Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: Church Is a Team Sport By Jim Putman

This book starts off with a lengthy introduction to tell the reader how the author got where he is and the motivation behind the book. Putman is a wrestler and former wrestling coach who views the world and church through the lens of sports. He views himself as a new kind of coach, most call his role a pastor though, but he has several other coaches on his staff as well. He sees his church as a team, which should be a natural link. As a sports fan this is something I rather enjoyed.

Throughout the book he also talks about winning, something he majored on before Charlie Sheen broke on the scene with his drug-inspired freak show! One of the things I really enjoyed was how he made clear that churches should seek to win. He also defined winning by stating, “Winning is making disciples – converts who are disciple onto God’s team and taught to take part in Christ mission” (70). He showed how pathetic the state of the North American church is too through the Barna Groups research/ Of the 360,000 church in America, only 2-5% are experiencing conversion growth. Also, 50% of all evangelical churches in America did not have a single convert last year – pathetic! There are more stats, but that is enough to get a Christian fired up!

He also talked about the need for churches to win, because we belong to God and God has given us the keys to prevail over the world – in short, every church should be seeing people coming to faith in Christ and developed into disciples. Putman makes it clear that winning starts with coaches. Coaches need to move beyond their comfort zone and discover God’s purpose for the church. He views relationship, real, authentic, vulnerable relationships where you really know people and they really know you as the key for this to take place.

In his 3rd portion of the book he outlines what his church does and why. Everything is connected to the main purpose of the church. There are no independent programs or ministries, everything is interdependent and fruitful to the primary purpose of the church – in short they are a focused church. The primary method or means to make this happens is through small groups. Small groups are the fuel for making disciples and everything they do points towards getting people in small groups, so they can be involved, serve, and eventually start leading their own small group. Their goal is to develop players and them set them loose to play.

The fourth section has to do with making sure everyone is on the same page. They are all aligned for reaching the victory they have in mind. He encourages unity and the church values unity above most everything else when it comes to having everyone on the same page. It is refreshing to see the value he places on this necessity. From coaches to players, his church makes sure everyone is able to read from the same playbook. While he views theology as highly important, he is intentional to avoid useless disagreements about minor aspects of the Christian faith.

His final part of the book summarized the book and provides useful information for leaders. He speaks to hiring and recruiting new leaders. He also places a high value on constructive criticism. One of the things many pastors do not talk about is their inability to handle criticism. Putman encourages pastors/coaches to create an environment where staff and members can offer suggestions for how a pastor can improve (he really includes everyone). He says, “A coach must allow others to evaluate him; there must be a culture of accurate assement in an organization. A coach must become vulnerable and positive when he received honest feedback, or the process ends right there… An accurate and honest assessment encourages better leadership” (208). He ends the book with a challenging pep talk.

Overall, this was a very good book. He sticks to his personality and is true to himself. It was easy to read and beneficial for any church leader. The most insightful thing I read from the book was his outline of the discipleship process. He lists it as 4 Phases of Discipleship:

1. Share-Phase: knowing Christ or hearing of Him (no real difference between praying a prayer or hearing the message – I know my explanation is not what he means, but I am not elaborating here!)
2. Connect-Level: Being involved in a small group, sharing life in a Christian community
3. Ministry-Level: Serving others, moving from the consumer level (connect-level) to being a contributor
4. Disciple-Level: Training others to do what you do.

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