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A couple of pastor friends of mine encouraged me to read Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley when I had no intentions of every buying it or reading it. The tagline of the title is: “Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.” So, automatically, I was already skeptical because I don’t want to create a church that anyone would love to just “attend.” I’ve been beating the missional drum with our church about being the church rather than merely attending the church. So, my first impression by just reading the cover was “Creating Churches that Attract Customers, Not Disciples.” But in spite of my skepticism, I took their advice and got the book.
It’s easy reading since Andy Stanley is a very conversational communicator. He writes like he’s having a conversation with you. He preaches that way too. It certainly has appeal and makes for easy reading. The book is broken up into five sections, the first one being a personal account of his life as the son of Charles Stanley. He also for the first time, opens up with candor and honesty about the rift in his relationship over his dad’s divorce in the 90’s. All of this information is setting up the background for the launch of North Point Church which has become THE church that the un-churched love to attend.
The Second section deals more with how North Point was formed as a church plant. Section three deals with some of the foundational principles of making disciples that he calls “going deep.” Section four is the part that gets fun … Stanley deals with methodology that they use and why. Section five is a challenge to churches to become “deep and wide.”
Note: I read this book on Kindle, so my page numbers will be Kindle location numbers.
So, here we go…
In the introduction, Andy says:
Every church should be a church that the irreligious people would love to attend because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are His body and since people who were nothing like Jesus like Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well. There should be something about us that causes them to gather at the periphery and stare. (Loc. 57)
Well, this is true in a superficial way. They “liked” Jesus but most did not love Him nor worship Him. If our goal is to be liked by those who are unlike Jesus, we’re already off mission. If there is something different about us that causes them to observe us, that’s quite another thing. Whether they like us or not will be partly by our graciousness and all because of the Spirit’s work in their life.
We grade ourselves on how attractive we are to our target audience…we are unapologetically attractional. In our search for common ground with unchurched people, we’ve discovered that, like us, they are consumers. So we leverage their consumer instincts. By the way, if your church has heating and air conditioning, you do too…it’s hard to overlook that Jesus attracted large crowds everywhere he went. He was constantly playing to the consumer instincts of His crowds. (Loc. 88, 102)
From the beginning, I already have major disagreements. We are not being attractional because we have heat and air conditioning. Nobody comes to our church because we have the best heater in town. This is a lame tactic of deflecting anticipated criticism. To say that Jesus played on their consumer instincts is outrageous. Jesus turned crowds away constantly when he called for discipleship as well. You cannot build a church on consumers. Listen to Alan Hirsch who flatly denies this mentality, in this helpful video clip.
Not called to pastoral ministry
In Chapter 1, Andy talks about his struggle with a call to ministry and how he never felt God call him to preach while many of his other friends were.
One afternoon as my dad and I were driving somewhere, I asked him, “Dad, does a person have to be called into ministry or can he just volunteer?’ He thought for a minute. ‘I guess it’s ok to just volunteer.’” (Loc. 213)
This was very revealing about Charles Stanley as well. Dr. Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon would not have given that answer if they were his father. Lloyd-Jones said:
It was Mr. Spurgeon, I believe, who used to say to young men – “If you can do anything else do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.” I would certainly say that without any hesitation whatsoever. I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else. This call to preach is so put upon him, and such pressure comes to bear upon him that he says, “I can do nothing else, I must preach. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching [Zondervan, 1971], p. 105)
So, what we have is a self-styled, self-commissioned preacher whom God did not call into pastoral ministry. On Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast on October 8th this last year, he mentioned that when he was at Willow Creek back in the 90’s, he realized that he didn’t have any of the stuff of a traditional pastor: being a shepherd, counselor, patient, kind, etc… . but he knew after hearing Hybles talk about leadership that he was a leader! Well, that’s probably true. He is a good leader, but he is not a God-called pastor. So everything that he says in his book from this point on should be taken with this truth about him in consideration. There will be some practical things you can take away from him, but don’t get your ecclesiology from a business man. By the way, don’t pull out “Here am I, send me” from Isaiah 6:8. He was already called to be a prophet by chapter 6. All of God’s prophets and Apostles were hand picked by God and most of them were reluctant to answer the call, not eager go volunteer.
Andy describes growing up at First Baptist of Atlanta as a church made for churched people. He was troubled by what he saw when a gay pride parade purposefully paraded by the front of the church which made all the FBC people angry. Down the street, however was a Methodist church that put up signs welcoming them into their church. He saw the grace of one church and the hypocrisy of his own.
Churches designed for saved people are full of hypocrites. You pretty much have to be a hypocrite to participate. Transparency and honesty are dangerous in a church created for church people … It’s hard to extend grace toward people who don’t seem to need it. And it’s hard to admit you need it when you aren’t sure you will receive it. (Loc. 764)
I do understand and sympathize with the hypocrisy that breeds in “church culture.” I grew up with a front row seat to watch hypocrisy, legalism and exclusiveness. However, church isn’t designed for saved people, the church IS saved people. The design for the church is in Scripture and God designed that the church be the people of God on mission to bring the gospel to the lost. Stanley’s whole idea of mission is for the church people to bring the lost into the church as the evangelism strategy.
As he continues, he gives many details about his father and mother’s divorce. Before the divorce, he states that his mom had not been attending church for years (Loc. 362). Biblically, Charles Stanley should not have been senior pastor during those years. The church should have stopped holding up his celebrity status at the expense of his marriage. Anyway, Andy confronted his dad and advised him to let the church decide his future, but Charles saw his son as an opportunist trying to steal his ministry. I think anyone with any discernment should recognize that Charles Stanley’s own sin was blinding him and his pride was the source of the breach in his relationship with his wife and son. Andy did the right thing and left the church. Eventually, their relationship healed slowly and Andy started a new church where he could do things differently to reach a different segment of the population than his father’s church was reaching.
In Chapter 3, Andy does a good job of describing what the church actually is and shows us that he has done some homework in church history.
The ekklesia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. Ekklesia never referred to a specific place, only a specific people…when Jesus used the term, his disciples understood him to say “I am going to build my own assembly of people and the foundation for this new assembly will be ME!” (Loc. 599)
He goes on to explain the rise of the Catholic church and how the ekklesia (Assembly of God’s people) became the kirche (Church House). “A kirche is a location. An ekklesia is a purposeful gathering of people. You can lock the doors of a kirche. Not so with the ekklesia of Jesus” (Loc. 627).
He goes on to explain how William Tyndale translated “church” rightly as “congregation” but the new word didn’t stick because people were still thinking of church as a location and not a people. I agree with everything in this chapter. At the end, he asks some great questions:
Are we moving or simply meeting? Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services? Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation? Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budget decisions. are we the ekklesia or have we settled for kirche? (Loc. 698)
Although I agree with his observations about the church in chapter 3, he treats the ekklesia as if it is only a weekly meeting and that the majority of mission is done at that meeting.
Going Deep: crafting the North Point values
In Chapter 5, there are some more biblical references to being a church that is good at giving grace and truth and not one without the other. Of course, I don’t think you can give real grace without truth, but it is possible to give people truth without grace. He goes on to explain how the Jews and Gentiles had to learn to get along in the early church and the conclusion of the Jerusalem council was:
Acts 15:19, 28-29 NIV “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God…It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”
Therefore, churches shouldn’t do anything that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God. (Loc. 981)
I agree that we need not make any traditions or extra-biblical preferences of ours an unnecessary barrier for people who are unbelievers. Sure, I believe in the sovereignty of God and that no amount of human barriers can keep the elect from coming to faith, but they may prevent them from coming to faith at your church!
According to Andy Stanley, the following five catalysts accomplish the purpose of developing people’s faith in Christ rather than merely increasing people’s knowledge. (Loc. 1124)
- Practical Teaching - topical preaching with “here’s what to do next tacked on the end of every message” because “people are more concerned about what works than what’s true.” (Loc. 1210)
- Private Disciplines - private devotional commitment to Christ. “The way you talk about the Bible on the weekend will determine their interest in the Bible during the week.” - (Loc. 1323)
- Personal Ministry - Getting people involved in service. Take people where they are and use what they have to offer. They will appreciate being allowed to contribute. They will grow attached to that which they serve.
- Providential Relationships - Can’t control who meets who, but you can facilitate environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships. Determine to create a model that is relationship-centric. (Loc. 1460)
- Pivotal Circumstances - Big life events shape people’s thinking. Inform them how they should think before the events occur so their faith is strengthened by whatever happens. The interpretation of an event will determine which direction you will go.
All of these five points are great. I still think you can do expository preaching with practical application. Letting the Word set the agenda rather than your perception of what people need from week to week is the safer way to go. We still have to pick what books or chapters we’re going to preach, so there does need to be a sensitivity as to what God would lead you to preach, what is timely and what is needed.
Going Wide: why they love to attend
At the beginning of chapter 8-9, Andy recounts a terrible church visit as an example of what he assumes most of us are doing to repel people. Then he explains how to create “irresistible environments” which begins with the parking lot. “It’s up to us to shape the way people view our local churches. We can’t leave this to chance.” (Loc. 1754)
Leaders need to define excellence and hold that standard until it becomes the culture of the church. Some common sense stuff that we need to be aware of is asking yourself stuff like:
Is the Setting Appealing? Is it inviting and comfortable for people? An uncomfortable or distracting setting can derail ministry before it begins. Organized communicates that you take what you do seriously. Disorganized is unappealing. Safe environments, especially for kids, is important and appealing as well. We often need fresh eyes to come in and see what’s wrong that we have gotten used to seeing so much that we’re blind to it.
Is the Presentation Engaging? He appeals to Jesus’ parables which used lots of contemporary illustrations and familiar terms. He also talks about how many of our Sunday School Teachers, or small group leaders are great at presenting stuff, but are sometimes not that great at preparing the content. He suggests matching people who are gifted in these areas together so that if you have someone who’s better at leading the group, but not as great at studying, then give the group leader some material to present from a guy who enjoys studying and writing lessons. “You need a system that allows engaging presenters to present, skilled content creators to create content, and relationally savvy group leaders to facilitate groups” (Loc. 1999).
Is the Content Helpful? “We assume it’s true, but is it helpful?” (Loc. 2055) I have to interject. NEVER ASSUME TRUTH! Look, nobody is going to hand someone a Greek Lexicon for a Bible class. That wouldn’t be helpful, but never assume that the lesson materials are true. The truthfulness of something should never be assumed or taken for granted. That’s how heresy creeps in.
His point however is that application is what makes the difference.
Knowledge alone makes Christians haughty. Application makes us holy. If you want a church full of biblically educated believers, just teach what the Bible says. If you want to make a difference in your community…give people handles, next steps and specific applications. (Loc.2083)
Content that doesn’t address a felt need is perceived as irrelevant. Notice I said perceived. It may be the most relevant information an audience has ever heard. But if an audience doesn’t understand how content interfaces with their lives, it’s just not all that interesting. (Loc.2128)
I have to agree about application. Sometimes the Holy Spirit applies the teaching in a way that you could not have imagined, but connecting the dots for people is important. At least for people who are not so bright like me!
~more to come in part 2~
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