Greear’s “Gaining by Losing” – A Review

Gaining By Losing One of the newer church planting/missions book on the market is J. D. Greear’s Gaining by Losing (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).  The book doesn’t give the details of church planting, but it does tell established churches some basic principles for and motivations to plant churches.  There are two main parts to this 253 page book: first, a sort of introduction; second, Greear’s ten “plumb lines” for sending/planting.  There are also two appendices that give more detail about missions and church planting.

The Good:
There are a some strengths to this book.  First, it is clearly gospel centered.  The main point of the book is that the gospel is central in the Christian life and in church planting/missions.  It was also a good reminder for Christians and churches to be outward focused; Greear clearly stated over and over that churches must be evangelizing at home and abroad.

The Not-So-Good:
There were some weaknesses to the book as well.  In my opinion, there was too much humor (some cheesy, some seemingly forced) and too many stories about Greear and the church he pastors.  I realize these critiques are small and subjective, but for me they did detract from the book.

I do have some bigger and less subjective concerns about the book as well.  First, Greear started the book with a sort of building block of his methodology based on a debatable interpretation of John 12:24.  Typically that verse has been understood to be referring to Jesus’ death and the fruit that it brings (the salvation of his people).  Greear, however, says that verse is about taking our “hands off of what little portion [God has] given to us, ‘die’ to our control of it, and plant it into the world” (p. 16).  “Jesus presents a very clear choice: preserve your seed and lose it; plant your seed for his sake, and keep it through eternity” (Ibid.).  “Life for the world comes only through the death of the church” (p. 20).  In a word, Greear says that we have to give away our resources (die) plant seeds (plant churches/share the gospel), which is what Jesus talks about in John 12:24.  This interpretation is debatable, and therefore from the outset I was hesitant to accept Greear’s application of the text.  So the whole book for me started off on the wrong foot. (There are a few other places where I thought some texts were misinterpreted and misapplied as well, but I don’t have the space here to explain them all.)

The second critique I have of this book is that it is sort of a guilt trip.  In fact, it reminded me of David Platt’s book, Radical.  Greear does refer to Platt from time to time, so there are parallels.   I realize Greear said he was trying to avoid the guilt-trip aspect of evangelism, but it was there in back-door form.  For example, he writes, “Failure to risk our lives to the fullest potential for the kingdom of God is as wicked as the most egregious violations of the laws of God” (p. 181).  “When is the last time your sacrifices for the mission made someone question your sanity?” (p. 59). “…You can’t really call yourself a follower of Jesus if you don’t see yourself as sent” [a missionary] (p. 34).  By the end of the book it felt like Greear was saying that all churches/Christians that don’t evangelize in a full-out, risky, petal-to-the-metal way are sinning.

Third, there were a few theological aspects of the book that I thought were shaky.  Greear’s continued emphasis was that the church’s/Christian’s main duty, #1 reason for existence, was to evangelize.  Certainly that is high on the list, but isn’t our chief end to glorify God and enjoy him forever ?  Missions is incredibly important, but we won’t be evangelizing in our heavenly homeland; we’ll be glorifying and enjoying God!

I also disagreed with Greear’s description of “every-man ministry.”  That is, based on Eph. 4:11-12, he said he tells his congregation that when he became a pastor he left the ministry and now his job is to equip them to be ministers (p 36).  For me, the book was lacking in the area of eccelsiology; in fact, Greear didn’t really mention elders or deacons.  Perhaps that is one big reason why the book didn’t sit well with me.  His book reminded me of some Acts 29 material I’ve read in the past.  Further, since Greear’s church has well over 1,000 people in attendance each week, I’m not sure his principles and methods would really work or fly in a smaller church of 70 (which is around average in America).

Finally, and as a side, I have to point out some trendy jargon that I tripped on (if you’re a reader of this blog you may know I’m annoyed by ambiguous evangelical phrases): “Believing the gospel leads to becoming like the gospel” (p. 66).  “Ask her [my wife] what she does, and she’ll say she is a missionary to the unreached people group known as ‘the Greear children'” [not exactly biblical; see the covenant theme in 1 Cor. 7:14] (p. 72).  “The future belongs to churches that send” (p. 176).  “Gospel-saturated people become visionaries” (p. 193).  Some of these phrases sound good, but they don’t always make sense.

I almost want to apologize for being so critical of this book!  When I got it in the mail, I was honestly excited to read through it.  But as the chapters went on, I was let down more than a few times.  Some of the book is good, for sure, and I’m thankful that Greear preaches Christ and gets the News out.  But if you’re looking for a solid Reformed resource on church planting and missions, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

(Note: this book was provided for me by Cross-Focused reviews; I was not compelled to give a positive review in exchange).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

7 thoughts on “Greear’s “Gaining by Losing” – A Review”

  1. Thanks Shane.

    I was wondering about this particular author and his biblical / theological soundness, depth, piety, orientation, etc.

    Since his church name eschews any theological identification (often a subtle form of deceit, compromise, and / or theological shallowness), I figured he / they were just another in a mega church / church growth model.

    As one theologically trained in the flagship SBC seminary (which was neo-orthodox and worse at the time), I am now so glad to have rediscovered the historic, catholic Protestant thinking of mainstream reformed folk vs. our baptist brothers who ignore or downplay the central, structurally important, historically unifying implications of the old / new covenants reflected in circumcision / baptism, etc.

    And likewise the unhealthy theological shallowness of church growth pragmatism.


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