The Deliberate Church (TDC) is a self-conscious attempt to make some headway into the overblown "The ___________ Church" genre by teaching pastors how to build "the church on and around the Gospel of Christ" (21) with the goal of liberating "both leaders and members from the tyranny of popular growth models and church fads" (202).
A deliberate church intentionally infuses absolutely everything it does with the Gospel! My goal here is to overview the book, and give some highlights.
On the first page of the introduction the authors write their thesis: "Ignoring God's plan for the church and replacing it with your own will ensure the eternal futility of your work" (25). Let that sink in! Along those same lines they write: "Our power is not in having small groups, or meeting the felt needs of our target audience, or using the right evangelism program, or having funny skits, or providing plenteous parking, or targeting our ministries to postmoderns. Our power is in our unique message--the Gospel (27).
The introduction and conclusion alone are worth the retail price. Overall, the book is divided into four sections that help the reader deliberately apply the gospel to the growing of a church, the gathering of a church on Sunday, the choice of elders and the elders meetings.
The first section was a 75-page summary of Dever's 9 Marks of a Healthy Church; however, it was geared towards practically doing what was written as theory in 9 Marks.
My favorite parts were his understanding of the pastor's job--the 4 P's = expository Preaching, Praying, developing Personal discipling relationships, and being Patient (ch. 1)--his explanation and application of the gospel (43-5), what to avoid in evangelism (54-56) and his biblical case for and application of church membership (60-5). Remember, "God is happiest to entrust His flock to those shepherds who do things His way" (40) and "God's purposes for all of human history revolve around the local church as the visible, corporate manifestation of His Son" (72).
Section 2 (the longest in TCD) helps the corporate gathering of the church become Gospel-centered. They begin by arguing that God cares about how we worship (ch. 6); therefore, our Sundays should revolve around Reading, Preaching, Praying, Singing and Seeing (in baptism & the Lord's Supper) the Bible (81-6). In ch. 8 they argue the role of the pastor flows from a biblical understanding of what a church is to be and do, meaning the "most important and fundamental role of the pastor is to preaching the Gospel clearly" (89). There is also a lot of practical help here on staff meetings, the purpose of the weekly church services (ch. 9), baptism & communion (ch. 10), cultivating love in your church (ch. 11) and music (ch. 12).
My favorite part is his summary of pastoral ministry: The 3 G's = Graze (feed the people God's Word), Guide (lead God's people), Guard (protect God's people) (94-5) and their conclusion: "every element of the main weekly gathering should have positive warrant from Scripture.... This may seem constrictive...[but] it will actually liberate you from the tyranny of the latest innovation or the most popular fad" (126).
Section 3 is about choosing elders. He argues that the words elder, pastor, bishop, overseer all refer to the same office (cf. Acts 20:17-38, 1 Peter 5:1-2) and that there are only two church offices in the NT, elder and deacon (cf. Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:1-13). He argues persuasively for a plurality of elders (over against the Moses, single, solitary pastor model) (ch. 13). The rest of the section gives practical advice on how to choose elders biblically (character recognition before training), how to assess their ability and character (chs. 15-16), how to patiently transition a church into an elder-led model (ch. 17) and choose church staff (ch. 18).
Section 4 is a very practical section on structuring the Bible and prayer (ch. 19), the agenda (ch. 20), the decision-making process (ch. 21) and attitudes of elders meetings around the gospel. He gives good advice here on how to fill the time at a meeting (chs. 19-20), the senior pastor's role as a model of the Gospel in these meetings (185-6, 189-92), delegation of responsibilities, equipping the other elders (173-5), and determining the annual budget (186-7).
The book ends with summarizing a deliberate church as one that is Godward-looking (195-7) for growth and Outward-looking (197-202) to serve other people, other churches and other countries with the Gospel.
In conclusion, I loved The Deliberate Church! It was a little slow in places, but overall it is the most practical book on what a church and it's leadership is supposed to be and do that I've ever read! Though it's a bit repetitive if you've read 9 Marks and I do not agree with all it advocates, I highly recommend it and agree with R. Kent Hughes that this book "wafts a radical, refreshing breeze from the pages of Scripture that will breathe life into the church" (back cover).