Book Review: Joy and Shelton, The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples

Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton, The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 167 pp. Pb; $15.99.  Link

This little book is another in The Village Church Resources collection. Trevor Joy is pastor of Spiritual Formation at The Village Church and Spence Shelton serves in the same role at The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. This book attempts to describe what a healthy church looks like. For the authors, a healthy church is one that promotes “community.” The book is therefore about developing a robust small group ministry that is both intentionally living out the gospel and making disciples.

The People of GodFirst, everyone who serves as a leader of local churches needs to be a shepherd. This is a biblical principle, although most churches recruit leaders of small groups as “facilitators.” This is not the role of a biblical leader for Joy and Spence!

Second, Joy and Shelton devote two chapters to describing what they mean by ‘community.” Humans were designed to live in some sort of community, but sin corrupts natural human relationships and makes it very difficult to build a genuine community. The best apologetic for Christianity, the authors argue, is a genuine, biblical community. This is exactly the problem most people have with the church: it is hypocritical!

A biblical community is characterized by gracious care for members of the group, a gracious generosity, both unity and diversity and most of all humility. In chapter 3 Joy and Spence offer a narrative including both good and bad examples from their experience of these characteristics. I think they are absolutely correct in their six distinctive of a biblical community, although my preference would be illustrating these with communities from the Bible first. My guess is these characteristics could be easily illustrated in the earliest community of believers in Acts, or by way of contrast, with what is lacking in a church like Corinth.

Third, once a church has outlined what it understands as genuine community, it must begin to ask questions about everything the church does.  On one level, this is a call to clearly state a philosophy of ministry then align everything in the church to that statement. This is essential of all the groups within the church are going to go the same direction. For Joy and Spence, healthy churches have a clear “discipleship path” with the gospel at the center. There is nothing surprising here; the “discipleship path” includes Prayer and Bible Intake, Evangelism and Missions, Community, Generosity, and Character.  Any believer in the church should know where they are on this path, and the community can assess ministries to gauge how effective any given ministry is. In order to implement this kind of thinking, they authors encourage the church to “define the win,” write it out, revise it and “beta test” it in order to scale implementation so that a new ministry can be successful. Churches are most often handicapped by poor communication and over-programming, so clearly stating clear goals with measurable outcomes is critical to the health of a church.

Last, Joy and Spence devote their final two chapters to living out the Gospel in a biblical community. Here they describe what they mean by “gospel intentionality” in all communities within the church. This means that members of the community need to be forgiving of one another’s faults (both in terms of asking for forgiveness and granting it when necessary). Genuine love for others in the community ought to result in mutual service. This kind of a community will ensure that the living water of the Gospel does not grow stagnant. There needs to be continual growth in discipleship, but also in mission and outreach.

Conclusion. I found this to be a practical, easy to read guide for growing a healthy church. I did not find anything radical in the book, but since they are attempting to describe a biblical healthy community, this is not a surprise. Honestly, I am quite suspicious of books claiming to have discovered some new principle of leadership that will make all church problems disappear. There is a bit of “corporate business” thinking in the book’s strategy to “align everything to the mission statement.” There is wisdom to that method, but the New Testament never really describes Paul sitting down and wordcrafting a missions statement, nor does it appear that Paul’s decisions were overly influenced by that model. I do not see Paul “beta testing” Gentile mission quite the way a modern church launches pilot programs, etc.

This is a valuable book, the kind I can see a church leadership team purchasing and reading as group. Churches trying to implement a small group program would find this a valuable guide for developing genuine communities.


NB: Thanks to B&H for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Book Review: Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer, Recovering Redemption

Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer. Recovering Redemption: A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.  Link

Matt Chandler is as Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Co-Author Michael Snetzer is Associate Groups Pastor at The Village and Recovery and Reconciliation Pastor at Center for Christian Counseling.  This book is a very simple and straightforward presentation of the Christian way of thinking about the world. Essentially, Chandler is presenting the classic “creation/fall/redemption” although the focus on the book is on living out that redemption in daily life.

ChandlerThe first three chapters begin with what is wrong and what God does to fix that problem. God made the world good, but humans are obviously broken. As Chandler puts it, God fixes what is broken. This presentation avoids heavy theological terms like original sin or imputation of sin, especially since those are associated with a kind of religion the book hopes to avoid. There is nothing here that lays a guilt trip on the reader. Everyone knows something is wrong, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.

The next section of the book lays out the heart of the theology of the book. People need to repent (ch. 4) and believe (ch. 5). Repentance does mean hating one’s sin from the ground floor up (67), although Chandler describes repentance as godly grief. Chandler is clear; the sinner has so believe in the Lord Jesus, citing Acts 16:31. But how that actually works is less clear. He does a fair job describing justification (“pardoned and ascribed righteousness”) and what happens when we are justified (adopted into the family of God). There is certainly nothing here about the death of Jesus, a key feature of Romans 5:12-21. How the child of God lives out a life of redemption is unpacked in chapter 6. Chandler does call this process as sanctification and he refers to both vivification (“thinking new stuff,” 102) and mortification (a “knucklebusting process” of putting sin to death, 104). (As an aside here, the opening illustration in this chapter is very good, but stolen from the Doctor Who episode Turn Left. But then every preacher who saw that episode thought the same thing!)

The second half of the book attempts to describe how one lives out a “redeemed live” as a child of God. The overriding theme of these chapters is that the person who has believed and is redeemed ought to live like they are in fact a child of God who is already redeemed. Chandler tells his readers that they will still have some guilt and shame from sins yet overcome, they will still face fears and anxieties over things that happen that are beyond their control, they must still deal with other people who hurt them deeply, people who are in need of forgiveness too. For the most part these chapters describe very practical ways of being a redeemed person. This does not mean a perfect person, but only a redeemed person.

The book is written in a very simple style popular these days. There are lots of short, emotive sentences reflecting the spoken word. The book naturally contains many stories of real people who have struggled with sin but have learned to live a life of redemption. Presumably these are real stories drawn from Snetzer’s experience as a pastor and counsellor.

As I said above, this book is intended for a small group Bible study and for people who are not familiar with classic theological ideas. Sometimes theological words appear (justification and sanctification, vivification and mortification), but others do not. I am always curious why “sin” does not appear as a description of what is wrong with humans. I find all of the synonyms (broken, futile, pain, addiction, obsession, etc.), but Chandler rarely calls the problem “sin,” nor is the solution described as the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is remarkable to me how little Scripture appears in the book, despite the book covering biblical themes.

Still, this book is a good introduction for the “seeker” who is unfamiliar with what Christians believe and may be a bit intimidated by a “Bible Study.”  B&H offers the book along with  a DVD Bible Study Kit. The Recovering Redemption website has sample videos, book excerpts and PDF sample sections from the Leader’s Guide. In addition, a “digital guide” for the book is available through The Village Church website.


NB: Thanks to Broadman & Holman for kindly providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.