Not so much about how to lead your church, as where to lead your church, James McDonald is single-minded about what his, yours and your church’s sole purpose ought to be: The Glory of God.
Like James McDonald says in the video that introduces his ‘Vertical Church’, there are already a lot of church leadership books that deal with how to lead your church: how to understand people, how to reach them, how to communicate with them, how to include them, how to pastor them and so on. Focus on this ‘horizontal leadership’, he claims, is responsible for the Church’s decline. McDonalds remedy is ‘vertical leadership’.
Church is Nothing Unless God Turns Up
“Getting people back to churchis pointless,” says McDonald, “unless God comes back first – that’s what vertical church is all about! Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible boredom church, relevant church… are all horizontal substitutes for God come down.”
McDonald’s call to the church is simple: leaders need to give congregations 'unapologetic preaching, unashamed worship, unceasing prayer and unafraid witness'.
James McDonald – Who He?
James McDonald continues that great tradition of American pastors who start out with a little band of followers and grow a loyal church of thousands – even tens of thousands, in about twenty years or so. Add the inevitable media based global ministry, and that’s McDonald’s church – real and virtual. Based at the modestly titled Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, ‘Vertical’ is McDonald’s brand for his seven site church, band, blog and Bible school.
McDonald makes great claims for his book. For church members he insists that Vertical Church will: “obliterate any possibility of ever settling for less again.” While church leaders are promised that “if you can be honest and confess that church has become mostly about your obedience to truth and less about actually delighting in presence… Vertical Church is the answer.”
Looking at Church from God's Perspective
Most church leaders and members would identify agree that what we do in church can smother our sense of why we’re doing it. This where McDonald gets radical; shifting the focus from church as a model of 'work for God' to a design based on seeking 'encounter with God'. He proposes a move away from believing that your role as a leader is in simply 'feeding people and reaching people', to… well, repeating his chapter headings: 'unapologetic preaching, unashamed worship, unceasing prayer and unafraid witness'.
Be in no doubt, this is a very forthright book. McDonald doesn’t hold back on his criticisms of current preaching and church practice. At the end of each chapter, he invites you – church leader or member, to look at your own church from your own perspective, from the perspective of others and from the perspective of God.
Vertical, Horizontal or Both?
Yes, of course church is all about our dealing vertically with God. But I’m inclined to think that’s a gross over simplification of the role of the church in twenty-first century Britain. We don’t live a God respecting culture. A church that isn’t horizontal, in service to its members, wider community and nation is never going to convince anyone of its vertical worth and purpose. I might be wrong, but I think that’s what the gospel is all about.
If you’re wondering whether vertical leadership is for you, the names of those who’ve endorsed McDonald’s approach might help you decide. If you’ve read and found inspiration in the works of successful church leaders including Bill Hybels (Willow Creek), Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church), Steve Furtick (Elevation Church) or Craig Groeschel (LifeChurch) and authors like Rick Warren (‘Purpose Driven Life’), then take their recommendation. And when you do, follow the author’s instruction – attractive as the chapter headings are, and read it from the page marked: ‘Read This First’.
January 29th, 2013 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison