***DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE FROM MOODY PUBLISHERS TO REVIEW***
Karl Vaters’ 100 Days To A Healthier Church: A Step-By-Step Guide For Pastors & Leadership Teams represents the second book I have reviewed for Moody Publishers this year. The book’s title explains what this book is; it is a step-by-step guide over a 100-day period meant to lead a church to become a healthier church. I have to admit that I did not read this book in 100 days. Instead, I read it in shorter time. Moreover, I did not use this book to experiment in any way, shape or form. Nevertheless, I believe one can still read this book to see if it may be used in practice as a means to help a church become healthier.
After the introduction, the book has seven sections:
Before The 100 Days (chapters 1-3)
Step 1: Assess Your Situation (chapters 4-7; weeks 1-4)
Step 2: Select A Target (chapters 8-10; weeks 5-7)
Step 3: Train The Team (chapters 11-13; weeks 8-11)
Step 4: Implement The Plan (chapters 14-18; weeks 12-14 + launch/celebration weekend)
After the 100 Days (chapter 19 and an afterword)
Resources (meant to be used for days 1 and 99)
In the introduction, Vaters states the principles in his book are “long-term principles” instead of “one-time, quick-fix solutions” (p. 11). In chapter one, Vaters states the goal of his book:
The goal of this book is not to help you start a new program, or pattern your congregation after another successful church. The goal is to take another step toward becoming the church God called you to be.
I appreciate Vaters’ clarity here. He states his book’s goal. Furthermore, he makes it clear the principles in the book are for the long haul. There is no uncertainty on what Vaters is trying to accomplish. Vaters continues his clarity in chapter two; he gives four reasons why he chose 100 days (pp. 29-30).
In chapter three, Vaters gives a weak argument for what the church is called to do:
After all, the church is not called to sell a product, make money, or build a bigger customer base. We’re called to love God, love others, and disciple believers who make other disciples.
Now I agree that the church is not called to sell a product, make money or build a bigger customer base. Having said that, Vaters’ definition of what the church is called to do is all law and no Gospel. Moreover, he gives no biblical text to back his position. I’ll give two; they are Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:44-49. Jesus is the one speaking in both passages:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Luke 24:44-49 (NASB)
A healthy church will call people to repent and be forgiven. Why, you ask? Well, it is because people (like you and me) have been born dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1-10 explains (NASB):
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).
Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
I give the Gospel because Vaters’ definition of what the church is called to do is simply insufficient. One cannot have a healthier church if the message of Christ and Him crucified for one’s sins is not part of the plan. Moreover, you will notice that it does not take 100 days to proclaim that message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins; one can proclaim that message right now (talk about a quick-fix solution). Nevertheless, I still need to review the rest of Vaters’ book as a whole. Unfortunately, Vaters’ insufficient church definition begins what ends up being a slow decline through the rest of this book.
In chapter four, Vaters make what is essentially his thesis statement for the book:
Rediscovering God’s order for the church is the point of this book, starting with this, the first Saturday meeting.
It is at this point of the book that the 100-day process begins. It is also at this point that the book starts following a pattern as follows:
Day 1 (Meeting)
Days 2-6 (Devotional)
Day 7 (Sabbath—-mainly a rest day)
repeat steps 1-3 until Day 100 reached
It is also beginning in chapter four that I notice several bad habits that manifest themselves throughout the rest of the book in spots. First, Vaters’ insufficient definition of the church perhaps continues with this statement (bolding done by me):
And that’s what we did. It took many steps over many years to get healthy and strong, but it started with that essential decision to do two important things: remind ourselves of why all churches exist and discover the role our specific congregation is called to play in that plan.
Nowhere in Scripture is it taught that specific congregations are called to do certain things. All churches that make up the body of Christ are called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations (Luke 24:44-49; Matthew 28:18-20). All Christians that make up those congregations are called to walk in the good works Jesus Christ has called them to do (Ephesians 2:10; see also Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). No congregation is exempt from that.
Here is another quote I found regarding Vaters’ definition of the church (or perhaps the church’s mission):
Effective churches aren’t driven by events, programs or schedules. They’re driven by the mission. And the mission is simple: Love Jesus, love others, share your faith, and disciple believers.
I know this is annoying, but I have to ask: where is proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all the nations? What is meant by “share your faith”? Faith in what? Faith in whom? The concept of repentance is certainly not absent from this book (p. 63). Why isn’t that also included in the church’s mission in this book? Vaters’ definition of the church/church mission is simply insufficient.
A second bad habit I saw was bad grammar/punctuation (p. 54). I noticed enough errors to conclude this is not the cleanest read grammatically (pp. 137, 161, 175, 189, 198, 218, 257). Vaters does present his ideas clearly (as advertised by my citations of examples of this in the first two chapters). They’re just not presented the cleanest.
A third bad habit I saw (and this is perhaps the most dangerous of the ones found in this chapter alone) was a practice that was mentioned during an explanation of what happens during the first big meeting day in the 100-day process (p. 52). When explaining what takes place during this meeting with the CLT (Core Leadership Team), Vaters states the following (bolding done by me):
Give every person a copy of the first page of Conversation Starters. This page will have a list of Bible passages about the Church and its mission. You’ll notice that the text of the passage is not written on the page, just the chapter and verse numbers. This ensures that every group has to look up the passages in the Bible. When we look up the passage for ourselves, it reminds us that we’re getting these ideas from God’s Word, not ourselves. It also allows people to see the context of the passages, mark their Bibles, and compare translations.
Each conversation group is then given half an hour, from 9:15-9:45am, to read the passages, talk about what the verses mean to them, and take notes on the conversation.
Talking to other people about what a Bible verse means to them invites all kinds of potential errors to arise. One must understand that truth is outside of us. Truth is in the Scriptures (John 17:17; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Numbers 23:19, Psalm 12:6, 2 Peter 1:16-21, John 10:35 and Malachi 3:6). I am glad Vaters points the reader to the Scriptures in his devotionals. Nevertheless, when it comes to Bible interpretation, one should not ask another what a Bible verse or verses mean to him/her. Rather, the question should be, “What do the verse or verses mean?”
It should be noted that devotionals represent five of the seven days in the week for this 100-day process. This brings up another bad habit introduced in this chapter; in some cases, Vaters employs allegorization and/or eisegesis into the biblical texts. For example, Vaters appears to read the church into Luke 2 (pp. 61-62). That text, however, has nothing to do with the church. Another example is Vaters’ reading the manmade doctrine of “Keep-Give-Toss” into the historical narrative of Acts 6:1-7 (pp. 144-153). I never heard of this principle until I read this book. My question for Vaters would be which of the apostles or the early church fathers taught the principle of “Keep-Give-Toss”?
In chapter five, another bad habit surfaces; this would be Vaters’ lack of discernment. Vaters positively cites Francis Chan when discussing what God wanted as His order for the church (p. 66). In a book review I did on Chan’s CrazyLove, I noted how his book was a lot of law with little to no Gospel (which ironically lined up with Vaters’ definition of the church’s purpose—-law and no Gospel). Pastor Gabe Hughes has detailed Chan’s defense of partnering with such heretics as Todd White, Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson and others. In chapter ten, Vaters cites Andy Stanley, a false teacher who has engaged in the unbiblical, New Age and nonsensical practice known as vision-casting (p. 171). In fact, one could argue that Vaters is guilt of double-speak in this book by comparing what Vaters said earlier in the book with the paragraph showing his citation of Stanley. I will show the quotes side by side (bolding done by me):
This book is not about vision-casting; it’s about rediscovering a vision that has already been cast. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “God hates visionary dreaming.” Those are strong, even extreme words. But they are worth considering. Bonhoeffer went on to say that visionary dreaming “makes the dream proud and pretentious…He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.” (p. 65)
Andy Stanley may be one of the most well-known planners in church leadership, but even he says, “It is dangerous to become too preoccupied with trying to figure out how to bring about your vision. Plan the best you can. But remember, a divine vision necessitates divine intervention. (p. 171)
If this book is not about vision-casting as Vaters claims, then why on earth is he citing a guy who has no problem with unbiblical, New Age and nonsensical concept of vision-casting? Moreover, why is he exposing his reader to Stanley, a false teacher and theological liberal? This is confusing. Moreover, this confusion is brought about by Vaters’ clear lack of discernment.
Since I’ve offered quite a bit of commentary on the content within the 100-day process, I will offer commentary on the “After 100 Days” section. The lone chapter of this section assumes that the church who partook in the 100-day process has developed four new strengths (pp. 256-257). Given the Bible-twisting (via allegorization/eisegesis and introduction of manmade doctrine), lack of discernment and insufficient definition of the church and/or its mission throughout the chapters of the 100-day process, I lean towards questioning the strength of those new strengths. Nevertheless, since the devotionals did have chunks of Scripture (multiple chapters on occasion even; pp. 133, 181) for reading (which I appreciated) instead of single verses ripped out of context, it is quite possible that new strengths were developed despite the (at times) bad hermeneutics from Vaters. The “Afterword” of this section explains that this book is meant to be done, not set aside (p. 261). Vaters offers other suggestions for next steps (pp. 261-262).
Vaters presents his ideas clearly. Moreover, he does give chunks of Scriptures in his devotionals. Those are things to appreciate. However, the lack of discernment, the insufficient church/church mission definition, the (at times) bad hermeneutics, the bad grammar and perhaps even a faulty premise (do I really need 100 days to get to a healthier church?) make this book one I would not recommend despite Vaters’ own personal subjective experiences of success with the principles he gives. I do not need to take 100 days to know that proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations should be the church’s business (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49). As a blood-bought born-again believer, I just need to obey Scripture and preach the Gospel by calling people to repent and be forgiven (and for believers to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; Matthew 3:8). That will make a church healthier. That will make a nation healthier. That will also makes books by Vaters unnecessary to write.
NOTE: I emailed this review to Karl via his website. I also tweeted my review. I tagged Karl in it.