Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Going Deep

Going Deep. Gordon MacDonald. 2011. Thomas Nelson. 383 pages.

It was on July 6, at an evening baseball game in Boston's Fenway Park, that the great idea first started coming to life. 

Where to begin? Let's start with some simple facts. Going Deep is a follow-up book to Who Stole My Church. The 'fictional' approach is similar. Readers are granted a behind the scenes look at a New England church community led by Gordon and Gail MacDonald--the only two "real" characters from the book. It is not a sequel, however. So you can read this one even if you haven't read Who Stole My Church.

Writing style. Instead of writing a nonfiction book on spiritual growth and church leadership, MacDonald went with a fictional approach. He uses his fictional self--how closely he's connected with this fictional self I'm not sure, not sure I want to know--to "illustrate" his ideas. This novel is didactic. It is super didactic. It isn't practical enough to be actually instructive, but I get the idea that it's supposed to be inspiring. (It has an infomercial feel to it almost.) The style of this one suffers because of it. The author TELLS way too much instead of showing. His characterization is practically non-existent. What readers get are profiles--some slightly more detailed than others.

So Going Deep is about how one pastor is "inspired" by his non-Christian neighbor, Hank Soriano. His friend is asking questions and he doesn't really have the answers, or enough of an answer to satisfy himself. His thinking leads him to the realization that the church will run out of leaders if something isn't done to "grow" them. That is, there is not enough spiritual training (as opposed to job training perhaps?) to equip the next generation to lead the church. He becomes almost obsessed with the idea of 'deep people' and the process of 'cultivation.' He asks what a deep person looks like, etc.

Anyway, his "big idea" is to form a group of 14 to 18 people to fellowship with in his home weekly for forty weeks. This small group is "designed" to grow or cultivate deep people. To turn individuals with potential and genuine interest or desire into deep people ready to inspire others to grow. It takes a year to develop the ideas, the lessons, and a year to actually do it. Readers are "treated" to both years.

So this book is singing the praises of small groups--or a small group. How a small gathering of believers committed to meeting weekly will encourage, inspire, and challenge growth. How accountability is a good thing. How praying together, sharing together, talking together, listening to one another, are all good things that 'cultivate' individuals into "deep people."

One thing to keep in mind while reading is that this small group has an extremely, extremely narrow focus. The pastor is looking to hand-select the next generation of LEADERS for his church. He isn't trying to reach out to the congregation at large. He isn't trying to teach or train just anybody or everybody. His purpose, his goal, is not to grow an entire congregation of deep people. He's looking for people with leadership potential.

He's not looking for struggling people, for broken people. He's not exactly looking for seekers. He's looking for people who are showing displays of holiness and so-called righteous influence already. They've already got to have something there, something visible, something recognizable. Here are the list of qualities he's looking for in potential members:
  • demonstrate a consistent loyalty to Jesus and speak of him as their redeemer and Lord;
  • have a hunger to keep on growing in every aspect of their lives, regardless of age;
  • have a clear sense of how a Christian conducts him/herself in the larger world;
  • maintain personal relationships that appear to be healthy and life-giving;
  • are respected because of their wisdom and integrity;
  • are aware of how the Holy Spirit has gifted them and possess a sense of personal mission or call;
  • love to inspire and lead others toward Christian growth;
  • have firm convictions about faith, yet are not rigid, pushy, or judgmental;
  • are generous with what they have and always seem to know just how to serve others;
  • are compassionate, the first ones to spot people who need counsel or encouragement;
  • are people you love to be with because they love life and seem to know the best ways to live it; and 
  • are influential wherever they go.
As you can imagine from that list, he does not want anyone volunteering for the group. Asking to be considered for the group will get you a firm, stern look. The pastor feels the church has enough groups being offered to deal with the masses, to deal with people who are hurting, broken, discouraged, struggling, etc. No, this new group isn't for people deemed 'problematic' or 'difficult.' And he's not looking for your typical, average believer either.

Of course, his group that he hand selects isn't perfect. Here is an initial-impressions list the pastor shares:
  • more than a few had only a superficial knowledge of the Bible;
  • busyness and priorities were a perpetual challenge;
  • only a few came from stable family backgrounds;
  • some struggled to understand the place of prayer or personal worship;
  • most of them spent little time with anyone outside of their generation, and
  • many thought highly of Jesus but were often embarrassed to be called Christians.

I went into the book thinking that it was a book for how EVERYONE should be deep, how everyone should be discipled, how everyone should grow in the spiritual disciplines, how everyone should abide in Christ; how we all should live that deeper life. How we should all answer God's call--his command--to be in relationship with him. And instead, this book is all about one thing and one thing only: the church. He wants deep people...but deep people for the church's benefit. He wants to cultivate deep people so that the church will have LEADERSHIP. He wants what is best for the church and what is best for the church is select leadership training. Hand-picked leaders trained carefully.

The exclusiveness bothered me at first. It bothered me a lot. For I kept thinking about how Christ came to call sinners, the lost, the least of these. Christ had a heart to reach the people who needed him most. And Christ's disciples, well, they were far, far, far from perfect! They sure wouldn't have met this Pastor's qualifications. Not even close. They didn't always show much potential! They could get into trouble! They could get into arguments! They missed the point time and time again. They weren't always that quick to understand, to comprehend. They could be very selfish, very proud, and jealous. In other words, they were very very human. They were all flawed souls. They weren't chosen because of who they were, because of how great they were, because of how influential they were, or because they were socially gifted. They did, however, answer Christ's call to follow. I think it's important to see the disciples as real people like you and me, people who struggled, people who were tempted. They weren't perfect, but they were chosen by God; they weren't perfect but they were part of God's plan. They weren't perfect, but they were loved. To be used by God, to be a part of His plan, to be a part of His will, you don't have to be perfect. You just have to respond to his call. You just have to follow God, to love God, to put Him first.

What softened me a bit towards this book, however, was reading some New Testament epistles. I read in several places lists of qualifications for leaders--for bishops or elders, etc. I realized that the Bible is very, very specific when it comes to what it wants--what it needs--from leaders. That strict guidelines of who can be a leader weren't a bad thing, but a good thing. That the emphasis on qualified leaders for the church is very important.

Even though I've softened some on this one, I still didn't really like this book. There were still things that bothered me about it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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