Book Review: The Intentional Church, by Randy Pope
Let’s begin with how to read The Intentional Church.
HOW TO READ THIS BOOK
Simply put, turn to the conclusion first. There, Pope clearly states that “a transforming church is the by-product of the power of the gospel, not of outstanding ministry planning” (221).
Otherwise, a reader might take Pope’s advice on robust ministry planning as the pivotal factor to make your church the transformational church God really wants—one that leaves “an indelible spiritual imprint” in the community (20). Unfortunately, Pope himself implies this when he writes, “Any success we have [at Perimeter] is due to being an intentional church” (17, emphasis original).
Instead, read The Intentional Church as providing insight into one aspect of church leadership. Pope speaks to a pastor’s godly impulse to set an agenda that accounts for the vastness of God’s plan, not to the pastor who’s looking for a magic bullet in the “_________ Church” genre.
Pope’s central idea is that senior pastors bear a unique responsibility to cultivate transformational ministry that impacts not only individual lives, but also the whole church culture and ultimately the secular community. Transformational ministry requires the senior pastor to hear God’s plans for the church, articulate that vision, and implement strategic life-on-life investment in potential leaders to equip them to carry out the mission.
Pope takes the Lordship of Christ seriously, speaking frequently to the high price church leaders and consumeristic congregations must pay to pursue transformational ministry. Though his ultimate objective is evangelism, he recognizes that a strong emphasis on discipleship toward maturity and service advances that goal. And Pope understands that discipleship doesn’t happen simply by talking about the Bible, but by intertwining our lives so that we spur one another on to live out our mission.
The book is permeated with talk about how pastors should equip believers for the work of the ministry. Within that context, Pope portrays the church as an offensive weapon for God’s kingdom. He models initiative and innovation, but not merely for the sake of multiplying programs. He repeatedly argues that the stuff your church is doing—even if it’s good stuff on paper—won’t necessarily produce the fruit you want. Instead, we must identify goals and implement strategies that clearly pursue those goals. And all these exhortations are welcome and helpful.
Pope anticipates that some readers will be unconvinced by his emphasis on strategic planning: “[Y]ou may believe that I am advocating that you should run a church like a company runs a business. I certainly understand that ministry is not a business, but I do believe that the application of time-tested principles may help us increase our effectiveness at fulfilling our God-given visions” (186). Nevertheless, the pervasive emphasis on implementing best practices borrowed from business culture blurs this distinction and runs the risk of decentralizing what’s most essential for transformational ministry.
Assumptions can be dangerous, and Pope seems to make several that are open to question.
- Should we really think of the unchurched as “customers” (122-124)?
- Do we have biblical warrant to conclude that the senior pastor hears directly from God, especially in a way distinct from other elders?
- Do we have the freedom to shape our services to appeal to non-Christians? Might some cultural forms or evangelism strategies undermine the essence of the message?
- And most importantly, is a church sufficiently analogous to a business to import business methodology without reservation?
These and other unanswered questions keep me from offering an unqualified endorsement. Though Pope sometimes hints at conclusions, his argumentation is too sparse to be persuasive. That’s not to say we should discard insight gained merely from experience rather than Scripture. But this book falls short of a relentlessly Scripture-driven agenda. Too often the Word seems necessary, but not central—perhaps just one among many concerns. Though I expect Pope would insist that the Word is absolutely foundational to his theology and ministry, he assumes that his readers will share that foundation. I’m not sure we should make such an assumption.
SHOULD YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Pastors who are haphazard planners or ineffective strategic thinkers will benefit from the discipline Pope advocates. Pastors who have built churches around their personality and have experienced rapid growth may just now be feeling things slip out of control. They, in particular, will be challenged to fulfill their obligation to invest strategically in other potential leaders toward cohesive objectives.
As you read this book you’ll see that, by the grace of God, Randy Pope has accomplished tremendous work for the sake of the gospel, and his approach to ministry planning has borne abundant fruit. You won’t encounter methods that are timeless and universal because they’re shaped by a biblical agenda. Still, this book may well create useful conversations for church leaders not gifted in administration or communicating vision.