I love practitioner credibility. I love it when people who have actually done what they purport needs doing are able to share, from experience, in intelligible, compelling, and digestible ways, guidance about to lead. In The Church as Movement, JR Woodward and Dan White Jr. bring practitioner credibility in spades. Leaders of one of the most fruitful church planting movements in the country, Woodward and White have now written the textbook not only for church planters in the movement they lead, but for those who would fuel other Kingdom movements as well.
Strengths of Church as Movement
Here are the primary strengths of the book, in my reading:
- The authors are fresh and clear in contrasting “movement thinking” with what they call “the church-industrial complex.” It is a striking and persuasive way of describing different metrics and different lenses for what counts as “success.” Interestingly, Amazon’s first filter for the book is “church growth” – which is a near-total misreading of the central idea of the book … namely, the goal is not church growth but Kingdom movement. The North American context has evolved from “church growth” and “church health” to “church distribution” and now “Kingdom distribution.” The Church as Movement is a handbook (as its subtitle suggests) for Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities.
- The authors are terrific aggregators, repurposers, and synthesizers of what others have taught about “movement thinking” and discipleship. For instance, they are clearly familiar with the work of Mike Breen and www.3dmovements.com, particularly its groundbreaking language of “lifeshapes.” Woodward and White, however, don’t simply cite 3DM work. They acknowledge it, put it within their own frameworks, and create fresh ways of applying it. An example is the book’s application of Breen’s “pentagon/fivefold” rubric of “personal calling.” In Woodward and White’s work, the fivefold gifts of Ephesians 4 – apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – become part of the discussion of how to build and utilize a core team of “polycentric leadership.” Figure 2.1 then gives a clear and compelling application of the concept to how to identify and utilize leaders around you toward movement thinking and multi-level leading. Brilliant!
- Finally, I love – and I mean love – the many charts, figures, and illustrations that dot the book. Like Breen’s lifeshapes, Woodward and White’s pictures condense and communicate with memetic, archetypal power. While the book can (and should) use rather technical theological language and constructs from time to time, the pictures communicate with a simplicity on the far side of complexity. I already find myself scribbling them on whiteboards and the back of a napkin in my own work and conversations. Just as Lyle Schaller understood and practiced in his nearly-100 books, pictures paint what words describe – and the visual description of conceptual language imprints it into our lives in inestimable ways. Woodward and White master that.
If there are any weaknesses in the book, they are quite minor. Most multi-author books deal with a certain unevenness, and this one is occasionally awkward stylistically as it jumps from Woodward to White and back. But overall, it is well-written, clear, and just about the right length. It explains and cites without belaboring.
A Textbook Worthy of Sharing
I believe this will become a textbook of sorts for church planting, mentoring, and other missional-incarnational movements. I’ve already bought and given away fifty copies of it to pastors and young leaders I mentor, and am working on the next fifty. It will become the textbook for the young leader mentoring networks I lead. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am grateful for God’s inspiration to JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr. in The Church as Movement!
Editor’s note: Some edits, particularly anent formatting, have been implemented for the purpose of adapting John’s review to our organization’s media.