Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Kingdom-Focused Church – Gene Mims

Not only has Gene Mims served as the vice president of church resources division of LifeWay Christian Resources, he also seems to be the king of re-statement. The Kingdom Focused Church starts with a three-chapter introduction (Preface plus the first two chapters) in which he repeatedly tells the reader that he has a system that will work for the pastor who wants his church to be successful. He actually guarantees that the advice held within the pages of the book will work if it is genuinely applied. Throughout the course of the book he takes pages to tell what paragraphs will achieve. He also re-states what others have said eloquently—not so much to steal from them or to beat a dead horse, but to remind church leaders of the obvious that others have said before.

Two things keep you with him through the seeming braggadocio of the early chapters: (1) what he is taking so long to tell is true—the successful church is successful by virtue of its kingdom focus, and (2) he also repeats the fact that he isn’t bringing something really new to the table, he’s just repackaging it. He even invites the reader after years of success in a kingdom-focused church to write a new re-telling of the principles in the book for a new generation of frustrated pastors and church leaders.

Following the lengthy introduction, Mims divides the remainder of the book into two major sections—defining for the reader the kingdom-focused church, and offering practical help in implementing the changes needed to cause your church to have that kind of focus.

For Mims, the bottom line of church success is evangelism. The desire of the church should be to follow the Great Commission—make disciples and help those disciples to grow so that they can multiply the ministry. In the first part he defines his purpose by tearing each word from the title down and defining it. The – an article indicating a specific church (your local church; Kingdom – referring to the basis for the church (God is the King, and the church is part of His kingdom); Focused – each church can only be successful if it knows where it is going (see Rainer and Geiger, Simple Church for a deeper look at focus); Church – the chapter on church deals with what church is and is not.

Mims includes five functions of the church (a la Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Church)—Evangelism, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, and Worship. I think that it is no coincidence that he addresses these functions in this order. He admits that all are important for healthy churches to be kingdom focused, but he indicates that each builds on the other moving members through to what he refers to as multiplying ministers. Also included are the four “results” which indicate that your church is focused: numerical growth, spiritual transformation, ministry expansion, and kingdom advance. Admittedly the only one of these that can truly be quantified is the first, but if the others are absent, the first (if it does happen) will flounder quickly according to Mims.

His advice is illustrated by a chart he has named the MAP (Model and Process) which gives a visual of the process that Mims states is the New Testament model for the church: Make Disciples, Mature Believers, and Multiply Ministries. In the course of the reading you can hear echoes of Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God), Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Church), and Bobby Welch (FAITH Evangelism Strategy). Along the way there is also a reference to Arthur Flake, the layman who developed the basic formula for Sunday School growth known as Flake’s Formula.

The best advice to church leaders (both pastors and lay leadership) is that growing the healthy church takes time. Preachers should not look for the perfect church, and nor should dissatisfied/disinterested church members. Instead, work where you are to turn your church into the kingdom-focused, healthy church that you are looking for. He claims that a pastor who moves in the first three to five years is not really the pastor of the church. It takes seven to ten years just to get started, he states.

The fictional pastor, Bro. Mike, and his story used to tie the book together and transition from one topic to another is sometimes interesting but often forced.

Mims closes the book with a chapter highlighting churches that he sees as models of the kingdom-focused church and another aimed at inspiring and challenging the reader to take the action needed to transform their church into the healthy church depicted in the book. The difficulty with the penultimate chapter is that the examples used are all in the category of Mega-church. (It was refreshing to read the quotation from a pastor who utilized the FAITH strategy in his church and “average Sunday School attendance . . . skyrocketed from 90 to 150, with a high of 200.”) It’s not my desire to be a wet blanket, or a jealous whiner, but in his “Models” chapter, Mims does what many denominational workers do in holding up the mega-church as the desire, the goal, the example for all churches. This is a drawback in regard to the fact that most of the church leaders and pastors who will read this book will never be a part of that church. Instead they are looking for ways to make their rural or community church to the measure of health that shows them to be focused on God’s focus—the kingdom. When there are not more than 5000 people living in the county, it is difficult to identify with the urban/suburban church which is averaging 17,000 participants each week.

The Kingdom-Focused Church has a great title, some worthy advice, and some major distractions. It is a good companion piece to Simple Church. It earns 3 thumbs.

—Benjamin Potter, August 2, 2007

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