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Book Review – The Deliberate Church

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As I closed the cover on this book, having read it over the course of several days, I felt a strange disappointment. This book has no 10-step path to success! It has no baseball diamond model for ministry and no acronym-driven program planning guidebook. Nope. It’s just old-fashioned Bible-driven, Spirit-led Christianity. And somehow I let myself feel disappointed by that. I guess I’ve just read too many market-driven, church growth books that make church into a program, defining it in sexy terms and slick marketing. I should have paid more attention to the final page where the authors summarize the book. “The message of this book isn’t about flow charts and outlines. It’s not about fresh metaphors or new growth graphs. It’s about a vision of a whole church deliberately ordered and led so as to facilitate its own edication and ministry…The Deliberate Church is designed to help liberate both leaders and members from the tyranny of popular growth models and church fads” (page 202).

The authors, Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, are honest about what they are proposing through The Deliberate Church. “Before you start reading in earnest, let us clarify what The Deliberate Church is not, just for truth in advertising. First, it’s not new. It’s old … really old. … Second, it’s not a program. It’s not something you can just plug into your church and press PLAY. … Third, it’s not a quick fix. In other words, don’t expect to read this book, implement its suggestions, and see immediate, observable results” (page 20). So what, then, is this book all about? “Simply put, it’s the Word building the church” (page 20). This could be called a model of ministry, but in reality it’s merely an attempt to be deliberate about putting the gospel at the very center of all the church is and does, allowing that Good News to feed the church’s growth, progress and ministries.

Lying at the heart of the deliberate church are four key principles. First, theology drives method; second, God’s methods determine ours; third, the gospel both enables and informs our participation in God’s purposes; and fourth, faithfulness to the gospel must be our measure of success, not results. Already, only thirty pages in to this book, we see a clear contradiction between TDC and the methods advocated in the church growth movement. This book has a clear focus on deriving all method from the Scriptures.

What builds upon that foundation is a host of short chapters, discussing one of four themes: “gathering the church,” which discusses preaching, praying, discipleship and evangelism; “when the church gathers,” which examines the regulative principle and its practical application to the worship service; “gathering elders,” which discusses the importance and role of elders; and “when the elders gather,” which provides biblical wisdom on the priorities of elders.

I can think of no better book than this to provide a biblical framework for a new church. A church planted on the principles laid out in The Deliberate Church would necessarily be planted on the foundation of the Bible. But it is not only new churches that can benefit from this book. A church looking to refine its worship or government will benefit as well. While I recommend reading it from cover-to-cover, the short chapters make it a useful reference volume as well, as in only a few minutes a person can receive practical, biblical guidance on almost any area of the church.

If I had the ability to put a copy of this book in the hands of every pastor I know, I would do just that. The Deliberate Church begins and ends with the gospel, and thus it begins and ends with the perfect, unchanging Word of God. It is challenging, practical and biblical. I highly recommend it to pastors and laypeople alike.

Strong and biblical throughout.
Easy to read, considering the depth of theology.
Unique in the author’s refusal to make this a program.
This book contains the antidote to so much church growth nonsense.
A wonderful, biblical, gospel-focused book that is a must-read for church leaders.
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