I’ve taken some time out today just to read through two very different books related to the nature and growth of the Church. The first book is Mark Dever’s and Paul Alexander’s book The Deliberate Church, for me Dever on the topic of the Church is where he’s at his best. He’s thoughtful and penetrating with his comments, and his pastoral approach throughout suggested that the only way to grow a church is to be Gospel centered. What this means for Dever is that the ministry of the word is essential for the growth and health of the local church, and attached to this idea is the presence of godly discipline and solid elders.

The second book is by Gary McIntosh and Daniel Reeves ThrivingChurches In The Twenty-First Century, this is my first introduction to these authors, their tone throughout the book was seasoned and system centered. In a creative turn at the beginning of the book they invoked the metaphor of earthquakes (They’re from California, culturally effective and timely choice). They invoked a second metaphor, the human body, they suggested that there are ten body parts that need to grow and be healthy if local churches are going to survive the cataclysmic quakes of today.

I believe there is a place for comparative studies on thriving churches today in order to learn what principles work and benefit them, I also believe that unless the church is Gospel centered much of her identity can be lost in the sea of ‘pop praxis’ or ‘church growth strategy’. I’ve noticed a trend in mature, dynamic pastors who’s offices I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in and discussing ‘the Church’; they all have a pretty wide and encompassing collection of books on the Church from different traditions and communities. I think the way forward in handling differences here is not to dismiss or devalue either of these texts but instead to ‘tolle lege’ – take up and read – and learn what we can from both of them. I know my tendency will be to heed Dever’s pastoral counsel, but the entrepreneur and innovative personage in me will appreciate McIntosh and Reeves’s reflections from their studies of individual churches. For an intriguing historical example of how to constructively and critically look at contesting approaches see Harvie Conn’s analysis of Donald McGavern’s church growth method in Theological Perspectives On Church Growth; and for a contemporary one that is less critical look at Ryan Bolger’s blog on McGavern here

As a caveat I don’t believe any of these men would deny the importance of the Gospel or of systems in fact both of these issues appear in their books, their difference here is one of emphasis and not absence, though their prolegomena to ecclesiology may differ.