Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Breaking the Missional Code"

My mom asked me to put my first book review on here so here it is:

Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community, by
Ed Stetzer and David Putnam. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006. 240 pages. Reviewed by Michael T. Madaris.

Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam is a book I have had on my shelf for quite some time now, but had never gotten around to reading. I chose to write a review of this book because, in the end, what is meant by “breaking the code” is an issue close to my heart and ministry.
Ed Stetzer is an author, educator, church planter and pastor. He holds a Ph.D. and is, at the time of the writing of this book, employed by the North American Mission Board. He is also currently the co-pastor of Lake Ridge Church, and resides in Cumming, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. David Putnam is the cofounder of He is a sought after leader/coach and consultant with “new and emerging churches across North America.” He is one of the pastors at Mountain Lake Church, and resides with his wife and two children in Cumming, Georgia.
Stetzer and Putnam embark on and lead a discussion of the great journey of transition for the local church in the context of North America, especially in the United States. Many churches are being successful in fulfilling the Great Commission while other, seemingly similar, churches are having little to no success at all. They state that the reason for this success or lack thereof is determined by whether the church “breaks the code” or not. The purpose in writing is to assist the reader in being able to come to terms with the “glocal” context of his ministry, put into practice the universal principles of “breaking the code,” and determine what strategies and methods will most greatly be received in one’s cultural context. This is necessary because of the transitions taking place all around us. Change is coming and has come, while many churches have failed to recognize the change and adapt its ministry to continue making an impact in the culture.
According to Stetzer and Putnam for the church to make the difference needed in our culture, the church must change its way of thinking concerning the philosophy and methodology of ministry. The church must begin to approach ministry from the perspective of “foreign missions.” They argue that the church is no longer just part of a local culture seeking to impact local and distant cultures, but the church is now part of the “glocal” culture. There is no distinction or separation. The church must approach its “local” context just as a person living on foreign soil seeking to impact that culture, people group and context. The church must do more than develop an understanding of “missional thinking,” it must cultivate and develop a “commitment to apply ‘missional’ thinking as well” (3).
Stetzer and Putnam begin by discussing their idea of the “glocal” context. They argue that it is the responsibility of the believer and the church to determine the culture barriers keeping people from becoming disciples of Christ, and strategically breaking those barriers down. They use the word “glocal” to “refer to the convergence of the global reality with our local reality” (5). The church must adapt to this new cultural change. At one time in the history of the church in North America all that was required of the church was to be there because many in the community had some type of connection with or to the church, but this is no longer the case. The church must be proactive in going to where the people are if she is to impact the people, the culture and the world.
This is a very good point in the discussion of the church and fulfilling her marching orders left by her commander and head, Christ Jesus. This is a great, difficult but much needed change in the life of the local church. It is sad to know that this change needs to take place at all. If the church had been led to follow the Great Commission all along, she would already be involved in cultural revolution for Christ rather than seeing the necessity for it now. A good question to ask now to prevent a relapse to her former ways would be “What decisions and practices led to the current condition of the average church, and more specifically, in Southern Baptist life?”
Stetzer and Putnam spend a great deal of time introducing, defining and detailing the dilemma the church faces in dealing with and reaching the Unchurched. This is a group in our culture that has no affiliation with the body of Christ at all. They have no understanding of the church, why she exists or what her purpose is. The modern church, for the most part, still operates under the assumption of “If we build it they will come.” But that is not the case in this “glocal” context. If they are to be reached, the church must leave its seats, walls, buildings and comfort and go to where the people are. The church must take Christ to them. She must learn the “heart language” of the culture surrounding her. She must speak the message of Christ to them in the language they understand. This does not imply that the message needs to be changed, but if the church is to reach the unchurched, she must “speak” the language.
“Breaking the code” is a universal principle that must be applied locally. As Stetzer and Putnam continue they highlight several churches from around the country that are “breaking the code.” But they point out that none of the churches are using a “cookie cutter” method. Each pastor, leader and church has considered their own local culture, learned the language and then launched out into their own community with the life changing message of the gospel. What works in Washington State will not necessarily work in Atlanta and visa versa. What has worked for Rick Warren will not necessarily work in Texas. The principles these “successful” churches use in reaching their culture is what needs to be studied and learned. Then the student must adapt the principles to his own environment, and seek to minister to those who live in around him.
All of this is done, all of the energy is expended, all the study time is committed for one reason and one reason only; it is exactly what Jesus Christ has commanded us to do. There are five passages of Scripture that reveal the spoken marching orders of every Christian and church. The church refers to them as the Great Commission passages. The most specific is found in Matthew 28:18-20. In this passage of Scripture Jesus tells his disciples exactly what is expected of them. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NKJV). How does the church respond to this command and how should the church respond to this command? The point Stetzer and Putnam make at this point is that this is not optional for the church. Marching orders for the soldier never are; it is commanded of him, and the expectation is that those orders will be followed to the letter.
This is an excellent and correct observation by writer and any student of Scripture. It is the expectation of Christ that every follower or believer become a disciple and change the world. It is the pattern Christ followed in his earthly ministry, it is the pattern the twelve apostles followed, and it worked. The intention of Christ was and is the building of people into world-impacting, world-changing disciples. This is what “breaking the code” is all about. It should be the heart of every Christian and church in the world, transforming our culture one life and heart at a time.
Stetzer and Putnam argue that building relationships is the best way to “break the code.” It is done by face to face, one on one time spent with others. Eating with them, playing with them, laughing with them and crying with them, it is in letting them see Jesus in what the Christian does that draws the unchurched to Christ.
There are many quality ideas found in Breaking the Missional Code. It was refreshing to read a book that actually spent as much time with application as with theory. It discussed transitions made by churches who found “success” in the relational ministry of “code breaking.” One of the best points made by Stetzer and Putnam at this point was that you have to know your own church culture and the culture of your community. Changing your music, your look or your style will not automatically mean success. They argue that God’s calling is specific: to a specific place and to a specific people. As you sense His calling, approach it as any Christian would who is going to a foreign country. It is not about personal preference, but it is about presenting the gospel in a way that those around you will be receptive to it. The gospel is offensive enough on its own.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the chapter on process. In this chapter Stetzer and Putnam give a step-by-step process of “breaking the code.” Many of the examples given are from personal experiences while church planting. This chapter is worth the cost of the book for those who catch the vision of the Great Commission as it pertains to planting churches and leading churches that impact their culture and the world.
As I began reading the book I was somewhat frustrated. There was great emphasis placed on the concept of being “missional.” My struggle with this concept was great and to a certain extent remains so. I struggle with the concepts or terminology of Breaking the Missional Code in light of the Great Commission passages. Does the Great Commission call the Christian and the Church to make disciples or is it a call to missions? I answer that it is not a call to missions but a call to disciple-making. Upon completion of the book I believe that disciple-making is what is meant when Stetzer and Putnam write, but that was not clear in the beginning. Missions is part of the Great Commission just as evangelism and church planting are, but these are only parts of the marching orders of Christ. The command of Christ found in Scripture is to “make disciples of all the nations.” If the church focuses on missions, evangelism or church planting alone, she will never fulfill the only command of this nature in the Bible. But if she has in her view the building of people into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, then missions, evangelism and church planting will most certainly be accomplished.
I agree that it is the call of the church to invade our culture. It is the responsibility of the church to study her environment locally and globally. She must always be prepared to give a defense of the gospel. She must not only learn the language of her “glocal” context, but speak the language, and speak it loudly, kindly, graciously and mercifully.
I am encouraged by the concept and strategy of thinking and approaching your ministry setting contextually as though you were on foreign soil. It is a necessary task, and one that is very difficult in nature. One might think that it is too difficult to transition an established church who has lost sight of being on mission into a missional church, but I believe it is no more difficult than what we ask our IMB missionaries to accomplish in their ministry context. It is the call of Christ, it is the command of Christ, and every good soldier follows orders.

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