October 20, 2020

Recommendation and Review: What is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever

deverbook.jpgSome of you need to buy this book: What is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever. You need to buy it and start some trouble with it.

Here’s the deal. Your pastor is caught up in whole church-growth, seeker-sensitive movement, and he’s reading church growth books and rehashing the content into most of his sermons. You can hear- even smell- the Rick Warren approach everywhere. You’re concerned and you want to do something. You know there are lots of books your pastor ought to be reading, but you also know he’ll probably never read any book you might recommend. He’s not into those serious theological books. What can you do?

What to do is get Mark Dever’s just released What is a Healthy Church? where the content of books like The Deliberate Church and Nine Marks of a Healthy Church are compressed into just over 100 pages in the popular “little book” format that’s proven readable with people who won’t read “real” books.

Mark Dever is a very interesting combination of scholar- Ph.d from Cambridge-, Southern Baptist pastor in a renewed church in Washington, D.C., Founder’s movement Calvinist and practical church health consultant. Dever has effectively translated his love of the Puritans and his interest in the local church into the widely respected IX Marks ministry, which is making a major contribution to a renewed emphasis on the local church among evangelicals. Without going down many of the Calvinist/Reformed rabbit holes, Dever gives very interesting, helpful, broadly ecumenical help for churches that stands distinctively apart from the predictable rhetoric of the church growth movement.

Dever deals with everything from the necessity of church membership, to theologically driven preaching, to church discipline. It’s a book without gimmicks that shares substance instead of anecdotes and fluff. Dever isn’t afraid to say what’s out of fashion, or to tweak those who have made denigrating the traditional church their calling card.

In many ways, Dever’s advocacy of the local church is revolutionary when compared to what has been a steady stream of voices emphasizing music, technology and niche marketing. If your pastor reads this book- and I believe he will if he reads ten pages- some interesting conversations should ensue.

If you haven’t read Dever’s books on the church, then pass on this and buy them. But if you have read those books and want your pastor to benefit from Dever’s approach, this is the perfect book. It’s also a good book for a leadership seminar, a small group, a short-term class, training for elders or other opportunities where a smaller book can be turned into curriculum.

Dever wrote many sections of this book for those who might be church-shopping or asking questions about the right church. No doubt, the book would be great to give to a young person or family who are open to moving into a more serious consideration of the local church. Dever will get a reaction, I promise you, because he isn’t afraid to unpack the idea that the Christian life can’t be freelance or solo.

But this is a book for the pastors who won’t stop reading the church growth fizz. Slip it to ’em, people. There’s dynamite in this little book

Crossway suppled me a copy of this book, but no larger amounts of cash or chewy brownies.


  1. I think I’d be afraid to read this book, because I might realize that the number of churches in my community that match the criteria is zero.

  2. This is on my To Buy list for this week! Ironically, I’m a pastor who enjoys the Purpose Driven titles, but lately I’ve been asking myself the same question over and over again: Are we a healthy church? Are we having a healthy rate of growth-personally and spiritually, not just numerically. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. I have always thought that the focus on church growth is a bit silly if the church that is being grown isn’t healthy to begin with. If there is internal decay, what are we pulling people into? For our churches to be effective vessels for evangelism there must first be holiness in our lives and love in our relationships.

  4. Nicholas Anton says


    Your posts on the church are quite helpful. I would however like to see a much larger discussion on what the church was/is to be according to Jesus’ teaching, especially as seen in Matt. 20 and 23. Too often I see a total disregard of Matt. 20:26;
    Mat 20:26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (diakonos/servant);
    We tend to interpret the term minister according to the English definition rather than according to the original Greek term.

    During my association with and participation in churches of various denominations, including Baptists, I have been astounded at the amount of and severity of church fights and power struggles. What is the Church to be according to Jesus’ teaching?
    1) An autocracy like Rome?
    2) A democracy like Greece?
    3) A Theocratic Patriarchy like Israel (God the Father, and Jesus as Master-Teacher)?
    4) Non of the above.
    All of the above concepts need definition and clarification.

  5. Great review, Michael. Thanks.


  6. John,

    Dever helpfully talks about loving your church, and being patient while praying for change. There’s also a good section on “If You’re Thinking about Leaving a Church..”


  7. I was at a staff meeting yesterday for the first time at the mega-church that I’m interning at this summer. The conference room has some long, built-in book shelves on one wall, and these currently hold I’d wager about 75 copies of The Purpose Driven Life. The book can be found in other random cabinets and shelves around the church… this recommendation sounds good; I’ll definitely look a little further into it.

  8. Sounds interesting and I hear great things about Dever. I just hope this isn’t another book where the author shows how he is right and everyone else is wrong. Deconstructing is easy. I know, I’ve been pretty good at it. To my shame. Deconstructing without constructing is pretty weak in my opinion – and I have been very much a deconstructor…and only now a weak constructor.

    I doubt Dever’s book is like that. I look forward to getting it.