Arthur H. DeKruyter with Quentin J. Schultze, The Suburban Church: Practical Advice for Authentic Ministry. Louisville: Westmionster John Knox Press, 2008. Paper, 148 pages. ISBN 978-0-664-23294-8
More than 45 years of pastoral ministry-with 31 years at Christ Church of Oak Brook, Ill.-Arthur DeKruyter grew this suburban Chicago church from five families to more than 5,000 members. In The Suburban Church, he draws on that extensive experience to share valuable insights about ministry in suburban America.
A number of issues face suburban communities (aging, increasing diversity, growing number of singles) in addition to continuing population growth. DeKruyter discusses his own experience with Christ Church in the context of the needs and realities of suburban life today and the particular challenges of ministry to this population. He deals with issues like working with volunteers and building a staff and communicating themes such as stewardship, worldview and missions.
There is a chapter on the issue of preaching, with several helpful insights about preaching in a suburban setting. He notes: “In suburban contexts, preachers’ creativity tends to go astray as they and their congregations mistakenly view pastors as public therapists or team coaches that produce ‘products’ for congregational ‘consumers.’ Preacher-therapists turn God’s Word into bits and pieces of practical advice aimed at helping middle-class families patch up some of the cracks in their lives and feel better about themselves. Coaches use the Word too narrowly to persuade members and newcomers to get involved in church programs, as if preprogrammed busyness is itself a sign of spiritual life … Not surprisingly, the latest church-program fads, pumped by celebrity authors and promoted by publishing houses, usually enter the church scene through affluent suburban congregations that are looking for quick, prepackaged fixes for nearly any personal or spiritual problem.”
By contrast, says DeKruyter, “The minister and the congregation have to protect each other from preaching that merely promotes short-lived enthusiasms that have little or nothing to do with communicating the living, often-challenging Word of God.” He offers guidance at this point, not the least of which is to be a “steward of character” who models how to handle the problems about which we preach.DeKruyter’s reflections-based on extensive experience-will be of significant value to any pastor who preaches and leads in a suburban setting.