Nine Marks and Ownership of the Church

dever_9marksPermit me a couple more negative critiques of Nine Marks, after which I will go back to telling you where Dever and I agree.

Dever says:

“In a funny way, when we hear expositional preaching we become less dependent on the preacher.  We’re more concerned about the Word of God.  And so, if your pastor is away, if God calls him somewhere else or if he’s gone and someone else is in the pulpit, that’s okay.”(206)

I get what he is saying, and ideally we want this to be true.  Too many churches (including one I know very well) are built entirely around a single personality.  When that person leaves, the church as it used to be ceases to exist.  Ideally, as Dever would like it, the preaching of the Word, not the preacher himself, would be central to the life of the church.  Dever argues that expositional preaching will safeguard against the cult of personality.

But I say the preacher is still too central either way.  An expositional preacher still dominates the gathering of the saints way too much.  The whole worship service points to the moment when everyone else gets very quiet and very still in order to let the one guy do all the talking.  The very existence of the monologue teaches the rest of the Body of Christ to be passive.  It screams volumes about who really has the ability to “minister.”  I agree that it is a problem when a church becomes overly dependent upon one personality.  But the bigger, deeper, more universal problem is that churches in general depend too much upon the guy who fills the pulpit, regardless of his preaching style.

Topical preaching isn’t the problem.  The pulpit itself is the problem.

Well, that’s oversimplification, of course.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone getting up in front of a church to preach and teach.  I’d like to see more people do it.  That might help us see more of the Body as viable vehicles for God’s word.  Ultimately, furniture is not the problem–lopsided functioning in the Body of Christ is.

Elsewhere, Dever says this:

“Joining a church increases our sense of ownership of the work of the church, of its community, of its budget, of its goals.  We move from being pampered consumers to becoming joyous proprietors.”(157)

Again, I’m feelin’ ya, Dever.  Isn’t that what all church leaders want?  Don’t we all want to see the average church member catch a sense of ownership of the mission and purpose of the church?  But how can I feel like a proprietor when I have no say in what is taught, what is sung, or how the church goes about its work?  If I am not on staff, I am out of the loop.  Merely becoming a member changes very little.  If I really want to make a difference, I have to become a pastor myself.

murrowI wrote an article several years ago entitled “Why Men Don’t Go to Church.”  It must have struck a chord with a number of people because it still gets quoted on people’s blogs from time to time, and it even helped one author think through his material for a book he later wrote using almost the same title.  In my article, I argued this same point–that the only way to make much of a difference in the direction of a church is to crossover and become one of the clergy.  As long as that’s the way it is, I’m afraid the consumer mentality will be very difficult for most church members to avoid.


One more thing I gotta take issue with:  Dever’s take on different leadership models was three-quarters right, in my opinion.  But the first of the four leadership styles he proposes is called “the boss,” and he considers it a legitimate mode of leadership in the church.  I do not.  Dever gives good scriptural support for the other three:  the example setter, the support giver, and the servant leader.  His top-down “boss” model just doesn’t mesh well with the other three or with the New Testament.  The scant scriptural references he gives to illustrate it (238) just don’t say what he seems to think they say.

To me, this “commanding” mode of leadership flies in the face of Dever’s earlier chapter on authority in the church, which I liked very much.  In that earlier chapter, he cites Matthew 18:15-17 to illustrate that, in the church, the ultimate court of appeal is the church itself–not a specially-marked individual or group of leaders.  He also recognizes that when Paul sought to correct the saints in Corinth, “he instructs the whole church–not just the leaders–to take action” (223).  Likewise, when the Galatians heard that they were supposed to get circumcised in order to be good Christians, he made his appeal to the whole church, not to a dominating group.  “They had an inescapable duty to judge even those who claimed to be apostles” (224).  Where’s “the boss” in those scenarios?  It’s not there.

Top-down is simply not the style of leadership envisioned by Jesus or the New Testament writers.  Bottom-up is more like it.  Or even the “alongside” kind, as Dever characterizes two of his four styles.  But top-down won’t do.  Maybe things in the world work that way.  But not in the church.

It will not be so among you,” Jesus told us (Mk. 10:43).   How quickly we forget.


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One Response to “Nine Marks and Ownership of the Church”

  1. abmo Says:

    I like the “alongside” kind. I’ve never seen a bottom-up that is really a bottom-up. It’s usually just a top-down’s vision and mission because that’s how it’s “supposed” to be 🙂

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