The growth of Coram Deo and of the Acts 29 Network is putting me in contact with more and more aspiring church planters across the country. And while I’m encouraged about how God is moving to raise up new leaders, I’m not as encouraged about the preparedness of said leaders missionally or theologically.
I believe that being a good learner (and therefore a good teacher) doesn’t mean knowing what to think, but knowing how to think. Many of the young men who are looking to plant churches only know what to think. They know that Mark Driscoll embraces Reformed theology, and they like his preaching (and John Piper’s too), so they label themselves Reformed. They worked in an attractional church once and didn’t like it, so they’re all about missional church planting. They read blogs from other aspiring church planters who haven’t actually planted any churches yet and get excited about novel-sounding concepts (“missional community” being one of them) with little grasp of the theological or contextual factors that ground them.
For this reason I’m motivated to recommend three books that every aspiring church planter should read. This is a dangerous list to compile because everyone will argue for good books that are left off the list. So note these caveats: First, this is not intended as a theological A-list. I’m not saying these are the first books or even the most important books a church planter should read. I assume (perhaps naively) that a planter is also saturating himself in the rich theological heavyweights (Augustine, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Grudem, Piper, etc). Second, these books are ‘how to think’ books, not ‘what to think’ books. I value the work of men like Driscoll and Stetzer in delivering the more pragmatic, what-to-think resources, which are greatly helpful and should be widely read and disseminated. But in my humble opinion, unless a church planter can work well in the field of ideas – meaning he can read intellectual/conceptual writing, distill its root themes, and then contextualize them in helpful ways for his own context – he’ll plant a clone of someone else’s church by parroting their ideas instead of developing his own. And that makes him a marketer, not a missionary.
So read the what-to-think stuff. But dwell in the how-to-think stuff. The three books below are a great place to start. I’m sure thoughtful commenters will recommend others. But I’m writing this, so my opinion gets front page.
Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace – a theology of renewal… one of the best books you’ll ever read on how the gospel brings renewal to people and churches.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin – don’t be throwing around words like ‘missional’ until you’re familiar with Newbigin’s work and understand why it’s a watershed.
Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard – Willard isn’t the most Reformed of theologians, but he’s a master of spiritual formation. And if your goal isn’t to form people spiritually as Jesus would want them formed, then you shouldn’t be planting a church. Don’t read Willard as a how-to manual; read him as a wise mentor who will force you to think about spiritual formation.