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June 4, 2009 / Don Sanders

Rethinking the Church

rethinkingI first became acquainted with the writings of James Emery White several years ago when I received one of his books by accident from my IVP book club.  The book was Serious Times and I almost sent it back.  It sat on my desk for probably a year before I picked it up and started thumbing through it.  I’m glad I did, as it was one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years.

Rethinking Church is an earlier work of his (originally 1997 and revised in 2003) and it came highly by several people I respect.  Going in to the book, I had several fears of what a book on “doing church” might be like.  Usually, these types of books fall into two groups.  The first group simply points out how horrible a job the church is doing.  Statistics abound to show why the church is ineffectual in our modern society.  This group is long on criticism and negativity while short on constructive ideas.  The second group of books focus primarily on the “how to” of church.  They peddle the latest and greatest programs and many times are written by the newest megachurch celebrity pastor.  This group offers lots of advice on what to do, but rarely addresses the deeper theological issues or takes into account the differences in geography, personality, or background of churches.

It is at this point that Rethinking Church diverges from the pack.  White does an admirable job of bridging the two needs of a book on leading a church: theory and practice.  Specifically, the author addresses eight areas that need to be evaluated in the church: Foundational Questions, Evangelism, Discipleship, Ministry, Worship, Structure, Community, and Change.  Each of these chapters deal with the need for change and offers both biblical and practical ideas for rethinking them.  In each area, White does a very good job of not only challenging long held assumptions, but offering constructive ideas for moving forward.

The book has two primary strengths.  First, it is short and simple (barely over 160 pages.)  It can be read in a short time and is not overly difficult.  Through concise illustrations and statistics, White drives home his point without being negative or critical.  At the end, the reader thinks, “Hey, this is a very doable thing that God has called us to.”

The second strength is that there is a distinct lack of programming suggestions.  There is no lack of books espousing the latest ideas on programming.  White freely admits that “Why and what” we do are foundational to “how” we do it.  I appreciate that he allows the specific implementation of the biblical principles to the individual.  He respects the church enough to know that one size, copy-cat programs do not work.

I highly recommend this book to every church leader, whether on staff or volunteer.  It is not the deepest or the latest book on how to do church, but it is a very accessible and useful launching pad for those who take seriously the Great Commission.

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2 Comments

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  1. st / Jun 4 2009 4:45 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. Great evaluation. I believe that everyone should read everything that James Emery White writes….Serious Times, and then Rethinking, is a great place to start. But then read Wrestling with God, and A Mind for God. Really, really good. See also his bi-weekly blog at http://www.serioustimes.com that you can register to receive for free. One of the best. Not daily (who has time to read that?) nor so sporadic that you can’t follow, but solidly bi-weekly with salient, winsome, compelling, crisp insights into church and culture..

  2. kentsanders / Jun 4 2009 9:32 pm

    I also subscribe to Serious Times and it’s almost always filled with something provocative to think about. What I like about James White is that he has a pastor’s heart but a scholar’s mind. That’s a fairly rare combination.

    I ordered this book after you recommended it the other night – looking forward to digging into it.

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