No Silver Bullets | Book Review

As a young minister, I attended many leadership seminars with my pastor. These seminars were taught by well-known megachurch pastors and leading church-growth experts and gave us notebooks filled with detailed instructions about how to do church more effectively. After each seminar, my pastor and I discussed what wholesale changes we needed to make in light of what we had just learned.

Over time, though, we learned an even greater lesson from these seminars, albeit unintended: What worked for them will not necessarily work for you. Don’t get me wrong, these pastors and experts were on to something, but that something was not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to what ailed our church. Rather than importing someone else’s system into our congregational culture, we needed to do the hard work of figuring out how to apply biblical teaching about the church and its ministries in our own context.

I kept that lesson in mind as I read Daniel Im’s insightful new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Im is director of Church Multiplication for and LifeWay Christian Resources, as well as a teaching pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. He is coauthor, with Ed Stetzer, of Planting Missional Churches (2nd edition).

When you focus on developing missionary disciples,
you will always get mature disciples.

Rather than silver bullets — “one-decision solutions that will solve all your woes and unleash your church into a new season of faithfulness” — Im suggests “micro-shifts” in how you’re currently doing ministry. Christian ministry boils down to discipleship. Make disciples is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It’s the Church’s unique and fundamental task, its reason for being. So, the micro-shifts Im suggests are oriented around what we understand discipleship to be and how we do it. They involve moving

  1. from destination to direction,
  2. from output to input,
  3. from sage to guide,
  4. from form to function, and
  5. from maturity to missionary.

The first shift deals with how we understand discipleship. A destination approach thinks of discipleship in terms of “how much [disciples] have achieved, what they know, their observable behaviors, and whether they have completed certain classes.” A direction approach, by contrast, views “maturity as an ongoing process without an endpoint this side of eternity.” This entails that we are always being discipled, and requires that we always are discipling others.

The second shift pertains to what an individual needs to do to move in the direction of Christlikeness. Churches want disciples to demonstrate biblical literacy, the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, etc. These are output goals or results. Input goals are those practices that make output goals achievable. Based on Lifeway Research, Im argues that reading the Bible, attending Sunday worship, and participating in smaller groups are three inputs that especially influence outputs.

The third shift addresses the role of the leader in this process. Pastors often feel that they need to be the “sage on the stage,” the person with answers to all discipleship questions. Drawing on adult learning studies, Im counsels pastors and other church leaders to adopt an approach that might be characterized as the “guide on the side.” In this approach, the teacher puts the learner in the driving seat, helping them when they get stuck. Obviously, there is still room for the Sunday morning sermon, but the guide-on-the-side approach works especially well in smaller, less formal settings

In the fourth shift, Im talks about moving from form to function. This is an especially good chapter for churches that are still debating whether Sunday school or small groups is the better discipleship methodology. Im argues that the function of discipling is more important than the form in which it takes places. Having said that, he counsels paying attention to mid-size communities in the church as a particularly fruitful venue for discipleship. These are neither as anonymous as Sunday morning worship services nor as intimate as a small group.

Finally, Im focuses on the purpose of discipleship. Most churches understand discipleship in terms of spiritual maturity, but Im thinks they ought to understand it in terms of being a missionary. He writes: “when you focus on developing mature disciples, you do not necessarily find yourself with an army of missionaries. However, when you focus on developing missionary disciples, you will always get mature disciples.”

Throughout No Silver Bullets, Daniel Im brings biblical theology, personal experience, and social science research to bear on the urgent question of how churches can better make disciples. Even if you don’t agree with everything he suggests, his angle of vision on the question of discipleship will help you sharpen your own focus in ministry.

Book Reviewed:
Daniel Im, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review.

Daniel Im | Influence Podcast

In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at and here on Wednesday.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles

Today, over at

  • “Between 2001 and 2008,” Jerry Ireland writes, “missions budgets for evangelism and discipleship declined by almost 11 percent, while funds for relief and development work increased by nearly 9 percent.” My guess is that this trend continued in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both Jerry and I believe that Pentecostal mission must include evangelism and compassion. However, discipleship has a missional priority. Jerry writes, “The most compassionate thing your church can do is support missionaries discipling local people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).”
  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at and here on Wednesday.
  • Chris Railey highlights the importance of church planting in the August-September issue of Influence magazine: “Church planters want to change the world, and the truth is, they are the Church’s best hope. The Assemblies of God is seeing incredible growth in the number of new churches. In fact, 2016 was the best church-planting year in our 103-year history, with 406 new churches opened. Church planters connect us to our pioneering roots; they represent the missional and Spirit-led work of expanding the kingdom of God that has always defined our movement.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Monday’s Influence Online Articles

Today, over at

  • John Davidson interviews Daniel Im for the Influence Podcast regarding how churches can more effectively train volunteers and leaders.
  • We note a new report from Grey Matter Research and Consulting about slipping support for charitable tax deductions: “In recent years, politicians have floated the idea of scaling back or eliminating tax deductions for charitable giving. And while 50 percent of U.S. adults contributing to nonprofits say charitable donations should be fully deductible for itemized filers, 1 in 10 want to eliminate such tax breaks altogether. Another 32 percent say there should be limits (with 17 percent wanting to restrict deductions based on the total amount and 15 percent in favor of limiting deductions based on income). Seven percent are undecided on the issue.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Missional Church Planting’ by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im

Missional-Church-PlantingEd Stetzer and Daniel Im, Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).

Though I am neither a church planter nor the son of a church planter, I read the second edition of Planting Missional Churches by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im with interest. Why? Because it raises questions and teaches ways of thinking about the answers that all North American church leaders need to consider in our increasingly post-Christian society.

The process of post-Christianization may be further along in Canada, but of late, the United States seems to be making up for lost time. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians declined from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent of the population between 2007 and 2014. In that same period, the number of Americans practicing non-Christian faiths grew by 25 percent, from 4.7 to 5.9 percent. The number of religiously unaffiliated Americans grew by 42 percent, from 16.1 to 22.8 percent. Given that 34 percent of “Older Millennials” (b. 1981–1989) and 36 percent of “Younger Millennials” (b. 1990–1996) are religiously unaffiliated, the trend of post-Christianization is going to gain rather than lose steam in the coming decade.

To counteract this trend, North American Christians need to plant missional churches.

Stetzer and Im define mission as “all that God is doing to bring the nations to himself.” They define missions as “the pursuit of sharing and showing the gospel to all corners of the earth,” that is, presenting the gospel in word and deed. Missional means “adopting the posture of a missionary, joining Jesus on mission, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound” (emphasis in original). Missional churches, then, understand themselves as missionaries to their respective cultures.

The image of missions as “planting” is well known in the New Testament. It is found in Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9). Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he writes, “ I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Taken together, these two passages suggest that there should be a relationship between personal evangelism and church planting. A church plant that merely draws existing Christians from other churches is not acting missionally. Church plants should focus on evangelizing those who have not already heard or seen the gospel.

Planting Missional Churches outlines for readers how to do this. Section 1 addresses “The Foundations of Church Planting.” Section 2 outlines various “Models of Church Planting. Section 3, “Systems of Church Planting,” answers questions about systems and structures that should be in place before and immediately after a church plant launches. Section 4 describes “Ministry Areas for Church Planting,” namely, teambuilding, evangelism, small groups, worship, preaching, spiritual formation, and children. Finally, Section 5, “Multiplication and Movements,” shows how church plants can (and should) themselves plant churches.

Obviously, Planting Missional Churches is a manual for church planters. So, why should non-church planters like me and (maybe) you read it? I can think of three obvious reasons:

First, to familiarize yourself with the theory and best practices of church planting. Here, the goal is understanding. Far too often, existing churches and church plants are viewed as competitors. This competition can be turned to cooperation when you remember that the goal of church planting is to evangelize non-Christians.

Second, either to consider a call to become a church planter yourself or to help your existing church plant other churches. Here, the goal can be either a change in your ministerial vocation or an expansion of your church’s efforts to evangelize people in word and deed.

And third, as I suggested above, to better understand what ministry in an increasingly post-Christian society looks like. Here, the goal is to change the mindset of American church leaders so that they think more like pioneer missionaries rather than institutional chaplains. By nature, institutional chaplains have the support of the institution. They can assume certain things about people in their care. Pioneer missionaries can’t assume anything. They must listen and talk to people who do not know and in many cases do not care about the gospel story.

So, while I strongly recommend Planting Missional Churches to prospective church planters, I also think it might be a helpful read for established church pastors, whether or not they are considering planting a church. In an increasingly post-Christian society, all church leaders—whether pastors of church plants, revitalized churches, small churches, or megachurches—need to think and act like missionaries…for that is what we in fact are. Just as God sent Christ, so Christ is sending us (John 20:21).

P.S. This review first appeared at

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: