Darrin Patrick is the lead pastor of The Journey, a church located in St. Louis, MO. His first book, Church Planter, was recently released by Crossway Books. So many people have given Church Planter a positive review or recommendation that it feels as if I’m beating the same drum, with little to add towards my appreciation that others have not already said much better than I! In fact, Matt Chandler says, “Whether you are considering planting a church or have been a pastor for decades I couldn’t more highly recommend this book to you.” Dr. Sam Storms says that “Darrin’s first book is an excellent one that not only church planters should read but all pastors, young and old.” Albert Mohler says that Patrick speaks from “deep theological conviction, pastoral experience, and missiological vision.” Similarly, Bryan Chapell says that this book “comes from the heart of a real man sharing the real gospel from real experience leading Christ’s church. Powerful, helpful, hopeful.” Even James MacDonald gives it the two thumbs up when he says that this book “offers an insightful look at the privilege and calling of being a church planter.”

Add to this list of glowing reviews the support of Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Dave Harvey, Mark Dever, Larry Osborne, and Dave Ferguson! If you are familiar with the subject of church planting, you’ll most certainly recognize these names as the “who’s who” of church planting. For them to all highly recommend this book speaks volumes.

Patrick breaks down the subject of church planting into three sections: (1) The Man, (2) The Message, and (3) The Mission. Under each section, significant thought is offered for the reader to consider.

Something must be said about the audience for this book. The unfortunate value of writing a book titled “church planter” is that some may consider this book as being only applicable for those who are either planning to plant or who are currently in the process of planting. This could not be farther from the truth. Seriously, I believe that every pastor should spend a significant time reading and consider Patrick’s ideas. It’s applicable for any person who serves the church as a pastor, regardless of how “new” or “old” one is to that ministry. In 2009, the book Total Church was released. In my opinion, it was the best book of that year. For 2010, I’m throwing Church Planter to the top of my list of “must reads” for people in ministry. This book should be just as influential as Total Church.

The Man
Beginning with the qualifications of a church planter (and any pastor), Patrick draws attention to one of the most important truths to consider:

“No one, no matter who skilled an orator, how gifted a leader, or how extensive the theological pedigree, should endeavor to shepherd the church of Jesus without first having experienced the saving power of the Shepherd who is full of grace. While a pastor/church planter may be a good man or a talented man or a clever man, he must be, first and foremost, a rescued man.” (p. 21).

This is a particularly important truth for me right now because I have come to see that there are, unfortunately, many people who are in church leadership for the wrong reasons. I know this is nothing new and that it is of no surprise for many, but the gravity of such a reality is greatly troubling. I fear that there are a great deal of people who have entered into ministry for the same reasons that the apostle Peter addressed when he instructed pastors to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1Pet. 5:2-3). Patrick’s work, here, embodies this passage of Scripture and fleshes it out. However, he understands that a man cannot skillfully shepherd with a determined heart unless they have had an encounter with Christ. Chapter five, “A Dependent Man,” challenged me. In fact, it was a needed call in my life. Ministry distractions abound for all pastors, and it’s easy to lose sight of the One whom we are to always rely on. Abide in Christ. Walk and live in the Spirit. How many times are we commanded such in the NT? Patrick writes,

“… the greatest spurs to dependence on God is stepping out of your comfort zone and ministry strengths into your weaknesses. You will feel inadequate, but paradoxically you will be more potent for God’s kingdom than ever because you will be forced to depend more on God’s power than your own. And ultimately it is only God’s power that makes any of us able to accomplish breathing, thinking, and walking, not to mention ministry.”(p. 59).

Beyond helpful, that’s what such a reminder is. Patrick goes on to define what dependence is and to provide some examples of what it looks like (e.g., fasting). This entire section of Church Planter is essential for pastors. We must understand what kind of men God is looking for us to be.

The Message
This past Monday and Tuesday I had the opportunity and privledge of teaching over 100 pastors in the African country of Tanzania. One of the main messages I spoke on was understanding the message we are preaching and teaching. You see, it is imperative that we understand what our message is and what our message isn’t. There are a lot of “gospels” out there, but only one true Gospel of the Kingdom. Listen, we are not selling the latest “get-rich-scheme.” And here, Patrick shines. He provides adequate reminder to the uniqueness of the gospel history when he says that “the gospel is the most beautiful story in the history of the world” (p. 112). Yet it’s not just history. It’s both “objective and subjective, historical and experiential” (p. 113). The historical story must be experienced in order to accomplish salvation. Furthermore, this message is Christ-centered. It is centered about a person. The message of the gospel is entirely about Christ!

The last two chapters in this section are on the message being one that exposes sin and shatters idols. Prepare to have your theological compasses redirected if you have bought into the lie that the gospel should only flatter it’s hearers. No, the message of the cross is both foolish and offensive! What is exposing sin so important? Patrick writes,

“If you don’t know how dirty you are, you won’t see the need for a bath. If you do not know how sinful you are, you feel no need for salvation. “Only he who knows the greatness of wrath will be mastered by the greatness of mercy” [from Stott’s The Cross of Christ, 109]. Sin-exposing preaching helps people come face-to-face with their sin and their great need for a Savior.” (p. 152)

But wait, it gets more challenging when Patrick discusses the importance of preaching an “idol-shatter” message. First, we’re reminded of how “frequent and forceful” the sin of idolatry is challenged (p. 155). He then goes on to define idolatry as “exchanging and replacing the proper object of worship” (p. 156). Yes, you’ve guessed it. Basically all sin is, at it’s core, idolatry. Thus, we are to shatter all idols! This chapter is worth the price of the book alone, for in it, Patrick offers many great insights into the nature of idolatry and how we are to wage war against the idols in our lives.

The Mission
The final section addresses the following themes:

  • The Heart of Mission: Compassion
  • The House of Mission: The Church
  • The How of Mission: Contextualization
  • The Hands of Mission: Care
  • The Hope of Mission: City Transformation

So much to digest. Having read the book once, I’m rereading it again in order to properly reflect upon this section the most. While I feel as if I need to think through some of this section more, I have several initial thoughts for this review. They are as follows:

(1) Patrick’s discussion on compassion was very stimulating. Once again, anyone who suggests that Reformed Theology (Calvinism) is not evangelistic needs to repent and discontinue the straw-man. Throughout the entire section, we’re challenged to truly love the lost and to see the greatest act of compassion as being thoroughly gospel-focused. We’re also reminded that the enemies of this type of compassion are busyness, hurriedness, self-righteousness, and self-protection. Yes! These concepts are born out of a missional understanding of the current crisis in western evangelicalism.

(2) The section on Ecclesiology took the typical “baptistic” perspective (e.g., regenerated church membership). Nothing out of the ordinary here. We’re also given several of the different “models” for doing church (e.g., churches that are focused on teaching or on worship or on community or on evangelism or on social concerns). Yet none of these are sufficient. We’re told that,

“all of these models have strengths, but none of them is all that the church is meant to be. Acts 2 shows us that the church must not settle for one particular function but must be a teaching, praying, awe-inspired, classless, possession-sharing community on mission.” (p. 190)

(3) I’m not sure what to think about the section on city-transformation. I may still have a bad taste in my mouth from some of the extreme versions of this that I’ve heard from some of the neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic groups, but I’m still not sure what this exactly looks like, or how to understand how this functions in our hope. Wait. Allow me to explain. In theory, I agree with just about everything that Patrick states. I’m just not clear on how these theories and ideas function in our missional work. So, more study shall continue and I have a feeling I will address this in later blogs.

Conclusion
As you’ve hopefully gathered, this is an excellent book. As I previously noted, it’s 0ne of the four books that every church planter should own. On top of that, every pastor should, in my opinion, purchase a copy and work through it. It provides much needed clarity to the characteristics of pastors, the message that pastors are to guard and proclaim, and the mission that pastors are on. You will not be disappointed!

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