Book Review: “Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture”

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By Bob San Pascual

As I read Pastor Tim Suttle’s book, Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture, I found myself YOL (yelling out loud): “Yes! Yes! It’s faithfulness, not success, that matters!”

This reminded me of an axiom I heard early in my ministry, though have sometimes forgotten: “We’re called to be faithful, not successful.” His desire is that ministers follow John the Baptist’s example (“He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease”) rather than seeking a bigger church, a bigger profile, etc. He takes aim at the business practices that many churches have adopted, the church growth movement, and even some megachurches, though he does acknowledge the good effect that some megachurches have had on his life and on those of others. While I confess to not being familiar with the church growth movement, Suttle has seen the harm that it’s inflicted on local churches. He’s seen the harm that churches of all sizes have inflicted on themselves as they applied business practices and techniques at the expense of the radical message of the Gospel.

In Part 1, the main message Suttle tries to get across is: “Don’t try to be great.” Why not? Because “Great is the enemy of good.” Trying to be a great pastor in the mold of CEOs isn’t the model that Jesus gave us. Likewise, he tells his readers, “Don’t try to copy the megachurch.” Trying to make our churches great (read: megachurch) isn’t necessarily God’s desire for our churches. There are advantages to being small or medium-sized. He critiques the megachurch culture for several reasons, but primarily because they make Jesus fans rather than Jesus followers (p. 72). They can lead people to Christ, but they can’t lead them to maturity in Him.

Suttle challenges us church leaders to make three changes in part 2: 1) From models to an eccelesiology; 2) From strategies to stories; and 3) From techniques to virtues. His message is to stop patterning our churches after models, especially megachurch models, and to begin to develop our own ecclesiologies—to build our churches from our conclusions of what the church is and what it’s to do. “This is what we default to, especially as evangelicals — we try to solve our problems by finding models of success and then copying them. When we sense trouble, we search for a model when what we need is a deep ecclesiology that will inform everything we do from top to bottom” (p. 81). Since I’ve never been part of a megachurch, I was fine with his critiques of them, but when he started criticizing the evangelical culture in chapter 4, he began to hit too close to home (smile).

ShrinkThe final section of the book revolves around developing five virtues: vulnerability, cooperation, brokenness, patience, and fidelity. Although I don’t consider myself a competitive person, I do understand what Suttle is saying when he makes the observation about how we pastors compete with one another. Certainly the “I can top that” attitude is always just below the surface, if not outwardly apparent. Just as important as cooperation is patience: “Church growth is meant to be measured not in weekly attendance numbers, but in decades and half-centuries. If that is true, then patience is a leadership virtue none of us can afford to go without” (p. 216). I like this call to patience for both pastors and church members alike. It’s easy to become impatient when we don’t see numbers growing. He’s also on the mark when he says that our churches are going to have many more times of obscurity than sensational times. The miraculous and spectacular experiences will be few and far between; we shouldn’t expect them to be everyday occurrences. On fidelity, he writes: “I shared my hope that everyone in our church would be willing to stick around long enough to say one of two things: either ‘I told you so,’ or ‘You were right and I was wrong’” (p. 227). We ministers are greatly encouraged when members stick through the hard times, church fights, frustrations, and changes. I’m sure members would say the same about us.

Shrink is for pastors everywhere, whether they’re serving in a small, medium, large, or super-sized church. It’s an encouragement for those of us in smaller churches and a challenge for those in larger ones. You don’t have to feel like a failure anymore. Just be faithful to Christ over the long haul, and especially through the wilderness times when you don’t see any progress. “Instead of chasing after pragmatic success, I pray for those who have the courage to pursue faithfulness no matter what the perceived results may be. I pray that we’ll have the humility to see that we have no right to quibble with the results of our ministry life. We only have the duty to be faithful in all the small things and leave the results in the hands of the loving God who holds our future” (p. 240).

To this, I give my heartiest “Amen!”

BUY “SHRINK” HERE!

 

Bob San PascualBob San Pascual received his Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Management from Nyack College and his Master of Divinity in Theological (and Biblical) Studies from Alliance Theological Seminary. He’s been in ministry since 1993 and has taught at Nyack College. Currently, he serves as a part-time pastor at one church and as a regular speaker at another. Bob’s passions are to study, teach, and write about God’s Word by His grace and for His glory. He’s the author of the ebook, I once was lost, but now am found: Poems and songs on life, love, and our Lord. His spiritual gifts include teaching and administration and his aim is to minister so that, as His people, we may be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ and make disciples of all nations. He also enjoys reading, watching movies and sitcoms, and relaxing at the beach.

 

Patheos Book Club: “Vulnerable Faith” by Jamie Arpin-Ricci

 

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by Wendi Matusic

“Vulnerable Faith” by Jamie Arpin-Ricci is a fascinating look at how we cover our personal truths with pretense and in doing so we keep ourselves from full relationships with others, community, creation and God. [Read more...]

Patheos Book Club: “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”

iStock_000021547609_Small By Bob San Pascual Over the course of 210 weighty pages, Old Testament scholar John H. Walton has caused me to reconsider virtually everything I thought I knew about the first few chapters of the Bible. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate isn’t an easy read. I found myself comparing each of his 21 propositions to what I’ve learned from other Old Testament commentators. (I even reviewed my seminary notes from a Pentateuch class I took!) It made for slow, but thoughtful, reading, but well worth it. I believe that many of his insights are groundbreaking. [Read more...]

Nelson Searcy’s New Book: Do Words Really Still Matter in a Social Media Saturated World?

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Do your words really matter in this social media obsessed world or can they just be thrown around willy-nilly without any real consequences?  Nelson Searcy tries to answer this question in his new book “Tongue Pierced.” [Read more...]

A Fresh Breath of the Spirit – Book Review of “40 Days with the Holy Spirit”

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By Lisa Burgess

So many books on God. On Jesus. But the Holy Spirit? Jack Levison writes to fill that gap. While his latest book, 40 Days with the Holy Spirit: Fresh Air for Every Day, is about the Spirit for every day, it’s more. It’s also a book for every person.

Early on in the book, I caught that we grew up in the same religious heritage. We knew the Spirit existed, even though he was mysteriously absent most of the time in sermons, classes, and conversations. Then like Levison, the more I branched out, the more I realized how critical the Spirit is to our practical Christian life. How much had I been missing?

40 Days with the Holy Spirit aims to show us a more joyful and fulfilled life with our awareness of the Holy Spirit in it. It is practical in every sense. It’s not meant only to be read; it’s also meant to be lived. And in particular, Levison gives us seven specific ways—inner world to outer world—that it’s to be lived: through breathing, praying, practicing, learning, leading, building, and blossoming.

BookCoverHe subdivides the book into four to six days with each of these seven verbs. Each day begins with a short biblical text, a story section to meditate on, an open space for our own written reflections, and ends with a prayer addressing the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives.

Each one could easily be a stand-alone devotional, yet Levison weaves enough of a common thread between the days that you benefit from the continuity. He brings his own personal stories to the Meditate sections (along with an occasional voice from the desert fathers or Eugene Peterson or an eyewitness to Nazi atrocities), yet he stays focused on the biblical stories and remains centered on the role of the Spirit throughout the book.

I look forward during the upcoming Lenten season to spend more time with the Spirit through the guidance from this book. Levison understands that experiences with the Holy Spirit aren’t one-size-fits-all, so I anticipate my journey with this least familiar member of the Trinity to be unique. Towards the end of the book, Levison actually encourages that uniqueness by suggesting we venture into unknown territory (and mixes in a little southern vernacular to capture the Greek plural pronoun):

“If you’re Pentecostal, worship with Episcopalians. If you’re Catholic, study with the Baptists. If you’re Methodist, meditate with Greek Orthodox Christians. I dare you! And why? Just once more: because y’all are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in y’all.”

The structure provided in this book is just enough to walk us through study and prayer on the Holy Spirit, yet frees us enough to take the path individualized for us in his presence.

On Day 40 Levison writes, “The work of the Spirit is not just something brand new. It is something old made new for us. The Spirit, in this final welcome, brings ancient Scripture to life.”

Life. With a fresh breath of the Spirit moving through us, life is exactly what we invite the Spirit to.

 

Lisa-Burgess_LisaNotesLisa Burgess writes about how she sees God in everyday moments and ordinary lives. An avid reader, she also reviews books and tells stories of grace at her blog Lisa notes. Follow Lisa on Twitter and Facebook.

For more conversation on 40 Days with the Holy Spirit, visit the Patheos Book Club here!

 


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