Word Centered Churchby Jonathan Leeman
Length: Approximately 2 hours. To read (179 pages)
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9 Marks is a ministry devoted to helping churches become more biblical in their doctrine and practice, and this book by Jonathan Leeman is no exception. In this short book, Leeman explains the heart of the church is centered on the Word of God preached and lived. The Word of God calls his church together, sanctifies his church and sends his church to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Leeman’s book is a great primer arguing the foundation of a healthy church is on the Word of God.
Who should read this?
This book is written at the lay level and would be a great benefit to anyone. Every Christian can benefit from the encouragement and doctrine laid out here because every Christian is called to serve in the body of Christ. Pastors and church leaders can greatly benefit from this book, as it can act a “refocusing” on the principles that guide the church’s mission and purpose, that which is found in the word of God. Lay people can especially use this book to understand the why question of the church’s nature and purpose.
In his introduction, Leeman offers two problems he attempts to answer with this book. These are important for Christians to understand, because, chances are these apply to some degree to your church or is a real temptation for your church. Leeman first acknowledges how “bored” people are with the idea of a person getting up to speak for maybe an hour and that somehow is supposed to help them with their lives. Secondly, he makes the observation many church leaders are “losing confidence in the Word of God.”
Symptomatic of both of these things are the desire to turn to things other than the Word of God to either keep people interested or transform them to a desired spiritual level. He offers two answers for these problems as the purposes for this book. The first is that God’s word being proclaimed is the essential primary means by which God grows his church. Leeman wants his readers to understand the vital importance relying on the Word of God is for the health of the church.
Individuals are the new creation spoken into existence by the Word and the body is the community of those called to exist as the new creation together. Second, Leeman wants his readers to see that the Word grows “us as individuals and as local churches through our ears.” Individuals grow under the Word and whole churches, as communities living together, grow together and as a whole by the Word of God. Leeman divides his book into three sections, The Word, The Sermon, and The Church.
Leeman’s first section covers his theology of the Word. This covers four activities Leeman describes the Word doing: The Word Acts, Invites and Divides, Frees, and Gathers. Together, these activities describe the working of the Word of God in a way that highlights the nature and power of the Word. For example, the second sub point in chapter one, Leeman explains how God acts through his word. This may seem simple on the surface, but when you really think about it, the implications are profound.
God speaks, and things happen. When God speaks, his power in conveyed through his Word and nothing thwarts the Word of God from producing the result God intends. A second example comes from chapter two, Invites and Divides. Here, Leeman describes how the word separates people into two categories: those who accept the Word and those who reject it. The emphasis is on the power of the Word to call out those who are Christ’s while at the same time exposing those who are not. The Word acts as an amplification and wedge to divide.
There is such a sense of power and awe to think of the Word in this sense, separating the sheep from the goats with only the spoken voice. As Christians, this is a wonderful reminder how powerful God is and an encouragement to those who proclaim God’s Word. He will accomplish his purpose. Leeman succinctly reminds his readers of the power of God’s Word.
His second section focuses on the sermon. The sermon is the main act of proclaiming and meeting God that the covenant community partakes in. The three chapter titles of this section give a clear purpose to the point of what Leeman is getting at here. The sermon exposes, announces and confronts. I sense the burden of these chapters is to exhort people to understand what the purpose is behind the sermon.
Pastors especially should pay attention as this section lays out a very simply and yet powerful philosophy of preaching. Coupled with what we learned in the previous section, Leeman argues persuasively how vital a clearly communicated and exegetically sound sermon is for the congregation. In each of these three chapters, Leeman demonstrates the centrality of exegetical preaching. No one familiar with 9 Marks will be surprised with this.
The Word, when presented, is when God meets his people, the sermon and the preacher are only the vehicle for this to happen. The importance is on letting the Word do the work. Preachers of the gospel should rejoice in the news the production of the fruit is not up to them. Let the Word do the work.
The last section is one I think is tremendously important. Most resources I read or listen to about the Word of God are focused exclusively on preaching. Leeman reminds the reader that the gospel ministry belongs to all the saints. He offers four ways in which the church body act as ministers of the Word: Singing, Praying, Discipling, and Evangelizing.
Many churches hire a pastor like they hire a lawyer or doctor, leaving the professionals to complete their tasks. Leeman confronts this idea with these chapters. The Word grows the church as a whole because all the members of the church are ministering to one another through different means. This is a good reminder that songs, Sunday school, and other ministries need to be focused on the Word of God. Singing is a teaching time. People remember lyrics better than they do sermons. Let songs be saturated with the Bible and with good theology.
This book reminded me why good preaching and teaching is important. I want to meet God when I hear his word preached. Sometimes when I am convicted by a sermon I will say to my pastor, “it hurts so good.” I mean this to say when the Word confronts and exposes my sins, and yet comforts me in the gospel, which is one of the best ways to know and love God. Leeman gave me a greater appreciation for how the Word of God functions within the people of God.
I also find this book to be a valuable resource when talking to people. Its size length and depth allow it to be a tremendous help in any situation.
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Leeman’s writing style is easy to read and conversational. There are no slow parts and reading through the book is enjoyable.
- Leeman’s applications are reflective and useful for anyone to implement. I thought any church wanting to move towards being more Word-centered can benefit from his insights.
- At the end of every chapter Leeman gives you a list of recommended reading. The resources are great for people who want to dig deeper.
- The greatest weakness is the book is too short! I wanted more of what Leeman had to say in every chapter. Maybe one day he can write a comprehensive theology of the Word.
- Adding a general and Scripture index would be fantastic. This isn’t a reference book, but in a world where not everything I comment on is a research paper, having a quick guide to how people use Scripture is always a bonus.
- “True spiritual life is produced in the heart only when the Father speaks with creation power through the Son and by the Spirit…I’m talking about the power of God for giving light to the mind, affections to the heart, and freedom to the will, which then move hands and feet into holy action.” (19)
- “Either way, the pronouncement of God’s word effectively draws a line in the sand between two groups of people—those who accept God’s word and those who reject it.” (44)