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Sustainable Church: Growing Ministry Around the Sheep, Not Just the Shepherds Paperback – June 1, 2016
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"If you seek to align more with the New Testament than with corporate strategy, these pages will refresh and reinvigorate you."
"If you want to read a remarkable scholar of the New Testament and spiritual growth...read what Walt Russell has to say in Sustainable Church...My leadership has been strengthened through his words and his life."
"Walt has dedicated himself to embracing Christ's call to be a sustainable and organic body of believers that grows deep as the whole body ministers together."
"At a time when the local church in western culture is facing new social, theological, and economic pressures, a sustainable model is more needed than ever. Anyone who cares about a thriving local church should read and share this book!"
"Sustainable Church is both prophetic and educational. It may not be well received by those who are deeply invested in the ecclesiastical status quo. So be it. Those who have ears to hear, however, will find in Sustainable Church one of the most meaningful and biblically sound treatments of local church life and ministry available today."
"Sustainable Church is a timely clarion call to reform and renew wisely the way we think about and engage in being Christ's Church."
"'Why haven't we heard this before?' is a question you will ask many times as you read Walt Russell's much-needed book...And it's not just the church of the future. It's church we need right now."
About the Author
Walt Russell, Ph.D. is a former campus missionary, church planter of two churches on the East Coast, and professor of New Testament at Liberty University. The last 25 years he has been a professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California and a church consultant. He has been teaching future pastors and missionaries how to study and apply the Bible. While an expert in Hermeneutics (Bible interpretation), his passion for the last 42 years has been equipping the saints to do the work of ministry within the Church. His latest book, Sustainable Church, is the fruit of this passion.
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Walt Russell has done it all – campus missionary, church planter, university professor, and author. While he has many credentials, including his Ph.D., he also boldly says none of them are necessarily the credentials that the church needs. My wife put it nicely recently when she said, “I would rather listen to bible teacher who has no formal training but is anointed by the Holy Spirit, than to one who has three Ph.D.’s and is not.” And that is precisely one of Russell’s points – it’s all about the God-inspired, Spirit-given “grace gifts” given to believers.
A thread throughout the book that Russell keeps referring us back to is his use of two churches – The First Evangelical Non-Organic Church and The Last Evangelical Organic Church. The former is not sustainable simply because its adherents are shallow (some unknowingly perhaps). And that shallowness to a large extent stems from the fact that they are not “released to minister” and “equipped to use their grace-gifts” in every aspect of their lives including the church.
Russell reports that 63% of those who say they have heard of spiritual gifts have not been able to apply this information to their lives “because they either don’t know their gifts (15%), say they don’t have a spiritual gift (28%) or claim that spiritual gifts are not biblical (20%).”
And then he starts addressing the causes. To begin with, he grasps our attention with this statement: “…the body of Christ is not fundamentally about authority, but relationships.” And sooner or later that leads him to take us through a serious look at the terms “laity” and “pastor” – both the words themselves and their meanings, based on Scripture. The former he calls “a horrifying misnomer for the vast majority of God’s people” preferring instead ‘disciples’ or ‘saints’ as prescribed in the New Testament. The use of the word ‘laity’ he says introduces an “unbiblical hierarchy” into God’s people.”
Russell believes the Word of God calls for a church where all minister and he unfolds that biblically and clearly, ending with a list of what we lose by ignoring that approach. The cost is dear. He shows us historically how the church came to be run the way it is today (a fascinating account that makes sense) and also takes us very carefully through the meaning of each of the grace-gifts, including discussions on how many there are, and whether some have ceased or not. You’ll find his take most refreshing. The author is very good at tackling opposing views, as well as treating them fairly.
There’s also a very helpful chapter on how one, along with his/her church, can discover and/or ascertain one’s grace-gifts. But one of the most interesting aspects of his contribution to this field is how we have corrected or rather misunderstood and thus falsely applied the “Jesus Model of Discipleship” by making others “our disciples” or the disciples of Father Brown, etc. Russell’s point, supported by Dallas Willard and others is that, “All Christians are disciples of Messiah Jesus, not of fellow believers.” That very nicely segues into a discussion of “whose name goes on the church sign if we all minister?” and the fact that when looking at leadership we focus on skills and gifts, rather than character, contrary to what the Bible emphasizes. He also takes on the “Moses Model of Leadership” arguing that only Christ can take that on in the New Testament, not us. And Russell believes that “By training pastors to be CEOs, we ironically end up training them to lead in exactly the same way as the ‘Gentiles’ lead.” Finally, he deals with the whole issue of elders, their qualifications, and whether they should be paid or not, and much more.
Now you have to understand that as one who has spent close to four decades of my life as a Human Resources specialist and Church Consultant, some of this was difficult for me to accept – but I could not argue with Russell’s ability to show me, from Scripture, why I may well have been mistaken. This book will challenge you if you’re a pastor. It will challenge you even more if you’re an elder or simply a disciple of Christ’s – you’ll want to pray about how to approach your pastor with it.
If Russell missed anything in this edition of his book, it is on the topics of actually setting compensation and benefits practices for “elders” and how to deal with discipline within the body. But then, again, that was not what he was trying to get across. His purpose, in his own words, was “to call the church to build her ministry sustainably around the sheep, rather than unsustainably around the shepherds.” He succeeded with me. Highly recommended.
This book challenged me in how I approach ministry, how I think about discipleship, how my church is led, how I see people as able to contribute, and more. As a result of the ideas in this book, our church now has a real plurality of leadership. There's no single pastor of our church, but a teaching team. Our church also has a heart to see every member engaged and active in ministry, and we're headed in that direction. Really thankful for Walt's teaching in this book. I try to always have a few copies on hand to give out to people. Out of all the books I've read on ministry, this is bar none one of the very best!
"Sustainable Church" is not another trend in the long list of alternate church organization models. It is a return to New Testament ideals. This book focuses on the individual’s discovery and development of their unique gifting and provides guidance on applying one’s God-given talents in light of how we were created. In it you’ll learn about 19 scripturally supported gifts, acquire a better understanding of your unique gifting and learn how to put your gifts into action in a way that will impact the growth and development of the church today.
The concepts Walt explores would be useful to anyone involved in any type of church gathering, no matter the church size or style. Whether home church, mega-church or anywhere in between, "Sustainable Church" is for anyone who has ever felt they were designed to do more for the church but they don’t know where to begin.
"Sustainable Church" gives hope to those who may not immediately fit within traditional church ministry roles and equips those who believe there could be something more to serving the church than just writing checks and passing out bulletins.