OK . . . I have finally finished this book. It took me forever to read not because it's difficult or lengthy, but because I have an eleven month old at home. Since my posts on this book have been so spread out over the past few months, I wanted to put a full review on today. Here you go . . .
In No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke shares with the reader the amazing story of the Gateway Community Church in Austin, TX. The church was started under the premise that today's emerging generation (largely young adults under the age of 30) long for community and a place where they can be heard, understood, loved, and accepted. Burke shares what this kind of community looks like relying on story after story shared from members of the Gateway Church.
The jaded, cynical, and skeptic nature of today's generation makes the traditional approach to ministry null and void. All around I see churches that claim to be "community focused" or "community oriented" but in reality they are simply churches full of great God-fearing men and women who are scared to death of change and fear change more than they fear losing their neighbors and co-workers and friends to the flames of hell.
Burke offers the most practical and insightful of all the literature I have thus far read within the "emergent" thread. It is far from heady. It is nitty gritty. The price of the book is worth any one of three chapters that stare point blank into three issues that many churches are afraid to discuss openly and honestly: other religions, homosexuality, and premarital co-habitation and sexual involvment. In each of these issues he is straightforward and honest, and deals refreshingly with these issues in that he moves beyond the "rightness" or "wrongess" of them and deals with the real ministerial and practical concerns that each brings to the table.
His sections on dealing with a culture of brokeness and aloneness are also very powerful and insightful. These are the qualities of the generation we are surrounded by, but how many churches actually create an environment where these people can share and be open and honest with their daily struggles against sin and the evil one? I have never been part of such a church, and Burke's book has lit a fire in me to find (or hopefully, create) such a culture in a church.
Though full of praxis, the book is slightly optimistic for those of us working and living in churches already established. Burke looks at things from a church plant context - basically where you are making up your own rules. Dealing with rules that are already set down for you is much more compllcated (and a much more slow-moving process). However, much of Burke's insight can (and should) be considered in the midst of any church context.
In the final chapter, Burke issues a challenge for emerging leaders. His belief is the current approach to ministerial training is flawed. It is set up in such a way to produce great teachers but not great leaders. The missing ingredient, he claims, in many church leaders is an "entrepreneurial spirit." The young, strong leaders who are making names for themselves in the business world need to be given the opportunity to put their drive and creativity to work within churches.
The following quote is something I found most challenging to the way I current approach my ministry:
"According to recent surveys, only 5% of current senior pastors said they have the gift of leadership. Most pastors have the primary gift of teaching which is essential for the health of the church, but teaching alone cannot create culture of mobilize all the gifts needed for the Body to function effectively. We have operated according to a modern model of church, where the church is seen primarily as an educational instituion. And so we have raised up teachers, and seminarians to equip teachers to teach, but we have no model or path for raising up or equipping leaders. As a result, naturally gifted leaders have no vision for starting new churches." (p. 305).
That is something that I believe I have been given, and must wrestle with how to play that out. Perhaps I need to consider approaching our leadership about casting a vision toward a new church in coming years. Burke goes into great detail in the approach he has taken to planting churches. It is too detailed to cover here, but basically he believes the church should move to a system that allows them to plant a church every year or two. It sounds crazy, unrealistic, and naive . . . but the approach he lays out gets young emergent leaders like myself excited about the possibility that it might even work. The details and some resources of their project (Emerging Leadership network) can be accessed through their website: www.elichurchplanting.com ).
Any young pastor or youth pastor or church leader who is struggling in his or her current position should read this book. It will light a fire within you - a zeal and excitement about what God can truly do in this emerging generation of Americans. It has really envigorated me to begin pursuing what all ministers really enter the ministry for: sharing Jesus with those who don't know him. Too many churches are not excited enough about sharing him with new people - they'd rather bicker and in-fight about secondary things. I am tired of in-fighting and bickering. It is time for churches to realize that if their baptism pool is dried up due to mechanical problems, but no one notices because we never need it (as it is at the Alum Creek Church) some folks need to get some fire lit under their butt and begin sharing Jesus with folks - creating a come as you are culture within the church as Burke states.
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