Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Vertical Church by James MacDonald @jamesmacdonald

Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church Can Be. By James MacDonald (@jamesmacdonald;

It took me awhile to make it through this book.  I saw it last December at Lifeway when shopping for Christmas presents, the cover stood out to me... I was curious because it looked a little science fiction-like, a little military-like, but also a church, but a church without a cross on its steeple.  So I picked it up, read the back cover and put it on my to-read list.  I recently got it from the library, but it really took me some time to get through it.  I can definitely get through fiction books quicker.

In one sense, I am not the target audience for this book as I'm not a church leader.  But, I guess I also am because I have been attending church all my life and I am a follower of Christ.  This book desires to help churches find a more "vertical" approach, of us and God, versus what it describes as a series of "horizontal" tactics - trying to get people to come to church and, it claims, missing the point.

The author, James MacDonald, is the founder of Harvest Bible Chapel, a multi-campus mega-church in Chicago which also franchises under the name Harvest Bible Fellowship with church plants around the world.  The book will not let you forget this and at times reads like a prospectus for new protential affiliates or franchisees.  But if you get past that, there's some good stuff in there.  There's also companion videos on the website above, but I didn't watch a lot of them.  It's difficult enough finding time in my household to read a non-fiction book, let alone watch videos.

Still, the book was quite convicting.  I can't think of a better way to review it than to give a quick synopsis of each chapter.

First, move past the 38 recommendations from a Who's Who of mega-church pastors including Bryan Lorritts, which was kinda cool.  He preached the first time we attended Lake Avenue Church and I still remember being really blown away about his honesty and transparency in an encounter he had in a parking lot (not at church) earlier that week with someone.

The book is broken in eight chapters - the first four lay the groundwork, the second four talk about application, but not in terms of tactics because that's the very thing he warns really strongly against, chasing after tactics instead of chasitng after God.

Chapter 1: Everyone has a longing, a longing for eternity, a longing for God.  We were wired that way, to want to understand God and understand the world beyond ourselves.  Idolatry is the attempt by man to fill the void when nothing else has.  

Chapter 2: God's glory is what satisfies that eternal longing.  God may be everywhere (omnipresent) but He reveals Himself intimately when we get we expect him to, when we get out of the way, when we make it about Him.

Chapter 3: God's glory is present in the person of Jesus Christ and God has a special purpose for His church.

Chapter 4: The American Church is failing.  God's glory is not present because we don't make room for it, because we are busy trying to be relevant.  We're busy trying to create relationships with each other instead of focusing on God.

Chapter 5: Worshiping Jesus brings God's glory.  Worship should be vertical, simple, emotive and phsyical.  The church leader (pastor) should be involved in worship planning because the worship should take you some place (arrive, gate, court, preparation, holy presence)

Chapter 6: Preaching Christ should be unapologetic, heralding the Bible with authority and without apology.  Cautions against "tomato-faced preaching," "and another thing," "hobby horse," textual diving board," "bull's eye/wrong target," and "are you crying yet?" Suggests covering lots of ground in the Bible puts the emphasis on how great a researcher the pastor and not how great Jesus is. Interesting.

Chapter 7: Witness must be bold, clear.  There must be no fear of being "stinky" to some people because that's inevitable to people pushing God away.  Those are not the people you are looking for, you're looking for who are ready to hear the message.  Separate the "red apples" from the "green apples" - the approach of befriending people and patiently waiting for them to decide they're ready to hear the message isn't Biblical.  There are people who are hurting and receptive right now.

Chapter 8: Prayer, prayer, prayer, prayer.  Persistent and faith-filled.

I was convicted when I was done with this book.  I've heard time and time again that prayer was important and I've felt that I didn't pray enough, but I was convicted on this count.  I think I should use the trigger of every time I'm frustrated or upset.  I also love the idea that we must expect God's glory, I don't know if we do that, I know I don't always do that.  When we make ourselves less, we make room for God.  I need to work on that.  But most of all, not just assuming I'm in God's presence but expecting it and especially expecting it in church.  I think there's a lot in this book, especially for those who lead churches, especially if they've tried different tactics in different books before to try to change things.  Time to try again: Jesus, pure and simple

I like the pilars of HBC as well:

1. Proclaiming the authority of God's Word without apology.

2. Lifting high the name of Jesus through worship.

3. Believing firmly in the power of prayer.

4. Sharing the good news of Jesus with boldness.

Here's their information on church planting, gives a great summary of what they believe.

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