Leveling the Church Review

Book Review: 

Leveling the Church: Multiplying Your Ministry By Giving It Away - by Micah Fries and Jeremy Maxfield is attacking the notion of, what they call, the "super pastor", the idea that the pastor is in charge of everything in the church and pretty much meets everyone's personal spiritual needs. Instead, they believe that the biblical model is for the pastor and elders to train men to be able to do various tasks that many think the pastor is solely responsible for.

I wasn't quite sure what I thought of this book at first, but I've concluded that I like it overall, though with some caveats which I'll mention in a moment.

The premise is very interesting. As I mentioned above, the case is made that the pastor's job is not to take on everything himself, but to build up others to be able to take on ministerial tasks, like visiting the sick in the hospital, counseling, and visiting in general. As the authors put it: "…while the pastor ought to engage in ministry actions like visiting others, such ministry is our familial responsibility. The vocational responsibility of a pastor or church leader is, particularly, to engage develop the church community so we can all engage in acts of ministry together…"

They attack the notion that Christianity is individualistic in its nature, that it is focused upon ourselves: MY spiritual growth, MY being spiritually fed, MY being ministered to, MY needs need to be met: "…we have repurposed the Christian faith in a way that is generically individualistic.  We claim that we don't need the church to worship, that we can worship anywhere.  We claim that no one can judge us.  We claim that our relationship with God is our business alone…….  Consider, how we regularly judge the success of a worship service.  We leave and say things like, 'That was great! I really got fed today!'  That sounds mature, and faithful.  It sounds like we are prioritizing good biblical teaching, but it is actually in opposition to biblical worship.  When we judge the effectiveness of a worship service by what it does for us, we have made ourselves the object of the worship experience." Rather, as this book points out, we Christians are supposed to gather together regularly, meeting one another's needs(and those aren't always personally felt needs), talking, and getting to know one another, and pushing each other to live as we ought. The authors put it bluntly: "We are specifically encouraged to gather together so we can be in each other's business." This group responsibility for one another's spiritual needs and well-being truly fits with the Biblical model.

As to some of the things I was wary about: There was a positive quotation of a Catholic priest with no disclaimers about his beliefs. I'm afraid that perhaps this means that the writers consider Roman Catholicism an expression of the true Gospel. But it's not, it can't be. From what I understand of the teachings of Roman Catholicism, other mediators between God and mankind are proposed besides Jesus Christ and the idea seems to be propounded that Jesus Christ's righteousness is not the only righteousness available to cover one's sins (Mary's and other saints' righteousness are also available). Also the focus and reverence of the virgin Mary is quite idolatrous (also her being another mediator for us in Heaven, and her not being a sinner). I don't remember the authors quoting or saying anything else that indicated that they espoused Roman Catholicism, rather they emphasized the importance of getting the Gospel right. So perhaps this quotation was just something that wasn't thought through…

Second, I didn't quite understand what is meant by "Multiplication" . I was getting mixed impressions of what they meant by that. At first I got the idea that the goal is not necessarily to multiply the people in your church but rather to grow spiritually. But then it started to sound like numbers of people are important. "Our vision is to see one percent of the metro area worshiping with us on any given weekend…we had to reach new people and see them developed into multiplying leaders." They measured baptisms, measured the amount of people in certain small groups..etc. That leads me to the question: Who builds the church? Doesn't Christ? Who are we to assume that we know how many people He should be adding to our particular local gathering? The number of people in our area appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48)? what if 1 percent is too low? What if it is too high? Besides, what if one percent of our area do believe, but are attending other biblical churches in the area? What if our particular church is supposed to stay a small body of believers? The Lord will add our number if He sees fit, but it is not our place to set a numerical goal, nor I might add (in our day and age) an ethnic, age or gender related goal of the types of people we want in our group. The Lord builds the church, we don't pick the people He builds it with or how many people or how fast it should grow numerically.

I also a bit concerned about some implications I got from things they said about ministry, it seems as though they think that the ministry done by people ought to be an 'official' church ministry, outside of the regular sermon meeting on Sunday. "…our life in the church has to be more than a once-per-week gathering for an hour of worship. This will mean, for example, investing in a Sunday school class or small group or serving in an area of ministry." Don't get me wrong, I agree that we don't just sit and listen to the sermon, leave, and that's our church life. But what if it's not an official, church recognized area of ministry that you've signed up for? What if your ministry is meeting another church family in the week and the majority of the rest of your church family never find out that you did that? Or just talking and encouraging someone else while meeting on a Sunday? Does it have to be 'official' or known by the rest of the body?

The last question I want to mention that this book brings up in my mind is, how does the Pastor equip the Saints? I see the thought that he is to equip other people to work with him and help lead, but how, really, will the spiritual growth of the people happen? Does equipping the Saints mainly happen by the Pastor offering practical training and appointing tasks or by preaching the Word? Biblically he mainly seems to be instructed to equip them by preaching the Word. By reproving, rebuking and exhorting people. Feeding the sheep - That seems to be his main instruction for equipping the Saints.

Perhaps the other elders are to take care of practical training and appointing tasks? Or perhaps the people are to be looking for ministry opportunities on their own, look for needs that need to be met, not just for the church building, but the needs of individual members, the building up of individual members, the provoking of one another to love and good works independent of having to have a permanent, recognized part in a small group ministry geared toward any specific work. Some of the works will be done in the large group (listening to teaching of the Word of God on Sunday), small groups (helping someone paint rooms, clean things, just getting together..etc.) and one on one works (sweeping the floor in the church kitchen, mowing a fellow member's lawn, visiting the sick, widows, elderly, or helping someone with their personal struggles). None of the works need to be publicly acknowledge by the corporate church.

Having said all of that, I'll repeat that the book was quite good overall, very thought provoking (as you can probably tell by my ramblings). The authors give a good demonstration that Christianity is not to be lived in isolation, but as a community, as a body of believers each member needing the other. And they also show that people shouldn't expect the pastor to be the one to do, or even to lead, most of the ministry that happens in the church. People shouldn't go to church just to "fill up" but to live out what they've learned, and not just living it on Sunday but on every day of the week. I'll end with one more quote from the book: "… if spiritual maturity is typically measured by daily Bible reading as individuals, and if discipleship (if it happens) is typically measured by the reproduction of sound doctrine and maybe Scripture memory, and if leadership is qualified by theological education (and perhaps business savvy for directing growth strategies and managing staff recruits), then we're functionally gnostic. We've focused our efforts on the acquisition of spiritual knowledge in the mind while disregarding the spiritual significance of daily life in the physical world. An incomplete gospel is an incorrect Gospel."

Thanks to the folks at MP Newsroom for the free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)