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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Book Review: Cars Style

In honor of my son, I decided to do this book review as a tribute to his favorite movie.

The Book: Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman.

76 Chrysler Cordoba In the 1970's, Chrysler started marketing "corinthian leather." Corinthian leather meant nothing unique, it was just a marketing techique. Most sources say that corinthian leather was actually made in New Jersey.

I was given this book by a dear brother in response to my questions about the use of "missional" in so much conversation today. I started to read this book expecting that it would explain the terms. After reading, I think "missional" means that we view our society around us in the same way a missionary would. The book does much to call the whole church to be on mission (which is great) but uses the same language regularly.

In fact, it seemed that rather than defining any terms, the authors just chose to use them a lot. There is much talk about "breaking the code" sometimes referring to education, sometimes mission, even sometimes general pastoring. "Breaking the Code" seems to just mean "being successful" but success is not really defined. It is assumed that as we keep hearing the terms, we'll eventually understand it.

Chevy MonzaThe Chevy Monza lived a short while. Though some claim it was a new car designed to display Chevy's "Wankel" engine, it seemed quite familiar with its predecessor.

As I read "BTMC," I couldn't help but feel like I'd read much of this before. There were some new ideas regarding our new culture and it definitely had a stronger church planting feel. However, much that I was reading seemed to be built on the same platform as previous books. I have no doubt that Stetzer and Putman want to see souls saved and desire to see vibrant churches. However, I couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu.

Chevy Vega Perhaps the Chevy Monza failed to take off, because it was too much like the car it replaced...the Chevy Vega. I remember when my dad used to build racecars. We had one man who came in with a Vega. My dad does good work and he did an excellent job righting many of the wrongs a previous builder made on this car. By the timeit left our shop, the engine was well tuned, the chassis was set properly and it generally looked well built. There was just one problem, I remember thinking, "It's still a Vega." No matter what we did to the vehicle, this man was still going to be hauling home a Chevy Vega.

I appreciate that Stetzer and Putman reject a "methods mindset." They very much call out pastors who see one technique work somewhere and immediately try to impliment it in their own church. They want pastors to be intentional, thinking about why they do what they do and whether it really fits their ministry mindset and mission field. However, it seems they could have called pastors to an even higher level of discernment. Some things that disappointed me:

1. Little Divine Dependence--Though I'm sure it was not their intention...the book seems to suggest that some churches fail "to break the code" because they applied wrong technique. That seems to be their only consideration. There is no consideration that God controls the harvest and a church may do "everything right" and still not find themselves "breaking the code."
2. Little Biblical Interaction--Similarly, we just don't seem to go to the Word very often. Claims are made regarding the church's role in evangelism and mission that would have been great to see validated from Scripture. Some claims are easy to assume the reader would know they are biblically based. Other claims? I would have enjoyed seeing where they see the distinction in Scripture.
3. Nonbelievers Serving--Their model calls for nonbelievers to be integrated into the community and given tasks within the church. I just can't get on board with this approach.
4. Ask the Community--Stetzer and Putman both believe we must study the culture around us. I'm not as concerned about that as I am with one process of study. They also recommend the process of asking your neighborhood what they want in a church. Then you attempt to provide these things. The process of asking fallen people what they want in a church seems to be a recipe for disaster to me. The book also mentions that the missional pastor will often take his cues more from successful business practices than from church practices.
5. Paradox, Contradictions, Inconsistencies--Whatever you want to call them, the book seems just vague enough to be able to embrace all of them. I remember at one time reading that a "missional" pastor will "break the code" by seeking the advice and patterns of other churches. They will quickly take all they can from others and use it to their advantage. They seek under every rock to find every possible approach. Of course, the very next bullet item stated that the missional pastor does his own thing and does not depend on the ideas of others.

Ultimately, their approach seems a bit new and improved. It's more contemporary. It's less program intensive. But it still seems to be a rather man-centered approach to the church.

I wouldn't quite call "BMTC" a lemon, but I took it around the block and kicked the tires and I think I'll keep shopping for a different model.


  • At 9:33 PM, Blogger fisher said…

    i am continually surprised to see misisons/evangelism projects using Isaiah 6:8's "whom shall I send" verse as a banner under which to do their work - and they fail to read the context and content of Isaiah's mission - to harden and prepare them for judgement! it seems very popular to grab hold of any passage to support a predefined agenda.

    this should make us ask, "well, what is success?", to which God answers, "Preach the Word!"

    "Hold(ing) fast the faithful word which he has been taught" -Titus 2:9 - that's a successful mission

  • At 9:10 PM, Blogger Pastor E said…

    "Missional" apparently is the new buzzword in many denominations as I hear it a lot in mine. I just read a book (well,,,read it until I got disgusted with it) called "Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders" and finally figured out that a missional leader defined by Dr. Creps (the author) was basically someone who was culturally relevant (of course), wasn't afraid to try new things, and was willing to admit that they could be wrong doctrinally.

    I was slightly confused because he said a missional leader also has doctrine worth "smuggling", but then proceeded to make fun of a preacher he heard on the radio who was apparently conservative, orthodox and passionate about his doctrine.

    It didn't square with me. I suppose it wouldn't sell enough books if someone just put one out titled "Being a Biblical Church" or, "Becoming a Biblically Correct Leader", God forbid we'd sell a book like that...

  • At 5:50 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    these guys didn't rip doctrine, they were just a bit ambivalent.

    they regularly said that "missional leaders are passionate about the Word of God" but i can't think of a single moment where any of there methodology was born out of looking at the Word.

  • At 7:07 AM, Blogger RevPharoah said…

    VERY well written post. I liked the creativity and, of course, the car metaphor.


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