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The Seven Churches NOT in the Book of Rev
A Review By Greg Gilbert
Mims, Gene. The Seven Churches NOT in the Book of Revelation,
(Broadman & Holman, 2001)
Gene Mims, in his book The 7 Churches NOT in the Book of Revelation, writes in a witty and sometimes even amusing style about seven categories of modern churches that he believes dot the landscape of American evangelicalism. In some ways, and Im sure Mims would agree with me here, the divisions are artificial. Of course no church is going to fit fully and finally into any one category, but granting that, I found myself chuckling several times as I read the book at how accurately some of Mimss categories described churches that I have served in the past. At least I know now that I was not in the never-never land of evangelical Christianity. The seven categories of churches that Mims describes are:
1. The University Churchwhere the emphasis is on teaching, learning, and doctrine.
2. The Arena Churchworship-centered, where performance and entertainment are key.
3. The Corporate Churchlarge, complex, intricate, and a model of efficiency.
4. The Machine Churchprogram-oriented, focused on building, missions, and task management.
5. The Family Chapel Churchbased on family ties, where personal relationships come first.
6. The Legacy Churchrich in tradition, often focused on a great event or personality of the past.
7. The Community Center Churchcommitted to community service and local issues.
-from page 25.
Mims is very careful to be encouraging of all seven of these types of churches. In fact, you might say he is effusively complimentary of them all. All seven are vital to the ministry of the universal church in the world, and the pastors who lead them are all described as everything from the most gifted leaders among all types of pastors (Corporate Church) to the most beloved of all pastors (Family Chapel pastor) to the most remarkable leaders among preachers anywhere (Arena Church). The book doesnt make any claim to evaluate these types of churches; it just identifies them. Theres not much theological precision in it, and well come to that later. First, though, it should be said that for a young pastor going into his first church, the book could be a very helpful and pastorate-extending wake-up call to slow down and realize what hes come into. Here is the idea, put simply: Now the pieces of this whole book are starting to come together. You see, if youre a University Pastor and youre pastoring a Machine Church, youll keep beating your head against the wall trying to get the congregation to go deeper, and theyll keep pulling you by the sleeve just as hard trying to get you to go farther [in programming], pp.52-3. Of course the categories are eventually going to break down. My church, for example, so far as I can tell, has elements of at least six of the seven categories (Arena excepted). But if Mimss political cartoon-esque sketches of these various types of churches can help a young pastor to love his people for who they are and lead them to more faithful service to Christ, then I think they have served a good purpose.
However .I have to say that Mimss decision not to evaluate the various churches leaves him with a too-level playing field. It leaves him saying, or at least not denying, that the efficiency of a Corporate Church, for example, or the resourcefulness of a Machine Church is just as important and just as vital to the gospel as the focus on doctrine in a University Church. The picture that Mims ends up painting is that some pastors build relationships, others organize a staff, others keep themselves informed of current events, still others study Christian doctrine and preach the Bibleand none of those is to be more highly esteemed than any other. All of them are equally vital to the mission of the church. Here is where my appreciation for the book comes to an end. To the extent that Mimss book causes young pastors to check their attitudes coming into a pastorate, it is useful. To the extent that it lowers in his mind the priority of preaching and makes it just one equally dignified and important (or expendable?) task among a heap of other options, it is decidedly harmful. Unfortunately, the mistake is not just one of the scope of the book; it seems to be a part of Mimss theology. On page 15, Mims describes the second of seven pastoral sins: Sin #2: Believing that preaching will change them. He explains: Jason [a young pastor] was told in seminary that preaching is the most important thing a pastor does. No, Jason, its the most important thing in preaching class, but its not all that big a deal to Grandma and Grandpa out there in the pew. It is, though, if I am not mistaken, a big deal to the apostle Paul. God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe, (I Cor. 1:21). How can they hear unless someone preaches to them? (Rom. 10:14). That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel, (Rom. 1:15). Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, (I Cor. 1:17). I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach! (I Cor. 9:16). Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel, (I Cor. 9:16). I went to Troas to preach the gospel, (II Cor. 2:12). We preach Christ crucified, (I Cor. 1:23). Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching, (I Cor. 4:13). Preach the Word! (II Tim. 4:2).
In my mind, at least, Grandmas opinion on the importance of preaching pales in comparison with that (that is, if Mims has her opinion right; my Grandma, for one, says he doesnt). Just take a look in a concordance; its staggering. Preaching is always the primary task of the pastor. It is not one option among many. It is not simply one variation that a church can take. Preaching is the appointed means by which God creates His people and carries them on to maturity. Mims writes, This is the real world, and people hear, read, and see all kinds of things. There is no shortage of thoughts, philosophies, and ideascompeting thoughts, philosophies and ideas. But is that all that the preaching of the gospel really is? One competing message out there, with as much power to change a human life as the latest rantings from Oprah Winfrey or Deepak Chopra? No, what Mims is misunderstanding or sadly discounting is that the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the Word to change lives. Preaching is not just one competing idea vying for the attention of the world. It is the means by which God has determined to save the world.
In its narrow aim, Mimss book succeeds. It raises the readers awareness that installing a drum-set and flashing lights into a backwoods family church or attempting a bingo-night at Prestonwood Baptist Church would be a phenomenally ridiculous idea. But where it really counts, in describing the most important tasks of the pastor, it fails. It fails because it strips the preaching of the Word of God of the central importance that the Bible gives to it in the life of the church.