Over the past couple of years, churches have come under extreme pressure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early-mid 2020, many churches in America, and even around the world, were forced into lockdown as the deadly virus spread like wildfire around the globe. This raised many questions, in America particularly, regarding religious liberty, but more importantly, how to do ministry while being socially distant from others. Even as churches started gathering again, as the first wave of the virus subsided and vaccines began to become widely available, there were still many questions and concerns about how best to fulfill the Great Commission in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.
For more than twenty years, long before the current social moment, one ministry has been providing resources to local churches and church leaders to help build healthy churches. That organization, 9Marks, was founded in the late 1990’s by pastor Mark Dever. 9Marks was birthed out of a desire to see more churches adopt a biblical model of ministry and longevity. The nine marks that stand at the core of the ministry are expounded and discussed in Dever’s classic book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, originally published in 2000, is now in its fourth edition by Crossway (2021).
In this fourth edition, Dever expands the material to include two additional chapters that did not appear in the previous three editions. In the original publication, Dever acknowledged that the “nine marks” of a healthy church were no exhaustive, but were areas that he saw in that context as needing special attention in churches in the West. In this new edition, Dever explains that in the years since the book was first published, two additional areas were identified as pertinent in the current day. However, to keep the “nine marks” moniker, he condensed a couple of chapters, thereby leaving room for the new material to be added.
For this new edition, Dever condenses chapters 2-5 from the original material into two chapters. He combines chapters 2 and 3 from the previous editions titled “Biblical Theology” and “The Gospel” into a new chapter titled “Gospel Doctrine”. He also combines chapters 4 and 5 from the previous editions titled “Conversion” and “Evangelism” into a new chapter titled “A Biblical Understanding of Conversion and Evangelism”. This leaves room for the new material “A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Prayer” (chapter 8) and “A Biblical Understanding and Practice of Missions” (chapter 9). The material provides an emphasis on the necessity of prayer, not only in the life of an individual believer, but also in the life and ministry of a local congregation. Additionally, the new material expounds on the importance missions both in a local and global context.
For the sake of brevity, this review will focus on the new material added, and will not speak to the original material. Most readers of Reading for the Glory are likely familiar with 9Marks and have most likely read one of the previous editions of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Chapter Eight of the new material focuses on the biblical understanding and practice of prayer. It should go without saying that a church would have prayer as a vibrant part of its DNA. That assumption, unfortunately, cannot be made. Prayer, as Dever argues is the book is not merely about asking God to meet needs. That is one aspect of prayer, but should not be the main tenor of prayer in the life of a church. He argues for a more biblical approach to prayer. This starts with the churches leadership and must be modeled as the church gathers together regularly. Prayer in local churches should include prayers of praise, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving. I would argue that this chapter should have been included in the original material, because understanding the biblical model and practice of prayer is a crucial aspect in the life of a church. I am glad that is now part of this new edition.
The new ninth mark, chapter nine, discusses a biblical understanding and practice of missions which should be the natural outworking of a church that is practicing the previous eight marks. Missions is simply, the advancement of the gospel around the world. While gospel advancement is discussed in chapter three on evangelism, there is distinction between evangelism and missions. It is true that missions includes evangelism, the sharing of the gospel, and is not less than that. Missions, however, is more than merely sharing the gospel. It refers to the strategic advancement of the gospel, both in a local context and around the world. This takes planning, training, and financial backing. Missions also includes partnering with other churches via a denomination or missions sending network. By nature, missions is a collective effort from those being sent to another context and those who are supporting the sent ones. I am glad that missions has been added to the material because it is truly a mark of healthy church.
I would highly recommend this fourth edition of Nine Marks of a Health Church. Over the past two decades this book and 9Marks as an organization has made a considerable impact on helping to plant and grow healthy churches in America and around the world. For too long churches have taken a more business like approach, which I would argue has not only hurt the health of churches, but also hurt the witness of churches in a negative way. Bigger more vibrant churches do not always indicate that they are healthy or even biblical as we have seen in recent years with several high profile departures of pastors and church leaders. We need a more biblical approach to planting and growing churches, even if they are not as “successful” in the eyes of the world. In this classic book, now revised and expanded, Mark Dever delivers such a model.
Editor’s Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.