Here’s one I almost missed – and I would have missed out big time! The cover looks emergent – not interested. The promo line reads something like this: “a punk-rock approach to the pressing issue of gaining ground as rapidly as the early church” – not interested. However, a quick scan in the acknowledgments caught my attention. One of the author’s heroes is Martyn-Lloyd Jones. Now I’m interested. Then I learn that the author is a church planter in the U.K. Now I’m really interested. With family roots in the U.K. and a deep admiration for men like John Bunyan, John Owen, and C.H. Spurgeon, my heart has been saddened for many years to see the decline of the church in the land of my forefathers. Anyone who has a passion to reach these people for Christ has my attention!
Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches Out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church by Peyton Jones is a warning to the church; it is a warning to stop playing church. Much like a fired-up football coach on the sidelines, Jones tosses the challenge flag and alerts the church to some dangers he sees; dangers that have plagued the church for quite some time. One danger is the propensity for pastors to build their own “personal empires.” Scripture demands something altogether different, namely – the expansion of God’s kingdom. The author confronts the typical model found in many mega church structures (and I would argue that this same mentality is smoldering in the hearts of many smaller churches as well):
1. Get more people
2. More people = more money
3. More money = more toys
4. More toys – more ways to get people
5. Get more people (rinse and repeat)
Some churches clean up this formula by exchanging “toys” for “tools.” Now the model is “sanctified” so to speak. If the formula for success doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the formula for failure will:
“Fewer people = less money = fewer toys = less ability to get people, which equals less money again.” Jones rightly argues, “Church can become a pastor’s own personal tower of Babel in which he refuses to spread out and multiply to the glory of God. Babel teaches us that bigger is not always better.”
Jones essentially argues that we need to stop quibbling over the meaning of the word “apostle” and get busy doing the work of apostles – which means church planting. He stands alongside Paul the apostle in pleading with churches to do the work of the ministry fully equipped with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.
The author maintains, “The pastor-only club is killing the leadership of the church. Guys are burning out, losing their families, sabotaging their marriages, or simply going back to selling used cars. It’s time those of you in ministry got your life back.” So Jones proceeds to unpack the essence and make-up of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – each of which “pulls on the average believer to do something that he wouldn’t normally be equipped or constrained to do.” The takeaway is this: People must be mobilized for ministry. Part of that mobilization involves recognizing the giftedness in people and releasing them to minister to the flock and reach lost people.
Church Zero is earthy and even a bit crude at time – so was Martin Luther. This book will make some people mad – sometimes John Calvin upset people (sometimes he still upsets people!) Church Zero will convict – much like Spurgeon sermon. Some will question the approach and tone of the author. Some may even assign false motives. But at the end of the day, when all the chips have been played, readers will be thankful that Peyton Jones wrote this book. He asks the right questions and gives solid biblical answers. His heart for church planting is on every page. My hope is that God will use this book for his purposes and awaken a new breed of church planters who proclaim God’s truth without apology and spark a new reformation in our generation; a reformation that is fueled by revival that is generated exclusively by the Holy Spirit.
Church Zero concludes with these stirring words: “Every church reformation has turned the tide of battle so that the church was charging through the barbed wire on the offensive, instead of hiding in foxholes on the defensive, praying that the shelling would stop … All church reformers shared on thing in common with every man who has ever spilled hid blood on the field of battle; they valued victory for the cause more than their own lives … I believe that the church’s final hour will be its finest hour if it has the stomach for waging war to drive back the gates of hell.”