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You probably have never heard of her, but Ruth Tucker is one of those people that I would love to meet at the local coffee shop to have a leisurely chat about church and culture and people and finding our way.

Ms. Tucker is associate professor of Missiology at Calvin College. She was asked to teach a course called “Revitalization of the Local Church.” The college administration figured that, since she was a former pastor’s wife, she was qualified. Turns out, Ms. Tucker was very qualified, but not necessarily for that reason. One of the problems she identified early on in teaching the course was lack of suitable textbooks. Ms. Tucker tells how “[m]ost of the material written in the area of church revitalization comes from a church growth viewpoint. If a church is not growing in numbers, it must be revitalized or turned around – or shut down.”1

Lacking alternatives, she wrote her own text.1 I picked it up first while my wife was shopping in a Christian bookstore. (Can bookstores really be Christian? I mean, like, saved?) After I had read about a third of it, I put it back on the shelf because I felt guilty, like I was stealing. About a month later I got my own copy and read it in a couple of sittings. Having read so much about leadership and vision by people who were leading large congregations, I was very much intrigued by a book that, based on its titled, seemed to be contrarian and subversive. The book is not exactly an academic treatise. More like a stream of consciousness. Filled with nostalgic, “one for the gipper” stories, successes, failures, injustices — descriptions of churches that just don’t matter. Now that sounds sad, doesn’t it?

Wayne Cordeiro wrote a book called Doing Church as a Team.2 The basic premise of the book is that if you want to grow a successful church and have an impact on the culture around you, do it as a team. It’s a very good book. Like many of the books on leadership that I had read already, I was inspired. Then, there’s this book by Ruth Tucker that talked about not only left behind churches, but left behind people. On the one hand, you’ve got church leaders with vast amounts of “in the trenches” experience who can tell you how to grow and run a successful church ministry and have a tremendous impact. And then, on the other hand, you’ve got Ruth Tucker who writes a book that sounds an awful lot like the Gospel stories, where Jesus seems to spend most of his time with left behind people. To be honest, I was having a lot of trouble making any sense out of all this.

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By all American, Christian standards, Ken Blanchard (Lead like Jesus3) notwithstanding, Jesus was a failed leader. Someone wrote in a blog post recently that Jesus’ life goal was to conquer the world. The least he could have done is to have picked a realistic vision. He had no weapons, no army, no money, and no political influence. He traipsed around the backwaters of the Roman Empire, like, who cares? He didn’t even have any followers when the Romans finally got hold of him. As an American, living in a culture where bigger is better and where the ability to palpably influence the world depends on having strong leaders with money and influence, I have a really hard time with Jesus’ strategy. I mean, aren’t Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley making a difference? And with all sincerity, I say God bless Rick Warren for giving 90% of the proceeds from his books, millions of dollars, back to the church. Now there’s a success story.

Charles Sheldon in his book In His Steps4 made famous the question, “What would Jesus do?” That’s too complicated for me. I prefer the simpler, “What DID Jesus do?” It’s easier for me to get my head wrapped around that one. According to Robert Coleman (The Master Plan of Evangelism), what Jesus DID was to disclose God’s strategy for conquering the world. When I read the Gospels, the life of Jesus sounds a whole lot more like a “left behind church” than a story about Saddleback.

1 Tucker, Ruth. Left Behind Churches in a Megachurch World – How God works through ordinary churches. Bakerbooks, Grand Rapids, 2006.

2 Cordeiro, Wayne. Doing Church as a Team. Regal, Ventura, CA, 2004.

3 Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. Lead like Jesus: Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time. Thomas Nelson. 2008.

4 Charles Sheldon. In His Steps. Originally written circa 1900, published by Christian Classics Ethereal Library.