Book review: Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris
Note: I’m in the process of gathering my old threads and reposting them here. I’ll use them when I’m not able to produce original material on a given day.
The book being reviewed in this thread is Stop Dating the Church, written by Josh Harris, the senior pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and an author and speaker in his own right.
I felt after reading his book that Harris had some helpful things to say about involvement in the church, particularly to “church hoppers” and those not involved in any church. I still feel that way, and would recommend it as a resource to help people understand what true commitment to a church really is all about; though I may not come to the same conclusions he does, I think Harris is helpful in reminding us that church is much more than a place to sit in the back pew before the 1 o’clock NFL game watching the giant action figure talk about family and stuff.
Stop Dating the Church, written by pastor and author Joshua Harris, is a good little book that affirms the importance of belonging to a church community and participating in it as a giver, not as a consumer.
Harris, the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is probably most famous for writing a book extolling the virtues of courtship called I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
He calls on Christians to kissing dating the church goodbye, too, in Stop Dating the Church. In an age where many Christians (but not all) “shop” for churches and look for what can most benefit they and their families personally, Harris challenges the church-shopping reader to drop his consumeristic mindset.
Harris tells us some of the things that church-shoppers miss out on when they don’t commit to serving and being a part of a local church. He talks about what the church really is – not a building or an organization, but the body of Christ. Harris tells his readers why they need a local church, what happens when one joins a local church, and what the reader needs to look for when joining a local church (he boils them down to find one that teaches, values and lives God’s word), as well as giving tips for how to get the most out of Sunday services.
The level of commitment that Harris calls the reader to isn’t light. It is one that demands consistent, faithful participation in the life of that church, which includes service, regular attendance at the weekend services and giving. The idea of church discipline is also discussed, and Harris even goes so far as to recommend that readers looking for a church ask if the prospective church would be willing to kick you out for blatant, unrepentant sin.
Yet, Harris says all of these things in an easy going manner. He never comes across as yelling at the reader or trying to shove some undoable ideas down the reader’s throat.
Some grace might be advised, though, on behalf of people who have been hurt by the church (perhaps a good topic for a future book by Mr. Harris).
The idea is raised in this book that if you don’t join a church you are being disobedient to Scripture and may not really be a Christian. While it seems to me that Harris’s main point is that Christians need community to grow in Christ and cannot do so as lone rangers (which makes sense), that advice could be taken as abusive by someone who has been hurt by a local church, and has been burnt by every “local church” they’ve had the misfortune of running into (then again, what those folks could really use are strong, loving, committed Christians and a good, loving, Christ-honoring church to come alongside them).
The other point I have a problem with is Harris’s idea that you should seek a good, solid local church to the point of either not attending a certain college if there isn’t a good church in that community, or moving from your own community to another where there is a good local church.
First, his points on college just-so-slightly could easily lead to church leaders imposing their will on young college students and perhaps acting more in the church’s best interest than in the student’s best interest. More disturbing is the idea of moving out of town if you can’t find any good churches – what if you can’t? What is every church is the church from hell? Or you’re one of many people who don’t fit in with the existing church cliques? (Harris advises his reader to to pray for God to strengthen and refine the churches in their area, and find the best church they can and serve it humbly)
Even then, though, Harris doesn’t come off as demanding and authoritarian – perhaps his style makes his ideas a lot easier to accept than it would from another author.
The book is small, not much bigger than a CD and approximately 120 pages of material. It includes recommended books that will be helpful to the average Christian (including J.I. Packer’s Knowing God), and is one I recommend for anyone who is looking for a church or who needs to commit to one, local church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”