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Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church Paperback – October 1, 2012
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In Creature of the Word you will learn that the Bible is not about us; it is about Jesus and how to live all of life with Him, like Him, and for Him. This is a foundational, practical, and helpful book for both Christians and church leaders.
About the Author
Matt Chandler serves as Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX. He has served in that role since December 2002 and describes his tenure at The Village as a re-planting effort where he was involved in changing the theological and philosophical culture of the congregation. The church has witnessed a tremendous response growing from 160 people to over 10,000 with campuses in Flower Mound, Dallas and Denton.
Alongside his current role as lead pastor, Matt is involved in church planting efforts both locally and internationally through The Village and various strategic partnerships. Prior to accepting the pastorate at The Village, Matt had a vibrant itinerant ministry for over 10 years where he spoke to thousands of people in America and abroad about the glory of God and beauty of Jesus. His greatest joy outside of Jesus is being married to Lauren and being a dad to their three children, Audrey, Reid and Norah.
Recently, Matt was named president of Acts 29, a worldwide church-planting organization. Over the last 10 years, Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 400 churches in the United States and networks of churches in multiple countries.
Matt speaks at conferences throughout the world and has written a book, The Explicit Gospel, published in April 2012.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the Vice Presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources, leading the Resources Division. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including Creature of the Word and the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.
Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.
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So when everyone and his pet monkey kept talking about being "gospel-centered," I began to wear out on the buzzword and felt compelled to avoid it. We are a "gospel-centered" church, but avoided the lingo as to not get caught up in fads or appear like a copy-cat church.
That's why, since our inception, we have talked bout being a "Jesus-centered community." In our context, everyone talks about God. But something happens when a person truly meets Jesus. So we focus on Jesus and his death & resurrection in everything we do.
So when I saw that Matt, Josh, and Eric put out a book with a subtitle of "The Jesus-centered Church" I was at first bothered that they would steal my lingo <insert eye-wink here> but also curious that someone else appeared to be talking about the type of church I was aiming to build to reach our community with the gospel.
What an encouragement it was to read a book by guys who have been in the trenches talking about the very things I have felt compelled to do personally as I lead my new, young church. It was incredibly affirming to me in how I have aimed to plant our church. And I'm glad I didn't read it before we planted - or I might have steered clear as to not be a "copy-cat." And that would be a mistake. Because this book isn't about surface issues - it's about heart issues. Both new churches and existing churches can benefit from this book. Both modern churches and traditional churches can glean wisdom from this book. This isn't about trying to create copy-cat churches - this book is about making Jesus the center of everything you do as a church.
This is why our small staff of two is reading it together right now. And this year, as we start our very first leadership team/elder board, this will be one of the books we read together. So thanks Matt, Josh, and Eric for such a great book that is helping my small, new church plant keep its focus on Jesus.
i will write in brief for those in ministry. Lots of other reviews will focus on the content of this book. What makes this book of such great value, IMO, is the focus on the Gospel as a Philosophy that undergirds all ministry decisions.
In short, this is Matt Chandler's philosophy of ministry of the Village church. Whether or not in 100% agreement with his philosophy, I believe you will benefit from this read as he gives us the process and theological framework of his philosophy. Pastors and elders can discern if these categories for and what their specific ministry focus should be. .. Still, I think most evangelical (especially those who are broadly reformed) will agree with the framework and then would be encouraged to tweak for their specific focus.
If you aren't actively deciding and or implementing ministry functions, I think you will find this less interesting than others will. Still, I have to give this 5 stars as it has been some time since I have read such a detailed philosophy of Christian Ministry that is so far reaching and helpful.
But there's something else that's missing in the discussion--the culture of your church. The church's culture reveals what's really at the heart of the congregation... and if we're careful to look closely, we might find a disconnect.
It's why so many churches face the difficulty of saying they're about the Bible, yet the congregation never opens it, or we value evangelism, but our event schedules are so booked with classes, lectures or pot-lucks that we don't have time to actually get to know anyone who's not a Christian.
So how do we develop a culture where we're actually about the things we say or think we're about? In their new book, Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church, authors Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger offer their insights into creating a gospel-centered culture that fuels every aspect of the local church.
The authors divide the book into two parts, first examining the unique attributes of the "creature of the Word" (that is, the Church)--how God brings together a people, forming a body for His purposes in the world, and how it is to behave, worshipping, multiplying and serving in community. While many might consider this a "yeah, I get it" point, the authors remind us that we must always start here:
"For just as an individual must continually return to the grace of Jesus for satisfaction and sanctification, a local church must continually return to the gospel as well. Our churches must be fully centered on Jesus and His work, or else death and emptiness is certain, regardless of the worship style or sermon series. Without the gospel, everything in a church is meaningless. And dead." (Kindle location 201)
We cannot move too quickly past the need to honestly examine ourselves in light of the gospel, whether individually or corporately. If we fail to do the hard and necessary work of self-examination and repentance, we'll fall flat on our faces. There won't be anything to sustain a truly Jesus-centered culture within our communities.
This point is arguably one of the authors' strongest as they explain there really isn't such a thing as true Christian community without the gospel and all it entails, for, "The gospel is the deepest foundation for community."
"...any attempt to build community on something more than the grace of Christ becomes a subtle move away from grace, a move toward pseudo-community that only puffs up and fails to transform. If something other than the person and work of Jesus becomes the foundation for a group of believers, that "other thing," whatever it is--economic level, social manners, music preferences, common life experiences--becomes what they use to differentiate themselves from others. And it immediately becomes a point of boasting, a way to feel justified." (Kindle location 933)
Consider this critique carefully. This isn't meant only for the seeker church or the "progressive" church... it's got those of us in theologically conservative churches in mind, too. Over the last few years, there's been a renewal of concern over what it means to be a biblical church. And frequently you hear that a true church is "gospel-centered." While this is unquestionably a good thing, there's a danger in turning it into a new measuring stick; so it becomes about how many months our sermon series runs, how long the preacher speaks for, how many churches we're planting... The things meant to serve the gospel wind up enslaving us.
Part two of the book focuses heavily on the mechanics of fostering a Jesus-centered culture within your church. The authors remind us that, first and foremost, if we want to build a culture like this, it must be founded upon the clear teaching of the Word of God. From the pre-school to puberty to the pulpit, every member of the church must be taught the Scriptures.
"To form a church centered on the gospel, the church must strategically and seamlessly pass the message of the gospel on from generation to generation," they write. "The church must be united from the preschool ministry to the pulpit around one central understanding: the gospel transforms" (Kindle location 2228).
"Sadly, even in churches where the gospel is heralded as the essential message of the Christian faith from the pulpit, children and students are often pummeled with curriculum designed for behavioral modification rather than gospel transformation. It is foolish to feast on the life-giving gospel in one area of the church while using a placebo in another. Quite frankly, children and student ministries are often a wasteland for well-intentioned morality training." (Kindle location 2222)
"Churches centered on the gospel aggressively go for the heart, not for behavior. Morality, or good behavior, is not the goal of godly parenting nor the goal of sound children's ministry. A changed heart is. Obedience or morals may be the result, but a changed heart must be the goal. A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. A church that goes after a child's behavior and not the child's heart is shepherding that child in opposition to the gospel. Children can be taught how to behave without hearts impacted by Jesus, but the "good behavior" that results will only last for a season because it lacks the power of inner transformation." (Kindle location 2290)
That's really what we're about, isn't it? We want our churches to be places where people at any age are being transformed by the Holy Spirit as the Word is taught; we don't need to be told to do better, try harder, or be nice for niceness' sake. We need to be reminded constantly of the natural state of our hearts and our utter helplessness before God. Imagine what that would do to our children's and student ministries; to our small groups and pulpit ministries.
Arguably the greatest challenge the authors make in the book even more than their cultural critique, is the one they level at leaders. "Culture and ethos is a reflection of leadership. Your church culture--over time, at least--is a reflection of the leadership of the church," they write. "The kingly function of leadership is as vital to the health of a local church as is the prophetic function of teaching" (Kindle location 2522).
Leaders are frequently reminded that how they live and lead directly impacts the culture they create. What a leader believes is acceptable in practice, the followers pick up on and emulate. So when a pastor is concerned about how little the congregation reads the Bible, he may need to examine his own practices. When he is concerned about a lack of zeal for evangelism in the church, his own attitudes are necessarily called into question.
A gospel-centered church is infused with gospel-centered leadership. If a local church corporately bears the fruit of the Spirit, then you can be confident individuals who have been marked by the gospel of Jesus Christ lead it. There is a direct correlation between the personal impact of the gospel on a leader's heart and the way he leads. The gospel is not good advice simply to be taken into consideration in certain situations; rather, the gospel is good news of sweeping transformation. A gospel-centered leader will lead differently. (Kindle location 2529)
The authors offer this reproof not harshly but as a brotherly word of concern for their fellow pastors. How we lead matters. What motivates us matters. The people following us serve as a mirror to the realities of our hearts. What are we seeing?
Creature of the Word is among the most helpful books on church ministry I've read in a long time, so much so that I rarely went more than a few paragraphs where I didn't find myself equally encouraged and encouraged. Highly accessible and practical, this book offers a powerful blend of theology, philosophy, and methodology that's sure be a benefit to church leaders and members alike.