Bob Roberts, Jr.
David C. Cook, 2016, 248pp.
Lessons from the East is not merely a how-to book; it’s a how-did book. It is a warm story of God’s transforming work in the life of pastor Bob Roberts. In the Introduction, he describes how God used his experiences with global pastors to move his heart from one of ambition for personal success to pursue the “kingdom of God through kindness, justice, and righteousness,” from working for church growth to “engaging the world,” and from depending on his own skill to “listening to the Holy Spirit.” The volume is wrapped around these three shifts in his life and how they influenced his priorities of church leadership.
In the first part of the book, Roberts demonstrates how a Kingdom vision influences the strategic work of the church. Our ultimate goal is to make multiplying disciples of Jesus. This goal is achieved not primarily through the Sunday morning worship service, but as the “seed of the gospel” takes root in the lives of everyday believers so they leverage their influence in their unique domains of life all week long.
Church leaders, therefore, equip believers by developing spiritual fathers and mothers to mentor other believers, teaching small groups to be neighborhood groups where disciples can grow in Christ, serving the community, engaging people from other faiths in love and kindness, and by crossing gender, racial, and socio-economic barriers.
As critical as these strategic shifts are, Roberts uses the second part of the book to make the case that the most powerful shift happens in our hearts. As we abandon our comforts, expectations, and prejudices, as we more fully depend on the Holy Spirit, and as we are desperate for God in prayer, Jesus’ kingdom advances.
Roberts concludes by kindly, but courageously challenging the local church to “radically restructure.” He cites that transfer growth, which comprises 94% of mega-church growth in America, is no measure of success. Instead, he casts a vision and strategy of church that prioritizes relational connections over church programming, diversity over homogeneity, and Spirit-filled leadership over pragmatism.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Pastors answered God’s call to serve the church because we believed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves people from death to life, and we wanted to join God’s mission to redeem the world. Leading the local church, however, can often devolve into institutionalism where the survival of the organization, rather than making disciples of Jesus, is the goal. We make decisions, hire staff, recruit volunteers, plan our programming and worship services, and then measure the results accordingly.
Lessons from the East gently but clearly casts a bigger vision of church ministry and identifies the real win of Kingdom work. Bob Roberts does not chide the local church. Instead, he offers simple priorities and practices that will help every church shift from existing to survive to making a Kingdom impact.
The shifts necessary, however, will be significant for most churches. We do not need more programs or to simply rebrand old ones. Our churches were not planted to make nominal Christians who have a minimal effect in the world. Instead, God planted every congregation to make disciples who would make disciples in our communities and in “far flung” corners of the world. This cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-ethnic church planting strategy requires deep relational connections, self-sacrifice, radical love, a global focus, and Spirit-filled living that Roberts prescribes and illustrates with heart-felt precision.
While he challenges traditional church practices and even encourages a more egalitarian view of women’s role in the church, Roberts does not insist we abandon our convictions. Instead, he rightly invites us to humbly trust the Spirit of God to empower us to take big steps to equip and release our people to reach every people.
As you read Lessons from the East, you will be wonderfully encouraged and better equipped to fulfill your calling and to lead your church to make disciples of every nation.
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