Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself repeatedly coming back to a single question: “Shouldn’t church be more?” In his recently released Letters to the Church, Francis Chan answers definitively – yes, yes it should. (Buy your copy here.)
In Letters, Chan asks challenging questions of churches that are worthy of serious reflection and consideration. At the heart of it all is a plea to put God back in His proper place in the church, where our only concern is pleasing Him rather than pleasing people or getting our own way. Because of this high view of God and the driving belief that church can be so much more if we submit to the Lord’s guidance, I’m of the opinion that every church leader (or member, for that matter) can benefit from reading Letters. Grab a copy and dig in for a thoughtful, challenging, heartening read.
Here are 10 of the quotes from the book that have weighed heavily on my mind since reading it.
- “The older I get, the more aware I am that the end is near. There is no time to care about what I want in the Church. There’s no time to worry about what others are looking for in a church. I will be facing Him soon, so I have to stay focused on His desires.” (p.28)
- “For decades church leaders like myself have lost sight of the powerful mystery inherent in the Church and have instead run to other methods to keep people interested. In all honesty, we have trained you to become addicted to lesser things. We have cheapened something sacred, and we must repent.” (p.44)
- “We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice.” (p.53)
- “We have come up with countless strategies to reach the lost when God promises that unity is the method that will work.” (p.80)
- “Do our actions show that we expect supernatural contributions from every member of the body?” (p.90) and “If we give up on the goal of having all members exercise their spiritual gifts, we are destined for perpetual immaturity.” (p.92)
- “No team puts up with players who refuse to contribute. No army puts up with soldiers who don’t carry their own weight. Why do churches continue to put up with Christians who refuse to serve? Why don’t we treat selfishness as a sin that needs to be confronted?” (p.97)
- “Prayer is not merely a task of ministry; it is a gauge that exposes our hearts’ condition. It unveils our pride, showing us whether or not we believe we are powerless apart from God.” (p.113)
- “We need to return to a God-centered theology rather than a human-centered theology, and we need to be willing to flip some tables and suffer for it along the way.” (p.140)
- “Should we consider that placing people in comfortable classrooms and auditoriums for years may not be the best way to train fearless leaders?” (p.165)
- “It should not feel out of the ordinary, harsh, or inappropriate to call the Church to change. Nor should we imagine that our unique expression of Church is the only one God sanctions. Instead, we should be constantly seeking renewal, being ready at any moment to discard the elements of Church that lead us away from God’s heart rather than toward it.” (p.190)
For my book review of “Letters to the Church,” check out episode 1 of the “Too Many Books” podcast, a book review show I co-host on Strong Church.
To buy “Letters to the Church” on Amazon, go here.
Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2018.
Maybe it’s that thing where you buy a new car and suddenly you notice how many other people suddenly have the same car, but in the last year or so since I first read a book on discipleship and started shifting my ministry focus toward disciple-making and community building, I’ve noticed that a number of my fellow ministers are on the same track. It’s an exciting thing to see, because as we all work towards pursuing this Great Commission mindset and emulating the love of the Acts 2 church, we can all share insights along the way.
I am very much a beginner when it comes to making disciples who make disciples. I’m still figuring out what that looks like in my context, but the information in these books has helped me move in that direction and given me a place to start.
So, here’s a quick rundown on the books I’ve read. Each of them has benefited me in different ways. Hopefully you find them helpful in your journey toward creating a disciple-making church, too.
Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
This book took everything I know about church and flipped it on its head. I truly think every church leader should read it. The authors start by dissecting the two forms churches typically take – Bible-based, or community-based. More traditional churches that are strong on teaching and preaching the word often lack when it comes to daily, family-like communal connections, and out of that flaw grew churches that emphasized community but diminished the Bible. Chester and Timmis show how a church can’t thrive until both are present. Everything I thought I knew about Sundays, discipleship, evangelism, and apologetics has been changed by this book.
3 key quotes:
“Truth cannot be taught effectively outside of close relationships.”
“My growth as a Christian is in some sense linked to your growth. Only together do we attain maturity.”
“People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter.”
The Disciple-Maker’s Handbook by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick
A very useful book that takes some time to define disciple-making and discuss its importance before diving into what the authors call the 7 elements of a disciple-making lifestyle. The book lives up to its title as a handbook to keep nearby as you learn how to make disciples, as it succinctly lays out what needs to be accomplished in a disciple-making relationship.
3 key quotes:
“Discipleship and disciple making are simply forming our lives around Jesus and helping others to do the same.”
“We need to recover a New Testament understanding of church, where we stop seeing the church as a building or an institution and recognize that the essence of the church is our relational connectedness.”
“I do, you watch, we talk. I do, you help, we talk. You do, I watch, we talk. You do, someone else watches, I do, someone else watches.”
Everyday Church: Gospel Communities On Mission by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
The follow-up to the top book on this list, Everyday Church brings it down to a more practical level. In this book the authors focused on the post-Christian nature of Western culture and work through 1 Peter to show how our churches can be lights in a society that doesn’t know Jesus. If you decide to read Total Church, make sure to pick this one up, too.
3 key quotes:
“It is not a question of ‘improving the product’ of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events.”
“Trying to match the world begs the question, if the church is like the world then why bother with the church? The more we become like the world, the less we have to offer.”
“You cannot organize people to do everyday church through structures and programs. People need to catch a vision and learn how to live that out day by day.”
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman
What makes this book so great is that it takes the reader through the style of ministry that Jesus employed and why it works. Reading this made me realize that the definition of ministry generally understood in today’s church is nothing like Jesus’ ministry. Coleman shows how we get back to that.
3 key quotes:
“It is good to tell people what we mean, but it is infinitely better to show them. People are looking for a demonstration, not an explanation.”
“Preaching to the masses, although necessary, will never suffice in the work of preparing leaders for evangelism. Nor can occasional prayer meetings and training classes for Christian workers do this job. Building men and women is not that easy. It requires constant personal attention, much like a father gives to his children. This is something that no organization or class can ever do. Children are not raised by proxy. The example of Jesus would teach us that it can be done only by persons staying close to those whom they seek to lead.”
“Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.”
With: A Practical Guide to Informal Mentoring and Intentional Disciple Making by Alvin L. Reid and George G. Robinson
Easy, relatively brief read that discusses in very practical terms what it means to mentor and disciple someone. Rather than focusing on big, fancy presentations or gatherings, the authors contend that simply by inviting people into your life and being intentional in how we use that time can make all the difference in the world.
3 key quotes
“But over the years both of us have come to realize that the greatest impact a leader can make is not in the masses to whom he speaks but in the few he mentors.”
“‘Along the way, I’ve come to learn that following Jesus alone is not what it really means to be a disciple.’ We need each other. We need those who invest in us, and we need to invest in others.”
“In a day when CEO-driven, self-promoting pastoral models that imply one must be a Type A, ADHD overly aggressive type who has mastered all the leadership principles of the gurus of our time, we need more men of God who walk and lead in humility and who open their lives to others.”
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Though not directly about discipleship, Bonhoeffer’s classic on Christian community is well worth your time as he breaks down the individual disciplines and the shared communal practices that bring God’s people together. The section on confession toward the end of the book is worth the entire cost on its own.
3 key quotes:
“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”
“So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”
“In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.”
Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith by Preston Sprinkle
Go is the book that started me down this rabbit hole of books. It’s an informative read in which Sprinkle combines Barna Group research with his own analysis of how churches can do better when it comes to things like Bible literacy, mission, community, etc. Also, for some free material check out Sprinkle’s podcast where he’s going through the values of the church plant he’s working on.
3 key quotes
“If someone moved to a desert island and lived a perfect moral life, he or she would still be unable to obey many of Jesus’s commandments. In some ways, though morally upright, he or she would be a terrible Christian.”
“We’ve got to move beyond thinking of discipleship in terms of how many hours we spend doing church activities and engaging in spiritual alone time. Discipleship is a way of life – all of life.”
“The fact is, many (perhaps most) believers never experience th depth of community envisioned in the New Testament.”
Radical Together by David Platt
Nothing wrong with it, I just felt it covered a lot of concepts that the other books in this list covered better.
3 key quotes:
“If we are not careful, our activities in the church can hinder the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.”
“If you and I want our lives to count for God’s purpose in the world, we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the church.”
“The goal of the church is never for one person to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ. The goal is always for all of God’s people to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ.”