Church planting takes guts. More than guts, it takes a work of the Spirit in every way fashionable. I think a lot of people plant churches without really evaluating themselves, the community they are targeting, and the biblical/theological principles that will help the work stay Christ-centered, gospel-driven, and people-loving.
I should clarify something here. I am not a church planter. I’m a pastor who has a heart for church planting and who believes strongly in its importance. Secondly, I am a reader and spend a great deal of time reading books on the subject because much of what applies to church planting applies to pastoring an existing congregation, especially when new leadership transitions in.
Nonetheless, I have come to the conclusion, after reading a lot of books on the subject of church planting and pastoring, that there are four books that every church planter should own. They are as follows:
(1) The Bible
Yeah, I know, this is pretty cliché , but it goes without saying that a lot of people doing Christian leadership spend more time reading the latest trends than working through the Scriptures and drawing out missional principles for church planting or pastoral ministry. As a rule of thumb in my own life, I try to spend double the time in the Bible than in other books. This isn’t a legalistic rule; just a guideline that helps me keep the Holy Spirit inspired text at the forefront of my theological and practical training. One of the greatest “resources” that church planters have is the book of Acts. It is the magnum opus of missional thinking.
(2) Total Church (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis are big on gospel and big on community)
In my mind, this was the best book that I read in 2009. Its subtitle, a radical reshaping around gospel and community, says it all. The entire book offers a perspective on a variety of subjects related to the local church from the point of view that the gospel and community are the two essential elements for a church to be total. Thus, the authors are able to address issues related to evangelism, social involvement, church planting, missions, discipleship, pastoral care, theology, apologetics, children, and more from a gospel/community centered approach. Total Church addresses many of the issues I’ve had with churches in a way that is winsome and prophetic – it provides a way forward. It provides an invitation to approach the Body of Christ in a way that is, as I see it, much more biblical and much more effective. While this is not a review, Total Church deserves your attention, whether you are a pastor or someone who is serving the church in another role. It’s for everyone and the vision that is cast before us is one that builds up the church and reaches the lost. Order this book immediately.
(3) The Living Church (The ecclesiological convictions of lifelong pastor, John Stott)
No one can argue that John Stott has been one of the most influential voices with evangelicals. His commentaries, pamphlets, and other books are read by countless numbers of Christians from all over the world. Stott was ranked by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. After passing the 80 year mark (he calls himself an octogenarian), he has most certainly had time to reflect upon church life. In The Living Church, Stott paints a picture, a picture of a church that is alive. In fact, he once closed a sermon in 1974 by declaring that he had a dream for a “biblical church… a worshipping church… a caring church… a serving church… an expectant church.” The Living Church lays out the framework for seeing the church become just that – biblical, worshipful, caring, serving, and expectant. Thus, throughout nearly 175 pages, Stott addresses essential areas needed for a church to be living (e.g., worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, preaching, giving, etc.).
(4) Church Planter (Darrin Patrick’s insights into the man, the message, and the mission)
This just released. I just read it. It… is… fantastic. In my thinking, it’s superior to much of what I’ve read on church planting. Patrick’s chapter on the message of a church planter being “idol-shattering” is worth the purchase of the book. This is not a step-by-step guide to how you should arrange the chairs in your church plant’s building. Nor is it a guide to how you should advertise. Church Planter lays the framework for the man planting (which can be applied to the “team,” etc.), the message being “preached” (Christ-centered, gospel-focused, orthodoxy that calls sin and idolatry what they really are), and the “big picture” of the mission. Patrick most certainly does not miss the forest when looking at the trees and has wide vision and understanding when addressing the minute details related to the way in which those trees are to be understood.
So why choose these books? Simple. The Bible, for obvious reasons, is essential for a church to reach theological conclusions. There are a great deal of wonderful books that can help that process, but at the end of the day, Sola Scriptura remains my axiom. Total Church provides emphasis in gospel in relation to community. The Living Church provides emphasis on gospel and ministry. Church Planter provides emphasis on gospel and church planting specifically. All three have helped shape my understanding of the practical issues related to ecclesiology in significant ways. Thus, they are the top three go-to books on the subject, with the Bible leading all!