Book Review

"Church Planting is For Wimps: How God Uses Messed-Up People to Plant Local Churches That Do Amazing Things" by Mike McKinley

C. R. Wiley
Mike McKinley
Monday, November 1st 2010
Nov/Dec 2010

Church Planting is For Wimps begins with a counterintuitive title and builds a contrarian case for church planting from there. It directly assails the conventional wisdom about who the ideal church planter might be, how to go about the task of planting a church, and how success should be measured. The book is one of a series by 9 Marks, sponsored by Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

The packaging is lighthearted, with a title and cover reminiscent of the best-selling young adult series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Like the Wimpy Kid books, it is more self-deprecating memoir than heroic "how-to-do-it." The table of contents lists chapter headings designed to produce a knowing smile: "Church PlantingÂ?Slightly Preferable to Unemployment," "How to Ruin Everything," and "No Offense, but Everything You're Doing Is Wrong." Considering the immensity of the task (the evangelization of a post-Christian culture that erroneously thinks it knows what it has rejected), the incidence of failure (some authorities place the failure rate for church plants at around 80 percent), and the sacrifices called for (most church planting is done on a shoestring), a little levity is a good thing.

But there is more than levity here. McKinley is making a point, and it is a good point to makeÂ?namely, that churches are planted by God's strength, not ours.

While the package brings a kid's book to mind, the contents resemble the popular television show Myth Busters. There is no shortage of nonsense circulating about what it takes to plant a church, most of it for sale by church growth consultants. I'm afraid my discipline of missiology is guilty of a great deal of harm here. Although it helped recover the connection between church planting and evangelism, it has also been guilty of promulgating a naive pragmatism. Pipe wrenches are for pipes, yet in a pinch you can use one to drive in a nail. But make a habit of it and you'll bend a lot of nails. Worse, you may lose the ability to tell the difference between a pipe wrench and a hammer. Pragmatists ignore design and recognize only their own intentions. That's why so many church planters reach into toolboxes full of tools designed for other professions. The results can be laughable if you just step back a little bit. Here's McKinley on the one tool consultants tell us we absolutely must have if we hope to plant a church: the mission statement. "What if the New York Yankees wrote a mission statement? It would look like this: Our mission is to win the World Series every stinking year." In other words, our mission is both obvious and given. "Somehow the church survived for almost two thousand years before [Aubery] Malpurs and [George] Barna told us we had to have [mission statements]" (Kindle, 814; ch. 4).

I couldn't agree more, though I didn't get the impression that McKinley is some sort of methodological puritan. What I did sense is a desire to use biblical tools, tried and true tools, tools that have been with us for two thousand years and were handed to us by the Lord himself. McKinley wants us to make sure those tools are the primary ones we use.

Another malady the book addresses is "contextualization." This concept, lifted directly from literature on cross-cultural missions and given a marketing gloss, has done more damage to the health of local churches and to Christian witness than perhaps anything arising from Protestant Liberalism.

We all know the gist of it. We need to contextualize the gospel to the sundry cultures of contemporary society. Fine. But what constitutes a culture? And is every subculture worth the effort? What's a passing fad and what's a genuine culture? Shouldn't a culture persist through time? Failure to ask these sorts of questions has not only led to a great deal of silliness and triviality (biker churches, punk rock churches, ad nauseam), it has also resulted in real damageÂ? churches that are symptomatic of a culture in decline. When these cultural ephemera pass away, so will many of these churches.

McKinley does a nice job of calling us back to healthy intergenerational church life. While it is true that an urban center like Manhattan will be home to churches with unusually high numbers of single yuppies, we need to remember that most of those folks grew up in places like Iowa. Manhattan is an aberration, perhaps an unhealthy one. Yes, a witness to the gospel must be there, but perhaps one of the things such a witness should do is point out the obvious: Manhattan needs the world more than the world needs Manhattan. If this brings to mind the proper relationship between creation and redemption, good. That's one of the things churches should teach the world.

Throughout Church Planting is For Wimps there is a stress on forms of worship and fellowship that bridge generations and ethnicities. Instead of healing a fragmented world, too many "missional" churches want to segment it further, keeping the church "relevant" by breathlessly chasing an ever more segmented and fickle market. McKinley calls us back to the "Blue Plate Special" of Word and Sacrament and does so proudly.

My only gripe with Church Planting is For WimpsÂ?and it is a small oneÂ?is that church revitalization and church planting are conflated. As such, McKinley's work may be better classified as radical church revitalization. While he recognizes the differences, I think this book could have been two books. Since I've been involved with both efforts at various times, I think there are enough differences to warrant separate treatments. But there are also enough similarities to keep this from being a fatal error. With that in mind, this book is highly recommended.

Monday, November 1st 2010

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