1 Looking across the shelf of this writer¶s personal and professional library, the number of titles in section 253

is staggering. Certainly, the Christian church is not at a loss for books covering ³pastoral theology´ or ³pastoral leadership´. Leadership conferences, countless websites, journals and magazines complete this total saturation in the subject of organization of churches and how they are effectively managed. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, therefore, seeks to stand out from the volumes of information already written on this subject. Stanley asserts this book ³is not so much about what to do as it is about what to ask«it will provide you with a new lens through which to evaluate your current programs and any you may be considering.´1 Stanley adds, ³You will find no new strategy hidden in these pages. But as you embrace each of these seven practices, your ministry cannot help but become more strategic in everything it does.´2 Making use of many baseball comparisons and metaphors, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry begins in part one, comprising nine chapters, telling the story of ³Ray´, a fictional pastor becoming overburdened with the administration of a growing ministry. This story, while being entertaining, functions to establish the essentials of North Point Community Church¶s seven practices that find employment in their ministry. Additionally, Ray¶s story operates as a method of bringing the reader into the concept. No doubt, there are many pastors and leaders whose situations, in varying degrees, mirror Ray¶s.
1

Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2004), 10. 2 Ibid.

2 After the introduction of the seven practices through Ray¶s story, the authors continue into part two of the book where each of the seven practices receives treatment. Included in this section are many examples of these practices finding utilization at North Point Community Church. These examples from their ³playbook´, as they call it, validate their approach as more than hypothetical, but practical, useful and operational. A constant bell rings, through concept if not in words, from Stanley, ³your ministry is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are currently getting.´3 The first concept, clarify the win, seeks to challenge every leader to define, in simple terms, what a win is. Since the command from Jesus is ³go and make disciples of all nations´4, the ³win´ in church-life is extremely critical. The author of this chapter states, ³most churches do not have a reliable system for defining and measuring what success looks like at every level of the organization.´5 On this issue, this writer is in complete agreement. Taking the examples from this chapter, one must sit down with his/her leaders and clarify what it means to ³win´ in that ministry context. The souls and lives of too many people rely on it. The second concept, or practice, might prove to be the most difficult: think steps, not programs. Speaking of the danger of reversing this practice, the author reminds his readers, ³When you µthink programs,¶ your inclination tends to be to create something in order to meet specific needs that have surfaced in your attendee base or target group´.6 At first glance, this may not appear to be a bad motivation for creating a ministry or program. The danger, however, resides in not having the ultimate goal in mind. This is where the first concept, clarify the win, truly is reinforced as to why it is the first concept. Without the end result²the win²in mind,

3 4

Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 185. Matthew 28:19a, NIV. 5 Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 70. 6 Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 89.

3 ministries and programs are created simply at whims and can expend great amounts of resources both in terms of personnel, brain power, and finances without actually serving to move people anywhere. This practice is considered by this writer to be perhaps the most difficult because many churches and ministries have programs that exists because they always have. Without a clarification of a win, these programs continue to run in circles, existing only as church version of a Rube Goldberg machine. They become as productive in forward momentum as a dog chasing its tail. No matter how difficult the change might be, this transition from programdriven to steps-driven, then, must proceed if the church or ministry will result in anything more than self-sustenance. Flowing from practice number two is the third: narrow the focus. If ³think steps, not programs´ is the most difficult, this step is queued next. In a fantastic example, the author poses the following for the reader¶s consideration: Does it make sense for ace relief pitcher John Smoltz to spend more time working on his hitting? His batting average is probably the area where he has the greatest potential for improvement. The problem is that hitting a baseball is not the area where he has the greatest potential to make an impact. The most important contribution that Smoltz makes to his team is his ability to pitch.7 Yet, this is exactly the modus operandi of, dare this writer generalize, most churches: strengthen the individual¶s weakness. Stated another way, churches seem to value the ³Jack/Jill of all trades´ over the specialist who, while not being able to do as much overall, does a few things extremely well. This writer has actually incorporated this thinking in ministry with wonderful results. It was certainly a challenge to begin changing the mindsets of those in the ministry, but the results have been a win for the individual, the ministry and the church. The ability to narrow the focus of an individual or church directly relates to Ephesians 4:11-12, ³it was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to
7

Ibid, 100.

4 be pastors and teachers, to prepare God¶s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.´8 The Lord Jesus has already narrowed the focus of the individuals in the body of Christ. As a leader, one must help others realize their unique focus for greatest Kingdom impact. ³Teach Less for More´, practice number four, takes the concept of ³less is more´ into the pulpit. Although this is not the most difficult to implement, this writer found personal difficulty with the application of this concept. While it is certainly agreed, ³good teachers begin by indentifying what is most important for their students to know´, and while ³all Scripture is equally inspired«[it is] not equally important«[or] equally applicable,´9 it remains a difficulty how the truth of God¶s word would be presented in this kind of environment. The experiences this writer has had with North Point resources is that Stanley is a very gifted communicator who truly does teach more for less in the sense of only one idea per sermon. Every preacher could take notes. Furthermore, when one hears a message by him, one will always know precisely Stanley¶s subject and expected outcome. The issue, then, remains a basic question: who is the Bible about? Undoubtedly, the authors would quickly answer ³God´. In application of this premise, however, another the question surfaces: does the methodology match this premise or is it a mix of popular psychology based on Scriptural ideas? In this writer¶s experience beyond the scope of this book with North Point resources, the answer is closer to the former. Where, then, would the authors suggest the ³solid food´ of the Word be served? Beyond their stated goal of getting everyone in a community group and a stated commitment to no mid-week service, this answer does not seem to be offered in the pages of 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.10 In response to these concerns, this writer recalls the words of Jim Shaddix:
8 9

Ephesians 4:11±12, NIV. Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 124-125. 10 Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 105.

5 We must understand that the Bible is God-centered, not man-centered. It is a book about Him more than it is a book about us. To make it otherwise is both selfish and arrogant. When we search God¶s Word with a how-to mentality, we often run right past the revelation of Almighty God. This perversion fits hand in glove with the order of contemporary culture: ³It¶s all about me!´11 The potential solution, then, is a balanced approach. Instead of finding a ³need to scratch´, a systematic and exegetical unfolding of God¶s Holy Word will provide opportunity for the Holy Spirit to fill their greatest need. Yes, simplicity of a subject clear of secondary ideas and ³rabbit chasing´ is counsel from the authors worth taking, but preaching a sermon because it manages to hit a perceived need cannot bring a congregation to full maturity. Considering most Christians in America, for right or wrong, gain the majority of their Bible teaching on Sundays, it might behoove preachers to remember it is about Him, not them. The authors move from this concept to practice number five: ³listen to outsiders´. Although the tension between those who are part of the church and those who are not always remain as such, the focus on those attempting to be reached makes a lot of sense. It is not known who said it first but the church, in fact, ³exists for those who are not a part of it.´ Through evangelism and discipleship, the church glorifies God by carrying out the great commandment and great commission. In concept, few church leaders would disagree; in practice, as the authors indicate, it may prove a different story. The call of practice number six is ³replace yourself´. This might prove difficult for leaders but as the authors state, it must be done. As they poignantly write, ³one day it will be over.´12 The counsel they provide is accurate and very focused. Additionally, if leaders take Ephesians 4 seriously, they have no choice but to train their replacement. The alternative to

Jim Shaddix, The Passion Driven Sermon : Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 64. 12 Stanley, Joiner, and Jones, 158.

11

6 following this principle is also skillfully presented by the authors and should serve as a wake-up call to any leader grasping tightly to the reins. The seventh and final practice is one often left out of manuals of this sort: ³work on it´. Using baseball¶s annual spring training as an example, the authors remind readers that all professionals take time to tune-up. There is a reason that coaches still exist. Likewise, those in ministry leadership must take the time to perform critical self-evaluation. Similar to professional sports teams, the book suggests this must be a scheduled, annual event, since ³no matter how hard you try, it simply can¶t be done as you go.´13 Additionally, the authors offer the idea of a weekly recap to recall and celebrate the ³win´ of the victory of the past week. As they remind the reader, ³if you want a behavior repeated then you need to reward it.´14 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, then, may be one book among hundreds of church administration and pastoral leadership/theology manuals, but in terms of practical, easy-to-follow application, this book stands alone. Of the seven practices offered, the three that found instant application and confirmation in this writer¶s ministry context were ³clarify the win´, ³narrow the focus´ and ³replace yourself´. This, with all of these practices, further validates the effectives of what these men have done in the Kingdom¶s work to advance the Savior¶s message.

13 14

Ibid, 176. Ibid, 181.

7

Bibliography All Scripture is from The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Shaddix, Jim. The Passion Driven Sermon : Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003. Stanley, Andy, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones. 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2004.

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