This is a really good book. My appraisal has as its context a conversation I had with a denominational leader a few years back regarding my performance as a church planter. He said, “Wayne, you are not a process-oriented person.” Instead of chafing, I took that to heart and found it to be a necessary critique; this book has furthered my self-understanding along those same lines.
If I might summarize my understanding of this book in one word, it would be “chemistry”. We often overlook this necessary dimension to pastoral ministry, viewing it from a rather utilitarian perspective, and the resultant breakdown in congregation-pastor relationship is often not necessarily due to “incompatibility” (60), but a failure to adjust leadership style. As such, the drive of this book is to bring about personal awareness in our pastoral approach, making strategic and wise adjustments, facilitating chemistry with persistence and patience, leading to culture-making. In this sense, the wise pastor recognizes his / her role as “environmental engineer” (46), essentially, the biblical ideal of discernment. I appreciate this emphasis on pastoral “fit” as necessity, but not limitation. Like marriage, an ill-fitting arrangement can be avoided; but at the same time, an ill-fitting arrangement need not signal divorce.
I also find useful reflection on the nature of congregation, especially as it pertains to my continued interest in the field of church planting. On page 17, I find listed the qualities of a “well-differentiated person”, characteristics that I also perceive are necessary for a strong planting core group. Conversely, I also resonate with the wisdom on page 97, that “a major component of Christian growth involves learning to love and relate to brothers and sisters in Christ who were not personally chosen.” I hear Bonhoeffer’s dictum in the background; “he who loves community destroys community”, essentially warning us of the “idealization” of who we want around us, i.e., the “ideal” core group. No such thing.
This is a book I intend to reference continually in my pastoral vocation. And I’m asking my wife to read it as well; her background in Family/Child Development runs a similar course of thought, and I will need her wisdom in the process. In the end, I think we will have learned from our past mistakes, but this systems approach helps me in re-approaching core development, congregational chemistry, and hopefully launching a great community.