It’s important to learn biblical truth, but it’s even more valuable to see biblical truth lived out. We need more than principles; we need examples.
I’m grateful for books on church planting and pastoral ministry, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Some books lean toward the truth side; they’re helpful because they’re timeless. Some books lean toward the application side; they’re helpful because they’re practical. What we really need, though, is both.
In other words, we need a book like What Church Can Be: An Optimistic Vision (With Blueprints) by Matthew Kruse.
A Theological Vision
What Church Can Be is an extended exposition of Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
“No other text has influenced my theological vision for planting and pastoring churches more than this inspired transcript Luke gave us,” writes Kruse. “The first time I memorized these words, I wept as I repented and begged God to mark our ministry with the same fervency, integrity, courage, intimacy, and grace that I saw in Paul’s. Almost every strand in the DNA of Seven Mile Road Church can be traced back to these words, so I’ve built this book accordingly. Every chapter anchors to and meditates on a phrase from Paul’s speech.”
It’s clear that Kruse has steeped his soul in Paul’s words. “To whatever degree the husks of my stories, reflections, and illustrations house the true meaning of his words, that’s the degree to which this book will be helpful,” he writes. “The way forward for Christians is always the way backward to the eternal truths revealed in Scripture.”
This is not a book on Kruse’s ideas, nor is it appropriated from the latest books and gurus. It’s a biblical look at what pastors are called to be and do.
What Church Can Be is a biblical exposition, but it’s also a memoir of an ordinary pastor. Kruse planted Seven Mile Road Church, a small church that has become eight. He pastors in Boston, “an absurdly expensive, rabidly liberal, post-Christian city where the gospel is increasingly met with disinterest or disdain. Rapid, Instagramable church growth doesn’t happen here.” His church probably looks a little like yours. Kruse works another job to pay the bills. He’s familiar with the realities and pressures that most pastors face.
It’s refreshing to read a book by an ordinary pastor. I can relate to his stories. We can learn from anyone, but it really helps to learn from someone who’s pastoring in a context like ours.
A Field Guide
What Church Can Be is also a field guide. “The gospel’s advance in post-Christian America hinges on the willingness and ability of the next generation of pastors to build biblically faithful, missionally focused churches among distinct people groups,” Kruse writes. “This book is a field guide for how we’ve done it. Each chapter not only presses a big theological truth but also articulates some real-life ways to flesh that truth out.”
It’s trickier to do this than it sounds. Kruse succeeds. I love what I’ve learned about Seven Mile Road Church and how they’re applying Paul’s theological vision in their context. I’ve dogeared a lot of pages and plan on going back to apply the lessons in these pages.
Bonus: It’s Fun
Kruse knows how to write. His personality pops off the page. He is a master at sentences like “They were more excited than Bernie Sanders voting on a tax hike.” This book reads like you’re sitting across the table from a friend. It’s a fun book to read.
If you are a pastor, elder, church planter, or someone who wants to contribute to the health and faithfulness of your church — and I hope that includes all of us — I think you’ll profit from this book. And you’ll enjoy it too.
“I’ve watched Jesus—through the humble efforts of a relentless, motley crew of men and women—build a gospel-believing, truth-loving, life-sharing, hospitality-showing, culture-crossing, church-planting church that people love being a part of,” Kruse writes. “If you want to lead or be a part of a church like this but aren’t sure it can happen, this book is for you.”