Book Review – Church Planter

I have received quite a few books about church planting over the past few months. Among the more interesting have been Church Planting Is for Wimps by Mike McKinley and Discovering Church Planting by J.D. Payne. Fresh off the press is Darrin Patrick’s Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. Patrick is vice president of the Acts29 Church Planting Network and the founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis. From those vantage points he has seen church planting up-close and personal while also assisting and guiding many other pastors as they have sought to plant churches. He is well-qualified to write about this subject. His book comes highly recommended and is endorsed by a long list of notables.

The book’s contents are divided into three sections: The Man, The Message and The Mission (as you may have guessed). In the first part Patrick describes the kind of man God is looking for, saying that he is to be rescued, called, qualified, dependent, skilled, shepherding and determined. This gives a well-rounded understanding of the kind of character that should mark a man who seeks to step out and plant a church. He covers the biblical qualifications as laid out particularly in the pastoral epistles, but he goes further as well, looking to practical considerations along with other spiritual qualifications.

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In the second part he looks to the message this man is to dedicate himself to. Here he shows that it is historical, salvation-accomplishing, Christ-centered, sin-exposing and idol-shattering. He largely focuses on the historic Christian truths that the church must affirm and proclaim if it is to be a faithful church. This is a very compressed overview of sound Christian theology.

In the final part he turns to the mission of the church planter. He says that the heart of mission is compassion, that the house of mission is the church, that the how of mission is contextualization, that the hands of mission is care and that the hope of mission is city transformation. I found that this section offered some particularly useful questions and rebukes. For example, Patrick shows how busyness and hurriedness can often be the enemies of compassion; in both cases pastors may inadvertently miss the people amidst all they try to accomplish; they may become very productive even while they lose sight of the importance of shepherding the flock. Near the end of this section he drifts from teaching to narrative, spending a couple of chapters discussing churches within his network more than actually teaching what the Bible says about planting churches.

There are a few things I disagree with along the way. Patrick is one of those self-described Acts29 “Charismatics with a seatbelt” and that measured-but-still-obvious Charismatic bent is visible quite often throughout the book. More notably, the book concludes with a couple of chapters which focus on cities and how the hope of church planting is city transformation. He seems to go so far as to draw a correlation between the resurrection of Jesus and the transformation of cities. As he drifted from teaching to narrative, the book became weaker rather than stronger. Unfortunately this caused the book to end with a fizzle rather than a bang; the best of the book came just a little bit earlier.

Church Planter serves as a church planting boot camp, an introduction to the kind of person God is calling to plant churches, the message this man must preach and the ways in which he must do so. It focuses less on methodology than on calling and qualifications. Patrick’s many years of hard experience both as a planter and as a mentor to pastors give him a valuable perspective–a gritty and battle-scarred perspective. This is not a book full of abstractions and generalizations, but one that is written from the trenches to other men within the trenches. I know it will be a valuable resource to church planters and pastors alike. For those who are seeking to become church planters, it will tell them of the gravity and necessity of what they are doing and help them catch God’s desire for his church; for those who have already planted or who are already pastoring churches, it will renew, refresh, reset and re-challenge.

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