Monday, December 09, 2013

BookPastor >> "Vertical Church"

This review was first published Sep 3rd, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
AUTHOR: James MacDonald
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012, (320 pages).

What is Church about? Why do we go to Church in the first place? Is it about men meeting one another's needs? Or is it about people pointing one another to the true Giver of all things, the Helper of all help? In a book that has received multiple endorsements by many different church leaders, this book aims to shake us back to the fundamentals of faith, and church going. We must be reminded what is the chief goal of men, not to magnify our needs or to amplify our human lack, but to glorify God.

If a Church is to truly be the Church of God, it cannot be constantly focused on the meeting of needs, meeting desperate people,or focusing constantly on horizontal level matters such as management, leadership, Church strategies, problem-solving, caring etc. These things are important, but the moment the Church loses its transcendental and eternity perspective, it is not becoming of the true Church of God. MacDonald is compelling:

"We are taught to study our culture and contextualize the message to fit the uniqueness of the mass we seek to minister to. Is this helpful, or has it taken us off track? Is the church to be about scratching the minutiae of our unique itches, or is it about filling the vacuum of universal commonality installed in us by God?"

The book is structured in two parts. The first part deals with the doctrinal basis of "Vertical Church." Here, MacDonald reminds us of four things to peel away the layers of self-based needs so that we can face our real needs. Firstly, the author looks at our universal longing, that we have a God-shaped heart that only God can fill. The "eternity" idea is glimpsed through Ecclesiastes 3:11. The author even highlights how Maslow amended his famous Needs hierarchy, conceding that there is a need for an encounter with transcendence beyond the highest level of self-actualization. An awesome meeting with God far surpasses any kind of a relevant meeting of needs. Secondly, the highest passion of a "vertical church" must be the glory of God, for the glory of God. It is the manifestation of the presence of God that is far greater and better than the relevance debate. Thirdly, the glory of God is the sustaining fuel of a life-giving Church. This is the secret of John Wesley's ministry. It is also the secret of Jesus' ministry on earth. Only God can give this glory, and only this glory can meet the deep longing of the human soul. Creation shouts out praising God. Glory comes down blessing creation. The flip side is also true. If the Church is focused only about building the Church, meeting needs, or trying to reach the lost, or to help the poor, when difficult moments arrive, they falter. Fourthly, MacDonald warns us that if we fail to make the glory of God our primary focus, we are in danger of letting the spirit of the age of this world become the spirit of the church. He warns us against becoming like Eli, whose sons went astray. This happens when we put the the needs of the church as the primary product, and the glory of God as the byproduct.

"When the people of God are not told the works of God, they lose the wonder of God, and everyone does that which is right in his or her own eyes." (133)

Thankfully, the second part of the book shows us the way. In "Unashamed Adoration," we are urged to bring our churches back toward a worshipful community. In worship, the glory of God comes down and fill us. We learn to direct our longings for God and God alone. In worship, we fall down and kneel at our feet, bringing all of our needs, our lives before God in humble access. The word 'adoration' is a good guiding word. Worship is not the 'what,' the 'how,' or the 'where,' but the 'who.' Second, we preach so that our worship of God increases. Moreover, preachers need not be apologetic about preaching the Word of God. In fact, there is no need to apologize as long as God is glorified and Christ is preached. It is about heralding the message of God like men on fire. Third, witnessing our own testimony of God's work and grace on our own lives is key. Be bold. Be plain. Be clear. MacDonald points out three "time-tested" but "dishonest" ways of sharing the gospel.
  1. "Relational gospel" or friendship evangelism, where people receive Christ on the basis of personal friendship. What if their friendship crumbles sometime later? Will the faith then crumble as well?
  2. "Renown gospel" where people receive Jesus because some people they admire are Christians. 
  3. "Reasonable gospel" where people believe because it makes sense or it is easy.
  4. "Resource gospel" which makes Christ becoming our own self-improvement program.
Instead, one needs to be bold in their sharing of their personal testimony. People also need to learn to pick ripe red apples, and not be too fixated on green apples that are not ripe for picking. MacDonald even pleads with his church not to bring "green apples" to church.

Finally, unceasing prayer is the fourth prerequisite of becoming a vertical church. For more than 25 years, Harvest Bible Church has prayed non-stop. If we dare to pray we will grow. If we dare to pray boldly, we will grow boldly. For MacDonald, his entire ministry is bathed in prayer.

My Thoughts

I am moved. This book to me is a wake-up call for Churches to put first things first, to channel their resources toward the central mission, rather than to spread themselves thin by focusing on peripheral issues. Far too many churches and their leaders are paying lip service to the need for worship, or to be too focused on earthly matters at the expense of God's glory. Some churches even live as if there is no heaven, but all earth. The relevance debate continues to grip many churches wanting to make a difference in their churches and in society. Unfortunately, that is only a peripheral matter. Christians in Churches have only this one goal: Glorify God and to see God's glory come down and be manifested through us. I find myself doing lots of underlining and nodding my head frequently for the things that resonate with me. As a preacher myself, I do feel that the chapter on preaching is worth the price of the book. That said, if church leaders do want to make a difference, they need to know more of the Difference Maker: God Himself. If we truly desire to be the true Church of God, we must desire God. Any other desiring is like fast food. They are essentially junk food.

Will this be a book that is too heavenly focused that it ignores earthly needs? No! Far from that. In fact, I will venture to say that a heavenly focus is the only way that creation can truly fulfill its calling. It is the way to usher in the glory of God, for God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.

Do your pastor or church leaders a favour. Buy them this book.

Ratin: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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