Sunday, September 18, 2016

One of the Most Mind- & Heart-Altering “Churchview” Books I’ve Read This Year

Sustainable Church: Growing Ministry Around the Sheep,
Not Just the Shepherds
Author: Walt Russell
Published by: Quoir, Orange, California, 2016

This is a book from within the Christian, and dare I say “evangelical”, church movement that is bound to cause any serious follower of Jesus Christ to rethink how best he/she can be part of Christ’s Church and help fulfil the Great Commission He left it. Russell’s book may well rock everything you’ve ever worked for in your local church as it deals head on with issues many of us have time and again struggled with, but remained silent about, inside the church. But at the same time, it will confirm your Christian worldview.
Walt Russell has done it all – campus missionary, church planter, university professor, and author. While he has many credentials, including his Ph.D., he also boldly says none of them are necessarily the credentials that the church needs. My wife put it nicely recently when she said, “I would rather listen to bible teacher who has no formal training but is anointed by the Holy Spirit, than to one who has three Ph.D.’s and is not.” And that is precisely one of Russell’s points – it’s all about the God-inspired, Spirit-given “grace gifts” given to believers.
A thread throughout the book that Russell keeps referring us back to is his use of two churches – The First Evangelical Non-Organic Church and The Last Evangelical Organic Church. The former is not sustainable simply because its adherents are shallow (some unknowingly perhaps). And that shallowness to a large extent stems from the fact that they are not “released to minister” and “equipped to use their grace-gifts” in every aspect of their lives including the church.
Russell reports that 63% of those who say they have heard of spiritual gifts have not been able to apply this information to their lives “because they either don’t know their gifts (15%), say they don’t have a spiritual gift (28%) or claim that spiritual gifts are not biblical (20%).”
And then he starts addressing the causes. To begin with, he grasps our attention with this statement: “…the body of Christ is not fundamentally about authority, but relationships.” And sooner or later that leads him to take us through a serious look at the terms “laity” and “pastor” – both the words themselves and their meanings, based on Scripture.  The former he calls “a horrifying misnomer for the vast majority of God’s people” preferring instead ‘disciples’ or ‘saints’ as prescribed in the New Testament. The use of the word ‘laity’ he says introduces an “unbiblical hierarchy” into God’s people.”
Russell believes the Word of God calls for a church where all minister and he unfolds that biblically and clearly, ending with a list of what we lose by ignoring that approach. The cost is dear. He shows us historically how the church came to be run the way it is today (a fascinating account that makes sense) and also takes us very carefully through the meaning of each of the grace-gifts, including discussions on how many there are, and whether some have ceased or not.  You’ll find his take most refreshing. The author is very good at tackling opposing views, as well as treating them fairly.
There’s also a very helpful chapter on how one, along with his/her church, can discover and/or ascertain one’s grace-gifts. But one of the most interesting aspects of his contribution to this field is how we have corrected or rather misunderstood and thus falsely applied the “Jesus Model of Discipleship” by making others “our disciples” or the disciples of Father Brown, etc. Russell’s point, supported by Dallas Willard and others is that, “All Christians are disciples of Messiah Jesus, not of fellow believers.” That very nicely segues into a discussion of “whose name goes on the church sign if we all minister?” and the fact that when looking at leadership we focus on skills and gifts, rather than character, contrary to what the Bible emphasizes. He also takes on the “Moses Model of Leadership” arguing that only Christ can take that on in the New Testament, not us. And Russell believes that “By training pastors to be CEOs, we ironically end up training them to lead in exactly the same way as the ‘Gentiles’ lead.” Finally, he deals with the whole issue of elders, their qualifications, and whether they should be paid or not, and much more.
Now you have to understand that as one who has spent close to four decades of my life as a Human Resources specialist and Church Consultant, some of this was difficult for me to accept – but I could not argue with Russell’s ability to show me, from Scripture, why I may well have been mistaken.  This book will challenge you if you’re a pastor. It will challenge you even more if you’re an elder or simply a disciple of Christ’s – you’ll want to pray about how to approach your pastor with it.
If Russell missed anything in this edition of his book, it is on the topics of actually setting compensation and benefits practices for “elders” and how to deal with discipline within the body. But then, again, that was not what he was trying to get across. His purpose, in his own words, was “to call the church to build her ministry sustainably around the sheep, rather than unsustainably around the shepherds.”  He succeeded with me. Highly recommended.
·       Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, September 18, 2016.

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