Book Review: “Planting Missional Churches” by Ed Stetzer (2006)

Bibliographical Entry

Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

Author Information

Ed Stetzer holds two doctorates and has written numerous books on church planting and missions. Having planted churches in Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York, and having trained both church planters and pastors across five continents, Stetzer has shown himself to be a leading authority on the process and purpose of church planting, both in North America and all over the world. Stetzer also served as a professor at Southern Theological Seminary.[1]

Content Summary

In Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer has produced a quality How-To guide for church planters in North America whose attitudes retain the active quality of “missional” as opposed to the more passive quality of being “mission-minded” (Stetzer, 19). All the way through Stetzer’s twenty-nine chapter book, he stresses the need for positive acculturation and intentionality in ministry, giving practical advice in all areas of the church-planting journey. Throughout his book, Stetzer rewords the purpose and goal of church planting, consistently supporting his methods. He begins by offering that the main aim of church planting is to reach people (1), and he builds on this premise by offering that  the main aim of missional church planting is to glorify God, grow His kingdom and develop His Church through new converts (5) by touching, winning and gathering the lost (326). He continues by saying each church is to exalt God, edify believers and evangelize the world (262) out of hearts empowered by prayer, Jesus’ purposes and the Spirit’s presence (325), for only the Lord and His purposes for His Church truly matter (326). The following summary will touch briefly upon each of these chapters, though not in sequential order, as they relate to the church-planting process.

Stetzer begins his book with what could be called “Background Information to Church Planting.” Seven chapters touch on the basic background of today’s missional church planting, and these chapters, in a suggested order of progression, are as follows. Stetzer  begins with church-planting basics (Chapter 1) and builds upon these basics by discussing church planting’s Scriptural basis (Chapter 3), several biblical and historical models of church planters and church plants (Chapter 4) and the needed change in outlook for North American church planting (Chapter 2). He then discusses both culture in general (Chapter 9) and the emerging culture specifically (Chapter 10). He concludes this background section by discussing global church-planting issues that are significantly impacting or soon will impact church planting in North America (Chapter 12).

Stetzer then steps away from the panoramic discussion of church planting and zooms in on the prospective church itself by discussing through ten chapters the who and the how of church planting. He begins by discussing church structure (Chapter 6) and then focuses on the church planter (Chapter 5), leadership (Chapter 7) and lay leadership (Chapter 8), all of which leads into the building of a church-planting team (Chapter 16). Stetzer then moves into the discovering of a focus group (Chapter 11), followed by a discussion on missional churches (Chapter 13) and evangelism (Chapter 15). He closes this section as he began by discussing church structure, here specifically in the form of small groups (Chapter 17) and Koinos churches (Chapter 14).

Stetzer concludes by focusing on the process of church planting in the last twelve chapters of his book in sequential order. In these chapters, he covers such topics as finances (Chapter 18) and worship (Chapters 22), as well as spirituality (Chapter 24), post-launch growth (Chapter 25) and continued church planting (Chapters 28 and 29).

Evaluation

Although Ed Stetzer’s Planting Missional Churches does not rate as highly, in this author’s opinion, as Aubrey Malphurs’ Planting Growing Churches, Stetzer’s work is filled with biblical and personal insights that will help any church planter or prospective church planter find the true mission of his ministry. Because Stetzer comes from a background filled with church-planting experience and is considered an expert on the subject, his qualifications alone certainly make him an author worth reading. The material itself, however, also begs close attention, as this evaluation will show. In the following paragraphs, this paper will evaluate both the positive and the negative aspects of Missional as viewed by a prospective planter or foreign, indigenous churches.

Several positive aspects of Missional immediately stand out as deserving attention. These aspects are as follows: the suggested methods for church planting, the obstacles to church planting, intentionality in church planting, personal suggestions for church planting from Ed Stetzer and facing culture in church planting.

First, Stetzer’s book is filled with practical methods for all stages of the church planting process. He begins by pointing out the extensive list of church-planting models we have in Scripture, specifically in Acts but also throughout the rest of the New Testament (37). He names most specifically the apostle Paul (45-47, 52-53, 59-60, 142), but also mentions Peter (61), Philip (77) and Timothy (67) as well as the members of church planting teams, such as Aquila and Priscilla (76-77) and Barnabas (72, 77). Following the methods of these models, Stetzer discusses effective methods in today’s culture. For example, he discusses the need for the planter to recognize that his church needs more than mere attraction (17), that it must disciple (24) and relate to individuals (131). Stetzer’s discussions on the methods of church planting also focus on worship styles, such as Koinos churches (174), small groups (207) and Bible studies (210-212, 214). These styles, as with regular churches, are to involve simple expository preaching (269; 271-275) and ample discipleship (chapter 24) and training (327). Stetzer points out that the intent in each of these styles is to build leaders (217) who can learn to either lead their church (107-112) or eventually step out to begin yet another church (316-317).

Missional also contains a great deal of example obstacles that potentially planted churches might face. For example, obstruction may come for the older generations in the church (6, 8) who hold strongly to the traditional methods of doing church (8-12) and who view new churches as competitive threats to their status quo (7). These people may use the blind excuse that there is no need for new churches because culture is not changing (133), and they may still cling to the extractional or attractional methods of evangelism to which the postmodern culture has become less and less responsive (166). New churches will also simultaneously face dangers from the two extremes of irrelevance and syncretism (20). Besides these barriers, church planters will also face  obstacles in the form of vision hijacking in which core members and new members may strive to shift the vision and goals of the new church plant (192, 298-300).

Third, Missional has a recurring theme which focuses on the intentionality of evangelism and church planting. In evangelism, intentionality shows itself through job selection in the target town through which a church planter makes solid relationships with people who may very well end up becoming the core of his church plant  (59, 226). Intentionality in evangelism also shines through developing a strategy and plan and through organizing more contacts (183, 196). Intentionality in church planting shows itself in following the example of the early church who intentionally placed themselves under the Holy Spirit as they planted their new churches (52). Finally, intentionality in church planting shines through prayer and service within the community (163).

Fourth, Stetzer peppers his paper with thoughtful and practical suggestions to help encourage the planter along the way. With regards to the pre-planting process, he reminds the planter that God calls a planter (226), Jesus commands the plant (14) and the whole work is for the Lord (326), therefore seek the Lord in all stages (327). He also suggests such things as starting with a two-person team (75) and taking special care when filling positions in the planting team (106, 113, 201, 204) in order to prevent such things as hijacking (300). With Regards to the launch, Stetzer makes such practical suggestions as planning up to six months of sermons ahead of time and avoiding such advertising venues as radio, newspaper and billboards (257). With regards to the workings of the church’s early stages, Stetzer suggest viewing church government as a skeleton, vital yet invisible (92). He suggests stability in structure (89), constant casting of the vision (244) in order to maintain growth and direction (303) and perpetual understanding that the only message of the new church is Christ and God’s Word (278).

Missional also contains a great deal of useful information regarding culture. While this book focuses predominantly on North American church planting, the tools taught here (as well as those suggested in Stetzer’s suggested resources, 121-122) apply to any type of church plant, either foreign or domestic. While research has shown that, since the advent of the megachurches, American culture for the most part has remained static (17), it is this culture which most new church plants will target. When attempting to face and interact with culture, one must recognize that humans are complex as individuals (116) and even more so as groups. Understanding culture takes more than simple glances as demographics (116). One must dig deeper and ask questions (34) and even recognize that members within a culture or a subculture can reach that culture far more effectively than an outsider. These discussions on culture do not apply merely to foreign cultures, but also to the cultures within our own borders. Postmodernity (129-130) is a cultural shift to which church planters must adapt without sacrificing the message (135-136), for in every culture, whether foreign or domestic, there are always elements to adopt, to adapt and to reject (125).

Just as Stetzer’s work is filled with positive aspects, there are also a few negative aspects which must be brought to light. These aspects include the structure of the book and some of the practical ideas from the book.

With regards to the structure of Planting Missional Churches, as stated above in the “Content Summary” section, it seems that Stetzer’s chapter order was not as well-thought-out as it should have been. It seems, in the sequential ordering of his chapters, that he mixes and matches themes with little regard to logical progression. As suggested in the “Content Summary,” a new order of progression for the chapters in this book could be split into the three parts and listed as the following:

Part 1 –  Background Information to Church Planting: Chapters 1, 3, 4, 2, 9, 10 and 12

Part 2 – The Who and How of Church Planting: Chapters 6, 5, 7, 8, 16, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 14

Part 3 – The Process of Church Planting: Chapter 18-29

Following such a progression would allow for a much clearer presentation of how to plant missional churches.

One final negative quality concerning Stetzer’s book is his apparent, albeit small, contradictions against the ideas of Aubrey Malphurs. In Planting Growing Churches, Malphurs opens with an optimistic look at the future of the American church, despite the current, negative situation.[2] Contrariwise, Stetzer begins his book with a much more pessimistic view (5), which suggests more of a fear- or guilt-type tactic in pushing for church planting rather than the excitement- or visionary-type tactic employed by Malphurs. Also, while Malphurs suggests reaching out through the use of newspapers (not the religion section) and radio (not Christian radio),[3] Stetzer suggests avoiding both the newspaper and radio as ineffective methods (257). While Stetzer’s reasoning is that this will attract more than those included in a planter’s focus group, it seems that this is insufficient reasoning.

Ed Stetzer has provided church planters with yet another solid presentation of how to plant a missional church. But the book would have been much less were it not for his pertinent thoughts in the final chapter. Stetzer applies Psalm 127:1 to the church plant and reminds his readers that, unless the Lord is planting the church, they labor in vain who still try plant it—for Christ is the true Church Planter (327).

[1] Retrieved on August 13, 2010 from http://www.christianbookpreviews.com/christian-book-author.php?isbn=0802415008 and http://leadershipblog.blogspot.com/2005/10/leadership-blog-interview-ed-stetzer.html

[2] Malphurs, Aubrey. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1998), 13

 

[3] Malphurs, 147-148

© 2010 E.T.

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This entry was posted in Book Review, Church Planting, Missions, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: “Planting Missional Churches” by Ed Stetzer (2006)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “11 Innovations in the Local Church” by Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird (2007) | Elliot's Blog

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