My pastor wrote a book. Another one. This makes four, if you’re not counting The Adventures of Tripod the Three-Legged Dog, which was a graphic novel he penned in fourth grade, according to a fact that I just made up. But before I get to the review, two disclaimers:
1. J.D. Greear is my boss, and so you are probably assuming I will say nice things about his book. He is and I will, but B is not predicated by A. He didn’t make me read it or ask me to review it, but I was happy to do both.
2. I read a free copy a few days before the release date. That’s not my disclaimer so much as one required by the government, but the FTC tells me I have to tell you the book was a staff freebie or – according to Section 4, Paragraph 17, Line 2.5 – “Vice President Biden will show up at your house at 3 AM and give you an atomic wedgie.”
So now that those disclaimers are out of the way, here’s the skinny: This might be Pastor J.D.’s best book yet. Don’t get me wrong. Gospel was a game-changer. He took several years’ worth of the Summit’s journey and put it on paper. Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart was incredibly helpful for those of us who still can’t always grasp the depth of God’s love. Jesus, Continued was an illuminating reminder of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. And Breaking the Islam Code was exactly like The DaVinci Code, except with more Quran and less Tom Hanks.
Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send is a story of discovery, obedience, sacrifice, and reward. It’s the story of The Summit Church, and it’s one that I’ve been privileged to witness as it has unfolded over the last thirteen years. In GBL, J.D. unpacks his own journey as the pastor of a rapidly growing church, and the very real moments where he realized that faithfulness means that we give up the things we love so we can gain something we love even more.
For us, that has meant raising up and sending out dear friends, staff members, and sons and daughters. It means that God has had to loosen our grip on our money and our stuff and our relationships so that the Great Commission can be fulfilled. And it has meant that we have had to constantly wage war against our own kingdom so that a better Kingdom can rise.
From a readability perspective, GBL is not your typical missions how-to manual. I devoured the book in a plane-ride-and-a-half over the weekend. It contains both laugh-out-loud lines (eliciting more than one sideways glance from a seatmate) and a few lump-in-your-throat moments.
And from a content perspective, GBL is a work that will change your perspective on your church’s ability to impact the farthest reaches of the globe. A few of my big takeaways:
We are now in a world that is increasingly unattracted by our churches. Gone are the days when people moved to a new city and find a new church. If the gospel is to go forward, it must do so by sending our people across cubicles and across continents. As J.D. says, “…if we don’t equip our people to carry the gospel outside of our meetings, our events, our gatherings and programs, we are going to lose all audience with them. A few flashier and flashier megachurches will likely keep fighting for larger pieces of a shrinking pie.” (p 31)
“Go and tell” does not have to negate “Come and see.” In what seems like an initial contradiction to the previous point, chapter 5 explains that we must still make the weekend accessible to outsiders. As a guest services guy who really enjoys job security, this was helpful to me. Drawing analogies from both the Old Testament Queen of Sheba and Jesus’ cleansing of the New Testament Court of the Gentiles, J.D. explains that, while “our lust for the sensational can keep us from reliance on the supernatural…we make no apologies for doing everything we can to attract unbelievers to our services and make the gospel accessible to them.” (p 92)
The church is God’s demonstration community. As he has noted in previous books (hey, when you have a good line, stick with it), J.D. observes that 39 out of the 40 miracles in Acts happened outside of the church. In other words: the world is changed not from inside the walls, but outside in our city. He explains how love of our city and those around us will be the most convincing apologetic, and how a practical, tangible, engaging love for our neighbors will often bring the gospel to bear in their lives.
In addition, chapter 10 (“Racial Reconciliation as a Fruit of the Sending Culture”) delves into a much needed topic in our country and our churches. As the head of a biracial family, I just about had to stand up in my airplane seat. (Sadly, the seatbelt light was still on, so I had to refrain.)
Every church can be a sending church. J.D. freely admits that the call to send is often a painful call, and it’s one that’s fraught with land mines along the way. However, he challenges the reader that change is possible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “If you are in a church resistant to new ideas, change only what you need to in order to reach a few new people, and then, as you do, celebrate those stories. That will help you get the capital you need to ‘purchase’ the next round of changes.” (p 199)
If you’re looking for a fluffy, mundane, challenge-free book, Gaining By Losing may be one that you need to take a pass on. But if you want to be reminded of the call to believe God for great things and trust him to fulfill the Great Commission, GBL is one you need on your shelf today. Order it here.
(And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of The Adventures of Tripod the Three-Legged Dog. It’s a real page-turner.)