generational studies, and church growth. He received his MDiv in Pastoral Studies from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, and a Dmin in Church Growth Studies and PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife live in Temecula, California. They have two adult children and seven grandchildren.
Phil Stevenson has an extensive background in coaching denominational leaders, pastors, and church planters. He has consulted on evangelism, church growth, and multiplication issues with a variety of denominations. He currently serves as the District Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest District of the Wesleyan Church and is also a visiting professor at six universities and seminaries. He has an MA in theology and philosophy from Point Loma Nazarene University, and a DMin from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has authored six books. He and his wife live in Roseville, California. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.

Baker Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

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