Together for the City by Neil Powell & John James – A Review

Together for the City by Neil Powell & John James – A Review

A Call to a Bigger Vision for Being Together Planting Churches

Together for the City: How Collaborative Church Planting Leads to Citywide Movements is a delightful and inspiring read that tells the story of a group of churches in Birmingham who decided to work together in a way they had never done before. Their vision, known as 2020birmingham, was to plant 20 churches by 2020, now extended to 30 by 2030 and 100 in their lifetime.

But this is a story told with intent. It is Neil Powell & John James’ conviction that ‘the more willing we are to find ways to collaborate, the more effective we’ll be in reaching our city for Jesus’. As such, it also functions as a succinct textbook laying down principles and a pathway for others to follow.

An Effort Rivaling Dunkirk?

Firstly they make the case for localised collaborative church planting movements, both their necessity and definition. The authors use the analogy of Operation Dynamo in 1940, where a flotilla of fishing boats, steamers and yachts rescued 338,000 stranded British soldiers from Dunkirk: ’what if there is a way for faithful churches across denominations, ecclesial styles, and theological traditions to partner together in a rescue effort that would rival Dunkirk?’

Proper Collaboration

Secondly, they unpack the ‘how’, using the equation: core + cause + code = collaboration. Many of us will naturally identify with churches who either share a similar doctrinal ‘core’ or ministry patterns. However the authors argue this isn’t the same as collaboration. For the latter, one also needs a ‘cause’, i.e. a shared ministry goal for our shared context, as well as a ‘code’, meaning not a set of rules but a commitment to the gospel enfleshed in gospel values and postures.

The final section is a stirring call to action. The book is littered with inspiring and varied snapshot examples from Birmingham, but this section also features a number of international case-studies.

For many of us, the book’s challenge will likely lie in whether we’re truly willing to work with other churches for the sake of the lost. Powell and James both pastor FIEC churches and identify as reformed/conservative evangelicals, yet they offer our constituency a challenging call to a bigger vision. This is explicitly more than ‘just join your local gospel partnership’, and one that will test both our generosity and our humility. They make a strong and nuanced case. That said, they aren’t arguing that we plant churches together, but ‘to be together as we plant churches’, a subtle but liberating difference.

Relevant and Provocative

Any concerns that the book might seem a world away from my ‘small town’ context were soon dismissed and I was pleasantly surprised by how applicable it was for us here in Barrow. Whatever your situation, Powell & James’ worked-through principle of collaboration-leading-to-effectiveness remains.

As the authors acknowledge, this is a ‘provocative’ book, but this reviewer is persuaded such provocation is deftly argued, apt for our times, and stirring to boot.

More info about Together for the City is available at the book’s own site.

This review first appeared in the February 2020 edition of Evangelicals Now.

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book, but I hope it is a fair and honest review.