You Can’t Taste The Rainbow, But You Can Eat Skittles: A Review of “Church Planter”

I simply don’t understand some marketing campaigns, they don’t make any sense. Take for example the Skittles slogan, “Taste the Rainbow.” Now I get what the campaign is attempting to suggest, but the truth is that you can’t taste a rainbow and it doesn’t event make sense to say that skittles taste like one. Furthermore, their commercials are so bizarre and, quite frankly, creepy that I don’t even know what they have to do with rainbows or Skittles. Now I like Skittles just fine, this isn’t a complaint against the candy, just the marketing. You can’t taste the rainbow, but you can eat Skittles. This phrase leads me to consider, then, Darrin Patrick’s book Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission (Crossway, 2010). Both the title and the weird image on the cover make no sense to me after having read the book. What on earth does a silhouette of a man holding a sickle have to do with church planting, and furthermore what does church planting have to do with the contents of this book? Now, this is not a complaint against the book, rather just an acknowledgement that I don’t get the marketing. In all actuality Church Planter is a fantastic book on the call, character, and task of pastors. Patrick writes with freshness on a subject that is in constant need of reiteration.

Patrick, as it turns out, is the perfect author to write about church planting. He’s the Vice President of Acts 29 church planting network, is the founding pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, and works regularly in training and coaching potential planters. That is not what he has written about in this book, however. The contents of this book are really about the call, character, and task of pastors, which is distinct from the specific type of pastor known as the church planter. It turns out, however, that Patrick is qualified to write about these things too and does a good job of pointing us to Scripture, drawing examples from history, and articulating the theological implications of pastoral ministry.

The book is broken down into three sections, each dealing with the three key parts of pastoral ministry: the man, the message, the mission. His introduction, however, makes a particularly fascinating justification for the book. By means of some simple cultural analysis Patrick identifies why this book on pastors, and particularly one geared exclusively to men, is so important. Patrick believes that the pastorate is solely for men, but more than that he believes there needs to be a wake up call for me. He cites national statistics for unmarried cohabitation and porn searches; he cites the low marriage rates and the increased video game consumption among males over the age 18. All this citation points Patrick in to conclude, along with countless other researches and analysts, then men are boys who don’t want to grow up. He calls them Bans (others have identified them as twixters, adultolescents, and rejuveniles). According to Patrick we have a cultural crisis on our hands. “In a culture where the influence of godly men is desperately needed, this void results in a legitimate cultural crisis” (12). For Patrick there is also a theological crisis at hand. God appointed male leadership in the home and in the church and thus there is a desperate need, Patrick argues, for us to Bans to repentance and faithfulness. The statistics tend to speak with some authority, even if I am not convinced by all the specific inference that the author makes (such as inferring childishness from playing video games or playing team dodgeball). This introduction presents Patrick with a strong challenge and it is one he keeps in focus throughout the rest of the work.

Section one of the book, encompassing chapters 1-7, highlights the character of a pastor, defining, from Scripture, who can be a pastor in the local church. He deals with many of the obvious attributes of a pastor: a qualified man (according to Scripture), a man dependent on the Spirit of God (and not just convinced of his own ability), a skilled man (who teach the word well), a shepherding man (who will not just teach but care for his flock), and a determined man (who will press on through difficulty). Chapters one and two, however, stand out as a bit unique. First, Patrick calls attention to the fact that the pastor must be saved. Now this may seem like an obvious statement, but I found this chapter particularly insightful. For the truth is, throughout history many have entered the ministry without experiencing the saving grace of Jesus and that must certainly still be true today. Patrick writes:

Many people make a tragic assumption that pastors and church planters must certainly be Christians. This assumption, however, overlooks the fact that it is possible, and for some remarkably easy, to fake the requisite gifts for ministry. A person can be a very gifted communicator, counselor, and leader without every truly knowing Christ. In fact, Christ addresses this issue in Matthew 7:21-23 (21).

The chapter bears the marks of a man who has coached and counseled many a potential planter and seen many a gifted and unconverted man pursue the ministry. The chapter is an important reminder to all pastors that we must never assume our salvation simply because of our ministry. That we too, as with all Christians, must make our “calling and election sure.”

Chapter two turns to consider the “call”. This is one of those words, like “postmodern” and “muggle”, which is tossed around a lot but rarely defined (what is a muggle, after all?). Patrick gives a good definition of “call” by balancing both the subjective sense of God’s directing someone towards ministry, and the objective sense of a church’s affirmation of an individual’s gifts and readiness for ministry. This too has significance for our current theological climate. I have seen not a few churches destroyed, harmed, and held captive by unqualified pastors who felt they themselves were “called” by God (whatever that meant to them). By not defining and using a term like this more carefully I feel that a disservice has been done to the church. Patrick offers a helpful corrective to this error.

All in all part one presents us with the typical, Biblical, picture of what a pastor should look like. The author’s concerns are with Biblical qualifications and spiritual maturity. He balances well the necessary personal qualities and skills with the realization that ultimately God is shaper of ministries and churches. Without losing any of the significant content Church Planter offers us a Biblical and practical picture of the pastor but without all the more scholarly engagement on debated principles and interpretations. I loved that Patrick did not get bogged down in defending a plurality of elders, expositional vs. topical preaching, or issues over divorced men and the ministry. Far too many pastoral leadership books attempt to cover more ground than they ought. There are good books on each of those subjects, not every pastoral leadership resource needs to address ad infinitum (or is it ad nauseam) these issues. Patrick deals with the big picture and leaves the details for others to address. As a pastor who helps to train pastors and is always looking for better introductory works, I appreciate this aspect of Church Planter a lot.

The second division, chapters 8-12, turns to consider the specifics of the message that the pastor proclaims. Again, Patrick presents some typical information, but he does so with some freshness. The Emergent Church has offered up new (new for our generations anyways) challenges to formal theology, but Patrick confronts it head on. So in chapter 8 he insists that the gospel message is a historical message. He points to leaders like Spencer Burke who contend that it makes no real difference whether Jesus actually came in the flesh or not. To such people Patrick writes, “a Christianity not grounded in history is no Christianity at all” (114). This serves as an important reminder to pastors that we are not merely discussing subjective theological issues, but real historical facts with theological implications. Chapters 9 and 10 bind this message to Jesus and the salvation he brings. The message of the pastor is not first and foremost a message about social change, racial reconciliation, etc. It is about personal salvation. Patrick unpacks the gospel for us here to highlight how the cross deals with our sin, grants us Christ’s righteousness, and rescues us from wrath. In a day and age where the gospel is confused for any other conceivable thing, this is a crucial reminder for contemporary pastors. Christ is at the center of our message and his cross and resurrection at the center our message about him. Chapters 11 and 12 turn to the spiritual developmental aspects of preaching by considering that the Biblical message exposes sin and shatters idols. These chapters were good fresh reminders that the Biblical message is offensive, but that this offense is necessary.

Patrick articulates, in chapter 11, what God’s wrath is and why he is wrathful and then delineates what our sin is. He looks at sin through various lenses, realizing that sin comes in various forms. This point of the discussion was both thorough and yet without being laborious. It’s weird to be encouraged by discussions of sin. It’s sort of like thanking someone for punching you in the face, but Patrick does a great job here of highlight how our sin works. He points out that sin can manifest itself as: living independently of God, self-protection, breaking God’s law, misdirected passion (and seemingly a myriad of other forms). This specific language that looks at the nuances of sinful expression was helpful both for me personally, as I reflect on my life, and for me a as a pastor and counselor. The whole chapter serves to remind pastors that they must preach this offensive message. In Patrick’s words, “Sin-exposing preaching helps people come face-to-face with their sin and their great need for a Savior” (132). Without the one you have no need for the other. Chapter 12 does much of the similar thing but targets the issues of our idolatry. He discusses rather extensively the various shapes of our idolatry, categorized into surface and source idols, and then summarizes the way of escape through Biblical repentance.

The final division of the book (chapters 13-17) deals with the mission of the pastor.  It is in this part that Patrick gives the most fresh and unique contributions to the conversation. When we talk about pastoral ministry, and specifically books on pastoral ministry, we rarely hear whole chapters devoted to subjects like “compassion,” “contextualization,” “care,” and “city transformation.” This was one of the best parts of the whole book for me, however, simply because it was so fresh and inspiring.

In chapter 13 Patrick focuses on compassion as the “heart of the mission.” He points out that not only is compassion the most frequently cited emotion of Jesus in the gospels (nearly 40 times), but it is also the natural response of his followers. “As a Christian anytime you look at someone who is hurting, you will (as in must) feel compassion, unless you make a choice to turn your head and harden your heart” (175). Of course, for pastors, there are real threats to our compassion that ministry can create: busyness, hurriedness, self-righteousness, and self-protection. This chapter reminds pastors of the constant need for self-evaluation. Is your ministry more important than the people you minister to? This chapter reminds us of an important and often neglected motivation for pastoral ministry: compassion.

There is some debate going on these days, as has in past years surely, on whether the mission is housed in the church or is the task of individual Christians. Some have argued in a more nuanced fashion that some tasks are given to the church collectively and others are the task of individual Christians. Thankfully Patrick does not get into this distinction in chapter 14. For him the mission is given to the church. Quoting Emil Brunner he writes, “The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning” (180). He goes on to articulate the dual responsibilities of care and evangelism, noting that most churches choose only one task as their mission. He highlights the various models of church life and applauds each model’s strength. So the doctrinally-driven church is strong on teaching and education. The devotionally-driven church is “committed to prayer, worship, and displays of the Holy Spirit’s power” (188). The community-driven church is deeply rooted in biblical relationships and godly fellowship. The evangelism-driven church is boldly committed to spreading the gospel. The church driven by social-concern is strong on care for the least. But the author is also quick to highlight each church’s weakness pointing out how they can become entrenched in their model and they can tend towards serious sins: pharisaical community, lack of sound theological grounding, cliquish and opinionated bodies, lack of depth in discipleship, and a disinterest in the personal aspects of the gospel (respectively). There is always danger in picking models and systems for our church. The reality is that the Biblical witness of the church’s mission is a bit more complex and involved than simple “models” permit. Patrick does a great job of helping us eye our weak areas as churches.

In Chapter 15 he targets one of those touchy words among evangelicals today. “Contextualization” is like the TV show Lost, you either (like me) love it or you don’t understand it and therefore hate it (I mean how difficult is it to get that there are people trapped on an island full of mystery). Patrick tackles the subject here with some of the most accessible, simple, and concise statements I have yet found. With so much tension over this subject I appreciated his candor and simplicity. He jumps, immediately, into definitions stating that the gospel is always placed into culture. Quoting D.A. Carson he writes, “No truth which human beings may articulate can ever be articulated in a culture-transcending way, but that does not mean that the truth thus articulated does not transcend culture” (193-94). He then adds, “This means that while there is only one unchanging gospel, there is not only one way to communicate this unchanging gospel” (194).  This drastically different, he points out, from changing the gospel to fit the culture, which is what most critics assume “contextualization” means. Patrick has made his point very clear, however, by the end of the chapter: contextualization is speaking to people with their terms, not on their terms (195). To be more specific, then, Patrick cites Tim Keller as saying that contextualization is a “balance of accepting and rejecting” parts of culture. Because of God’s common grace, he says, there may be many things within a community that the church can utilize to communicate the message. But because of sin there will also be many things in a community that the church must reject and confront. Contextualization involves both embracing common grace, and exposing idols. It is the practice found in the Scriptures too. We see it in Acts 2 and the use of multiple languages to communicate the gospel. We see it in the very nature of the New Testament, which is itself “an act of contextualization” (201). It was the practice of Paul as he wrote to various churches communicate the same gospel message but with different emphasis and implications for Galatia than for Corinth. It was the same practice, ultimately, of Jesus, who became a certain kind of man, in a certain locale, adopting the customs and appearance of that culture. The Incarnate Word of God is contextualized. Patrick concludes succinctly, then, after all his arguments and proofs by saying: The gospel is the message of our mission, and contextualization is the method of our mission (206-7).

Having dealt with the “how of mission” he turns in the last two chapters to consider the “hands” and the “hope” of the mission. The hands of the mission are care. The mission of church cannot be accomplished without deep care and hands-on work by your church. Turning to consider the Great Commission Patrick makes two assertions: (1) The church must first point people to Jesus before making efforts to change behavior. So the gospel has primacy. (2) That we are to not simply learn about Jesus but we are to obey Jesus. Then shifting his focus he points out that obeying Jesus can be explained concisely in terms of fulfilling Jesus’ own summary of the whole law: love God and love your neighbor. Now at this point the author could give us more guiding principles, as he did in the previous chapter, but in a more compelling fashion he gives us the story of Josh Wilson, a pastor at Patrick’s church who has taken it under his duties to reach into the city with the love of Jesus. Wilson’s story is beautiful and practically insightful. He began as a man with a desire but no vision and found quickly that he and his ministry team were spread thin, across various outreaches and ministries to the city, and seeing little fruit. So he changed his focus to adopt an area of the city and particularly, because of its central influence in this locale, his tem adopted a poor school. Through their efforts there they are reaching their city. It is a great picture of what Patrick is writing about and while not perfectly translatable offers readers the principles they need to make similar efforts in their context.

Chapter 17 begins by asking readers to consider a hard-hitting question: would your city weep if you church did not exist (226)? The facts are, as Patrick points out, that more and more people are moving to the cities and they are becoming the center of culture and life for the whole world. What this means for churches and pastors, then, is that we must pursue ministry in our cities for the sake of our cities. He takes us to consider Israel, living as exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah 29 gives us the guiding principles of ministry in our cities, teaching us that we are to plant ourselves deeply in our city, multiply in our city, and be a blessing to our city. I loved the chapter and it struck a chord with me, yet I realize that I and perhaps many of you do not live in major metropoli. I appreciate so much the emphasis that groups like Acts 29 and Redeemer Church planting put on cities. If urbanization is as massive as all are saying then we need more churches in these areas. But the truth is there are many poor, small, rural towns that need churches and pastors too. Yet, despite the author’s emphasis on places like St. Louis the principles and motivations are the same. Are you a part of your city, community, village, etc. or simply a spectator? Are you seeking to expand your influence through having more children and teaching them to love Jesus and love their city? Are you striving to be a blessing or a burden to your city? It is common for churches to offer criticisms to and of their contexts, but God calls us to be more than that. Patrick does a convincing job or arguing this from Scripture.

I loved this book. In a market where leadership books are a dime a dozen I love this one for both its orthodoxy and yet its refreshing style and content. Patrick writes like a “dude,” a well-educated “dude” but a dude nonetheless. He makes his points without coming off as pretentious and showy. He highlights his church without saying, do what we are doing. He examines the Greek words, Scriptural passages, and theological points without getting tied down in all the nuances of the various academic debates. He presents us leadership that is both Biblical and yet for the average pastor who is trying to figure this stuff out on the fly. But most of all he touches on subjects that are so relevant for pastoral ministry but which often get ignored (intentionally or unintentionally). Even if the title of the book is terrible, the book itself is excellent…like a bag of Skittles.

Comments

  1. sammy stiley says:

    The cover is the subtitle of the book:
    The man (silhouette) is the church planter (weathered from the battle)
    The message (that is a bible in his hand)
    The mission (the sickle is a metaphor for reaping the harvest of souls)

    I agree that the book has a strange title, but I was told that was the publisher’s decision, not Patrick’s
    Great book for any man!

  2. I agree with your complaint regarding the skittles. We live in a culture where people are constantly being fed information that are not accurate nor relevant. Hope that more people can just say what they mean. Honesty and sincerity is key to delivering a message, especially the message of the Gospel.

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