McConnell, Mez and Mike McKinley. Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 208 pp. $14.99.
Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley have provided the Christian church with an important book on how to conduct ministry in difficult locations. One of the main reasons that they decided to write this specific book was because of the growing interest among Christians regarding social justice issues. Their thesis is very simple: It is impossible to alleviate poverty—in its fullest sense—apart from the local church. Church in Hard Places is divided into 3 parts: (1) the gospel in hard places, (2) the church in hard places, and (3) the work in hard places.
Part 1 provides readers with definitions of what poverty and the gospel are and how doctrine is very important when ministering to people in hard places. McConnell and McKinley note, “Does a commitment to teaching and believing doctrine hinder the spread of the gospel in hard places? Hardly” (69). I definitely concur.
Part 2 discusses the good and bad of parachurch organizations and how the local church should be viewed as the primary means of ministering to people in hard places. They say, “We simply object to parachurch ministries that compete with or replace the local church, whether they mean to or not” (94). McConnell and McKinley then explain the importance of the work of evangelism and the role that preaching should play in local churches in hard places. They then conclude this section with a discussion on the significance of church membership and discipline.
In part 3, McConnell and McKinley discuss how seminarians, church planters, and others can prepare themselves to do ministry in difficult places. This section is very practical, and goes into detail about how to develop leaders and have proper expectations when entering a difficult ministry context. The overall tone of this chapter is that you must be willing to count the cost before entering into the ministry in a hard place.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Church in Hard Places is a great book for seminary students, church planters, and pastors. McConnell and McKinley do an excellent job of pointing readers back to the local church. I really appreciated this specific aspect of the book because the local church must be central in trying to figure out better ways to serve the poor in our communities.
Another aspect of the book that I appreciated was how the authors were not afraid to talk about difficult subjects like church membership and discipline. At one point they note, “We cannot wait for people to completely clean up their lives before admitting them to church membership, but we need to be able to affirm credible professions of repentance and faith” (129). This was a needed reminder and I believe that readers will appreciate the authors’ honesty.
At some points throughout the book, I was left wanting more. I felt like the sections on poverty and the parachurch problem were a little vague. However, this book should probably be considered as an introductory text on the importance and dangers of doing ministry in difficult places. Church in Hard Places is a very practical book that will encourage many church planters and ministry leaders to prayerfully count the cost before diving in head first into doing ministry in difficult locations. I definitely would recommend this book.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Church in Hard Places points readers to the importance of the local church in trying to alleviate poverty, and how to properly minister in difficult locations.