So last time I did what any book review is supposed to do, I summarized the contents of the book. This time I want to talk about the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
- A good understanding of Culture and how culture works. Its evident that he draws quite a bit of his understanding of culture from Andy Crouch. Andy Crouch’s famous maxim is “Culture is what we make of the world.” But its also what the world makes of us. Crouch’s understanding of culture is dynamic and not static. As we make and interpret the world we form culture, but the things we make and how we interpret the world in light of these very things re shape us as well. Woodward captured this dynamic back and forth between shaping and being shaped well, especially in his chapter about culture and the neighborhood church. Also, the Six elements of culture are a good way to understand our Church’s culture ad how it shapes our faith. Yet the dynamic nature of culture leaves hope for change and growth in our church’s culture. In other word’s just because culture shapes us, that doesn’t mean we are stuck. We can break the mold and reshape culture.
- Five Equippers (APTEPT). Although I am not from a background that uses APTEPT or APTEST in any way I am pretty convinced by Woodward that most churches have cut out the APE and are functioning with the TS or at best TES (or at worst one person with multiple giftings). [See http://www.releasetheape.com/release/ ] For those of us who aren’t used to thinking in terms of the Ephesians giftings, this part of the book was extremely helpful. I have been recently exposed to this way of thinking in bits and pieces but Woodward clearly lays out each one and explains them very well. I’m already starting to think of leadership in terms of these 5 equippers, especially in our large group gathering but also in our small groups.
- Extremely Practical. This is the type of book I can pick up and immediately start discussing with other leaders. I can pretty much pick out any section of the book and find easy discussion points. Also there are parts where he lays out some questions, these are very helpful and very adaptable to (almost) any context. For example I was able to take pages 144-145 which are about “Proclaiming the Gospel by Being Witnesses” and take one of my leaders through it. Later that week I gathered some of our small group leaders for worship, prayer, and communion to discern together what the answers to these questions are for us as a ministry. So I guess the point is that you can really put this book and its concepts to work quickly (not as a quick fix solution but as a point of discussion that will help you shape your culture).
- Polycentric Leadership. I don’t believe that polycentric leadership is bad, in fact I think its what the Western church desperately needs in this moment. Theologically I agree with Woodward because if God has indeed given the church five equippers then it doesn’t make sense that any one person would dominate the congregation. Also I agree with him because I see the Bible as teaching that leadership is centered around Christ. Leadership is centered around Christ and it is empowered by the Spirit. However my critique is that Woodward’s understanding of polycentric leadership is too culturally conditioned, and it can come off as dogmatic. Let me explain, but first a little bit of background. Several years ago IBM did some research into the differences in cultural attitudes that their employees around the world had. They had a team of anthropologists doing this work and one of their anthropologists, Geert Hofstede, came up with a list of national cultural values. Among these values was perception of leadership. This perception is cashed out in terms of high and low power distances. High power distances are more hierarchical and low power distances spread power and leadership out. The US has a low power distance but the global south tends to have a high power distance. This is not limited to the business world, it also applies to churches! That means churches in the global south won’t gravitate towards polycentric leadership. This matches up with what I have seen, growing up in a Hispanic church and doing work in the global south I can speak from first hand experience. The point is, I don’t see polycentric leadership in churches in the global south. But we see them blowing up anyway! They are very often better at meeting tangible needs, better at being on mission, and better at letting the spirit move freely than the western church is. Which is paradoxical because the western church is less hierarchical. My point is, that leadership arrangements are culturally conditioned. Western leadership can and should be missionally sensitive, thus it should move towards polycentric leadership. Leadership in the global south should also be missionally sensitive, thus they should lead in such a way (even if its not polycentric) that gets the mission done.
Wrapping Things Up
I want to end this review by saying that I really believe in this book. As I said above, its very practical. But practical is not always a good thing, practical can often mean 5 easy steps to x or the 7 healthy habits of x, practical often means quick fix solutions. However this book is practical in a different way. Its practical in the sense that it is theory that leads to action, its focus is praxis. This book opens up new lines of thought and asks tough questions that will get practioners thinking in ways that they might not have thought of in the past. As I said above, I was able to take some of these questions and pose them to my fellow leaders. The result was not a new “missional” program, but an ongoing discussion of how we as a congregation can be more missional. The people in our congregation are now thinking in terms of God’s mission. They are forming missional communities, blessing their schools and workplaces, and sharing the gospel. In my opinion, if a book can help generate a shift towards a missional culture like this then it deserves to be read, especially since the book itself is about creating a missional culture.
Go read this book!