Planting Missional Churches - Ed Stetzer, A (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Planting Missional Churches - Ed Stetzer, A (Book Review)

Book Review: Culturally Savvy Church Plants Driven by the Incarnation

Cautionary note: As I read and reflect about church planting this semester, with the end goal of planting a church myself, I've decided to go ahead and post some of my thoughts--sometimes briefly, sometimes at length. This post is an "at length." Those of you who read this blog for its street cred and sly basketball references may want to tone out these contemplative church planting posts, but I'm hoping they'll interest a few of you. - AJ


Ed Stetzer has extensive experience in hands-on church planting and missiological research, and it shows up in his writing. Planting Missional Churches comprises a church planting manual in that it is a survey of existing models and “best practices” rather than favoring one approach. With numerous illustrations and suggestions for each phase of the planting process, and an ecumenical approach to various models that are sometimes viewed as “competing,” Stetzer accomplishes the difficult task of weaving together a wide spectrum of church planting thought in a complimentary, informative way. His bias for multistaff, “big launch” plants does show through at times, but Planting Missional Churches is arguably the definitive “wide-angle” book on church planting published so far in the 2000s.

In his introduction, Stetzer explains the fundamental stance of his book, one that represents a significant departure from much writing on church planting methodology: “The term postmodern has tended to lose much of its meaning… I believe it is better to focus on missional, a broader term which emphasizes the approach rather than the population. Here’s what I mean. Missional implies taking the approach of a missionary—being indigenous to the culture, seeking to understand and learn, adapting methods to the mission field—but winding up in the biblical form of the church.”

Stetzer's thought is biblically saturated, as he deliberates over the church planting processes we see at work in the New Testament. At the same time, he urges planters to exegete their own cultures and discover how the church can most effectively be incarnated within specific regions or cities.

Stetzer’s intent, then, is to write against the backdrop of Christ’s incarnation, rather than explaining how to reach a particular demographic (e.g., 20-something urban people) or milieu (“postmoderns”). This places the techniques and models that Stetzer addresses—and there are many—within a larger, unifying context: that of Christ’s sacrificial identification with first-century Jewish culture, and the impetus we should feel to go and do likewise as we plant churches in diverse cultures today.

As far as techniques and missiology go, Stetzer covers a lot of ground, but he remains faithful to this goal, which keeps his book refreshingly Christ-centered. Ed Stetzer has mastered the art of writing to a wide audience, so his chapters are easy to read and comprehend, filled with illustrations and anecdotes. However, because of the breadth of subjects that he sets out to cover, some chapters serve to instill vision, while others explain more mundane tasks like organizing child care and raising money for sound equipment. Understandably, the vision-casting chapters are more memorable while the how-to chapters read more like an instruction manual. Ultimately, this blend of big-picture thinking and nitty-gritty detail makes Planting Missional Churches the kind of book that gets opened at multiple stages of the church planting process.

I found myself fundamentally in agreement with Stetzer’s approach to church planting, and resonating with him on subjects such as preaching (centrality of biblical exposition), church leadership (plurality of elders) and cultural streams (adopt some, reject some, salvage some). Stetzer represents the theologically conservative, culturally liberal perspective on church planting which I gravitate towards myself. His thought is biblically saturated, as he deliberates over the church planting processes we see at work in the New Testament. At the same time, he urges planters to exegete their own cultures and discover how the church can most effectively be incarnated within specific regions or cities. He simultaneously urges planters to remain committed to theological orthodoxy and to jettison traditions of church that are anachronistic or bound to a previous culture.
Ed Stetzer’s book is the normative work, while Mark Driscoll’s eccentric, hair-raising story proves the exception to various proverbial rules of the game.

I am in hearty agreement with Stetzer’s assessment on every major point in the book. My only point of contention may be a limitation that is simply inherent to the type of book he has written. While Stetzer notes the existence of “organic” or “core to crowd” models, the lion’s share of his book tacitly endorses more complex “big-launch” models, which require considerable money, multiple staff, and extensive administrative systems. I would like to see more coverage given to simpler, ground-up approaches—but as Stetzer indicates, his experience is with the more traditional model, and he nevertheless does what he can to give fair coverage to the approaches he has not attempted first-hand.

Since I have read very few books on church planting to date, my frame of reference as I read Planting Missional Churches was limited. Clearly, Stetzer’s book is in a different genre from Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformissionary Rev., a fact that does not really speak to the quality of the two works. Driscoll’s writing is personal, autobiographical, and parts of it would work well as a stand-up comedy routine. Stetzer’s book is a survey, deliberately researched, and intended as a reference manual, not a narrative. In my opinion, both types of books are necessary and helpful in beginning to grasp the pieces of the church planting puzzle. If anything, Stetzer’s book is the normative work, while Driscoll’s eccentric, hair-raising story proves the exception to various proverbial rules of the game. I am happy to have read both.

Ultimately, I came away from Planting Missional Churches sobered and challenged. Some gaps in my understanding of church planting processes have been filled in, and I have been exposed to careful explanations of programs and systems I was unfamiliar with. Personally, the complex techniques and logistics that support church planting do not excite me, and I identify more with the stories of people like Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle), Darrin Patrick (The Journey, Saint Louis), and Daniel Montgomery (Sojourn Community Church, Louisville)—men who started their churches by personally learning the cultures of urban centers and building out from a handful of core people.

Stetzer’s book caused me to realize that there are a wide variety of ways to start a church, and the particular brand of church plant that I am attracted to is just one in many, not the definitive model. I realize I will need to continue to read, pray and think in order to determine if my favored method is the best one for my context.

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John B. said...

I've been wondering about this for a while whenever you have used the term "church planting": What happened to the term "mission" (the term I've always heard used when describing new Lutheran congregations). Then I see that Stetzer's book uses the adjective "missional," which I assume means "of or having to do with missions." But I don't want to seem flip here; I'm genuinely curious as to whether "planting" and "mission" are interchangeable or if they're understood to signify different things.

Aside: not like I know a whole lot about all this, but I've always thought that the most effective witness to the Gospel is to earnestly, humbly live it. Your actions become the sermon--or at least its preamble. People will notice; they'll (eventually) ask What's up with all this.

Or is that naive of me?

Brian H. said...

John B.

I see "missional" as having to do with the "mission" of God and I think your last paragraph nailed it. Of course, a lot more can be said.

It is our job, with church plants and our individual lives to have the Kingdom of God revealed to more and more people? Some college lectures have really made me think about the Kingdom. Is it something we as humans can actually help increase in size and stature? Or is the Kingdom what it is, and simply needs to be revealed by our letting others see the King(Christ) in us?

So many questions, so little time.

Brian H.

John Cook said...

I also read the book and thought it was very good also.I believe that a church plant should be based on the discipleship new converts GO to and check that out I just went through the training and will most assuredly implement this in my plant. John Cook


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife