Matthew R. Perry

"Stop Dating the Church" by Joshua Harris (Book Review)

In church, Josh Harris on February 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

While I realize this book is nearly five years old (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, 138 pp., $12.99), I just now finished it. I could not put this book down for some very personal reasons. It’s full title is “Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God.” It’s a book on commitment to a local church, which Harris contends is not only helpful, but a biblical mandate. Harris is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Gaithersburg, MD.

We live in a consumeristic age. The leading question for many, especially when it comes to church is, “What can this do for me?” In his first chapter titled, “Can This Relationship Be Saved?” he notes ways that you can spot a church-dater:

  • Me-centered attitude: “We go for what we can get–social interaction, programs, or activities. The driving question is, “What can the church do for me?” (15)

Independent: Christians go because of duty, but “we’re careful to avoid getting involved too much, especially with people. We don’t pay attention to God’s larger purpose for us as a vital part of a specific church family. So we go through the motions without really investing ourselves.” (16)

Critical. Harris points out that we are “short on allegiance and quick to find fault with our church.” The result is a “lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better.” (16)

The next chapter is a beautiful picture of the church being his bride, one that is cherished. “If Jesus loves the church, you and I should, too. We can’t use the excuse that the church has messed up too many times or that we’re disillusioned. Jesus is the only person who has the right to disown and give up on the church. But He never has. And He never will.”

In the following chapter, “Why We Really Need the Local Church,” Harris makes the case against a solitary Christianity. We cannot pursue godliness or holiness alone. He quotes Piper in that “Sanctification is a community project” (50). We are living stones in the Temple of His body.

In Chapter Four, “Join the Club,” Harris outlines what passionate involvement in a local church entails and how it builds up your commitment to Christ.

  1. You join.
  2. You make the local church a priority.
  3. You try to make your pastor’s job a joy.
  4. You find ways to serve.
  5. You give.
  6. You connect with people.
  7. You share your passion.

In Chapter Five, “Choosing a Church,” look at the ten questions you ask yourself when choosing a local church.Is this a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught?

  • Is this a church where sound doctrine matters?
  • Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly
  • Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the gospel?
  • Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and
  • Is this a church where people strive to live by God’s Word?
  • Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly relationships?
  • Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?
  • Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?
  • Is this a church I’m willing to join “as is” with enthusiasm and faith in

In a later blog, I will discuss the last two chapters. But do we see Harris’ heart in that commitment to a community of believers is not optional, but essential in your sanctification? If you believe these few notes I have written are penetrating, buy this little book and recognize that “faith was never meant to be a solo pursuit.”

Oh, and Josh Harris blogs!

  1. Although Harris has plenty of good things to say in his book there are a few weaknesses, especially reading it from a non-American non-Mega Church perspective. While you read the book you must keep in mind that Harris leads what would be classified by our standards here in Wales as a ‘mega-church’, he is the Pastor of Covenant Life Church, the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. It is obvious that Harris has never come face to face with some of the main problems a lot if not most Christians face. This is no criticism on Harris, it’s just a warning to those who would be tempted to apply his words exactly as they read in the book to their own specific situation. One must contextualize. He comes to the subject with a blank page and therefore gives no advice to those of us who’s got a page blotted already with nonconformist scribbles; i.e. the legacy of Christendom.

    Despite the weaknesses and the US culture-specific aspects of his narrative I would strongly recommend this book especially if your interested in Church renewal.

  2. Dear Welshwilderness:

    Thank you for your comments. Although I would say, Harris’ comments are so basic and general, that they even transfer to smaller churches like mine. I think your issues with him are a bit too general and speculative. These principles of connecting and contributing to a local church apply to every context–and we must prioritize by putting the local church on a higher priority that we have been.

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