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IN THE SPIRIT: A book, an eye exam and inspiration

Let's do a book review today, but first let me tell you how much I enjoy my annual eye exam. Bear with me, please. There is a connection here. Sometime before the Flood of 1997, Dr. Steve Gander of Opticare Vision Clinic, East Grand Forks, became...

Let's do a book review today, but first let me tell you how much I enjoy my annual eye exam.

Bear with me, please. There is a connection here.

Sometime before the Flood of 1997, Dr. Steve Gander of Opticare Vision Clinic, East Grand Forks, became my optometrist. So, for at least 10 years, I've sat in his examining chair, looked through his bio-microscope as he flipped lenses so I could tell him which group of letters and numbers was clearer: this one or that?

But my eye exam is so much more than an eye exam. There hasn't been one time that Steve and I haven't strayed from the subject of my eyes to talk about our mutual Christian faith, what's going on in our churches and how the Holy Spirit is moving among His people at Christ the King Free Lutheran (Steve's church) and Immanuel Lutheran (mine).

I believe it's an inspirational time for both of us and I leave on eagle's wings after talking to such a man of God as Steve.


During my October visit, he told me of a book he and others from his church are reading. I was immediately intrigued. Three days later, I had my very own copy, a gift from Steve. I barely started reading when I knew I had to follow in his footsteps (Steve's my mentor now), so I placed copies in the hands of my pastor, Craig Fenske, and the chairman of my congregation, Greg Mattson.

I sincerely believe this book, "When God Builds a Church," should be required reading for all members of all Christian churches if they have the sincere desire of connecting people to life in Jesus.

"When God Builds a Church," written by Bob Russell, with his son, Rusty Russell, contains 10 principles needed for growing a vibrant church.

It's the amazing story of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky., that Bob Russell started in 1962 with 50 members. Today it has more than 16,000. Their facility seats thousands and they have several services a week. They can accommodate that many worshippers.

Can the church truly be the "city on a hill that cannot be hidden" that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount? Can it grow large enough to attract throngs of seekers and yet be loving enough to care for each individual?

Bob Russell says "it most certainly can," but only when the builders are submissive to God's will and allow Him to build that church.

Pastor Fenske had the book read in no time. "It's wonderful, dynamic and spirit-filled," he says. "It has application for almost any situation. I'm going to take a lot of the principles and share them with folks. It will not gather dust. It will build legs."

The book is full of stories and examples of what to do and what not to do to build a thriving church.


The first principle is Truth. "Proclaim God's word as truth and apply it to people's lives," Russell writes. In other words, believe the truth (the world doesn't); teach the truth (many churches don't); apply the truth (most teachers don't).

We'll talk about Principle 2 in a minute.

No. 3 is Leadership.

No. 4 is Excellence.

No. 5 is Faith.

No. 6 is Harmony.

No. 7 is Participation.

No. 8 is Fellowship.


No. 9 is Stewardship.

No. 10 is Evangelism.

Now, principle No. 2. I fairly camped out in this chapter, which addresses worship styles and music, something I'm very interested in.

From talking with hundreds of pastors, Russell has found that the format and style of the weekly worship service is the most divisive issue in American churches today. The controversy over style causes more division than the issues of doctrine, philosophy of ministry, character of the leaders and finances combined.

Experience has taught Russell that churches need to sing new songs and old hymns on a regular basis. "New" is important because "God is honored by variety and freshness," Russell writes. "If you don't think God loves variety, look at his creation. God commanded us to sing a new song. Young people and new Christians relate better to new songs."

He lists six times in Psalms and two in Revelation that the phrase "a new song" is mentioned. (Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1) and (Rev. 5:9; 14:3).

Russell also says churches need to hang on to the hymns of old. "We should teach our young people the best of the old hymns," he writes, such as: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee," "A Mighty Fortress," "What a Friend," "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Come Thou Fount," "Rock of Ages," "Amazing Grace," "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

I've never read a book this good on growing your church and I thank Steve for introducing it to me.


"When God Builds a Church" can be ordered in bookstores and on amazon.com .

My next eye exam is months away, but I'm already looking forward to what Steve and I might find to talk about.

Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or e-mail: naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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