what church can be
an optimistic vision + some blueprints
Pastor and church planter Matthew Kruse's deeply loved hometown of Boston is a decidedly secular city where the gospel is primarily met with disinterest or disdain. The average Bostonian - wounded by one of the worst scandals in American church history and convinced that they have no need for "religion" - is out on church. And yet, by God's grace, Kruse has not only helped birth a beautiful and viable church that is thriving among the locals there, but he's also helped build a family of contextualized churches who are loving and leading New Englanders to the grace of the gospel.
In What Church Can Be, Kruse fuses theological exposition with personal memoir and a bevy of helpful blueprints into an optimistic and executable vision for leaders who are seeking to build healthy church cultures that foster gospel advance.
Are you committed to building a strong local church, but unsure what's possible or how to go about it?
What Church Can Be was written for you.
WHY THIS BOOK
Although I’ve benefited tremendously from much of what our generation’s well-known pastors and church planters have published, a caveat looms over every word of theirs I read: “Yeah, but their context is nothing like mine.”
Boston, Massachusetts, is my home, and has been since Larry Legend was working his magic on the parquet floor. It’s an absurdly expensive, rabidly liberal, post-Christian city where the gospel is increasingly met with disinterest or disdain. Rapid, Instagramable church growth doesn’t happen here. You’ll find no churches the size of a Walmart, or Christian radio stations, or Bible verses evangelizing from the bottom of fast-food cups. Nobody tithes or even knows what that means. Inviting my Bostonian neighbors to church is like inviting a Mormon to a strip club. No one here knows the first thing about the Bible, or cares to know. I was sharing a meal once with some folks in our neighborhood and said, “You know how Peter denied Jesus three times?” Everyone stared blankly back at me as if I had asked them to explain calculus.
What little the people here do know about church is not good. Many were raised Roman Catholic, coming of age in a city rocked by one of the ugliest scandals the church has ever known, the words “priest” and “pedophile” now permanently wed in their minds. Some grew up attending the heresy-ridden mainline corpses that pass for churches in our neighborhoods; their last rays of the gospel light were snuffed out decades ago. Others have been bamboozled by prosperity gospel hucksters, or browbeaten by better-than-thou fundamentalists, or beaten down by church politics. The sad result is that to an entire generation of Bostonians, an invite to church sounds as appealing as a root canal without Novocain.
I’ve written this book for those working in contexts like ours. For folks whose city resembles Rome more than Dallas, Ephesus more than Escondido. For the pastor who has to grind—hard—for every dollar, every connection, every conversion. For those of us who feel like losers half the time, and lunatics the other half, because our progress is always thirteen steps forward and a baker’s dozen back.
Here’s what I’ve written to tell you:
You can do this.
By God’s grace, you can build a strong church in a post-Christian context.
HOW the book WORKS
What Church Can Be is exposition, memoir, and blueprint, all rolled into one.
First and foremost, it’s an extended exposition of Paul’s farewell speech (Acts 20:18-35) to his deeply-loved brothers who were serving as elders of the Ephesian church.
No text has been more influential in shaping my theological vision for what we are actually trying to do in planting and pastoring churches than this inspired transcript that Luke has given us. The first time I memorized these words, I did so through tears (sobs, really) as I repented and wept and begged God to mark our ministry with the same fervency, integrity, courage, intimacy, and grace that I saw in Paul’s. There is almost no strand in the DNA of how we do church at Seven Mile Road that can’t be traced back somehow to these words, and so I’ve built this book accordingly. Every chapter anchors to and meditates on a phrase from Paul’s speech. To whatever degree the husks of my stories, reflections, and illustrations house the true meaning and import of his words, that’s the degree to which this book will be helpful.
This also means that nothing I am writing is original. I may say it with a Bostonian parlance you’re unfamiliar with, but all of it comes directly from the life and ministry of Paul and the missional family that built this Ephesian church with him. The way forward for Christians is always the way backward to the eternal truths revealed in the words of Scripture. Building our churches on the latest fads and trends is suicidal and unnecessary. Scripture is not only inspired, inerrant, and perspicuitous, it’s also sufficient: everything we need to lead holy and healthy churches is already written. Whatever we say and do should emerge from the rich soil of God’s previously spoken Word.
Second, it’s a memoir.
I have 150 favorite Psalms, and Psalm 9 is one of them: "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds!"
That’s the spirit in which I have written every word in this book.
Our Father’s grace in inviting me into the work he is doing through Seven Mile Road has been so surprising, so stupendous, and so undeserved that I can’t explain it. I wouldn’t trade the joys I’ve experienced, or the friendships I’ve forged, or even the failures I’ve endured for season tickets to the Celts (courtside). The Spirit has literally taken the truths of Acts 20 and actualized them in real-time in my soul and in the souls of the Bostonians I love. This book is packed with our stories, not to hype us up (please), but to give Psalm-9-esque glory to God, and to infuse in your soul a vision of what’s possible for you and your church.
Third, it’s a blueprint.
The future of gospel advance in post-Christian America hinges on the willingness and ability of the next generation of pastors to build biblically-faithful and missionally-focused churches among distinct people groups like the one we are sent to just north of Boston. (If you’re context isn’t as post-Christian as ours, give it a minute.) The next American pastors need to be leading these kinds of churches. While clear theological vision is essential to this work, at some point the work itself has to actually get done. While I appreciate and benefit from the work of formally trained theologians, I am not one. I’ve only attended (crashed, really) two seminary classes in my life, and, although each was only two hours long, both seemed to drag on for days. Reading about post-exilic monarchs in stuffy library basements is not my thing. Nor is chatting about ministry models at Starbucks. How about we get busy growing real churches among real sinners in need of real grace? That’s what we’ve been doing for 17 years, and this book is a kind of field guide to how we’ve done it. Each chapter not only presses big theological truth, but also articulates some real-life ways to flesh that truth out.
"Compact. Convicting. Helpful."
"I have not ever read a book with this combination of pastoral theology and raw intensity."
"I read your book in its entirety and loved every second of it."
"Every pastor should read this book."
"I’m 10 chapters through in 1 plane ride. And I hated that we landed."
"I legit don’t have words to tell you how fired up your book has me. It's just what I needed for my soul. I mean that. No flattery. It’s like you jam-packed all I needed to be reminded of and threw it in the pages. I’m very thankful for you right now. The Lord has used your story and your words to stir something in my soul that has been missing for some time. Thank you!"
"I’m grateful for books on church planting and pastoral ministry, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Some books lean toward the truth side; they’re helpful because they’re timeless. Some books lean toward the application side; they’re helpful because they’re practical. What we really need, though, is both. In other words, we need a book like this."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Kruse is the founding pastor of Seven Mile Road, a gospel-centered church just north of Boston. He and his wife Grace have four sons and daughters whom you'd love.
Along with a handful of locals, Kruse planted the original Seven Mile Road in 2001 and has seen it become a family of churches stretching from Maine to the Cape. His work has been featured by The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, Advance Initiative, and SEND Network.
He doesn't drink coffee, own skinny jeans, or know how Pilates work, but he does love the gospel, the church, and a pickup game here and there.
"I don't know of another book like this. If you want to know what it's like to do church that's gospel-centered (as opposed to attractional) in a post-Christian context (as opposed to where there's a ready-made customer base) with the aim of planting more missional churches (as opposed to to simply getting big or franchising) from a pastor who's about to enter his third decade doing it (as opposed to a guy who just thinks about it), What Church Can Be is for you. It is engaging, sharp, and rich with hard-won wisdom."
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Spurgeon College
Author in Residence at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
General Editor of For The Church (and host of the FTC Podcast)
Director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri
"In the near future, the rest of America will become more secular like the city of Boston or the New England region. My friend Matt Kruse has written a useful book for doing gospel-centered ministry in such a context as this. Seven Mile Road Church, with its theological vision and missional strategy, has cultivated a network of like-minded churches in the area. I highly commend this book for your consideration. I believe it is a tool that can be used to encourage many future leaders who will be doing ministry in our post-Christian world."
Dr. Stephen T. Um
Senior Pastor of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, Massachusetts
Council Member of The Gospel Coalition
Trainer for Redeemer City to City
Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Author of Why Cities Matter, 1 Corinthians (Preaching the Word Commentary), and Micah for You
"Matt Kruse is a 'townie.' That's New-England-speak for a local - a guy who's 'from here.' I've walked the streets of greater Boston with Matt and seen cab drivers, laborers, and random pedestrians greet him by name. This is a man who knows and loves real people in a real place. Matt may be unknown to you - but he shouldn't be. His joyful, provocative, prophetic voice makes me want to be a better pastor and fills me with hope for what church can be. I long for every pastor and church planter to read this book."
Lead Pastor of Coram Deo Church in Omaha, Nebraska
Founder and co-host of Wednesday Conversation podcast
Author of Gospel Eldership and The Gospel-Centered Life
"This book is written with the integrity, creativity, and urgency I expect from Matthew Kruse, who has given himself to a fruitful, multiplying New England ministry for nearly two decades. As I read it, I was encouraged and challenged. I'm confident that those who read What Church Can Be will be inspired and equipped. I thank God for Matt and for Seven Mile Road."
Dr. Stephen Witmer
Pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts
Professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Co-Director, Small Town Summits
Author of Eternity Changes Everything and Revelation in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible Series
"The Seven Mile Road churches have been planted with the goal of fruitfulness, not success. This is because Matt Kruse captured the Biblical blend of being counter-cultural and authentic. In this wonderful volume, he does not mince words, nor “make nice” with the challenges of ministry in a post-Christian setting. Matt has honestly faced the joys and discouragements of church in what the Second Great Awakening would have called, the “burned over” district of America – the places where religion is a dirty word, and church is no longer a culturally safe space. I can surely commend What Church Can Be as a volume that speaks to the heart with a courageous and Gospel-centered honesty."
Dr. Richard Lints
Provost and Andrew Mutch Professor of Theology
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
"Matt has written a book on the church he has lived. This is not a pristine doctrinal treatment of the church, but a broken-in, frayed, grace-filled look at life together in Jesus. By God's grace, I've experienced much of what Matt describes here, but as I read, I found myself wanting more. May every person who reads this book experience more of Christ's favorite thing in the world--his Church!"
Jonathan K. Dodson
Lead pastor of City Life Church in Austin, TX
Founder of Gospel-Centered Discipleship
Author of Here in Spirit, The Unbelievable Gospel, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, and 1-2 Peter and Jude in Crossway’s Knowing the Bible Series
"Matt Kruse is a faithful and gifted pastoral leader. I have learned much from him in my previous interactions, and this book has brought further encouragement and insight. His work in Boston is inspiring, and his comprehensive vision of discipleship is instructive. I'm sure this book will be a blessing to everyone who cares about the health, vitality, and impact of his/her local church."
Dr. Tony Merida
Founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina
Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary
Content Director for Acts 29 Network
Author of several books, including The Christ-Centered Expositor, Ordinary, Orphanology, and is general editor and contributor of eight volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series (B&H)
"Before my family moved to the Northeast to help plant churches, Matt Kruse befriended me through an Acts 29 online pastors forum. I'll never forget him typing at me "It's not that bad! It's just Jersey!" These words were a comfort. Over the years Matt and I have worked together in various capacities to see the gospel planted in Northeastern lands. Matt has maintained a sincere missional focus, a robust biblical theology and a Christ-centered hope as he has plowed the hard grounds of New England. We need to hear what he and the Seven Mile Road communities have learned about planting the gospel in post-Christendom western culture."
Reid S. Monaghan
Founder and President of Power of Change
Assessment Director US South Central Network
Co-host of The Gospel Underground Podcast
"Having just finished reading a draft of Matthew Kruse's captivating new book, What Church Can Be, I am delighted to commend it to you and to recommend its publication. Written in a lively, winsome, disarmingly honest and engaging style, the book describes how God enabled the planting of an interconnected family of Gospel-centered churches in the rocky soil of New England.
One might ask, of course, whether yet another book on church planting is really needed. Indeed, even a cursory search of the Amazon book listings under "church planting" yields literally dozens of volumes devoted to various aspects of the theme. However, what makes this new book uniquely valuable, in my opinion, is that its context is here in New England and its author is not a theoretician so much as a seasoned pastor and church planting veteran with more than a few scars to validate his long years at the task.
What Church Can Be, in short, has the aroma of authenticity. Its insights have been thoroughly field-tested in communities such as Melrose, Malden, Waltham, Kennebunk and Hyannis and its failures have been clearly identified. In the final analysis, however, it is a story that is filled with joy and hope. By God's grace, as its author affirms, it is possible to "build a strong church in a post-Christian context that brings glory to God and life to the people" -- the very kind of community that members will "actually love belonging to."
The Seven Mile Road model is not for everyone, of course. Some will find it too theologically restrictive, too passionately relational, too liturgically informal and/or too personally demanding. For those who are hungry to be part of a high-demand, high touch, highly relational and authentically Christian fellowship, however, this might be exactly the book they need to read and study. It is, in my estimation, a story that needs to be told -- not, God forbid, to bring glory to the Seven Mile Road movement but because God can use it to inspire, encourage and inform a whole new generation of believers who yearn to serve God more fully and faithfully."
Dr. Garth M. Rosell
Senior Research Professor of Church History
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
"Matt Kruse in one of the best pastoral voices in the northeast that churches all over should hear and have not yet known. I have been blessed to know Matt, work with him in church planting in the northeast, and watch the church he has shepherded, 7 Mile Road, grow and multiply. When someone comes to Terra Nova and tells me there are from 7 Mile Road, I am thankful. They likely know, love, and live church well. Or to say it another way, they have been well pastored."
Lead Pastor of Terra Nova Church in Troy, NY
Northeast Liaison Acts29
"If you’re looking for advice on how to plant a church in a post-Christian city with a soul as hard as concrete, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want to learn how to love and lead people to experience the grace of the gospel in just such a context, then you couldn’t have a better guide than Matt Kruse. What you’ll find in these pages are humble but brilliant insights dug out of a decade of planting life-giving churches in Greater Boston and beyond. Each chapter has “you can” written all over it, anchored in both scripture and the gritty and deeply personal story of Matt’s life and ministry. He has carefully avoided all the well-worn cliches and unhealthy expectations of church planting. Instead, you’ll hear a trusted voice and feel the heartbeat of someone who has been there and still on the front lines, planting churches, strong churches, vibrant and beautiful."
Dr. David Butler
Director of SEND Boston (North American Mission Board Church Planting Collective)
Former Pastor of CenterPoint Church in Concord, New Hampshire
"Matt Kruse has been a friend for over fifteen years. We share the huge honor and humble calling of planting churches in New England. Matt is one of the smartest pastors I know, but even more impressive, he's a holy pastor. Matt's book is desperately needed as a handbook for the normal pastor called to slug it out for decades in hard places. I can't think of many guys I'd recommend to you more highly than Matt Kruse!"
Rev. David Pinckney
Pastor of River of Grace Church in Concord, New Hampshire
Co-Director of the Acts 29 Network's Rural Collaborative
"This is the book I've been waiting for a long time. It is a personal memoir of a real pastor in a real place doing the hard work of gospel ministry. It is also a soundly theological exposition of what the calling to Christian ministry entails. And it is an extremely practical, hands-on book on how to do ministry in a post-Christian context. Matt Kruse is open, honest, and transparent, as well as downright inspirational. I would buy this book by the case to give out to all my colleagues in ministry."
Rev. Paul McPheeters
Pastor of Forestdale Community Church in Malden, Massachusetts
"Church planting is hard work in any context. Church planting in post-Christian northeast America is a uniquely challenging task that leaves many planters tired, frustrated and burned out. Success needs to be measured differently if we are to see a gospel presence and voice remain and thrive in these contexts. Matt Kruse and his team have built a church planting model that is sustainable over the long haul in tough soil. This book tells you that story and the lessons learned can impact ministry in any context."
Executive Pastor of Mosaic Church in Orlando, Florida
Founder of Backstage Pastors Publishing
Author of Defining the Executive Pastor Role and Eldership Development