Usually the words "church" and "secret" don't go together. Unless you're attending one of Brooke Hill's Secret Church events, but that's entirely different. When Jesus spoke about the church he was very open and honest about what it should be and what it should do. There was no secret. If you believe Jesus Christ is Lord and the God raised Him from the dead then go and make disciples. Gather together with other believers, worship God, teach the word, and act like Christ by serving the community and taking the gospel to them. Not complicated and requires very little monetary investment.
Enter the 21st century and the nearly ubiquitous mega-church. It used to be that mega-churches were few and far between, but now it seems like every town has one. Networks are springing up that will virtually allow you to buy a church franchise in a box. Just add a band and a gifted speaker and you are on your way to making a mega-church. It's a very expensive way to build a church and apparently a lot more complicated.
It spawned a whole new genre of books; the church growth genre.
For the last 30 years Rick Warren and his book the Purpose Driven Church had the corner on the market of how to build and grow a modern church. Now there's a new kid on the block, Robert Morris. Morris started Gateway Church in 2000 and, according the book, boasts 24,000 active members.
So what can we learn from Robert Morris? What is the "secret" to growing a church?
A Blessed Church is a Mega Church
Large churches that grow quickly, whatever quickly means, have often been accused of doing something worldly in order to grow their churches. It usually runs along the lines of delivering feel-good messages, or making the service all show and no substance, or simply promising prosperity.
"Any kingdom ruled by Jesus would be healthy. And healthy things grow!"
The current crop of mega-church pastors has caught on to this and developed a new argument: healthy things grow. Morris follows right along with this train of thought.
" I've met thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners in my years in ministry. And in all that time I've never met one who, after choosing to endure all the hardship and labor and risk required to bootstrap a business, hope that his business would stay small and insignificant. I've never talked to a farmer who - after buying seed on credit, toiling diligently day after day preparing the soil, planting, fertilizing and irrigating - didn't pray that God would send all the rain and sun necessary to produce a bumper crop. Coaches want their team to win. Architects want to see their buildings built and utilized=. Writers want their books to be read by as many people as possible. God made us want to bring increase. Given that truth, I'm not sure why we're supposed to be shocked or offend when someone who is called and equipped to shepherd a flock has a desire to see that flock grow healthy and to multiply, many, many times over."
Like so many mega-church pastors Morris' makes the mistake of comparing the Church to a man-made endeavor. Of course God wants the Church to grow. The Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13 is proof that God wants the Church to grow. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all nations." That's everybody.
However, I can't help but notice that when the church is treated like a business it tends to model the Tower of Babel rather than the New Testament church. The mindset of the mega-church pastor seems to be to bring everyone under one roof (Genesis 11:3-4). The mindset of God seems to be, everybody spread out (Genesis 11:8, Acts 5:42, Acts 20:20). There are particular problems that plague large businesses; they are unable to adapt quickly to market changes. The sheer size of the organization makes it economically difficult. Smaller business are often able to change course very rapidly to meet the needs of their clientele because there is less infrastructure to manage. Gateway is one church of 24,000 people. What if it were 6 churches of 4,000? Wouldn't they be able to better meet the needs of their particular area? What if it was 24 churches of 1,000? Think how much greater an impact they could have on their individual communities.
Blessed Church hears from God clearly_sort of_maybe_maybe not
Morris believes that he clearly hears from God.
"When I attune the ear of my heart to his voice, He speaks to me very precisely and with great detail, just as my wife or any other intimate friend of mine speaks."
Even his wife believes he hears from God clearly because she asked if he would teach her how to hear from God. In a section on paying attention to family he records his wife's question.
"Well, as long as I've known you, you've heard the voice of God so clearly. Do you think_if you have time_? I know you're busy, but do you think you could teach me how to hear God like you do?"
It's this gift to hear from God clearly that led Morris to enter the ministry and start Gateway church and even name Gateway church. He even compares this gift to Moses hearing from God. However, later on in the book, after explaining how God so clearly speaks to him, Morris explains that it's still open for discussion.
I can't walk into our [elder's] meeting with a posture that basically suggest, "Guys I think God wants us to do xyz, but I'll relinquish the idea if you can find a way to pry it out of my white knuckled grip." And I certainly can't suggest that because I believe I've heard from the Lord that there is no room for discussion or alternative viewpoints.
That's confusing to me because when Moses heard from God it wasn't open to debate. My question for Morris is very simple: Are you hearing from God, or not? If you are, why is it being questioned? If you're not then why are you saying you are?
It's this kind of confusing mish-mash of ideas that makes me think Morris isn't being completely honest in his advice.
A Blessed Church has a humble pastor with a big ego
These are a few quotes that Morris makes in reference to his position at Gateway.
"In the end, the Lord has made it clear that He wants the Gateway story told because it's His story - not because we've done everything right, but rather because He has accomplished something special in spite of our weaknesses and mistakes."
"In each instance [Moses and Paul] god uses a singular head to establish the vision, values, and direction of the [church]" pg 133
"As the singular head, I'm not passive about the direction of the church. I lead." pg 136
"We believe the senior pastor should be the uncontested leader of the church on a daily basis." pg 153
The Wrap Up
When all is said and done The Blessed Church is a muddled mess. Morris claims to hear clearly from God, but don't hold him to that. Morris claims that God gives a vision and then later claims that pastor defines the vision. Morris says the church should be led by unanimous consent of pastor and elders but then says the senior pastor is the uncontested leader.
Chapter after chapter I found myself asking the same question: So, which is it?
Then again, the flawed theology, feign at humility, and the boasting about numbers is more than enough to throw this book out entirely.
In The Blessed Church, Robert Morris writes to share why Gateway Church does what they do, followed by the "what" of how they follow through with method. To do this, he distinguishes the book into six parts: 1) The Gateway Story, 2) Blessed Vision, 3) Blessed Shepherds, 4) Blessed Leaders, 5) Blessed Government, and 6) Blessed Church Culture. Morris explains the church functions in each of these categories, along with the theology and reasoning behind the functions. For each, he digs into Scripture and shows the biblical root for the process.
Morris's writing is easy to read, which makes this book a fairly quick read and simple to understand. It could be a good book to have on a church leader's shelf as it has helpful ideas and refreshing reminders. However, no leader should walk away from this as the model for "how to lead a healthy, growing church." Is it helpful for thinking and developing theology and practices? Yes. While my approach to ministry is not entirely the same as his, it's always good to think from a different angle. I appreciate that Morris has a strong belief in the primacy of Scripture and the need to listen to the Holy Spirit at all times in the Christian walk.
My only two nitpicks are the following. 1) Morris does not always show sufficient exegesis and interpretation of Scripture. Sometimes he jumps straight from Scripture to interpretation without adequately showing how he got to the interpretation from the study of Scripture. However, this may be due to the nature of the book in that the purpose is essentially to tell Gateway's story and now to write a commentary, so in order to keep the book simple, Morris may have simplified his study process. 2) Morris communicates strictly a male-only church leadership model. I do not know if he rejects woman church leaders and pastors, but it would seem so from his writing.
Overall, The Blessed Church is a good read. Though I wouldn't put it on my "Books Every Pastor Should Read" list, I'd recommend it to those who are wanting a quick read with simple truths that helps fan your passion for ministry.
"Whether you are a pastor, a volunteer, or a church member, you want your church to grow well." You want a healthy church. But what does a healthy church look like and how do you turn your church into one? The Blessed Church by Robert Morris can help you!
I work in women's ministry in my church and have worked with women, youth, and children all throughout my adult life. I've even been a church secretary. One thing I have learned is that there are many things that can make a church unhealthy. There are many things that will kill a church.
We are all ministers and when we adopt that mindset and realize that we all share a common goal of reaching the lost for the Lord, we will learn how to put the things aside that divide us. In this book, Robert Morris explains how he and his church members have fostered growth within their body.
In the book, Mr. Morris states that "God made us to want to bring increase." It's natural for us to want to grow. He says, "Writers want their books read by as many people as possible." That rang true in my heart. This book made me realize that as important as book sales are to me, having a healthy, thriving church is equally as important.
We can use many strategies and have the best intentions to make this health come to our churches, but "it all comes down to the motivation and attitudes of our hearts." Our goal must be to feed the sheep. If you've ever been in a church that won't grow no matter what, it might be time to stop and assess things.
Sometimes churches grow in number but then things level out or fall. Why is that? Well, the parable of the seed tells us that the soil a seed grows in determines whether or not it's fertile enough to sustain the test of time. "Healthy things grow. Growth without real health is unsustainable. If you want growth, pursue and monitor health."
Churches sometimes try so hard to reach people and to make them stay once they arrive that they water things down. They try to make the Word of God palatable. They don't want to step on toes. But, as this book says, "Unbelievers are attracted to, not repelled by, the power and presence of God. Spiritually hungry seekers are looking for something authentic and transformativeâ€”something bigger than themselves." I've always felt like if someone walks into the doors of the church for a church service, then that person is seeking God. So why not give him what he's looking for?
"A pastor's job is to train up everyday evangelists and send them out, filled with the Word and the influencing power that comes from having been in God's presence." How exciting for a pastor to be able to preach to his congregation words of empowerment to send them out to conquer the world for Godâ€”and offer words to the seeker at the same time.
The book also speaks of the importance of the pastor having a vision and then casting that vision before his people. "A vision starts with an individual. In scripture, God didn't impart vision to a committee. He spoke to an individual and called that person to communicate the vision clearly to others. Visions can only be accomplished by a team." This shows how important each person within the church is. We're all needed to accomplish the goal.
"A vision God can bless is a vision you allow Him to give you. It will require both great faith and holy audacity to receive it." If you believe God has a bigger plan for you and your church, then be ready for him to bless you.
Here's a few things Mr. Morris shares in regards to a pastor's role:
â€¢ A pastor's role is to feed the sheep. He should spend more time feeding than leading. People can't go into battle malnourished. They must be fed.
â€¢ The wrong kind of shepherd will actually scatter the sheep.
â€¢ A true shepherd's heart burns to see people helped and fed and matured and equipped.
â€¢ A shepherd who doesn't care about these things will see his church get smaller.
â€¢ A true shepherd leads by example. He models where he wants his sheep to go.
"Only Jesus can call and gift true shepherds."
Mr. Morris stresses the fact that pastors must include their families with them in ministry. They must not sacrifice them to the demands of ministry. "They must be good husbands and fathers first. They can't be truly blessed leaders any other way." Pastors must stay in the Word, pray, and raise up leaders so they will not have to do everything alone.
One thing Mr. Morris said really stuck out to me. He said, "Hold onto what God has given you with an open hand." If you know that God owns everything and that He allows us to use them and have access to them for His purposes, then it's easier to hold your hand open and ask Him to do with you and your resources whatever He wants to. You will soon see that you have even more than you started out with. With this attitude, not only will you be blessed, your family and your church will be, as well.
"Church is not about observing God. Or learning facts about God. It's about experiencing God." When we connect with a solid community within our churches, serve the Lord with gladness, commit our lives and our ministries to Him, blessings will abound.
I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Not serving as a Pastor or Elder of a church, I was curious as to how I would relate to Robert Morris' book. On the practical side the author keeps most of the chapters short, trying to hone in on just one point with some supplemental information. He also does not use much jargon or 'insider vernacular.' That keeps the language simpler. The combination of the short chapters and language makes this book easy to read.
While readers may not agree with every concept the author presents, I think the overall point he tries to make is one that every church can benefit from. That point is that local churches should focus on health rather than growth.
I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I'm not entirely sure where to start with Robert Morris' book The Blessed Church, there are many fascinating and insightful points that I should bring up to do it justice. I suppose then, the best thing I can do up front is is give it a wonderful endorsement. If you get this book as a pastor or leader in your church (or for a pastor or leader in your church), you won't be disappointed. Morris writes from the heart and passionately argues for a clearly defined vision from the Senior Pastor while simultaneously recognizing the importance of a team method to leadership and accountability. Any church or leader in need of motivation on how to become a good leader and vision caster must read this book.
What makes Morris book so helpful is that he covers it from so many different angles. He covers early on what it looks like to capture and create a vision from God; moves later into the characteristics, attitudes and beliefs that one needs to have in order to lead; the role, duty and function of a pastor (with particular emphasis on the lead or senior pastor; church politics and governance; and closes it off by looking at the importance of culture.
One of the important things Morris did for me as a reader was to tow a line well in humility. As a pastor of an extremely large church, it can be tempting to just give a list of prescriptions that instructions that must be followed so you can be successful â€˜like him.' Another similar temptation is to brag about the successes of your particular church. Morris, while making frequent use of phrases like, "I don't say this to brag but..." comes of as believable and humble. He isn't saying it to brag, he has a genuine heart and wants to help other pastors capture God's vision for his church and how that needs to be implemented.
Morris gift of writing is clear, passionate and persuasive. This book is birthed out of prayer and is a must read for any church struggling with vision, purpose, direction and effectiveness.
Disclaimer: I reviewed a free copy of this book through the BloggingForBooks program offered by WaterBrook Multnomah publishing. I was in no way compensated for this review and all views are solely and completely my own. I was not required to offer a positive review either through the publisher or author.