Saturday, July 29, 2006

Two Books About Running Churches

I've been reading quite a bit recently. Two books I've read, which I thought it would be interesting to contrast, are Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church and Mark Dever & Paul Alexander's The Deliberate Church.

Both are written by the leaders of large baptist churches in the US. Both have some very American features in common - the use of a written church constitution. Both have a formalised membership system with clear (and some might say legalistic) expectations of members.

The big contrast between the two books is in terms of where they get their ideas from about leading and growing churches. Warren's book is good at the application of wisdom - a high proportion of his quotes are from Proverbs, and most of what he writes seems like common sense. In particular, he is good at wisdom in listening to the local community and seeking to reach them where they are as well as wisdom in focusing the work of the church on what the church should be doing (which he identifies as worship, evangelism, fellowship, disicpleship and service).

Dever & Alexander, on the other hand, aim to focus far more on what the Bible says about leading churches. There's a lot more about the importance of eldership, church discipline, etc. There are also useful correctives to some of Warren's weaknesses - his book does not actually articulate the gospel clearly - it assumes it, and at times could certainly be open to accusations of seeking to entertain non-Christians or not be completely clear what it's all about. I can see that people might view The Purpose Driven Church as a way to set up a very efficient and popular organisation without neccesarily making direct claims to absolute truth. It would be much harder to interpret The Deliberate Church like that.

But that's not to say that Dever & Alexander have got it all right. While much stronger on the doctrine and management of the church, and importantly clear on being cautious what message we communicate in our evangelism, they do not cover a lot of Warren's key material on identifying and reaching the community. Incidentally, if they did, I think they might well do it better - Warren's weakness there was that he mainly wrote about getting people who are already like the community to reach them, rather than sacrifically becoming all things to all men. Dever & Alexander's big weakness, other than weaknesses of omission, is that they sometimes take the argument from Scripture too far - to cover closed communion services, for example, and instead of working outwards from the Bible, they take a few (and only a few) of their own presuppositions and attempt a post facto justification of them from Scripture.

All in all then, I think God has gifted people differently for the building up of his church. Dever is a much better handler of Scripture than Warren; I suspect Warren is a better handler of people. Both skills are needed, and I found both books immenseley helpful in thinking through issues of church leadership.

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