The Church Planter’s Library (1): Introduction

[Editor’s Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 7, 2009.]

There is a noticeable upsurge of interest in North American and International Church Planting among young seminarians. Rarely does a day go by that we do not meet, speak with, or receive an email from, a young student interested in church planting. More often than not, one of their questions is, “What books do you recommend for somebody interested in church planting?” That is the question that this blog mini-series seeks to answer over the course of three more installments covering North American Church Planting, International Church Planting, and Cultural Context.

Several reminders, caveats and disclaimers, however, before we begin: First, we do well to remember that our time reading Scripture is by far the most important reading we will do when preparing to plant churches. Reading through Dever, Keller, Driscoll, and Stetzer will never replace reading through Acts, Romans, Ephesians, and I Peter. We profit from spending serious time in the Word every day, as it is the lens through which we read anything else.

Second, the book lists I provide are in no way comprehensive. I assume that I am recommending books to those who are pursuing a well-rounded theological education. My recommendations will deal with selected sub-categories within a broader theological and missiological education. Third, these booklists should be viewed as lists of “books that are helpful to work through” rather than “books by authors who think just like me and with whom I agree on everything.”

Finally, please contribute to the conversation by commenting. Your thoughts will be particularly helpful in this series, as you contribute to a lively conversation about a very important topic-church planting and renewal. If you think of additional books that are helpful, or have comments about the books I have included so far in the series, do not hesitate to comment. It may turn out that the comment section is as helpful to our readership as the lists themselves.

With those caveats in mind, I hope that you find the next three installments helpful. In the first installment, I will provide a booklist for North American Church Planting and Renewal. In the second, I attempt a booklist for International Church Planting. Finally, I provide a list of books to help the prospective church planter get to know his international or North American context.

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  1. Justin Perry   •  

    Our times around the table have helped me grow as a worshipper, biblical thinker, and planter. If anyone reading this can make these meetings, I would highly recommend it. I was pushed to not only think through the positions I held on certain issues, but then to articulate that to several other guys was more sharpening than I realized. Looking forward to seeing the books that make this list, and I appreciate your caution to not neglect the Word of God…

  2. Chad   •  

    Sounds great. Now, if we could only get some more of these groups meeting with pastors and professors to discuss theological and philosophical insights, there would be a great group of young men and women who would be mentored for the advancement of the gospel. Oh that more of these groups were around. Keep up the good work, and thanks for your relevant and insightful entries.

  3. Mike McDaniel   •  

    Glad you’re doing this, Bruce. I’ve heard Ed Stetzer say several times that one of the top reasons that church plants fail is inadequate training on the part of the planter. You need to know more than you think you know. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to be a part of a formal training program, there’s really no excuse for that with the wealth of books that are being written on the subject right now. This will be a great Forum to help people know where to start.

  4. Mike Dodson   •  

    Bruce, looking forward to seeing your recommendations. It was great to have the opportunity to sit in with you and some of the guys a couple of different times in the past year. I love hashin’ thru good resources with others. It sharpens everybody and it’s a lot of fun.

    Like Justin, I agree that we need to keep the Word central to our thinking and practitioning. Books are good and helpful, but God’s Word brings life to it all. Like Mike, I agree that church planters and planting teams should take advantage of as many training opportunities as possible, whether that’s formally or informally. I hope these kinds of groups multiply at SEBTS in the days ahead.

  5. Sterling Griggs   •  

    Thanks for doing this, Bruce! I’m not one of the “young guys” anymore (almost 40) but believe strongly that God may be leading me in this direction. As one who is a few hours from a campus like Southeastern and is also not near any church planting “hubs”, I need all the insight and advice that I can garner.

  6. Josh Reed   •  

    Looking forward to getting cranked back up. It was a welcomed asset for my first year here…

  7. Matt   •  

    These sound like great meetings, the kind that need to be happening across our convention. Men and women meeting to discuss the practical missional outworkings of God’s Word is what will bring about a GCR. Looking forward to seeing the book list.


  8. Billy Mitchell   •  

    Robert Coleman’s “The Master’s Way of Evangelism” is the number one book I recommend to planters. In my experience if you plant disciples who reproduce you have no choice but to plant an effective church. Plant a church with no discipleship and see where that goes.

  9. Tanner Turley   •  

    I concur with Justin’s thoughts. Aside from all of theological and practical discussions related to planting, our discussion group has taught me several things regarding the pursuit of learning.
    1) The value of critical reflection and application: I often read with the mentality of becoming more knowledgeable without pausing to critically interact with the material and consider its implications for life and ministry. Our purpose for gathering is to push one another to become more faithful missionaries.
    2) The value of learning in community: Other brothers from other churches challenged my thinking in a multitude of ways. As Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron” (27:17). It is good to gather with men of comparable strength and/or superior strength.
    3) The value of good books: It’s not always about reading widely but reading wisely. Some books are a waste of time. Others hold life changing potential. On that note, I look forward to the upcoming posts.

  10. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Justin, Josh, Tanner, great to hear from you! Hope you guys are doing well. Looking forward to reading the books that you guys write about your own church plants.

    Chad, you’re right. Getting in a group and discussing these things and encouraging each other is the best way forward.

  11. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Mike Dodson and Mike McDaniel, it is great to hear from you guys. Both of you have been significantly involved in NA CP and renewal. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the second installment. Extra books you’d recommend? Favorite books out of the ones i listed? etc.

    Billy, you are right on target. Coleman’s book is a classic.

    Sterling, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m in the same boat man. I’m 35…which is very close to 40… 15 years away from 50. Shazaam.

  12. Sean Pyle   •  

    This group has easily been one of the most beneficial, if not the most, experiences for me at Southeastern. I have grown greatly through the readings and even more through the discussion and sitting around with guys that are much wiser than I am and bring extremely valuable thoughts. One of the best parts about the group is discussing how the gospel is lived out in a community. My thoughts on church planting and the Gospel have developed greatly over the last year and a half. I am excited about the growing interest in NA Church Planting and am very sorry that I wont be able to make the meetings. It has also been encouraging to see three or four church plants come out of our group just in a year and a half. I miss you guys and am excited for the future

  13. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Sean, great to hear from you. We’ll miss you this semester. But it is a great thing that we’ve had four church plants come out of our little group.

  14. David R. Crane   •  

    Thanks Bruce for initiating such a discussion, and for providing such helpful information. I have served with the IMB in E. Africa for 16 years. During that time, I’ve always been blessed to be surrounded by guys who were continual learners. We read each others books, attended conferences together, wrote position papers on topics and then argued over them for hours, taught in each others Bible schools, and recently some of us have even written a chapter for a book together. So you are modeling for these young church planters a practice they need to keep up until they retire. Having said that let me list a few books I wish I’d read before landing on African soil.
    1. “Gods of Power” by Philip M. Steyne
    2. “Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts” by Gailyn van Rheenen.
    3. “When Charity Destroys Dignity” by Glenn Schwartz
    4. “The Mission of God” by Christopher J.H. Wright
    Two organizations that maintain websites which contain a number of helpful articles are: Multiplication Resources) and (Great Commission Initiative). The former was started by Neil Cole. It contains a lot of excellent short articles. The latter was started by Tim Ahlen of Dallas, TX. Search Tim’s site for articles by Jim Slack and read every one of them.
    5. Contact Dr. Grant Lovejoy at the IMB’s offices in Richmond and ask him to send you a list of the books and materials he considers must reads on the field of orality and chronological Bible storying.
    6. If you are a student at SEBTS, make sure to attend the classes led by the visiting profs John Witte (on Bible storying) and Nik Ripken (L-3 name) on the persecuted church.
    Remember, it’s not your ability to quote large chunks of the classic books on C Planting that are ultimately going to enable you to be a successful church planter over the long haul. Rather it’s traits like humility, integrity, hospitality, patience, laser focu on the main things, a sense of humor and a deep love for God and His Word that will see you through.

  15. JL   •  

    1. I agree that our Scriptural foundation is most important as we attempt to go about the task of planting churches. After all, how can we plant a church if we have no real biblical understanding of the Church?

    2. As we choose books to read, may we read those grounded in biblical truth, not just “effective methodology.”

    3. ALSO…let us not limit ourselves to books written by those exactly like us, whose opinions we already hold. We need not be afraid to read widely on these matters–as long as we read critically and hold God’s Word as our measuring stick. After 7 years overseas, I’m much less likely to be shocked at the people God uses and the ways He sees fit to give us new insight into the Work.

    I want to encourage anyone serious about CP not to put a book down (especially one recommended to you by someone you respect) at the first hint of poor exegesis–or an opinion that differs from yours. Persevere, examine, question, dialogue with others. The results may be well worth the effort.

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