Book Review: The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples

The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples by Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton, B&H, 2014

If you are numbered among those who believe that the church in the United States has problems, you have probably spent at least some time contemplating what is at the root of those problems.  We might tracpeople-of-god-covere it to theological impurities brought about by the abandonment of orthodox Christianity in many realms of Christendom.  Others may claim that we simply live in the most secular age of history and therefore the task of pointing people toward our Savior is harder than ever.  Still another group may say we have left our old time religion and replaced it with contemporary notions that look little better than the unregenerate world around us.  These and countless others can be offered up as the reason for the decline of growth and the lack of influence the church has in our context.  However, they are not the root cause.  They are merely symptoms of a nearly systemic problem found in the vast majority of our churches: we have ignored the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.

The People of God provides us with an encouraging and practical call to take seriously the way God has ordained for people to come into a relationship with Him and grow in their knowledge of His Kingdom.  The authors build on the premise that human beings have been created for community, both with God and with one another.  The Church has been created by Christ to be a community and the growth of Christ’s followers through the disciple-making process is done within this context.  For Joy and Shelton this is an intentional, theologically driven process.

Our authors explore the distinctives of a gospel community while also presenting us with the common hindrances to that same biblical community.  Within any context of discipleship, the Gospel must be at the forefront.  The Gospel provides us the pattern of discipleship as we are constantly reminded of our need to turn from our sin and our desperate reliance on Christ.

For me, the most helpful chapter in the book is the authors’ discussion of alignment.  The book calls on churches to align their teaching/preaching/discipleship/small group activities together.  While in no way new or revolutionary, it is a seemingly radical idea.  For most churches, there is very little connection between the focus of the sermon and the teaching that takes place during Sunday school.  Small groups are not connected to the spiritual emphasis of the worship service.  Children have lessons that are completely different from their parents.  There is no alignment of the things that are taught.  This method of conducting the teaching ministry of the church provides very little opportunity for depth and growth.  However, when discipleship is intentional and the ideas of the worship gathering are reinforced in Sunday school or small groups the people in our churches have a chance to understand more deeply the things of God.  When we are intentional about aligning our sermon, Bible studies, small group lessons, and discipleship efforts, we will find that the mission and vision of the church will be constantly reinforced and remain abundantly clear to those who participate in the life of the community of faith.

I was thoroughly impressed by the relevance of this book for churches of all sizes.  While both authors serve on staff at churches at are among the largest in the country, their ideas are relevant and useful for my church which is small and in a rural context.  We are all aware that this is often not the case with books produce in mega churches.  Because these concepts are so biblically based, they are functional within a myriad of church contexts.

Many of us stand concerned about the state of the church and the work of the Kingdom.  We are weary from trying to make things work the way we want and convincing people they need to do better.  The heart of our problem is often a lack of discipleship.  It is not a cure-all secret formula.  It is however, Christ’s pattern for growing His Church and expanding His Kingdom.

1976 Nova Concours For Sale – $4,500

I’ve owned this car since I was 16 years old.  They body is in great shape and the car is almost completely original. Could be restored or drove as is. Only 52k original miles and I have put about half of those on it since 2000.  Clean title, but misplaced so waiting for the state to send me the new one.  Email me if interested: mpardue@fbicard.org   

IMG_2362 IMG_2363 IMG_2364 IMG_2365 IMG_2366 IMG_2367

Book Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

20140602-173437-63277954.jpg

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer (B&H Books, May 2014)

An autopsy is an unpleasant thing. It is most often a sign that someone’s life did not end in a natural way. The necessity of an autopsy is an indication that there are questions that remain unanswered.

Christ did not intend for His churches to die. The death of the church is the result of sin and neglect. In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer serves as a pathologist, conducting a post-mortem on churches that have died in unnatural ways.

Rainer’s dissection reveals 10 symptoms which led to the untimely demise of the houses of worship studied on his examination table. I found these observations to be beyond sobering. Toxic poisons are present at different stages of their terminal work in many of the churches I have observed. Rainer has analyzed these cancerous conditions and the disastrous effects they leave behind.

Most disturbing is how many of these ailments are silent killers. They often lie dormant for years. When they do surface, they often fester slowly, eating away the health of the church. Those who comprise the church are under attack from foreign invaders, and yet go through the motions with no knowledge that they are rapidly dying.

Rainer conducted his research with churches who have already succumbed to the poisons that infiltrated their body. The members, now separated from the body, are left to consider what tore them apart. Many of their symptoms are easy to recognize as the autopsy progresses.

For example, in churches that have met their doom the past was celebrated as a hero. The church’s identity was tied to the things that had once given cause for celebration. However, the fixation on the past resulted in neglect of things important for the future.

Dead churches refuse to adapt to the world around them. Many were located in communities that changed. The people who lived near the churches were different from those in the church. At the same time, church members moved away from the church to get away from the changing neighborhood. Over time, the church became deserted.

As the demographics around them changed, their budgets focused more and more away from their community. Seeing no reason to invite those in their community into the church, the congregations invested more in themselves. Their needs reigned supreme and, therefore, the work of the Great Commission was nowhere to be found. Instead of striving to live by the commission given by the Savior, the church set their sights on their own preferences. They were not focused on the work of the Kingdom.

With this mindset in place, leadership was hard to maintain and pastoral turnover was frequent. The church that died rarely prayed together. It was simply not important. Without prayer and with short-term leadership, churches who were once alive had no vision.

There was no purpose in their decisions as they simply went through the motions. While there were no wise plans for ministry, the facilities of these churches became their obsession. Some even split over minor disputes involving their facilities.

The autopsy report is definitive. Neglect and poor priorities are lethal to a church. With the examination complete, Rainer poses a question: Is there hope for dying churches? Not every church is at the same place in their decay. Therefore, Rainer offers four responses for each stage of the decline of a church. He encourages his readers with responses based on whether a church is showing signs of sickness, deeply in the throes of illness or audibly exhaling a death rattle. These responses are helpful, serving as good medicine for ill churches. I will let you read the book to discover your diagnosis and consider Rainer’s prescription.

Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a brief but terribly solemn read. My thoughts were drawn to the church I pastor. Could there be places where we are allowing a terrible poison to seep into our body? Are there areas that we have neglected and by doing so exposed ourselves to an infection that could one day cause our body to fail? Christ’s church is a living thing designed to grow and be vibrant. Autopsy of a Deceased Church serves as a good reminder that we must guard ourselves, watch our priorities and be about the work of the Kingdom. If we are not, our church may find itself on the cold slab of the autopsy table.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard, Connelly Springs.)

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

As I sat watching a hearing taking place in Washington, DC, I began to think about the truth. Witnesses were giving testimony about events that took place in a foreign land over 18 months ago. Regardless of the outcome of these hearings or others like them, their necessity lies in an ultimate problem with the truth.
It seems it is very hard to find someone who will tell the truth. I have watched dozens of Congressional hearings convened because someone did not tell the truth. Even more happens because our leaders will not admit they did wrong. Regardless of political parties or whether or not it is an election year, we need our leaders to be truthful.
I would like to have leaders who will look us in the eye and tell us the truth. I think most of us in this country are big boys and girls and can take the straight talk. I know there are some who are not but maybe it is time to stop bowing to the lowest common denominator.
The truth, for too many who try to lead us, may be unpleasant. Were they to tell the truth they may have to disclose inappropriate relationships, shady financial ties, past moral failings, wishy-washy decision making, or self-doubt. However, the truth is necessary for leadership—if the truth is too hard, you cannot lead.
I would like to have leaders who will admit when their legislation was not the great plan they had initially promised, who will condemn members of their own party who are foolish or bigoted, and who will care more about the people who elected them than the next office they plan to seek. I wonder if there are leaders out there who will be make decisions that are based on the Constitution and rule of law as opposed to the platform of their deeply flawed parties. I would like a leader who will commit to be a public servant not a pocket-lining politician.
I had a dear friend in a previous church I served who often told the story of her father who ran for the Senate in the 1940s. She remembers being shocked when someone pointed out that her father’s odds of being elected were slim. This was not because he was a crook or held the wrong political views. She was told he would never be elected because he “was a good man.” If that was the case then, how much more so now?
I am glad that I do not have to rely on our elected leaders to provide me salvation. I know the Truth and He does not reside in Washington or Raleigh. The Truth sits at the right hand of His Heavenly Father. I do, however, desire earthly leaders who will tell the truth, talk straight, and lead us well. I know that may seem like a big request, but in the greatest country in the world it is not too much to ask.

Dr. Micheal Pardue
Icard, NC