Author:      John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Publisher:  Baker Book House

The market is overrun by books presenting plans to improve church effectiveness.  But Church: An Insider’s Look at How We Do It stands out among the crowded bookshelves.  Rather than giving readers a one-size-fits-all set of principles to follow, it motivates readers to think and ask their own questions about church.  The collection of 42 essays (on topics relating to worship, preaching, leadership, fellowship, Christian education, revival/renewal, denominations, money, and mission) is full of insightful observations by a layperson (instead of a clergy member) to whom other laypeople should be able to relate.

Author John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a journalist and college professor, doesn’t claim to be an expert on any particular part of church life, but he does have the ability to ask good questions and encourage readers to do the same.  He writes with a deliciously satirical style, boldly tackling controversial issues and never shying away from pointing out ways churches sometimes fail to live up to biblical standards.  Yet he doesn’t come across as mean-spirited.  Instead, readers can easily imagine him as a kind of everyman character seated in an armchair dispensing nuggets of wisdom for them to consider.

Despite Stackhouse’s wit, however, the book’s pace does sometimes drag.  It can feel too academic in some places, and when that happens, readers might be tempted to stop reading.  But if they wade through those occasional puddles, they will soon find the dry land of more practical and entertaining material on which to stand.  Overall, the book is a wry and thought-provoking tool readers can use to improve their church lives.