About This Blog

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Leveling the Church" (Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield)

TITLE: Leveling the Church: Multiplying Your Ministry by Giving It Away
AUTHOR: Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

Ministry is more about people and less about programs. It is more about serving, less about receiving. It is about directing people's attention to God more than anything else, through discipleship and multiplication of more of such 'directors.' Church leadership is precisely called to do that. After a long period of serving in church from youth pastor to senior pastor, authors Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield reflect on their ministries and if they had to do it all over again, they would focus on the multiplication of people to do the ministry instead of doing everything themselves. In rethinking leadership and how to lead in Church, they acknowledge that the "biblical plan for church leadership is to develop a culture of multiplication: to not only see people come to faith, but also help them grow into maturity." Examining Ephesians 4:11-16, they are convinced that God is calling the Church to enable the people in Church to serve. That's what the spiritual gifts are there for. Growth is not just about numbers. It is about growing the fundamental trunk of servants. Teaching good sermons is not enough. We need to train servants to serve. Growing numbers is not enough. We need to grow in maturity. Being faithful in service is not enough. We need to bear fruit. The three key thrusts in this book are: Discipleship, Leadership, and Mission. At the onset, the authors take time to examine the way of Jesus, how he was investing his time with his disciples. After putting forth the biblical stance, he goes to show us the barriers that prevent many churches from practicing that. One could get bogged down with history and traditions that hamper the introduction of new ideas. A key problem is the mindset of running church with paid professionals. Another problem is with the wrong expectations placed upon the functions of church. This is followed closely by the problem of "applause" where leaders serve on the basis of pleasing people. Naturally, these three erroneous barriers create a poor measurement scorecard. The authors propose a better one: 1) Deliver the Word; 2) Disciple the Believer; 3) Deploy the Church.

This calls for "leveling" the Church, which is essentially about tearing down the old erroneous structures in order to start afresh with the new. This requires a bold stare down against the four dangers surrounding church practices. The first danger is that of "professionalism." It is essentially the way of the world to deliver the services to the needs as 'professionally' as possible. Even theological schools can be perceived as spiritual production lines to export ready-made pastors. These professionals are then expected to deliver the goods to the consumers. Once this cloud of professionalism seeps into the expectations of church leaders, those without theological education would be disqualified from ministry, in particular pulpit ministry. They offer some good push backs against this. The second danger is "materialism" which is linked to the first danger of professionalism. This is essentially about glorifying the needs of people. Instead, churches need to teach the meaning of sacrifice to become the Church they are called to build, instead of the luxury of shopping for the church they want. See individual members as parts of the church instead of patrons whose needs reign supreme. Fries and Maxfield then add a third danger to the mix: Independence, or self-sufficiency. This desire to separate and be independent is taboo to the meaning of Church. They link this thinking to the age of heresy of gnosticism. They criticize the use of daily Bible reading as a measurement for individual health; the use of discipleship as mere Bible memory; and the use of qualifications as a factor for leadership. While good, these things are incomplete and inadequate. Most importantly, we need to avoid these because they tend to project personal preferences into the gospel.  True freedom is not independence but interdependence. If we don't learn to live together, then we won't learn at all what it means to be in Christ. The fourth danger is the perception of the need for a super pastor. When people see the pastor as the one to do only what Jesus could do, they are creating a the image of a super pastor. Always on call, always available, and always able to meet the needs of the parishioners. Thankfully, Ephesians 4 dispel all of these errors. It is a many to many relationship, which the many in the Church will minister to the many, instead of depending on one or two super pastors to do everything. The task of leadership is to facilitate the training and equipping of the many.

The final part of the book helps us learn from the examples of Jesus, Moses, Paul, and Timothy. From Jesus, we learn about how he focuses on the few for the sake of the rest. Moses's example is about delegation. Paul is the model and mentor of many. Timothy is the one being trained and deployed.

My Thoughts
Three thoughts. First, the authors hit the ground hard by acknowledging their failures. This is something we as leaders need to do as well. For the first act of change is to recognize the need for change. For those of us who resist corrections, remember that everyone have blind spots, some more, some less. It is no secret that churches all over the world are constantly bombarded by the philosophies, practices, and principles of the world. This should not come as any surprise, as people are out in the world six days a week. Invariably, their interactions with the world would impact our worldview. Thus, we need to be humble and to learn to start afresh as often as possible.

Second, I agree with the authors about the need to redefine and rethink the nature of Christian leadership. If there is one word to describe the purpose of Christian leadership, it is to make disciples. For that reason, I think I could re-phrase the three key objectives as the 3Ds strategy: Disciple, Discipler, Discipled. The process of discipleship is to make disciples. The process of Discipler is to equip more to do the same. The product of Discipled is to unleash people to lead according to God's calling. I appreciate the way the authors remind us not to be stuck in maintenance mode but to move forward in multiplication. For all the criticisms about numerical growth, I feel that the authors are also guilty of using numbers in their revamped scorecard. They may not measure Church growth in terms of numbers of people sitting on the pews each Sunday but they still use numbers to determine the baptisms, life groups, and whatever new categories of growth.

Finally, I like to look at the driving force of Church ministry. Books like this one may try to do ministry differently, but they still are driven about something. Whether it is the wrongful perception of a super pastor or the erroneous practices of making the church a professional or consumeristic model, we are all susceptible to seeing ministry work as some kind of goals to be achieved. Looking at the life of Jesus, we may say that he was the most purposeful person on earth. We can also say that he was most sacrificial of them all. Yet, the purpose of Jesus's life on earth is to do God's will. The mulitiplication and the fruit of service are never predetermined in any way. We can only do our best and to let God do the rest. Put it another way, the opposite of poverty is not riches. It is contentment. Church ministry is to equip the members of the Church to pursue God for God's sake.

This is a good book to help us reset our measurement scorecard.

Micah Fries is Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Prior to serving at Brainerd, he served at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee and as a frequent speaker in churches and conferences. Micah previously served as the President of the Missouri Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference and as Second Vice President of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Jeremy Maxfield is a writer and consultant living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, three daughters, and chocolate lab. He has previously worked as a publisher with Lifeway, NavPress, and Student Life.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment