Nine Marks and Church Growth

dever_9marksBefore I launch into my most fundamental problem with Dever’s book (the preacher as THE mouthpiece of God in the Church), I’d like to highlight a few places where I track really well with what he’s saying.  Ultimately, I believe this book is a call for a higher standard of maturity among church members.  That’s a topic that lately has become a concern of my own, so I can identify with it.  I’ll write some about that in the next post.

Dever calls for a rediscovery of “the corporate nature of following Christ” (30).  That’s why he is addressing the health of the church as a whole, not merely of individuals within the church.  That resonates with me quite well.  Whenever someone wants the “elevator speech” about the main point of my book, I generally say something about “the corporate nature of following Christ.”  It’s about the gospel leading naturally to community.  And it’s about not living the Christian life alone.  Dever seems to agree.

Dever also expresses a clear disdain for what Os Guinness calls “the exaltation of numbers and of technique” (quoted  on p.24).  He argues that many churches we regard as successful share the assumption that certain measurable things (numbers fed, saved, or joining the church) are the best indicators of church health.  They all seem to argue that “the fruit of a successful church is readily apparent” (27).  This misconception produces churches (and leadership styles) which are “pragmatic, results-oriented endeavors” with leaders who learn to specialize in subtle manipulation and sales techniques, always looking to “close a deal” evangelistically speaking.  “We misunderstand evangelism so badly we think we can tell from the immediate results whether we are evangelizing properly” (136).

On the contrary, Dever contends that “successful ministry [is] not necessarily immediately fruitful but [is] demonstrably faithful to God’s Word” (28).  He goes on to remind us that “God’s Word is replete with images of delayed blessing” (27).  Absolutely.  I happen to be clinging quite closely to that truth at the moment.  It’s becoming one of my closest friends.

Dever also seems to have a healthy appreciation for the value of loss and failure in the life of God’s servants.  On p. 73 he says:  “Disappointments have their purpose.  The ruins of our own cherished plans are often the steps to finding the true God and the good that He has for us.  The Bible is full of stories like this.”  Indeed it is.  And it’s refreshing to see this held in tension with all the other hopeful bits of advice and admonition that come with a book like this.

growthNine Marks is a book about church growth, but not the kind that most mean when they use that phrase.  Dever says we’re to be about “not simply growing numbers but growing members” (214).  This seems to be the central idea of the book.  He goes on to admit, “of all the ‘nine marks’ covered in this book, this is the one I first became concerned about” (216).

He and I may disagree on how to get from point A to point B in this matter.  But I still track with so much of what he says, I figure that’s a good place to start.

“Forget what the experts say” (p.54)

Right on, brother.

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