Book Review: Dangerous Intersections, by Jay Dennis and Jim Henry
State Farm Insurance annually publishes the eleven most dangerous intersections in America, identifying the main causes of such accidents and fender-benders in the report. In their co-authored book, Dangerous Intersections, Eleven Crucial Crossroads Facing the Church in America, Jay Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church @ the Mall in Lakeland, FL, and Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando, FL, pick up the analogy and identify the eleven most dangerous intersections for churches to navigate today. In their analysis, they offer practical and biblical advice from their combined experience and wisdom on how to lead through these intersections and provide a simple and practical guide on leading and growing a biblical church in America today.
“The church of the twenty-first century faces some dangerous intersections. This book identifies the ten [there are actually eleven mentioned in the book] most dangerous intersections with which churches must deal or fail to be relevant. When church leaders ignore these intersections, the world begins to ignore the church. It seems we are hearing every week about another church that is struggling, another pastor who is ready to leave the church and even the ministry, and yet another church that is divided. The good news is we can get through the intersections if we do it God’s way.” (Dennis and Henry, Dangerous Intersections, p. 2).
Dennis and Henry therefore set out “to share specific principles that will help any church become compelling” (p. 3). They identify eleven intersections that pastors must cross successfully to make your church “the trip of a lifetime.”
THE ELEVEN INTERSECTIONS
Overall, the eleven crossroads and respective principles that Dennis and Henry underscore are simple and biblical ones.
1. At the Intersection of Worship and the Missing God – Worship, defined as “celebrating with heart, mind, and body who God is, who Jesus is,” (p. 17) is the most “exciting” and “potentially” dangerous of all intersections (p. 5). Fear – of losing control, of offending someone, of failure – is the main causes for mediocre worship. To get back to “the hear of worship,” we must hit “seven chords of worship – making music to God” (p. 18): 1) Praise; 2) Thanksgiving; 3) Confession of Sin; 4) Scripture; 5) Giving; 6) Prayer; 7) Commitment.
2. At the Intersection of Change and Stagnation – The greatest threat to the church today is being ignored. A loss of passion for prayer, enthusiasm for evangelism, motivation for ministry, and “WOW” in worship, “in-love-ness” with the Lord are the signs that death is at the door. Dennis and Henry conclude by providing eight tips for getting through change: 1) stop at the intersection; 2) look for incoming traffic; 3) look behind you; 4) look ahead; 5) look beside you; 6) don’t cross it alone; 7) don’t run it; 8) proceed with caution, but do proceed.
3. At the Intersection of Family-Sensitive and Family-Damaging – “As pastors and church leaders we must address the specific needs of marriages and families. We must understand that as we take God’s Word and make personal application, it will most often defy political correctness. But when the Bible is shared with love in the power of the Holy Spirit, marriages, families, teenagers, and single adults can be transformed” (p. 48).
4. At the Intersection of Faith and Sight – “What are we praying for and attempting that only God could pull off?” (p. 65). We need to be willing to take risks and incorporate the Jesus Factor – letting Jesus do what only he can do.
5. At the Intersection of Atmospheric Revival and Unchanged Lives – The atmosphere, the environment of a particular place, is vital when it comes to the church. A church should have both atmosphere and doctrine. The two are not mutually exclusive. We want people to walk in and notice God’s presence.
6. At the Intersection of Sound Doctrine and Spiritual Fads – “In attempting to reach our generation, we must resist the temptation to compromise biblical convictions. This scriptural inconsistency and doctrinal compromise fails to attract the unchurched” (p. 105).
7. At the Intersection of Urgent Prayer and Human Ingenuity – “We believe in creativity, hard work, and trying new things. But those are no substitutes for prayer. In those churches where God is working, his work usually begins with a kneeling figure” (p. 123).
8. At the Intersection of Need-Meeting Ministry and Complacency – “Ministry may be the most important aspect of reaching people with the gospel today. It is being the hands, eyes, feet, heart, ears and words of Jesus Christ both inside and outside the church. We are not speaking of “the ministry” – vocational ministry – but ministry done by every Christian. Ministry is constantly searching for needs and demonstrating the love of Christ in practical ways” (p. 135). The pastor’s job is to equip, motivate, and set people free to do ministry (p. 137).
9. At the Intersection of the Great Commission and Four-Walled Programs – The church exists for the sake of those outside (p. 150). In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us the what, who, where, and when, but he deliberately leaves out the how. “It was no accident that He [Jesus] left out how. Why did he do that? He left that up to each generation. How speaks of methods, strategies, and programs. In every generation there are specific methods, strategies, and programs” (154).
10. At the Intersection of The Jesus Leadership and Corporate Models – Pastors are not CEOs and should not model their leadership on the American business model. Rather, Jesus Christ is our model of leadership: character-based, servant-oriented, change-friendly, love-expressing, courage-demonstrating, life-balanced, and singly-focused. This means we will have people skills: be loving, friendly, truthful, sensitive, confidential, listening, forgiving, laughing, wise, and humble.
11. At the Intersection of Church Growth and Offered Excuses – “Biblical church growth is a fruit of scriptural principles put into practice. It is the natural outgrowth of church health. Since the church is a living organism – a body – it will grow naturally as long as there are no restrictions preventing it from growing. Church health means a church functioning as God intended” (p. 184). Churches should grow by 1) Practical Bible-Centered Exposition of Scripture; 2) Inspiring Worship; 3) Small-Group Bible Study with Fellowship; 4) Multiple Evangelistic Strategies; 5) Needs-Driven Ministries; 6) Prayer-Centered Approaches; 7) Kingdom-Oriented Missions; 8) Children and Youth-Targeted Programs.
Jay Dennis and Jim Henry have said many good things in their book. It is full of straightforward, faithful, and helpful advice for pastors. The emphasis on worship (pp.18-22), expositional preaching (p. 111, 189) and sound doctrine (p.103) as well as stressing church membership and requiring a membership class (p. 111) are excellent. The focus on developing a culture of every-person ministry and service, of prayer and faith in Jesus and what He alone can do, and of helping and equipping families is outstanding. The exhortation of developing an atmosphere that smells of God’s presence is faithful to the Bible. The call to follow Jesus Christ’s leadership model while developing a biblical strategy of church growth is a sound and much needed call to pastors today. Also, the final encouragements and exhortations in the conclusion were strong, convicting, and comforting: to seek a mentor for help and wisdom and above all things, to stay in love with Jesus Christ. Our hope is indeed in our Savior and the great promise that in the end, God wins and has won in Christ!
As I read the book, a few questions and constructive critiques did arise. On a message about the church, shouldn’t the gospel be central? Throughout the whole book, the gospel was never made explicitly foundational. Why not? And practically, how does a pastor implement a biblical methodology for church membership, corporate worship, and discipleship and growth?
The book’s advice on evangelism is, disappointingly, man-centered and method-centered rather than Christ-centered and message-centered. Did Jesus really not care how we do evangelism? Did he really not tell us how we should evangelize? In the programs and methodologies suggested for evangelism, there was an implicit pragmatism that essentially said, “Jesus has given us freedom to choose and do whatever works! Go for it!” Therefore, recommendations ranged from upholding the Emerging Church model to using Brian McLaren’s “innovative” strategies and inviting “people to come forward during the invitation. This is still an effective way of extending an opportunity of response” (p. 161). These models and methods are neither helpful nor biblical.
In addition, in practically implementing some of the principles, Dennis and Henry instruct pastors on implementing some programs in absolute language that overstates their case. For example, Dennis and Henry write, “The church’s calendar and budget should reflect an on-purpose strategy to reach and help fathers… Every church should have a divorce recovery group… Within the budget of every church there should be a line item that shows a financial commitment to some crisis pregnancy center” (pp. 59-60). These programs and ministries are good but to use such absolute language that “every church should…” overstates the biblical mandates to and roles of the church and makes their suggestions simplistic. Churches should develop a culture to focus on these needs by the preaching of God’s Word, not necessarily a program focus. If a pastor of a young or small church were to make a list of all the programs he “should” implement, he could easily burn the congregation emotionally, spiritually, and/or financially by focusing on the wrong things.
Finally, on a smaller note, I would suggest as a matter of prudence not making the first quotation in the book on worship by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Overall, I would suggest using more Bible texts and references throughout to support the arguments and principles.
Dennis and Henry offer many useful prescriptions for churches that are dying across America today. Their experience and wisdom clearly come from pastoring in the context of a mega-church, mega-denomination environment, which imposes limits on their advice. Overall, however, it is faithful, practical, and earnest. Therefore, I would encourage pastors struggling to grow and transform a church in America today to pick up and read Dangerous Intersections for encouragement and insight, being mindful to hold everything up to the test of Scripture and the context of their local church.