Book Review: Worship – The Ultimate Priority by John MacArthur

In his 2012 update to his 1983 classic, John MacArthur seeks to convince us what life is all about: Worship – The Ultimate Priority. Published for the 30th straight year by Moody Press, the book is chock full of biblical truth in 211 pages.

The blurb by the publisher says:

Worship is so much more than what is sung or played in church on Sunday morning. John MacArthur takes you step by step in a discovery of who and how to worship. From the existence of God and His attributes, to instruction on the right and wrong ways to worship God, MacArthur never strays from teaching and explaining what the Bible says. This book makes it Biblically clear that worship is all about how we prioritize and live our daily lives to honor and glorify God. Make worship your ultimate priority!”

It has been many years since I first read this book, and it was a great reread. Pastor MacArthur divides the book into 15 chapters (and an appendix). I have divided the book into 4 segments. Overall this is a theology of worship, and it drives to the goal of helping us understand what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. The book weaves the normative Bible passage of worship – John 4 – throughout. The insights into this passage are fascinating. In relating Samaritan worship to some contemporary religions he writes:

“Pagan religions consist of nothing but fleshly ritual. The fact that such ceremonies are often beautiful and moving do not make them true worship” (p. 40).

The first section comprises 4 chapters wherein he describes the crisis facing the church as it regards the confusing popular definition of “worship” and what goes on during the Sunday morning meeting. He teaches what worship is and who is qualified to worship. In this section, I felt like I was reading this book for the first time when I read chapter two – and then I realized that this chapter was an addition to the edition – and a welcomed one. I had considered the regulatory principle only briefly in seminary, and sporadically since then in blog mentions. Although I prescribe to a pretty tight regulatory principle in the churches I’ve led, the senior pastors that I’ve served under did not. This created some tension and ended up making the worship service weak. What Dr. MacArthur brought to my attention was the connection between the regulatory principle and sola scriptura. Chapter 3 focuses on “acceptable worship,” which is based on praising God, doing good, and sharing with others.

The second segment of the book is a theology of God which undergirds why He alone is to be the focus of our worship. Our God can be known, and He has made Himself known to us as Creator, a Person, One, a Spirit, a Trinity, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisapient, and holy. Here MacArthur explains the Gospel and why is it so hard for us to rightly worship God. Some cannot worship at all because they have not repented of sin and sought refuge in the only God. Throughout the book, but notably in this section the theme of life-as-worship appears which clarifies worship as a lifestyle, and not just a Sunday event. In this section there are some moments when the following questions are addressed: “Does God change His mind,” and “If God is omniscient, why do we pray”. What I found helpful was Pastor MacArthur’s applications of the big theological truths of scripture. If you’ve ever wondered just how many ways omnipresence, omnipotence, holiness, and omniscience apply to your life, you will be pleased when you read this section of the book.

The third section teaches us how to be a worshiper of Jesus Christ. A New Era has been ushered in by the Messiah’s work on the cross, and that New Covenant changed everything. God relocated where worship occurred. Whereas it formerly happened in Jerusalem under the law, now, in Christ we worship anywhere because believers are the temple (both individually and corporately) of the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged and expected to worship with enthusiasm prompted by biblical truth of God’s greatness. To avoid vapid emotionalism on one extreme, and dull, stilted formalism on the other, we need to meditate on truth. To that end, our worship services need to have truth brought to bear in preaching so that our minds are full of the good things of God. This also affects the lyrics of our music, and the words of our prayers so that they are solidly biblical. And we must also sing and pray with vigor – with head and heart.

The fourth section drives home the message that worship is giving glory to God. If you have never thought deeply about the glory of God, this is a section to read. As MacArthur traces the glory of God through both testaments and makes logical connections between how we live and how we worship in our churches, my “glory” IQ went up substantially.

The appendix takes a few pages to address music in today’s church. The reader will be challenged because we all seem to love at least one hymn, gospel song, praise chorus, or contemporary worship song that has weak, pointless, unbiblical, sub-biblical or possibly even anti-biblical lyrics.

Throughout the book, I tried to capture the definitions of worship:

“[W]orship is honor and adoration directed to God” (p. 43).

“Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value” (p. 44).

“…it’s distilled essence is simply thanksgiving and praise” (p. 46).

“[W]orship is our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself” (p. 165).

If you are looking for a book to give you a handle on worship, I can think of none better. The sheer volume of Scripture that Pastor MacArthur cites makes this book almost devotional. I highly recommend this book.


Book Review: Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile

In his 2012 book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, Thabiti Anyabwile creates an accessible book for churches and pastors to read to fulfill that goal. The book is only 173 pages, and that includes a very useful Appendix, an Index, and a Scripture Index. This book is part of a series put together by 9Marks, and that imprimatur gives the book great “street cred” among pastors who are trying to get the church back to a biblical mode. Crossway published this first printing. You can buy it here.

If you go to a bookseller website, here’s the blurb you’ll read:

Every church leader knows the qualifications for elders and deacons that are spelled out in the Bible, but actually finding other leaders who fulfill the biblical qualifications can be difficult.

Thabiti Anyabwile writes from his expertise as a pastor and elder, showing how to identify and reproduce legitimate leaders and willing servants throughout the ranks of the local church. Balancing thoughtful analysis of pertinent passages with thorough application for practical use in a contemporary context, Anyabwile answers the questions, “Who should we look for to lead and serve in the church?” and “What should they do to fulfill their calling?”

If you haven’t heard of THABITI ANYABWILE (pronounced Tah.Bee.Tee Ann.Yah.Bwee.lay). This
site is a good place to get a feel for his testimony.

This leadership structure that this book assumes is that elders (which includes pastors), shepherd the people of God, and lead the “spiritual” elements of the church. The deacons, on the other hand, serve the ministry, not as the pastor’s cabinet, or worse, the pastor’s bosses, but as servants of the more “practical” matters of the ministry. I put “spiritual” and “practical” in quotes because I would never say that when deacons help a single mom by putting a roof on her house (very practical) that there is no spiritual element to their ministry. In the same way, when a pastor gives a husband homework from the Bible in their counseling he is also being practical, in a more directly spiritual sense.

The Book is broken down into three parts.

Humble and Happy

Part One: Finding Table Servants (6 Chapters)

Part Two: Finding Reliable Elders (12 Chapters)

Part Three: What Good Pastors Do (10 Chapters)

To get a feel for the book, I immediately turned to “Chapter 10: A One-Woman Man,” to see how he dealt with a difficult and somewhat controversial area. He was forthright that there is a difference of opinion in the matter of divorce and remarriage. He did a great job with the subject and offered excellent questions to ask single and married potential elders. One area that could use help in later editions is to address the question of what to do with formerly divorced men. It seems that the only consideration in the matter is the man’s “current” estate, i.e., is he pure now. I’m wondering if that oversimplification is adequate.

I then turned to “Chapter 4: Sober and Content,” to see whether he would overplay the prohibitionist card. He didn’t, and that is commendable. This area of considerable disagreement has ruined the unity of a few congregations and leadership teams. His insight into “not greedy of filthy lucre” in light of the close working of the deacon with the vulnerable was a fresh approach for me.

My third test was “Chapter 25: Elders Teach,” to see what teaching arenas help validate a teaching experience. However, Anyabwile used this particular chapter to explain that an elder’s whole life teaches – by the public reading of Scripture, by exhortation, and by straightforward teaching. I agree totally, but it was not what I was seeking. What I was in search of was an explanation of “able to teach.” Anyabwile elaborates on that
in “Chapter 13: Able to Teach.” In that chapter he explains:

    “Paul’s criterion “able to teach” refers to the ability to communicate and apply the truth of Scripture with clarity, coherence, and fruitfulness. Those who have this ability handle the Scripture with fidelity, and others are edified when they do. This ability not limited to public teaching from the pulpit. Men with this ability might be gifted public teachers, or they might simply be gifted for one-on-one or small–group settings. Some men are not exceptional public speakers, but they are teaching and counseling the people around them from the Scriptures all the time. Such men should not be disqualified from the office of elder” (p. 78).

In fact, every chapter is chock full of excellent motivation to be a better deacon or elder. I did not find any points of disagreement

I mentioned that the book is “accessible.” That is because the chapters are relatively short. This is great for leadership training, especially if your church is full of reading-adverse males.

In “Part One: Finding Table Servants”, regarding deacons, he introduces them with these two paragraphs:

To modern sensibilities, “serving tables” sometimes connotes a low-level, demeaning position. A person waits tables when he or she is working through college, or passing time until a career takes off. People regard it as a necessary sacrifice to make ends meet.

But how different it is in the Lord’s church! The apostles under the inspiration of God’s Spirit appear to have created an entirely new office in the church for the specific purpose of serving tables. And the loftiness of the office is seen in (a) the character of the individuals required to fill it (“full of the Spirit and of wisdom” v. 3), (b) the fact that this facilitates the ministry of Word and prayer, and c) the unifying and strengthening effect it has on the whole church. The deaconate is important! (pp. 20-21)

That beginning sets the tone for servanthood by sanctifying the office in stark contrast of our typical feelings about waiters.

Throughout the book I found what I’ll call Fresh Explanations and Favorite Quotes.

On pages 112-13 he gives a fresh explanation of how we are to shepherd and teach against evil and false doctrine. “Chapter 19: Elders Refute Evil” is a does a superb job with this topic.

Page 123 deals with things and people we tend to put our hope in besides God.

“Sometimes we place hope in our study and preparation. Sometimes we place our hope in books read and the convincing arguments they contain. Other times we lace hope in relationships, in the affections we share with others in the body. Or we place hope in our articulate expression, clever counsel, and good sermons. Our hope soars when things go well, when people seem pleased with our performance. All of these hopes are deadly temptations! All of them faced, weaken, and disappoint.”

I was challenged by thinking of the congregational context (p. 137); a list of things to practice (p. 146); finding a mentor to evaluate my ministry (p. 148); considering two major causes for burnout (149); being careful of natural gifts (p. 154); and actually reading a bad book once in awhile (p. 157). This last point hit me because I’ve always relied on other’s web-based evaluations of books like The Shack, Love Wins, and The Prayer of Jabez instead of reading and discerning for myself. There is some credibility when you can answer back, “Yes, I did read that book.”

Finally, I appreciate the simple observation of how to “balance” family and ministry obligations:

“Many pastors face the temptation of making an idol of either family or ministry. As strange as it sounds, an inordinate love for ministry and ministry activity reveals the pastor’s lack of affection for God himself. But if his affection for and obedience to the Savior are strong, he will be very affectionate toward his family. First Timothy 3:4-5 establishes family care as a prerequisite for ministry and therefore a priority over ministry” (p. 152).

This is a well-crafted book that I recommend to all current and prospective pastors, elders, deacons, and their wives for growing in leadership and honing in on the biblical expectations.

Book Review: The Shepherd Leader at Home by Timothy Z. Witmer

The Shepherd Leader at Home. If you wonder how you’re doing as father and a husband when it comes to the spiritual needs of your family, you can be thankful for Timothy Z. Witmer. Dr. Witmer is not only a pastor, the founder of The Shepherd’s Institute, and a Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, but he is also a father of three now-adult children. This book is the fruit of his passion for the Lord’s church, which is made up, in part, of believing men who are given the responsibility to lovingly lead their homes, like a shepherd shepherds h is sheep.

Published in 2012 by Crossway, this 173 page book guides you through 4 key elements summed up by the subtitle: Knowing, Leading, Protecting and Providing for Your Family. This 10 chapter book takes one chapter per element for the man’s relationship to his wife, and one chapter for the man’s relationship to his children. He also uses chapter one as “An Introduction to Knowing Your Family” and chapter four as “An Introduction to Leading your family”. He closes the book with an “Afterword: Less Time than You Think” to drive home the need to begin today and realize that it will be over all too soon.

The beauty of this book is the gracious and wise way in which Witmer presents the material. There is no hint of self-righteousness, self-glorification, or condemnation. In other words, he practices what he preaches by presenting the material about being a shepherd, in a shepherding style and tone. At times he is downright funny, which provides the right amount of levity to an otherwise serious topic. It is amazing.

The book challenges men in their responsibilities to their family’s personal spiritual development. Yes, children receive instruction and examples from church, youth group, and the Christian school, but that is not enough. And that’s being generous in hoping that ALL that is being taught in those venues is in fact true. Whether it is or not, the man of the house must take the four responsibilities seriously and chiefly.

Witmer takes special aim at sexual lust which all men face. His observations, diagnosis, choice of Bible passages to support his point, and pastoral exhortations and correctives are excellent. He packs a lot of power in a short space. He also takes good aim at family devotions making sure on pages 114-15 that men keep this realistic, systematic, flexible, consistent, interactive and real.

A great strength of the book also lies in the practical examples and suggestions and illustrations that fill the pages. You may feel guilty for neglecting one or more of the areas that Pastor Witmer describes, but you are not left to figure out a strategy for how to start (or restart) an area. You will not be able to wring your hands and say, “I know I should do this, but I don’t know how!” He graciously and mercifully gets you started, AND he adds an “Appendix: Resources for Family Devotions” at the end.

Further, if you are being considered for leadership in your church (or already are a leader), you know that one of the qualification for both elder and deacon is to manage your house well. Paul’s words to Titus and Timothy about church leadership are summed up:

appoint elders … namely, if any man is … the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion (Titus 1:5-6 NASB). An overseer, then, must be … the husband of one wife… He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) . . . Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5, 12 NASB).

So if you are wondering how you can better pursue fulfilling this obligation for leadership, this book certainly points you in the right direction, and holds your hand to get going. The book also provides thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter in order to prime the pump of each man’s heart towards this necessary discipline. As a side note, this book makes sense as a companion to The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church.

I was pleased at how much I agreed with Dr. Witmer at every turn. His theology of marriage and family is terrific in that he exhorts the marriage as the primary relationship, and the children as secondary. He warns against infidelity, laziness, and hypocrisy as sins that derail otherwise honest attempts at putting these things into action. As such he exhorts us as husband and fathers to “pay close attention to our own lives” just as Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. The book is full of scripture as the bedrock for this family shepherding theology as revealed in the 4-page Scripture index at the back of the book. His exposition of Proverbs 4-6 in Chapter Nine: “Protecting Your Marriage” was fresh and encouraging to me. The book is also evangelistic in that, sprinkled throughout are invitations to receive the Lord Jesus Christ.

I highly recommend this book to every husband and father. If shepherding your family is not on your radar I hope it is now. If you’ve tried, but it hasn’t clicked in the past, read this book and ask the Lord to help you put these principles into practice. You’ll be blessed as you do.

Book Review: The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Z. Witmer

In his 2010 book, The Shepherd Leader, Dr. Timothy Z. Witmer exhorts and encourages the church to get back to the fundamental of shepherding. His goal for the reader is stated in the subtitle: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church. Dr. Witmer is not only a pastor, and the founder of The Shepherd’s Institute, but also a Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. This book

is the fruit of his passion for the Lord’s church. And as such, Sinclair Ferguson rightly introduces the book as “an intelligent, biblical, balanced, pastoral, sensitive, and realistic exposition of the nature of true leadership in the Christian church” (p. ix).

The book numbers 268 pages, which include 11 chapters, a conclusion, a list of resources, an appendix arguing against “[short] term elders”, and a valuable Scripture index.

For me, it seemed that Witmer knew every question I have faced from others or thought to myself about every important aspect of eldering. That is why it was a quick and interesting read.

The book breaks down into three parts: 1) a theological background section, 2) a pastoral section, and 3) an implementation strategy section.

At the end of each chapter, useful questions and thought-provoking ways of working through the chapter content is provided.

Part 1: Biblical and Historical Foundations. In this first 100 pages of the book, Witmer provides the biblical basis for a shepherding ministry by the elders of the church. He traces the OT teaching that God shepherds His people (Psalm 23) not only through his sovereign and providential care, but also through men chosen for the purpose of leading His people. Men like Moses and David were shepherd-leaders of Israel. And while not glossing over the sinful weaknesses of man, Witmer maintains that God graciously uses weak vessels in his task. He also reminds us of the diatribe in Ezekiel 34 against Israel’s shepherds who were not shepherding, but were anti-shepherding the nation.

The Apostles received instructions to shepherd the church. They also instructed the elders of the church to shepherd the church. Peter, most famously, on the beach of the Sea of Galilee was commanded to tend and shepherd God’s lambs. And it is from Peter we get the strongest NT words about the obligation of elders to shepherd.

The third chapter of this section is a fascinating detour into how the church devolved from having a plurality of elders in the NT and early church, to having solo pastors lead a church, and how the recovery from that era is progressing. These are questions I have considered, but didn’t have the facility to answer with my limited understanding of church history. But I do have enough knowledge in church history to understand and agree with his analysis.

In the fourth chapter entitled: “The Shepherd’s Biblical Right to Lead: A Few Words about Authority” he confronts our anti-authoritarian trajectory as a culture, and as sinners not wanting accountability. Opening the chapter he writes, “The concept of authority is one that is increasingly alien to modern culture, and there may be any number of reasons that church leaders may shrink away from exercising authoritative shepherding leadership” (p. 75). As the culture invades the church, leaders become fearful of blowback from their shepherding, especially when protective discipline is required. This leads to more unruliness among the sheep, etc. This becomes a Catch-22. He addresses the timidity and cowardice of church elders and exhorts them that it is God’s expectation for them to lead. He also explains the limits of the authority of an elder and closes the chapter with two examples of unbiblical extreme “shepherding”.

Having explained that shepherding is good, biblical, and expected by God, Witmer jumps into the actual nuts and bolts of what a shepherd is to do in Part Two: “So What’s a Shepherd to Do? A Comprehensive Matrix for Ministry.” In about 90 pages, elders are taught to be responsible for the Big Picture of their church, and the Personal Picture of the sheep. He refers to these as “macro” and “micro” respectively. The shepherds take care of the public and corporate elements of church life in the macro responsibilities. The shepherds take care of the personal spiritual areas of each member in the micro responsibilities.

In this second part, Witmer takes one chapter each to explain the FOUR vital areas of macro/micro eldering: knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting ALL the people in the membership of the congregation.

Before one can know the sheep, the leadership must define who the sheep are. This is required because Hebrews 13 says that the leaders will give an account for ALL the sheep of the congregation. Who is responsible for whom? This leads to a brief discussion of the need for a clearly defined membership. Some churches have established memberships, others don’t, but one way or the other, the who of the sheep must be defined.

After this is defined then the actions of personally knowing the sheep are laid out. This is the micro knowing section. Early on in the process, the question of each member’s salvation is brought into the equation. The question of how to meet with each congregant is developed. This was a very helpful section in thinking through the realities of our current cultural milieu for maintaining a consistent contact with each family or single person. House visits seem to be very difficult to pull off consistently and serve to only discourage the elders from a long-term strategy. This in turn, gives the sheep a sense of not being cared for. So Witmer recommends the telephone for monthly contacts, while systematically implementing a home visit schedule. He explains how to make the call, and gives reasonable expectations gathered from years of experience.

Chapter Six lays out how to feed the sheep. On a macro level, the elders should be sensitive to the spiritual needs of the congregation and can give helpful input into preaching emphases, Sunday School classes and small group topics. He gives 10 solid reasons for expositional preaching here. The micro feeding comes when personal needs are addressed in shepherding calls or in follow-up Bible study, and even counseling. The elders should be able to strengthen, calm and heal the sheep in their charge.

Chapter Seven addresses macro leading the congregation in areas of worship, education, fellowship, and evangelism. Micro leading focuses on being an example to the flock. Live your life in a way that helps people follow Christ. Be able to say to them, “This act, discipline, way of life has helped me grow in Christ, and I’m sure it will help you, too.” He gives as a baseline strategy that elders should lead their families first, and then expect to be able to lead others.

Chapter 8 closes out Part Two by explaining how elders protect the sheep. This addresses the need to protect people from hell, materialism, lust, bad theology, etc. And sometimes this requires a confrontation that desires to bring a sheep back from a dangerous place viz a viz their relationship to God. Here Witmer gives a clear explanation of church discipline and seriousness of excommunication. But how does one know when a member is on the slide? Witmer recommends that you monitor church attendance. Irregular patterns of attendance are the first significant clue to a declining spirit. He weighs the pros and cons of how to establish attendance, and perches on the “eyeball” method. Basically, those entrusted to your care need you to take their attendance every Sunday, and the best way to do that is with a clipboard and a list. As prehistoric as that seems at first glance, it really does seem to be the best first way (at least until facial recognition software hits its prime.)

Part Three: “Putting It All Together,” is “designed to help you think about some important matters as you begin to put the concepts of this book into practice in your shepherding ministry” (p. 191). In this part he is able to use three chapters to both review the important principles of shepherding while creating the action plan for each element. These 40 pages filled in some of the gaps in my thinking that the other two sections didn’t already address. How to get this started in your church as well as implications for church planters adds a great dimension to the discussion.

One element he hammers home in this last part is that the 100th straying sheep is just as important as the healthy, engaged member.

I highly recommend this book for every church leader. Shepherding needs to be revitalized in every church I know, and this book gives a concrete blueprint on how to establish a good one.

Book Review: Called to Lead by John MacArthur

In his 2004 book, Called to LeadJohn MacArthur distills out the character qualities of a good leader from Paul’s experiences in the Acts 27 shipwreck, and the church at Corinth. The books aim is summed up in the subtitle: 26 Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Apostle Paul. I read the paperback edition (Thomas Nelson Publishers). It was formerly entitled The Book on Leadership, a title I had previously listened to twice in audio book form. The 226 pages contains 12 chapters of content, plus an appendix that lists the 26 qualities, and a Study Guide beginning on page 213 that contains 5 questions per chapter to help personalize the content.

There seems to be no lack of books on leadership principles for the church leader. Unfortunately, many of these books are a compilation of secular leadership theories that are sanctified with a few verses from the Bible that can be made to give a similar idea. Not so with this book. MacArthur takes the narratives from Acts and 2 Corinthians, and from them draws out the leadership principles embedded in the storyline. This allows the work to have a broad reading audience – all Christians – since the principles derived from Scripture are profitable for instruction in righteousness.

The Publishers book summary reads this way.

What makes a true leader?

Is leadership a title? Authority? Charisma? Whatever gets the best results? Today more than ever, Christians need a model of leadership that is based on God’s Word, that brings God glory.

In Called to Lead, best-selling author, pastor, and teacher John MacArthur explains the characteristics of a leader drawn from one of the Bible’s most renowned leaders, the apostle Paul.

Focusing on Paul’s letters to the church, Called to Lead shows you the twenty-six key qualities of a leader who can achieve results without forfeiting faith and obedience, qualities such as:

Trustworthiness, Discipline, Christlikeness, Sincerity, Decisiveness

Called to Lead presents a compelling, biblically sound explanation of the leadership God established when Jesus called and commissioned the apostles . . . and when God called you to lead.

Although the book title suggests that MacArthur will give 26 qualities of leadership, it is really much more than that. Most of the 26 qualities have underlying or associated qualities that buttress the main or expressed quality. For example, under quality six, “A Leader is Optimistic and Enthusiastic”, MacArthur points out that the leader “sees beyond temporary circumstances” (p. 41) and they “understand God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility” (p. 50). I found 80 qualities in total, and I’m sure if I comb through it more carefully, I’d find a dozen more bonus qualities easily. But a book called “92 character qualities” would be daunting, and in some places redundant. I get why he groups all the qualities into 26.

As to layout, MacArthur doesn’t have 26 chapters with one quality per chapter. Instead, he wisely brings out the quality while explaining the narrative of the verses. So the reader receives a flowing explanation of the text with the appropriate leadership quality highlighted. I would recommend this book for a number of reasons.

  1. MacArthur addresses leadership in a fresh and interesting way. The storyline of the Mediterranean shipwreck is fascinating in and of itself. He also includes a section on what disqualifies you and I from leadership. A disqualified leader is a sad and sobering story, and he warns that even those who start well, can lose the race tragically if they don’t constantly pay attention to the war with sin inside.
  2. He skillfully illustrates his main points with other Bible passages. A Scriptural illustration not only gives the point clarity and interest, but it also, and more importantly, gives the illustration authority. To know what Vanderbilt, Carnegie or Churchill did in a similar situation is interesting and clarifying, but to find out how Moses responded is both of those but also Biblically authoritative. And, further, I learn more about the Bible in the process. For example, under quality two “A Leader Shows Initiative,” he gleans from the leadership of Nehemiah (in a short detour from the life of Paul), that a leader needs to have a vision for the project, see the project through, delegate, be a starter, be thoughtful, etc.
  3. Called to Lead gives the reader a tremendous appreciation for and understanding of 2 Corinthians. You will no longer be tempted to think, “Let’s see, 1 Corinthians is about love and spiritual gifts, and 2 Corinthians is about, uh…what is 2 Corinthians about again?”
  4. All Christians are in some form of leadership, whether you are a school teacher, pipe fitter, mom, husband and dad, missionary, pastor, deacon, elder, neighbor. As such, everyone can glean leadership truth from this book. Apply these truths to the small projects in life that God has given to you, and as He sees you faithful with little, He will give you more responsibility.
  5. It is stunning how much scripture can be applied to leadership. It’s everywhere! This is one of MacArthurs strengths – finding the gems in the Bible that support his goals. This would be a next good list to create from the book.
  6. You get an excellent biography of the Apostle Paul. You love him more when the book ends. You desire to read his works more deeply.

On a more personal note, I was encouraged and, at times, rebuked by the content of this book as I assess my latest pastorate. Encouraging was chapter 8 “A Leader Made of Clay”. As a man, I don’t need to depend on any personal characteristic of intelligence, personality, delivery, rhetoric, or salesmanship to make the ministry successful. I received a lot of criticism for my lack in those things. Instead, I should have recognized that if any good thing came out of my ministry (and it did), that God would receive the glory for bringing it to pass under my stewardship.

On the other hand, character flaws must be repented of and shored up. No one will perfectly manifest all 26 character qualities, but where my weaknesses are greatest, greater diligence ought to be applied. I look forward to sharing these things with my wife and next leadership team for encouragement and personal accountability.

I heartily recommend this book to you, and hope you will find the same joys and challenges that I did.

Church Planting Is for Wimps – Book Review

In his 2010 book, Church Planting is for: Wimps, Mike McKinley encourages both church planting and church revitalization through the lens of Scripture and his own church revitalization journey. The book’s goal is summed up in the subtitle: “How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches that do Extraordinary Things.” I read the Kindle Edition (2010-03-24 (9Marks) Good News Publishers), and the “page” references are the Kindle location numbers.


5 Sentence Summary: This book is Mike McKinley’s autobiography of revitalizing a church in Sterling, VA. He structures the book to give personal background, foundational principles on which a church should be built, and encouragement to fellow church planters. His personal background is unique in that, before he was converted to Christ, he grew up in a typical American rebellious mode of punk rock and tattoos. The core five principles are that a healthy church should be based on are: 1) Excellent Expository Preaching, 2) a sensitivity to the unique leading of the Lord in that specific locale, 3) a well-defined and clear membership, 4) personal holiness, and 5) male leadership development. He encourages the reader that ordinary people can be a part of God’s extraordinary plan by being faithful to Biblical principles.


1,000 Word Review: Written in an autobiographical style, McKinley lays out, in 8 chapters, his background, some pros and cons of church planting/revitalization, five core foundational issues that need to be in place, and a chapter on perspective.   His writing is easy on the mind, and interjected with fun analogies which will make you laugh out loud from time to time. This levity is welcomed since the subject matter is about God’s work, and some chapters are emotionally heavy.

In Chapter 1, after giving a brief biographical sketch what sparked a church-planting endeavor, Mike gives his vision to plant a healthy church. He speaks to the current fad in America where new churches go after niche markets of young hipsters or suburbanites with clever marketing and an atmosphere of energy. And instead, he challenges the reader to consider that it is God’s prerogative who will attend the church: young, old, married, single, racially homogenous or diverse. He uses Titus 2 to remind us that older men and women have important tasks in the church and that a 27-year old discipling a 22-year old probably wasn’t what the Apostle Paul had in mind.

The meaning of the title comes from Chapter 2 where the pros and cons of planting vs. revitalization are expanded. Near the conclusion of the chapter he writes:

 “Whereas a new church planter can build from scratch, a revitalizer usually has to do some tearing down first. And this is not usually well received. If the church had wanted to do the things that healthy churches do, it wouldn’t be dead. The members are going to kick. Often this involves a long, slow, painful process. That’s why a number of my friends have joked from time to time that church planting is for wimps.” (Kindle 421)

Beginning in chapter 3, McKinley begins five chapters that set out to explain the best foundational principles for the aspiring church planter.  They include a primary focus on excellent expositional preaching, a clear and committed membership, a humble attitude towards God’s sovereignty in defining the scope of a local church, a need for personal holiness (which was a stunningly transparent picture of his distressed marriage in the midst of all the church work), and the need to raise up leaders to share the load.

Expositional Preaching is the first foundational practice. In fact, the chapter is entitled “One Thing Is Necessary.” The church planter has many competing demands, and the temptation is to spend time to fix the toilet or print up and distribute marketing material. And while he does many of those things, his best energy is put forward to produce excellent sermons. He recognizes that God grows the church through His word, and that excellent sermons truly are the most “pragmatic” thing to do. He warns against three enemies of Expositional preaching: Misplaced pragmatism, pride, and a lack of confidence in God’s word.

With a final burst of encouragement, Chapter 8 closes the body of the book (there are two helpful Appendices) with some final perspectives and helpful correctives.  Basically, don’t look at the pastorate as an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, and don’t get deceived by attendance numbers. He reminds the church planter that one great personal challenge is church attendance numbers. There are two traps that come with numbers: pride on the one hand, and discouragement on the other. In America we equate success with consistent, strong numerical growth.  McKinley provides a good balance in thinking here. He concludes by reinforcing the subtitle of the book when he writes:

“What should we count as God’s extraordinary work? It’s not a stadium-sized building, a multi-million dollar budget, or satellite feeds to multiple venues. That’s how the world measures and achieves extraordinary. Rather, it’s extraordinary when God converts our neighbors, coworkers, children, friends, and family. It’s extraordinary when proud, angry, selfish people have their hearts changed by the gospel. It’s extraordinary when new churches selflessly invest their time, money, and prayers to establish and multiply even newer congregations. It’s extraordinary when marriages are restored and cultural prejudices give way to unity in the gospel of Christ. It’s extraordinary whenever God uses “normal” pastors and church planters, faithful men with ordinary gifts and talents, to do all this work. (Kindle Locations 1492-1497).

This book was engaging, and a fast read (about 3 hours for me), in part because of the autobiographical style which allows for some real life intrigue, and in part because it’s a short book (128 pages).  As someone considering church planting, my heart was lifted that Mike and I connected on so many levels theologically.

One of my key concerns about the book is the incongruity between the feel of the book, and a few of the unspoken premises. The cover art and chapter titles have a feel of “church planting is accessible to anyone – even novices or well-meaning entrepreneurs.” Mike, however, has a three year seminary degree (at a major seminary) and was ordained an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. That does not speak of accessibility.  These two elements alone are really steep hills to climb – amounting to about five or six intense years of preparation. Also, his connection with 9Marks Ministries, Pastor Mark Dever, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church provides a strong foundation in church theology and practical church polity, which is some of the rarefied air in church theology circles. So the support team is very strong. These are all good things, of course, but not where the average American church planter is coming from.

Also, I was gripped by the chapter on Mike’s marriage trouble. This gave an excellent lead into the leadership chapter as a whole. And while he mentions the trickle down effect in the realm of marriage counsel, the bigger picture that the whole church needs to pursue holiness was lost for the trees.

All in all, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who is in the orbit of church planting – whether pastors of established congregations, planters, or team members of a church plant endeavor. God will give you good counsel and perspective through Mike McKinley’s experience and theology.

In the beginning . . .

I’ve begun this blog for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I sense a need, as a pastor, to get my theology “out there” among those who know me, or who will one day know me. The church in America has undergone a radical shift in the last 150 years from the orthodoxy of the faith.

You can no longer walk into an evangelical church and assume that the teaching will be sound and the Lord Jesus Christ glorified. You can even go to their website and read an extremely diluted doctrinal statement. This is either marketing or weak theology. It is marketing if the church leadership says, “We want to appear Christian, but we don’t want to offend them before they walk into our building. Once they are here, we can make them like us, and eventually ease them into the deep.” Or, it is poor theology because they just don’t know how to explain their convictions about scripture, and their online statement of faith is really only as deep as they are.

The second reason I’m writing a blog is to record my reaction to books I read. I really should have done this years ago, but time didn’t allow. Now I have some time. The great things about internet “book reviews” is that I can promote a good book to read. People ask me, as a pastor, what I’m reading and what they can read. I hope this can give a flavor for beneficial reading.

So, two broad purposes, that dovetail from time to time. I hope you enjoy it.