Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: "The U Turn Church" by Kevin G.Harney & BobBouwer.

Review written by Matthew Kratz

The book is described as the story of "two pastors who turned their churches around show leaders how they can help usher in a new season of health, faithfulness, growth, and vision in their churches. The U-Turn Church walks readers through the roadblocks of tradition, lack of vision or leadership, structural problems, and concerns about denominational distinctives to forge a new way forward into a hope-filled future. Through the stories of two churches that have experienced healthy transformation, readers will see that there is not just one right way to reverse decline. They will receive practical help and wisdom born of experience as they begin their own U-Turn journey".

From their own introduction, many common elements are included in the U-turn process  where the authors share some of their own personal stories and strategies for increasing and deepening prayer in their churches. Kevin Harney described the big idea of U-Turn is that "any church can move in new and life-giving directions if they are willing to take bold and humble steps toward the heart of God.  God is ready to do a new thing if we are willing to follow Him! My prayer is that leadership teams of local churches will read this book, be inspired, and take the practical ideas and contextualize them for their unique church setting.  This is not a one-size-fits all approach, but a collection of ideas that can be adopted and adapted". Although, there were practical applications, many of the applications would suit those of larger churches best.

Harney seemed to have the right focus when he said: "Health leads to growth (though not always numerical).  Growth leads to health…much of the time (but not always). Every leader should strive for both of these.  I believe the first and most important focus in health.  When the church is healthy, growth (numerical, spiritual, and other kinds) comes organically.  In The U-Turn Church we address a number of ways to increase church health". "Making a U-Turn demands the presence of the Holy Spirit, lots of prayer, patience, and wisdom" (p. 13).

What I found troubling was an wholly insufficient definition of that health. The basis of that health as defined by scripture only seemed to be an afterthought. It's like the principles were chosen and passing "proof-texts" were alluded to on editing. The texts were only mentioned in passing and you had to go to the end notes at the back of the book to see the scripture reference. I believe if they were truly serious on their statement of health they would have directly quoted the scriptural basis and then explained how exactly this would look like.

Although the definition of health is not sufficiently spelled out, what it is not is well articulated. In listing several wrong motives for making a U-turn, such as self-preservation, increased income and larger attendance, the overall objective of doing this to the glory of God is spot on (p. 20-21). Most likely, this is from the author's Reformed Church of America background.

A recurring helpful aspect of the book are the exercises and reflections, and prayers at the end of each chapter. There really take the principles of the chapter to practical application. One impressive example of application is the "Tabernacle Prayer Model" that takes the elements of the Tabernacle as a thematic reference for extended prayer times. (p. 62). Through various chapter, one author or another will give their individual reflections on the topic.

The book is formatted in the beginning, middle and continuing aspects of this U-turn. I loved the section (chapter 7) on High Expectations. I would encourage the authors to right a book solely based on the material in this chapter. Too often we set our sights too low in our service to Christ, and this chapter was most refreshing. Yet, like how the rest of the book is structured, I had to go to the end notes and pencil in the scriptural referents to help provide the solid foundation for the explanation of this High Expectation.

Once curious recurring feature are the roadblock and myth counter sections. It is if the authors were often counting a criticism, even before making their own points. Unfortunately, their methodology for this counter is purely pragmatic instead of explicitly starting with scripture. Nevertheless, their warning on why people often fail (p.100) should give pause to those who would act before thinking. Chapter 8 deals with this very topic of expecting opposition (Tough Skins and Soft hearts) and

The formatting of chapter nine on Taking Holy Risks seems backwards. The examples are given before the principles. Although the principles are sound, they lack an explicit scriptural reference that would have given them more force. The general references to "faith" do not seem to fit the context.

Chapter 11 on "the Wow Factor" is mistitled. It should really focus on excellence and be linked with chapter seven on High Expectations. Why this chapter occurred after Chapter 10 on "Looking Out" dealing with outreach, is puzzling. Although the reminded that every church ministry should begin to pray and plan for outreach (p.154) is a helpful remind, the aspect to "tune in to the presence of the spiritually disconnect" (p.155) is the most theologically disturbing that worship should someone be structured to accommodate "seekers".  "No one understands, no one seeks for God" (Rom. 3:11)

I wish the authors would have expanded section three on "The Never-Ending Journey of a U-Turn Church". The chapter on Myths (Chapter 12) and "You-Turns" (Chapter 13) seem better suited to start the book, not end it. I fished the book both confused and disappointed. It was like eating a fast-food meal. It had some tasty elements, but it was fast burning calories that only promised satisfaction.

Table Of Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the Journey 9
Section 1 The Beginning of the U-Turn
Chapter 1 Holy Zeal 17
Chapter 2 Urgency 27
Chapter 3 Crystal-Clear Vision 40
Chapter 4 The Power of Prayer 55

Section 2 The Middle of the U-Turn
Chapter 5 Biblical Truths vs. Personal Preferences 73
Chapter 6 Unleashing Leaders 90
Chapter 7 High Expectations 108
Chapter 8 Tough Skin and Soft Hearts 123
Chapter 9 Taking Holy Risks 135
Chapter 10 Looking Out 150
Chapter 11 The "Wow" Factor 164

Section 3 The Never-Ending Journey of a U-Turn Church
Chapter 12 U-Turn Myths 179
Chapter 13 You-Turns: From You-Turn to U-Turn 191

Notes 201


  • Pub. Date: June 2011
  • Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
  • Format: Hardcover , 208pp
  • ISBN-13: 9780801013713
  • ISBN: 0801013712
"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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