Monday, January 02, 2012

Book Review: Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald

I first read Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald while still in college in the late 80s, and I've been a fan ever since. From early pastoral success to public sin to healing and restoration, I've enjoyed his writing and been inspired by his life. I still remember a somewhat heated "discussion" I had with a now well-known pastor/evangelist at an FCA retreat about whether or not someone caught in adultery had forfeited the opportunity to pastor, and Gordon was my exhibit A for "yes, God uses broken people." (NOTE: I wanted to say God ONLY uses broken people, but that's for another post.)

Now, in his newest book, Going Deep, Gordon once again impresses me. The 3.5 consistent readers of my blog know my struggles with the modern-traditional church in the US. I teeter on the line between emergent and irreligious, while still basically staying connected to my church. My ecclesiology leads me to see many of today's US churches as too large, too unrelational, and too trapped in "where would you go if you died tonight?" programs OR so far moved away from biblical truth that they've become irrelevant. I've always wondered what it might look like for a modern-traditional church/pastor to adopt wholeheartedly a biblical view of community and discipleship and work to reform his/her local church.

Enter Going Deep. I don't know enough about MacDonald's church to know how accurate the book is on implementation, but from the standpoint of how it might look, it's right on. Written in the same semi-fictional style as Who Stole My Church? and Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian series, Going Deep tells the story of a fictional New England congregation pastored by GMac (Gordon) and his wife Gail, who he says are the only two non-fictional characters in the story. The plot revolves around Pastor GMac's engagement with his neighbors, his Bible, and his own congregants about becoming "deep" people. An overarching early theme is that teachability is important, but growability is key. Like plants, we all need to grow deep roots in order to flourish outwardly. We need to be deep people.

The congregation goes through a 1 year process that takes a group of willing believers and challenges them in weekly gatherings of community to become deeper men and women. There are difficult commitments that are asked for and made (could "take up your cross" not involve difficult commitments?). Prior to the group starting, Gordon explored what it means to be a deep person, connecting with people from various walks of life, including a Jewish rabbi and an HR leader tasked with training "up & comers" in her company. All in all, this little group becomes what in my ecclesiology IS the church--a small group of people living life together and seeking to participate in and expand the kingdom of heaven.

But the most amazing thing about the book is how Gordon puts in the context of the modern-traditional church (which I define as the prototypical late 20th century evangelical USAmerican church) and shows how this might work. I've said many times that most large churches today are NOT churches, they are weekly gatherings of many smaller churches, along with some religious people, some bystanders, some outsiders, and some lone-wolf Christians. The senior pastor is often not pastoral at all, but a gifted communicator and leader. This book codifies that thought, and works to build one deep church within the congregation (including some outsiders), and then after that first year the members of that church will start their own churches, with new members from within and without the original congregation. It's a phenomenal concept that I'd love to see more current churches try.

I highly recommend this book. I give it 5 out of 5 bellybuttons in the Phatter book club.

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