I am taking part in a hybrid internship as a pastor/church planter in the Atlantic Conference of the Brethren in Christ. I am interning at a local BIC church (yet to be named), and partnering with a seasoned church planting coach in the conference, while simultaneously (← hybrid!) planting a church in Lancaster City and vicinity. An early portion of the partnership with my church planting coach included a reading list to get things started.
The following notes and citations represent the most helpful personal observations gleaned from assigned reading from the following books: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Cymbala; Starting a New Church, by Ralph Moore; Community of Kindness, by Sjogren; The Ascent of a Leader, by Thrall, McNicol & McElrath.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala
The best quote of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: “It takes more than academic vigor to win the world for Christ. Correct doctrine alone won’t do it” (Cymbala, 138).
Cymbala reminds us all of our desperate need to rely upon the Holy Spirit in all we do in ministry. A supernatural move of God is the foundation upon which all we do - everything - as ministers of the Gospel is built. The Spirit must move, or we labor on our own.
Prayer is a prerequisite. Ministry must not be driven by marketing, methodology, or cutting-edge techniques, but by prayer. Such things are good, but on their own they are ineffective. Our efforts must be saturated in prayer first. Again, the supernatural aspect of ministry is key. If God is not moving the program, the program is not Gospel. This truth presents pastors with a serious ministerial litmus test that should be used frequently to gauge vocational motives and movement.
A supernatural move of God is not an option. It is a must for the Gospel to move. Yes, people must know that real Christian belief is not merely positional or theoretical; faith must be powerful, alive, and poignant.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire is a great spiritual handbook for pastors. It is completely focused upon pastoral ministry, practice and devotion. I especially appreciate this focus at this point in my life and ministry. Ministry is consuming most of my time at the present. In other words, I am increasingly preoccupied with the act of ministry. A minister can actually lose sight of what is most important in the midst of this sort of busyness, i.e., his/her spiritual life. Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire is a wonderful call for pastors to continually set their focus upon God, Christ, Spirit, and relationship. I’ll remember this book for years to come, I’m sure.
Starting a New Church, by Ralph Moore
Ralph Moore provides readers interested in church planting models and methodologies with more than a little practical and applicable knowledge in Starting a New Church. The book is laden with theoretical and tangible resources. I gleaned much from it; I’ll be implementing more than a few of his ideas and suggestions.
For example, his early to-do list focused upon things like keeping operational costs low, invest in outreach, and name badges for early members. These are all solid suggestions.
Stronger advice than that found above can be extracted from the following excerpts:
“Furthermore, communication with your congregation and supporters should not only include what you plan to do but also why you are doing it. As you continue to write your plans, train yourself to describe your new church in three minutes with a heavy emphasis on why you are different from the other congregations in your community. A short little speech can turn critics into visionaries. You will be challenged â€“ make it an opportunity” (Moore, 73).
“Also, using fewer than 50 words, delineate what you will accomplish in the first decade. This is your overall vision turned into a highly repeatable mission statement” (Ibid. 74).
“Select people from the pool of apparent tithers who will stand for election or appointment (depending upon your governmental philosophy) to you church board. It Is not wise to allow someone to oversee the spending of your church’s finances if he or she is not a systematic giver” (Ibid. 213).
“When you need to report bad news, take it to your strongest givers first. They will be most invested in the financial life of the church, so you can trust them to stand with you in prayer” (Ibid. 214).
“I am a Baby Boomer. We are the first postmodern generation. Mine is the generation that rejects tradition, labeling it inauthentic and plastic. The leftists among us regard religion as an opiate useful only to tame the masses. All through our sexual revolution we discarded the stability of marriage for the pleasures of casual relationships. We delegated many of our parental responsibilities to nursery schools and the public education system. As we have begun to reach maturity, however, we are rediscovering the need for many of the values and institutions that we once abandoned. Gen-Xers and Millennials grew up in the social vacuum we created. Today’s world cries out for legitimacy in government, religion, family and tradition. If joining a church is like joining a club, postmoderns will not stomach it. They will see it as fraudulent. However, if church membership approximates immersion into a large family, it becomes attractive” (Ibid. 217-218).
“Postmodern people are often labeled as ‘post-denominational’ because they care little about largeâ€“scale affiliations. Their loyalties are directed toward people they can know on a personal level, not institutions. Your church’s membership covenant should reflect this trend. Do not complicate it with doctrinal statements. You need them, but the membership contract is not the place to specify them” (Ibid. 219).
Moore’s book is chock full of great advice like this. I will intentionally keep this book within arm’s reach for some time to come.
Community of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing a Church, by Steve Sjogren and Rob Lewin
The best quote of Community of Kindness: “Typical unchurched, postmodern people aren’t looking for cute” (Sjogren & Lewin, 158).
The most relevant vocational advice in this book: “Every successful church planter needs a coach to call upon when the need warrants! This must be someone who has planted a church before you. It needs to be someone who: 1.) cares about your situation; 2.) gives a rip about how you are faring; 3.) Will get excited with you when good things are taking place and get bummed with you when things aren’t doing so well; 4.) Will support you in heartfelt prayer” (Ibid. 102).
The most important praxis advice for church planters: “It is a simple but unalterable truth: Your people become the sort of disciple you embody and present to them as a model. If you want them to pray each day, then you must faithfully seek the Lord in prayer â€“ daily. If you want them to read the word each day, you need to be up early each morning reading the scriptures. If you see your people lacking in a certain area, you first need to make changes in that area of your own life. Then you may start talking about your experiences in your teaching” (Ibid. 72).
This book, however, did contain some pretty silly advice too. In fact, the following is probably the dumbest thing I ever heard a Christian author say in print. The authors say regarding graphics, “Borrow logos from places you like (if they are not trademarked). Borrow other’s mission statements until a better one comes along (if they are not copyrighted). You have our permission to borrow; however, if there is a trademark or copyright, ask permission. Most pastors will help other. Be blessed and borrow!” (Ibid. 121).
The above advice is just so stupid on numerous levels. First of all, I know of very, very few pastors who actually have the capabilities of designing a logo other people would want to “borrow.” Pastors, consequently, are not the creators or the license holders of readily found artwork such as logos. If a church bought a logo, then sure, they are free to give it away but why in the world would they? A logo is a brand; it is an identity. So, “borrowing” without asking seems to be the only real option the authors are pointing toward. That’s called stealing. So, no, do not feel “blessed to borrow” anything from me (I speak as a graphic designer myself). This is just some of the lamest advice I have ever read in a Christian book. I’ll be honest, it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book, in spite of its otherwise high quality. Yeah, I’ll seek to be original if it means I won’t be reduced to a thief.
The rest of this book, as was already mentioned, was solidly filled with great advice and suggestions regarding servant evangelism approaches to church planting and community building. I’m sure I’ll be turning to it for enlightenment, save the section begging readers to NOT be original.
The Ascent of a Leader, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and Ken McElrath
The Ascent of a Leader rises above the other three (i.e., Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, by Cymbala; Communities of Kindness, by Sjogren; Starting a New Church, by Ralph Moore). It is by far the most influential, effective, and affective read I have encountered so far in my internship. I’m going to spending several weeks with this book, because there is so much material to sift through and contemplate. The ramifications of this book go without saying; it’ll help me become a stronger, more authentic leader in the larger Body of Christ and the church. I’m also going to be distributing copies of this book to the forming core group of the plant. I’m just beginning to really dive into this book and reflect upon all that it has to say about leadership. So, I’ll keep the reflections short until I have an opportunity to spend some in depth time reflecting and applying all that it offers to a burgeoning leader.
First of all, the book begins by saying, “… this book is about becoming the kind of leader whom others want to follow. It’s about finding God’s plan for your life and following it, and about leading others where they need to go. Whether you are a seasoned leader or just starting out in your career, a leadership expert or someone just beginning to understand leadership issues, we hope you will consider this book to be an invitation to climb higher” (Thrall, McNicol and McElrath, 4).
The Capacity Ladder approach to leadership is as fascinating as it is detrimental. The rungs of the Capacity Ladder are as follows: 1. Discover what I can do; 2. Develop my capacities; 3. Acquire title or position; 4. Attain individual potential.
The dangers inherent to the Capacity Ladder approach to leadership revolve around the development â€“ or lack thereof â€“ of the inner life of the leader and the relationship of this development to the act of leadership. One can climb the rungs of the Capacity Ladder and reach the very top, while remaining lonely, manipulative (stepping on people), and untrustworthy. Can the job get done via the Capacity Ladder approach? Yes, but at what cost to the leader, the people being led, and the job itself. Real leadership is more than just the job. It is all about life and lived relationships.
Again, I’m just cracking the surface of this book, and I have already found more enlightening material than the other three reads combined. It’s not that the other three books were bad; it just that The Ascent of a Leader is that good. I’ll be spending the next several weeks digesting the rest of this book and all it has to offer concerning leadership, me, and Christ’s Church.
Overall, I must say the early reading list given me by my church planting coach is awesome. It is a well rounded bibliography that covered everything from spirit-filled, supernatural aspects of ministry to the detriments of anti-relational, Capacity Ladder models of leadership. I am better for reading these books; my ministry to the city will be better for it too. The Capacity Ladder is not an option.
Cymbala, Jim. “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens when God’s Spirit Invades the Heart of His People.” Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1997.
Moore, Ralph. “Starting a New Church: The Church Planter’s Guide to Success.” Regal Books, Ventura, 2002.
Sjogren, Steve and Rob Lewin. “Community of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing a Church.” Regal Books, Ventura, 2003.
Thrall, Bill and Bruce McNicol and Ken McElrath. “The Ascent of a leader: How Ordianry Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence.” Josey-Bass, San Francisco 1999.