The Power of Together, Jim Putnam. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.
Summary: A pastor of a thriving church explores what he believes to be the key to both spiritual maturity and the ministry effectiveness of his church–the fostering of relationships of depth between believers throughout the church.
Jim Putnam begins this book by observing a gap that exists in many American churches. People have come to faith, been taught both Christian doctrine and Christian practice and yet seem to lack the vibrant maturity and depth one one would expect in disciples of Jesus. His thesis is that what is lacking is a depth of relationships between believers, where people are deeply engaging with each other week in, week out, practicing the Christian faith with each other in working through conflict, confessing and turning from sin, learning to serve together, learning to go the extra mile for each other, and caring for those who are seeking.
Relationship is central to the gospel, not only a restored relationship with God but also with each other. First Corinthians 13, he observes, is instructions on how people in the church are to love each other and be family to each other. Marriage is only a small subset of that. Pride is often the major barrier to really opening our lives to each other. We fear being known, and we resist the idea of submission when it means we need to be open to others speaking into our lives, calling us to change. This may especially be an affliction of church leaders to whom Putnam writes pointedly:
“Leaders must be submissive too. This might sound counterintuitive at first, but it’s not in practice. If leaders are submissive, to whom do they submit? The answer is that leaders must be submissive to God, to other leaders, and even other Christians. Yes, it takes strong leadership to get a church off the ground, and yes, it takes strong leadership to keep a church running smoothly. But Ephesians 5:21, which says, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ,’ applies to everyone, not just people who aren’t in leadership positions” (p. 121).
He writes of how deeply his church invests in training its leaders to work as a team and how hard they work at it. He recognizes the danger of leaders becoming siloed in their work and how much better leadership is when teams keep thinking about the whole and keep developing their capacity to care for the whole. Putnam argues this is crucial to meet the spiritual battle churches face and to stand out as “a city on a hill.”
The style of this book is a consistent movement between biblical principles and stories from various settings of life from Putnam’s personal life to sports. One of his most memorable images is that often our investment in relational discipleship is similar to buying an $8 tube to float down a river. Fine for calm waters, but entirely inadequate for white water rafting.
There are points where I felt the writing was a bit of “variations on a theme” where the author was reiterating his point about how important being together in relationships of depth is to our growth as disciples. I thought there were places where he could have fleshed out how this works more in his congregation. For example, thousands of congregations have some form of home groups or small groups. What distinguishes those at his church?
I think this could be a helpful book for a church leadership wrestling with a sense that the congregation seems “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Often that lack of depth is in the dimension of relationships. Putnam charts a biblical vision, some practical dimensions of the form this takes, what it looks like for leadership, and both the barriers and crucial spiritual importance of relational discipleship to spiritual maturity and church vitality.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.