The Power of Vision by George Barna

George Barna was the founder of the Barna Group. Barna had founded his think tank in 1983 and sold it in 2009. While he owned it they began their marketing talents for Disney, this was long before they took off on researching for evangelicals, the church, and culture. Barna has written several books. Of which, I have now read two authored by him (Revolution and The Power of Vision) and a third one he co-wrote with Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity). Barna is a rather interesting author, with some interesting thoughts about the church. In Revolution, Barna discovered, long before the Doners even became a thing, that the churched were massively leaving the Church in an exodus. In this book, Barna seems to be ok with them leaving, almost stating that they should. In Pagan Christianity, Barna did most of the research (to which I have a lot of complaints about, having a history degree). Viola and Barna attempt to state, incorrectly, that the problem with the modern Church stems back to the practices brought in by pagan converts to Christianity, who then took on leadership roles within the church. Now, in Power of Vision, which is in its third edition, Barna gives church leaders, pastors, and individuals a way to grow their churches.

Do not get me wrong, this book, as it stands, is very well written. I also find myself very torn as I write this review. I do like a lot of what Barna offers in this book, however, I have to rely more on what the Bible teaches about growing a church.

Barna’s argument is that in order for any church to grow and thrive, it must have a vision. This vision cannot be any vision, however, it must be one that is God-given. Barna, then, begins his book by explaining how there are examples of biblical and non-biblical, modern visionaries. Barna’s examples are Paul, David, Nehemiah, and Moses. He then moves to the modern ones: Mother Teresa, Marin Luther King Jr., Donald McGavran, Bill Hybels, and Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia. Barna defines vision as “a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants to advance His kingdom and is based on an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances” (Barna 20018, 28). Barna then explains that most churches tend to confuse a mission statement with a vision. He follows that up with 20 different myths (along with their realities). Barna spends the next eight chapters of the book describing how a church can find God’s vision for themselves and grow their congregations. Barna’s final chapter is spent showing how the individual Christian can take the same method and use it for their own personal lives.

First, Barna is correct, one needs a vision and a mission statement. Neither one is synonymous, but you can not have one without the other. However, the Bible does not actually teach this. When Paul went around, preaching the Gospel, he was not spending time in board meetings trying to decide what each churches mission and vision statement was going to be. Jesus did not come to give his disciples a mission statement and a vision. No, Jesus came to die for our sins, taken on God’s wrath that was due us, and give us his righteousness upon his resurrection. Paul was concerned with only one thing, to preach the true Gospel of God—Jesus crucified and resurrected. David was chosen—his vision was not an answer to him being predestined by God to be king, nor was it his choice. David’s actions were the consequences of being chosen by God.

Second, every Christian, pastor, and church, aside from what Barna believes, should have one vision and it should be the same—to preach the true Gospel of God, Jesus crucified and resurrected. What Barna states is not really wrong, or bad, it’s just that we don’t need different, individualized vision statements for seeking God, knowing ourselves, and to spread the message of God’s kingdom. As Christians, we should be doing this daily, along with our churches throughout the week. Unfortunately, this, in my honest opinion, is what is wrong with the Church in America. Pastors are brought up to believe that they need to treat their churches as an individual, personal businesses.  They are taught that, in order to grow, they need marketing, mission, and vision statements. Sadly, what works in the secular business world, should and, does not work in Christ’s church. The early church did not spend time in board meetings, devising statements, and coming up with grand plans to grow their churches. No, the apostles were directed by the Holy Spirit. All of the Apostles had one thing in common—to preach Christ crucified and resurrected and nothing else. As I have said before, Barna makes several good statements in this book and I do agree with several of them, however, as a Christian, I cannot promote this book to any pastor who is having problems and troubles in their church.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Quit Church by Chris Sonksen

 

Barna Infographic

The image is taken from https://www.barna.com/research/meet-love-jesus-not-church/. This image shows how some American’s are leaving the Church and what generational subgroup they belong to. Most interesting is that most of this, roughly, ten percent group are from the South (33% of those assessed in this infographic).

Today there is a startling problem within the Church of America. About 10% of the American population are leaving the church, yet staying faithfully orthodox in their beliefs within Christianity. However, Chris Sonksen’s book Quit Church is not actually about that. Instead, Sonksen decided to use the term “quit church” in a bit of an oxymoronic form. Basically, what Sonksen is doing with this book is telling pastors, as well as their congregants, how to actually fill their pews with more people. In this post, I will be reviewing Chris Sonksen’s book—thanks to the guys at Baker Books—I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.htm.

Chris Sonksen is the pastor and co-founder of South Hills Church based out of California. Sonksen’s church is not just a church, it’s multiple churches. South Hills Church is in several cities, states, and a few territories of the US. Sonksen has written several books and started the Church BOOM ministry (an online program designed to help pastors grow their churches and ministries).

In Quit Church Sonksen begins with an analogy, one that I actually liked. Sonksen travels a lot, by a lot I mean A LOT. Sonksen explains that there is this organization within airport terminals known as the Admirals Club Lounge. When Sonksen was laid over he ran into a friend who was taking the same flight. Sonksen’s friend saw him sitting in an uncomfortable chair out in the terminal. He invited Sonksen to the Admirals Club Lounge, which Sonksen thought was for pilots. Upon his entrance into the Club, Sonksen found out that it was for those who fly several more times than the usual airport visitor. Sonksen also found out that he had been a member of the Club for years, unbeknownst to him. Once he checked into the Club, he was met with wonderous comfort. Sonksen quickly explains this is how many Christians live their lives within Christianity, they just tough it out in the uncomfy seats when there is something better for them in the Club.

Unfortunately, this is where I began to lose interest in his book. The something better Sonksen promises are not the Gospel or sanctification, it is God’s blessings. Sonksen’s argument throughout the whole book is that if you want God’s blessings for your life, then you must quit church (Sonksen 2018, 24-25). By quitting church, as in stop being religious, you begin to receive God’s blessings. The very first chapter, however, is not about gaining God’s blessing. Sonksen changes gears immediately. He labels the first chapter “Quit Expecting to Wake Up in Heaven.” Sonksen immediately begins to tell another anecdote, this time it’s about a cranky man who does nothing but complain, which caused everyone around him discomfort and fear. Sonksen then links this with the people in our current culture, in America, who complain about anything and everything in the Church—these people then leave the church for the next one down the street, in some cases right next door (Ibid., 29-34). Sonksen spends the rest of this chapter telling his people that Church is not heaven and to stop expecting it to be. Sonksen also argues for people to stay in their churches, love their church families, and support their pastors and leaders (Ibid., 29-43).

Unfortunately, Sonksen commits one of the more basic fallacies in Christianity. Throughout Sonksen’s book, the argument given is in the fallacy of negating the antecedent. This fallacy looks like this: If P, then Q. Therefore not P, then not Q. Also, If not P, then not Q. Therefore, If P, then Q. To put Sonksen’s words to it, then it would like this:

If you do not want to be blessed by God then stop going to your church, tithing, volunteering, witnessing, attending every service, and definitely do not develop a community.

Therefore, if you want to be blessed by God, then stay loyal to your church, tithe, volunteer, witness, attend every service there is, and develop a community within the church.

Or—If you don’t want God to bless you, then continue doing Church your way.

Therefore, if you want God to bless you, then quit Church.

 

This is not the only fallacy Sonksen commits. Throughout his conclusion, in order to drive his point home, he commits the fallacy of oversimplification, appealing to emotion, along with complex questions. In short, Sonksen’s view of Christianity, put through in this book, seems to be a superficial one. Behind all of Sonksen’s complex questions is how to make your Church bigger. In our Church culture, along with the unchurched culture and those leaving the Church altogether, this is not the correct question, it needs to be—How will Christ change and deliver you from addictions, alcohol/drug abuse, porn, sexual affairs, and spousal/family abuse?  However, none of these are even discussed in Sonksen’s book. Inside this book, sadly, is the preaching of the Prosperity Gospel (only it is repackaged and made to sound better than what is currently taught by the likes of Osteen). The true message of the Gospel, which is not delivered in this book, is that Jesus came to save us from our sins—the very ones which placed us under God’s wrath. Jesus did not come to give us health, wealth, and a prosperous church. In my honest review, I would not recommend this book to anyone. Baker Books has been one of the leaders in Evangelical resources. It is a shame to me that they allowed this book to be published under their name. However, I still trust Baker Books to continue to give Gospel-centered material.

 

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Sonksen, Chris. 2018. Quit Church: Because Your Life Would be Better if You did. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.