Recently I completed Jim Putnam’s book Church is a Team Sport. For several years this book has been on my shelf, beckoning me to take the time to crack open its pages and mine from it principles to unify the church I serve as God’s team. Immediately as I began reading I could not mistake the obvious implications that this book offered for discipleship and shepherding God’s flock.
The greatest to read this book, as well as to pass it on for the edification of others can be seen in the very accessible title of the work. The book continues page after page reminding the reader that the greatest reason for ineffectiveness of the church is that too many churches do not play as a team, do not know the rule book, do not have regular practice, and do not know the game plan, etc. In the same way, this book takes a few core principles and makes it plain that a biblical church will function as a team with coaches (pastors and leaders) who ensure that the team (members) contact the missing, leads people seeking the Lord to follow him, and personally prays for the sick. These very basic principles are often referred to as a shepherding or discipleship.
The tendency in books like this to rely more heavily upon the author’s experiences than on God’s Word holds true for this volume. The long introduction with the explanation of how Putman came to lead his church, while entertaining only added minute weight to his arguments. Further the extended discussion of Real Life Church’s ministry spawned new ideas, but was less beneficial than the firmly biblical principles I mentioned above. After all, what worked for Putman may not work for anyone else. While I found myself often agreeing with the Putman’s thoughts, I also found myself scribbling Scripture in the margins either to bolster or to question and clarify what was said. This proved a frustrating exercise as methods were mentioned not as clear applications of biblical truth, but often as remedies to the author’s troubles. This is not meant as a slam against Putman, but an encouragement to he and others who write these books to show the reader how he came to his application.
To that end, let me caution readers. Do not read this book simply trying to find a new method. A church’s methods should not come from the model of other churches, or experiences of authors, but as 2 Timothy 3:15-17 tells us, Scripture equips us with every principles for good work. Even so, read this book, especially Part Two looking for the biblical principles that Putman rightly uses to guide the ministry of his church. Here is a short excerpt from pg. 101 that comes as a part of Putman’s exposition of Ezekiel 34:2-10. In my opinion it was passages like this which made reading the entire book worthwhile.
Sometimes shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information. We hand people a book, send them to a great class, or give them a CD, but we don’t spend the time it takes to walk with them. The right question is not “How do I find time for that in my busy schedule?” The right question is “How do I change my life so I can do what the Lord requires of me as a leader?”
Let me encourage you to ask yourself that question. If you are too busy to shepherd God’s people repent. Trust Him at His Word that He is with us as we make disciples.