This book may be the most significant book on how to do church since Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church. Like Warren’s book, it is a distillation of the years of experience and key strategic decisions that have produced another one of America’s great churches – North Point Community Church. Andy is very intentional and honest in sharing how North Point grew out of and away from his father’s ministry mold, a model which had been greatly successful in the previous generation. The description of this journey is a part of what gives the book its power. This journey is the same one being made at some level by countless churches and pastors today as they wrestle with the issues presented in this book.
There is a very incisive contrast in chapter 4 that is worth exploring. Andy is arguing that church is sometimes messy, more than we would like. Our attempts to avoid this messiness have historically resulted in one of two errors. Either we design churches basically for “saved people” where everything is tidy and the rules are well-known or we create a “liberal church” where everybody feels at home “regardless of belief or behavior.” Andy writes, “The casualty in a church for church people is grace. It’s hard to extend grace to people who don’t seem to need it. And it’s hard to admit you need it when you aren’t sure you will receive it.” On the other hand he reminds us, “The casualty in liberal churches is truth…along with truth, sin becomes a casualty as well. But the New Testament is clear. We are not mistakers in need of correction. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We need more than a second chance. We need a second birth” (p. 74). The real church for today has a built-in tension between truth and grace. Jesus came to us filled with both (John 1:14,17).
Throughout the book, in fact the genius of the book, is how Andy helps us think and minister to people who are not used to church. In chapter 7, he guides the pastor in becoming a catalyst for a new kind of church. First, the pastor’s message needs to be a practical one. “Truth without handles is static. Truth with next steps grows people’s faith… We close every message and every series in every age group with a specific call to action. Sometimes we assign homework” (p. 116).
Andy reminds pastors that their ministry grows out of their own personal devotional life. Unchurched people see the genuineness of a pastor’s faith. And he reminds us about the passage where Jesus is teaching about praying in secret. The passage tells us that God sees our private devotional life and promises that he will reward it (Matt. 6:6).
The third practical catalyst that Andy mentions is apprenticing. People really grow when they use their own gifts to help in ministry. “Experience has taught us that the sooner we can get people into ministry environments, the better. Even if they are not fully trained. Once they are actually in the environment, several things happen. First, they are confronted with what they don’t know but need to know and they become extraordinarily teachable…. The second thing that happens is that they usually recognize immediately if they have chosen an appropriate place to serve. But perhaps the most important thing that happens happens in their hearts. When individuals step into a ministry environment, what was once a category of people becomes people with names, faces, and stories.” (p. 128)
In chapter 8, Andy talks about two more catalysts to faith that he has observed. One is providential relationships. “Two things make a relationship providential: when we hear from God through someone and when we see God in someone.” (p. 132) The second is pivotal circumstances. “When people describe their faith journeys, they always include events that could be described as defining moments.” Sometimes the church can help provide the circumstances where providential relationships and pivotal circumstances can happen. Other times, it is enough for us to recognize how important they are when they occur.
I loved Andy’s seven guidelines for preaching that intentionally help non-believers feel included in the audience. It’s worth reading the book just for that section.
There are also some great quotes about vision. I’ll be content with one. “There is an inexorable link between an organization’s vision and its appetite for improvement. Vision exposes what has yet to be accomplished. In this way, vision has the power to create a healthy sense of organizational discontent.” (p. 274)
I highly recommend this book for every pastor, lay leader, elder and denominational leader. It should be required reading for every ministerial student in the United States today. It is both challenging and inspiring. It is greatly needed in our times.