"[W]e have a cultural crisis and a theological one," writes Darrin Patrick in Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission. "We live in a world full of males who have prolonged their adolescence. They are neither boys nor men. They live, suspended as it were, between childhood and adulthood, between growing up and being grown-ups. . . . This kind of male is everywhere, including the church and even, frighteningly, vocational ministry." (p. 9).
In short, we have a man crisis. Modern society shuns the traditional role of the man as the head of the home, the breadwinner and the spiritual leader of the family. Advertising and entertainment show the man as the oafish buffoon, Mom's "other child." Emasculated, men have abdicated their responsibilities and escaped into the fleeting pleasures of hobbies, video games and pornography.
They are neither men nor boys. They are are "Bans," a hybrid of both a boy and man. They're in our communities, our churches, our workplaces, and our families.
Ban needs godly men and women to show him there is more to life than he is currently experiencing. Ban needs to be more than just a male. He needs to be becoming God's man who is being transformed by God's gospel message and is wholeheartedly pursuing God's mission. (p. 18)
That's why Patrick, the pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis and vice-president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, wrote Church Planter. In its pages, Patrick offers sound advice and biblical wisdom as he challenges prospective church planters, longtime pastors and the average churchman alike to be God's man armed with God's message and on God's mission.
So what kind of man does it take to plant a church? What kind of man does the church need to carry out its mission? What kind of man is needed to see lives transformed?
Patrick breaks down who that man is as follows:
He is a rescued man. He is, quite simply, a man who has indeed personally experienced forgiveness and acceptance from Jesus Christ. He must be growing in genuine love for God and people.
He is a called man. Pastoral ministry is impossible for man on his own. He must be clearly called by God.
He is a qualified man. He is a man growing in the character qualifications of a biblical elder as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
He is a dependent man. He is a man who solely depends on the power of the Holy Spirit for the success of his ministry. He knows that it's not by his will that anything can be done and seeks to grow deeply in his dependence by cultivating his relationship with God.
He is a skilled man. He is a man who exhibits (in varying degrees) the three basic skills necessary for pastoring: leading, teaching and shepherding.
He is a shepherding man. He is a man who cares for Jesus' sheep, and is prepared to lay down his life to protect and nurture them.
He is a determined man. There are going to be seasons in every pastor's ministry where it will be very tempting to "tap out" and give up.
This first section of the book provides a compelling and captivating picture of what a godly man should look like--not simply a pastor or church planter. As I read through these pages, I had to stop and seek the answers to the questions that Patrick posed along the way--questions that were incredibly challenging to answer. But the book's insights allow for real and reliable self-examination, as well as examination by others. And this alone makes Church Planter a worthwhile investment.
In part two, Patrick examines the message of the Church--the gospel--in all its provocative glory.
It is a historical message. The gospel is rooted in history. "[T]he historicity of Christianity and the physicality of Jesus must be defended, because a Christianity not grounded in history is no Christianity at all." (p. 114).
It is a salvation-accomplishing message. The gospel is the message of what God has done in history--and that is, first and foremost, Jesus coming to atone for the sins of mankind. The good news of the gospel is good news because Christ actually saves sinners.
It is a Christ-centered message. The gospel is not just the message about what Jesus has done--Jesus is the gospel. Jesus Himself declared that the whole of the Old Testament was about His life, death and resurrection. "It's the central truth, the primary thread, the `Big E' on the eye chart when it comes to understanding Scripture" (p. 134).
It is a sin-exposing message. Today, the only unpardonable sin in our culture is to call anything "sin." But when the true message of Scripture is proclaimed, sin will be exposed. "If there is no challenging of the sinful heart, there is no gospel preaching," writes Patrick (p. 151).
It is an idol-shattering message. The sin Scripture's most repeated and emphatic denunciations are reserved for is the sin of idolatry; but true gospel preaching forces us to confront our idols, to repent and turn away from them and toward Christ.
Part two of Church Planter, by and large, reminded me of how breathtaking the truth of the gospel is--and how breathtakingly ridiculous the gospel is if it's not true. If the gospel isn't historical, doesn't accomplish anything without my involvement, is centered on anyone or anything but Christ, serves to prop up my sins and doesn't lead me to turn from my idols and trust in Jesus, it's of no use to me or anyone else.
But it is all of these things--and more! Reading these chapters once again reminded me of just how much I need this message in every aspect of my life.
The message of the Church is nothing but salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It's the message that makes the dead live. And it's the message that drives the mission of the Church.
Part three examines the mission of the Church, which Patrick breaks down as follows:
The heart of mission is compassion. "[C]ompassion is the dominant emotion that the Gospel writers ascribed to Jesus." It's compassion that motivates mission; compassion for the lost drives us to share the good news of the gospel and to live in light of it in practical ways.
The house of mission is the Church."The local church is God's eternal plan to both edify his people and evangelize the world" (p. 187). While there are a number of different models of how to "do church," ultimately a local church that is on mission is one that is focused on Christ, on seeing people come to know and love Jesus. Members are disciples marked by a humble confidence. Confident but not judgmental; humble but not depressed (c.f. p. 191). A gospel-centered church is a reproducing church, making disciples and planting new churches.
The how of mission is contextualization. "We take the unchanging gospel into the ever-changing culture so that persons in a specific time and a specific culture can comprehend the truth of the gospel and be saved by it" (p. 207).
The "hands" of mission is care. Jesus expects His followers to obey the revealed Word of God and that is summed up primarily as loving God and loving people. "Jesus . . . wants the church, the unified body of all believers, to strategically seek reach, teach, and serve people" (p. 211).
The hope of mission is city transformation. Looking at Jeremiah 29:4-7, wherein God commands the Israelites in exile to build homes, plant gardens, have children and seek the welfare of Babylon, Patrick writes, "It seems to me that God is commanding his people to sink themselves deep into the fabric of that wicked city. . . . What would happen if we really tried to be like salt and light to the people living around us?" (pp. 227-228).
Part three of Church Planter is very strong, although not nearly as strong as the first two. The explanation & defense of contextualization is solid. The example of how his church is serving as the hands of Jesus in St. Louis is encouraging. The commitment to (and brief explanation of) the local church is wonderful. The need for Christians to be a part of their community, seeking its good for God's glory is inspiring.
But as I read that final chapter, one statement in particular jumped out at me:
"It is strange the way many Christians give so much money every year to foreign mission efforts without ever considering the need to be a missionary right in their own neighborhoods" (p. 228).
I believe this actually hurts the argument that Patrick is trying to make in this chapter. He's rightly arguing that we need to be acting as "salt and light" in our communities; to be engaged in our communities as problem solvers, rather than problem finders. To be "in the world but not of the world." But he didn't need to set it up as an either/or with foreign missions giving, especially when the stats indicate that approximately 2% of all giving goes to foreign missions (that's not a lot--I'm pretty sure more money is spent on Starbucks every year).
Maybe it's one of those instances where I'm reading something into the statement that's not there, but I've seen it enough times from enough voices in the "missional" church movement that it really concerns me. We need to be missionaries at home, absolutely.
But we also must do all we can to reach those who are outside our local sphere. We need to think locally and globally, to seek and save the lost wherever they might be. To become too narrow in our focus can cause our vision to become too small.
When all's said and done, I do believe that Church Planter is an encouraging and inspiring work. Its insights are built upon the firm foundation of Scripture, making it a valuable resource to show people what it takes to be a church planter, showing us godly men who are shaped by God's message for the sake of God's mission.