Gaining by Losing by J.D. Greear reviewed

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that this book made my 2016 list because I knew I would disagree with the author on all sorts of issues around body life in a church but admired what I saw as a commitment toward church planting. The book confirmed both of those notions.

I think the book’s basic strength is that it’s written by someone who believes enormous churches where you cannot possibly know the people around you are a good thing. That’s because those churches, if they saw the issue of sending properly, have the most immediate opportunity to impact the landscape of Christianity in America. In one chapter, Greear explains that it’s wonderful to both be attractional (meaning to try to draw people into church gatherings for evangelism) and missional (meaning we need to go to non-Christians and proclaim the gospel to them in ways that are adapted to their language, background, and culture. The way he explains it is useful and a helpful bridge to people who still think inviting people to church is an effective evangelistic technique (which it almost never is now and will be even less so in the future).

One of the first things that hits you in the book is J.D.’s humility in admitting that he did not start off with the mentality and philosophy of ministry he promotes in the book. In several places in the book he comes back to where he had to make substantial course corrections and repent of sinful or bad motivations in order to get to where they are now.

His overarching point, made on page 19 and then throughout the book, is that since the God of the Bible is a sending, or missionary God, His followers should be as committed to it as He is. That has to include more than just writing a check to someone living 3000 miles away, it has to be a lifestyle. He effectively draws the comparison of the church as an aircraft carrier that equips the war planes then sends them out for battle as opposed to a cruise liner built for the comfort of its passengers or a battleship that does it’s fighting in limited amounts of big bangs (p 27-29). The idea culminates a few chapters later when he writes:

When the church begins to operate with the assumption that everyone is called, our approach to mobilization will shift dramatically. We won’t limit our mission engagement to a bulletin board in the lobby with images of people serving in New Guinea that church members should pray for, as important as that is. We will see every  member of our church as a potential missionary to be equipped and mobilized. Our goal is not to send some, or even our best, but to send all into the mission – to our city, across the country, or to the other side of the world.

Even though he is a “big church” guy whose Facebook page looks like a rock concert, in the book he does warn big churches trying to be attractional that many times they can “substitute the gathering power of entertainment for the transforming power of the cross.” It’s a helpful warning to those trying to walk the line J.D. is walking and while I bet he and I would see the line at very different places, I’m glad to see that someone who claims to pastor 6,000 people believes there is a line at all.

The chapter on racial reconciliation was useful mostly because it didn’t just repeat the same drivel that is spouted from many church leaders today. He actually talked a little about what it would take for the church to truly be reconciled across racial lines. I think he overplayed the hand that God expects us to primarily reach unbelievers who are a lot like us, but overall it was well done. One quote in particular was worth sharing.

“Multicultural engagement within your city, like international missions, is something that all believers are expected to participate in, but that God moves certain believers to pursue with focused intentionality. The apostle Paul was in that category. Some of us (under the leadership of the Spirit) need to make this cause our cause. After all, it makes no sense to send people 10,000 miles across the globe to reach people of other cultures when we won’t send people ten miles across our own city to reach people in different neighborhoods. Why would we cross the seas but not the tracks?” (p172)

The flow of the book seemed a little choppy to me, mostly because he “chapterized” the core principles that they emphasize at his church. I’m sure it fits their mostly white, suburban, middle class, enormous church but a lot of it didn’t really fit my world at all and a lot of his talking points wouldn’t make much sense to the mission field God has given us. That’s okay because we have our own core principles but in some ways it interfered with the value of the book for me. Still, as I reviewed my kindle version I noticed at least one highlight in each chapter although there seemed to me more highlighting early on.

By the end of the book I was convinced J.D. was someone who really loved Jesus and wanted to see the knowledge of His glory cover Raleigh Durham like the waters cover the sea. I was also convinced I wouldn’t last more than a month at his church. The book is a worthwhile read for anyone looking for examples of the kind of culture necessary to be a church that is really focused on the Great Commission. It’s a fairly easy read for a 250 page book and most readers could complete it without any problems.

2016 Reading Results

Well, I didn’t get as much of my reading list completed as I had hoped for. A few unexpected books had to be read and my Master’s thesis took a little more out of me at the first part of the year than I expected. There is only so much reading my non reader brain can handle. My original list with the rationale is here 2016 Reading List, which focused on things I would not normally pick up and the recommendations of friends. I posted reviews of many of the books I read on this site. I will repeat this approach in 2017. Here are the top five books and why:

Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley – Wonderfully written book that challenges both right wing and left wing assumptions about what makes for a good education system. Turns out something like common core is important and per pupil spending is not. Very easy to read and I really appreciate how the author, who admits to being left of center, challenged so many of the bedrock principles of the NEA.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – I suppose it’s not surprising that I liked this book as much as I did given millions of other people did too. I finished it faster than any book its length in my life and still cannot get over how much this book displays the outrageous goodness of God to Louie in so many different circumstances. The movie was good and captured many things brilliantly, but missed the core point Louie would want made, namely the lovingkindness of Jesus to love him so patiently so long.

Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose – I would not have supposed that a book on the people who built the transcontinental railroad would have been as compelling as it was. Ambrose did a masterful job of presenting these real life characters and introducing me to Theodore Judah. My next pet, even if it is a rock, will be named Judah.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – I don’t really read fiction that much because normally I think the truth is funnier, but this was a good recommendation and after the first 200 pages or so it really picked up. The book is massive, so finishing it at all was almost as much of an accomplishment as learning to enjoy fiction for what it is.

Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send by J.D. Greear – This book gets an honorable mention simply because I wish more leaders in evangelical churches would read it. I have too many friends in too many churches that live as if the only way to “win” is to grow the number of people attending each weekend when J.D. makes a case that winning only happens when disciples are made and the New Testament pattern seems to be a distributed model where Christians spread out rather than cluster together in little like-minded bubbles.

Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869

I really had no idea what to expect from this book. I’ve always appreciated the author, especially as it relates to Band of Brothers, but I’d never really thought about the first transcontinental railroad before. I got the book used at our local “friends of the library” book store and figured it would meet my goal for the year of reading a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t normally select.

I really enjoyed the book. Ambrose does a good job of making the arduous work of building a railroad at a mile per day or digging tunnels at a couple feet per day easy to read and even compelling. He does in this book what he does best, making the most of the biographical sketches of the key players while he records the history of building the railroad. The level of detail of these men was more than sufficient for me and I would say I feel like I know Durant (and wouldn’t trust him with my dog) and would like to shake the hand of General Dodge. Most of all, I have untold respect for a man I’d never heard of before, Theodore Judah, whose imagination, hard work, and relentless passion were the reasons this railroad got designed and built in the first place. After becoming enamored with him, I became quite upset to read that he died prior to seeing his vision fully realized.

I suppose one of the most thought provoking comments made in the book was near the end when Ambrose suggested that of all the generations who witnessed change, those alive during the 2nd half of the 19th century America probably experienced more personal change than anyone else in history. They got the railroad, the ability to move freely across great distances, the telegraph, electricity, the end of slavery, and much more. Yes, something like the internet was massively disruptive in everyone’s lives but he could be right that it was this time period that changed the most considering prior to these inventions people more or less communicated and did commerce in the same was as Alexander the Great.

I would certainly recommend it. I suppose the highest praise I can offer the book is that it made me, a non-reader, want to read more detail about certain elements he covered in the book such as the real truth on relations between settlers and Native Americans and the development of corporations.