An emergency call, and I rush from my coziness into the dark community where the police have requested a chaplain. Arriving in minutes, I find the family imploding with grief having just discovered their son hanging in the garage. In a moment of unshakable pain, he jumped off the ladder and into eternity. And I will never shake the look in their eyes when I asked why he hadn't called a church. "Why would he do that?" Across town, a pool of tears on my kitchen table as an out of town guest feels the weight of his infidelity, despairing that his famished soul finds no refuge and that he has to board a plane to feel fellowship. "Has your church tried to help you?" And the Christian leader confesses he hasn't been to church in years.
Infighting, backbiting, heartbreaking, frustrating ... church.
Though exceptions do exist, the reality is that church in America is failing one life at a time. Somewhere between pathetically predictable and shamefully entertaining, sadly sentimental and rarely authentic, church has become worst of all ... godless. Vertical Church points to a new day where God is the seeker, and we are the ones found. In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything. If you want to experience God as you never have before and witness His hand at work, if you want to wake up to the first thought, "Thank God it's Sunday," if you're ready to feel your heart beat faster as you drive to your place of worship ... then devour and digest the lessons of Vertical Church.
About the Author
In 1998, along with 18 people, James and Kathy planted Harvest Bible Chapel, which now has a weekly attendance of more than 13,000 people. Out of the church grew a multitude of ministries touching the world: a Bible-teaching ministry, church planting, as well as a training center for pastors, a year-round camp, a biblical counseling center, a disaster recovery organization, and a Christian school. All impacting millions of lives annually. The MacDonalds have three adult children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and four amazing grandsons.
I am a fan. I mean it. I really loved "Vertical Church". The premise James MacDonald works from is that many of our churches today have become churches where God is not working. Churches where God's power and glory are present. Churches that are focused on anything and everything but the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
"Would you keep going to Burger King if they didn't have beef?... Everyone eventually vacates church where God is not present. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first- that's what Vertical Church is all about. Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church...The problem is you can't fake glory. You cant manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will." (Page 21)
With his rough sarcastic wit, James MacDonald confronts head on all of the attempts of contemporary church leaders to manufacture changed lives and the power of God and calls us back to the basics. James is clear that this isn't a ""this is how I did it; you can do it too" book" (Page 26) but a book to call all church goers and church leaders to reflection and radical pursuit of the presence and glory of God in our congregations. The book is very "interactive" and offers a lot of diverse features like profiles of "Vertical Churches" (these aren't the well known churches either...), stories of the power of God in individual lives, questionnaires to determine the "Manifest Presence of God" in your church, and so much more. It's not a "how to" book. It is a "seek God" book.And it is powerful.
James is not afraid to confront the issues that prevent churches from experiencing the glory of God. Things like "Selfish Shepherds" who "demand privilege for their position instead of taking the place of a servant." (Page 139) among many other traits. He also calls out churches who place "Soteriology over Doxology" which basically means that a church has placed evangelistic missions over the glory of God. James says "Placing evangelistic mission above the mission of God's glory is the single most destructive error in the church today and the one from which many other errors fall out..." (Page 140) MacDonald calls out many errors in the church today and proposes one single answer: seek God's glory.
Perhaps the most powerful chapters are the two entitlted "Unashamed Adoration" and "Unapologetic Preaching", which addresses musical worship and preaching of the Word of God as adoration. James speaks of how all worship should be "Vertical", "Simple", "Emotive", and "Physical". He outlines common errors in churches worship services and offers Biblical advice to churches stuck in selfish worship practices. The chapter on preaching is simply a must read for any pastor, preacher, or seminarian who aspires to be a proclaimer of the Word of God. Bill Hybels, pastor of the 20,000 attender Willow Creek Community Church said "The chapter on preaching has had a profound impact on me." It is that good. A basic summary of the chapter is "You're not preaching if you're not heralding the Bible without authority and without apology."(Page 212) James also calls for our preaching to be fresh, innovative, and not "preachy" but focused on exalting Christ...like everything else in the Vertical Church. James also offers some tips for preachers that I found incredibly helpful.
James MacDonald says he plans on writing another book that offers more practical how-tos for church leaders, but this book alone is life-changing for any and every Christian.
The Vertical Church is by far, the most God focused, Christ centered book on the church I have ever read. Written by a seasoned shepherd who loves his church and plans on "serving it...until the day [he] dies" (Page 303) The book has to be at least 30% scripture and what is not is expounding upon the scriptures or real life stories reflecting the Scriptures. This book is a powerful tool that needs to be in the hands of every Christian in every church...today!
I give Vertical Church a 5 out of 5 stars!
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church Can Be is published by David C. Cook and will be released on August 1, 2012.
(Btw..The clips where you see people worshipping and big lights and stuff... I was in the audience that night. Oh yeah ;) )
Also, Check out the VERTICAL CHURCH Worship CD recording to be released with the book. (I was also in audience for that!)