Stuff We Like: Dirt Matters, by Jim Powell

Dirt MattersDirt Matters is a very good book.

For many churches it could be a very important book.

It was written by Jim Powell, pastor of Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and the founder of Since I told you all about Jim and 95 Network in a previous Stuff We Like post, let’s get right to the book.

Here’s how Jim explains the “Dirt” in the title. “Every church has a unique culture that serves as the soil where its ministry occurs. A church’s culture is that somewhat nebulous and complex blend of norms, beliefs, attitudes, traditions and practices that define the congregation.” They are the “unseen, intangible issues that reside below the surface and shape the culture of a congregation…”

While Jim is not a Small Church pastor, he gets what Small Churches deal with. This is not a book of methods and gimmicks that have to be transposed for your size. It’s about fundamental principles that apply to every church of any size.


An Honest, Realistic Approach

Jim starts by defining the difference between good dirt and toxic soil. He helps pastors identify the nature of the soil in their church. Then he offers practical, biblically-based principles any pastor can use to help make changes to the culture of their church. 

Jim is also a realist. He offers no quick fixes because “the quick fix has proved to be a myth, yet it is the predominant mindset of many churches.”

Jim also acknowledges that, “even though this book offers biblical and practical principles that can have dramatic impact on the effectiveness of your church, it is not a formula for guaranteed results.” (emphasis his) Now that’s refreshingly honest.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on various topics:


Small Churches & Church Growth

“…fruit-bearing does not always equate to attendance, size or numbers. Bigger is not automatically better, and faithfulness can manifest itself in many different ways. There is room in the body of Christ for cell churches, small churches, large churches and megachurches.”

“If we aren’t measuring anything, we usually lack focus … yet too often we attempt to reduce the definition of success in ministry only to measurable outcomes. When that happens, we are entering in to dangerous territory.”

“…if I’m trying to measure everything, I’m tempted to herd this person into a process without really knowing her as a person.”

“We are tempted to forget that God is the one who gives the growth. … We reduce success to superficial things like buildings, budgets and attendance numbers.”


One Size Does Not Fit All

“What worked for other congregations is irrelevant. If we don’t address the culture of our churches, these cursory changes amount to little more than wasted money, wasted energy and naïve optimism.”

“…there is no one soil, makeup or mixture of values, that is perfect for every church.” “What is able to grow and flourish in one environment may not be successful in another.”


Changing the Church Culture

“If we change the soil, resurrections can happen.”

“…most everyone likes the idea of impacting a growing number of lives – until people start showing up who don’t look like them or act like them.”

“For a church to have impact, it must diffuse ministry and turn people loose. This requires risk. You have to trust people.”

“A healthy theology of change makes a clear distinction between methods (which are always changing) and the message (which shouldn’t change.)”

“It is a mistake for leaders to work in a vacuum as they try to discern a vision for an entire group of people. My suggestion is to bring the people into it.”

“Double-loop learning looks at the surface, then circles back around and asks a completely different set of questions such as, “why are we even doing this in the first place?”


Relying On God

The Lord longs for his people, and his shepherds in particular, to abandon our pride, independence, and need for control.”

“There is no formula to discern God’s calling.”

“…we are sinning. Much like King David, we feel more comfortable taking a census and numbering our troops than walking in faith and reliance on God.”

“When people stand firm in their convictions and yet have a humble and teachable spirit, this humility nurtures an environment in which God does his best work.”


So what do you think? Does Dirt Matters sound like a book your church could use?

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2 thoughts on “Stuff We Like: Dirt Matters, by Jim Powell”

  1. What a great message. I am excited that we are beginning to look at the broader aspects of church and ministry. Or to put it another way, more of the fundamental aspects . . . For me this is great because I just started “Outliers” by Gladwell and he references the soil (dirt) aspect of how things become successful.

    1. I think you’re right,John. Ministers are starting to look beyond how to get bigger. It will take a while to shift that culture, but it’s starting.

      Gladwell’s stuff is great. I heard last night, from a reader, that his latest book, “David and Goliath” touches on a lot of the themes from The Grasshopper Myth. I can’t wait to read it.

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