Working in ministry, especially church planting, can be a very difficult process. One of the hardest parts about church planting is that while planting a always seems like doing things to “gain” and “establish” a church, the reality is that oftentimes the church’s real growth starts taking place when it sends, and thus loses, some of its key people and resources for the sake of the spread of the gospel. That’s the premises of J.D. Greear’s book.
The book is split into two parts; part one is about why we send, and the difficulties in sending. Part two lists out ten keys, or “plumb lines” to becoming a sending church. Greear spends a lot of time talking about the importance of mission. More important than the principles of how to send people as a church is the principles of why we send those people. Greear sums up his position on the importance of mission with a quote from Charles Spurgeon in part one: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor” (34). He then, using Scripture, anecdotes, and illustration, paints the picture of how a church can learn to send effectively using his ten plumb lines, the bulk of the book. I’ll spend a few moments highlighting the things I took away and liked, and other things I didn’t.
What I Liked
Greear started off his plumb lines in the most important way. “The gospel is not just the diving board; it is the pool.” If a church doesn’t start here, the entire course of mission is thrown off, like a broken compass leading us the wrong way. “Believing the gospel,” Greear writes, “leads to becoming like the gospel” (66). There are implications for this line of thinking. When we start to dive into the pool of the gospel, we begin to understand Greear’s second and third plumb lines better, that everyone is called, and that our ecclesiology should be good mix of “missional” and “attractional.” Even despite a church devoted to how we send, I appreciated Greear’s emphasis on how the church is a place for believers to gather and be equipped for the mission of Monday-Saturday. Here’s an excerpt:
Get this: Of the 40 miracles recorded in Acts, 39 happenoutside the church walls. That’s 97.5 percent! You can safely conclude from this that the main place God wants to manifest his power is outside the church (94–95).
There are plenty of books on the missional movement, but oftentimes these become a bunch of circular, unanswered arguments, relying on visionary language and lofty concepts without digging into “how.” What I appreciated about Gaining by Losing is how authentic and real it feels. Greear’s use of real stories and experiences of his ministry and Summit Church help us get a true picture of how we put these ideas into practice. There are multiple places in the book where Greear stops to list out steps church leadership can take to adopt these plumb lines in their own congregation. This is a helpful step for those who have little direction or counsel to turn to. Another really practical component of this book is the appendices in the back of the book, with detailed steps in developing international missions and domestic church planting strategies. I found these appendices to be some of the most helpful and applicable parts of the entire book!
One of my favorite sections of the book is in chapter eight, a chapter that illustrates the primacy of discipleship. Greear spends a lot of time explaining why every Christian is born to reproduce, and then answers key and common objections against this idea. Greear does not shy away from Christians and churches who try to compartmentalize missions (see next chapter: “Your Church Doesn’t Need a Missions Pastor”). An unashamed approach to the gospel and thus to missions is important for evangelicals to get around.
Here’s some of my favorite one-liners:
“Love on display is our most convincing apologetic” (128).
“Every spiritual gift serves the larger purposes of making disciples. The gifts are varied, but the mission is the same” (141).
“It is not through our success that God saves the world, but through oursacrifice. He calls us first to an altar, not a platform” (20).
What I Didn’t Like
There were a few places where I felt Scripture may have been misinterpreted or misapplied. In the introduction, one of Greear’s foundational verses for the book is John 12:24, and talks about how the seed that dies in the verse is ultimately a picture of what churches do and how they operate. To me, however, this verse is specifically and explicitly about the seed of Christ and His substitutionary atonement. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with the principle Greear is outlining, I don’t think this is the text to base it off of.
There are a couple of other places where I am questioning the interpretations of Biblical texts. From Luke 15 and the story of the Good Shepherd, Greear explains that numbers are important because of the one sheep that left the flock. To me, this isn’t a defense of numbers, but quite the opposite — the underemphasis on numbers (there were 99 sheep there after all) for the sake of only one. I also didn’t make the connections of how we should be attractional according to the passages of Exodus 19:5–6 and 1 Peter 2:9–11; 3:15. I felt that these texts were much more about us going that us drawing.
I’ll be clear here: I felt like “faulty exegesis” was definitely the exception and not the norm in this book; these were a couple of the main areas that stuck out to me, but overall I felt like Greear did a great job with basing his ideas off of proper Biblical interpretation.
I know I just said this book was practical, and though it was, in a sense it also wasn’t very practical. Greear’s continued reliance on anecdotes from his own church is certainly encouraging, but can be very difficult to relate to. These stories are taking place in a congregation of over 8,000 people, and in our current congregation of 170, there were times I was struggling to figure out how to apply certain things in this book to our own church body. For example, in chapter eleven, a chapter that discusses risk-taking in ministry, Greear begins to outline the numbered goals their congregation has for planting churches. This was definitely encouraging, but I struggled to figure out how our church could set such a goal right now. There are multiple places where Greear’s retelling of what Summit Church does do not translate to smaller, younger congregations.
Although I enjoy and learned from this book through and through, there were a few parts where I felt like the language was funneling me into some confusion, or even disagreement with conclusions. Most of them I feel are matters of language. Here’s a couple statements I found myself putting question marks beside:
“The good news is that making disciples is fairly easy” (137).
“Diversity is not just about the music…at the same time, diversity is about the music” (170).
“Get comfortable with being scared. We have a Master who not only has commanded us to risk, but also promised us that as we do so, led by his Spirit, he will multiply our investments in the harvest of his kingdom” (188).
There is a potential danger, in my view, to miss the difficulty and sometimes the failures that happen in these processes. Oftentimes, disciple-making isn’teasy, especially for laypeople. And where has God promised to “multiply our investments” every time?
Should you read this book? Definitely. Although I don’t agree with all of Greear’s conclusions, if you are serving in church leadership, or want a better understanding of why and how churches should be sending-focused, this book will absolutely be a helpful resource to you. It is a gospel-centered, compassionate, and bold call to make our churches fulfill the Great Commission faithfully. Summit Church is able to do what it does in large part because of the leadership that has helped communicate these principles in a big way to the church body.
When we’re ready to part ways with key leaders and key resources, we’re ready to watch God work. Not always in a big, flashy way, but surely in a special way. This book is encouraging, equipping, and motivating. Be ready to be challenged by this book to pursue a sending mindset in your life and church!
Note: I received this book for free through Cross Focused Reviews. I was not required to give a positive review and all opinions are my own