The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill: Book Review

What is a house church? A high-power Bible study to replace your friendly neighborhood Baptist church? A Chinese thing that Christian sinophiles like to copy? I’m not really into revolution and radical excitement, and professional prophet types inspire me to special sorts of loathing. When I discovered The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marilyn Hill, I found not a florid rebel leaflet but a battered army handbook from an old and venerable war. It can be sharp and edgy, but it bears a practical focus on the essentials.

Stephen and Marylin Hill are church planters with experience in Central Asia, Europe, and North America. Centering on Luke 10, where Jesus sends out the seventy-two ahead of him to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9, ESV), they expound a cohesive and practical vision for the individual, the church, and for Christian mission. The Hills plot out a way of doing things that shortens the distance between talk in church on Sunday and the consummation of the Christian life. The book was originally written to help Central Asian Christians focus on Jesus’ mission and escape the tentacles of Western institutionalized Christianity. They note that several friends “have asked why we spend so much time dealing with the context of western institutionalism and charismatic expressions of church life if this book was written for the east. Simply because western charismatic expression is everywhere!”

The book holds a number of damning criticisms for the way church and mission are presently done. It addresses everything from the simple cost of maintaining church buildings and Christian institutional infrastructure, to prosperity gospel preachers and their various schemes. Stephen Crosby’s review at the front of the book highlights the authors’ “clear prophetic edge that enables [them] to say the necessary hard things without polemic venom”, but it is hard to lay down heavy words without at least a little thud. The book offers practical counsel on how to stick to Jesus’ mission and not get snared in institutionalism or caught by predatory preaching: learn to rely upon Jesus Christ alone.

The authors present Jesus as Lord and encourage you to fully rely upon and obey him. They emphasize Jesus’ on the job training of disciples rather than formalized education and certification, demonstrating that anyone can live to obey Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Planting house churches is indeed a potent way to carry out ministry locally or abroad. The book even holds some shocking conclusions regarding how to pray for missions. At the beginning of chapter two (“Wasted Prayers and the Geography Problem”), the authors state,

It may be controversial to point out that Jesus did not command us to pray for the lost but that is the truth. He did not ask us to pray for the harvest. The cries of the lonely, the abused, the tortured, the fearful, the sick, the addicted, the raped, the starving, the oppressed and the afflicted are continuously touching the Father’s heart. The cries of the lost are effective, powerful and never ending prayers.

Jesus saw the fields as spiritually white and more than ready. They need no more spiritual preparation. We need to hear their prayers! They do not need our prayers. They need our obedience.

Focusing on the supreme victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the authors emphasize that God has already given Christians the power and authority that they need to carry out his mission. They just need to go, and planting house churches offers a way (if not the way) forward.

This authors regularly assert that the methods they present are Jesus’ methods. They go from early church history to the present day and demonstrate how the institutionalization of Christianity co-opted Jesus’ simple and reproducible model for drawing others to the knowledge of God. Having recently finished reading a tome on Roman history, I found the book’s treatment of history to be remarkably accurate, even considering the tilt of their argument. While I believe that there is a purpose for institutional Christianity, I must concede that the best way to read this book is to seek instruction rather than to try to assimilate its message into the status quo.

This book has stunned my thinking about missions and ministry and I will have to finish digesting this book in order to proceed. While I do believe that institutional Christianity holds a great deal of good (and you can even see that the authors extensively cite sources generated by Christians working in institutional contexts), some big things do have to change and this book offers a way out. The chief thing is to commit ourselves not to a revolution in the established church but to a lifetime of serving others on their home turf, not luring them onto ours.

I urge you to get this book and think about what it would take to make this sort of ministry happen. If you are a pastor or a church leader, maybe you can at least shake some of your young people on fire for Jesus out of the local church to get them living for Jesus’ mission here and now through planting house churches. As the goal is to minister to the lost and the hurting in Jesus’ name, house churches may be the way to go.

Also check out the blog where I found the review that tipped me off to this book. You can get the paperback or the ebook on the Barnes and Noble website or directly through the publisher. I have not yet seen it on Amazon. I plan to do a followup post on this one to further develop my thoughts on this book. If you have read the book, tell me what you think.

Image via

  • Dan

    I am always wary when I read something such as the following: “They go from early church history to the present day and demonstrate how
    the institutionalization of Christianity co-opted Jesus’ simple and
    reproducible model for drawing others to the knowledge of God.”  I have not read the book, but if that accurately characterizes its position, the authors miss the intentionally institutional nature of biblical ecclesiology.  Of course, no institution of fallible humans will be without its problems, but that is not a valid argument against the “institutionality” of the church.

  • Lucas Dawn

    The New Testament churches were house churches; everyone could interact within the smaller, informal group; everyone could speak prophetically, to encourage and build up; money was used to generously help the needy, the widows and orphans. Only several decades later did some churches begin to think they needed to use their money to build “temples” where “priests” or “ministers” oversaw a formal ritual (where they were the spokesmen, as long as their spectators paid them with tithes and offerings). This was a falling back to the biblical “ecclesiology” of the Old  Testament.

  • Nathan Bennett

     Hello Dan, can you say more about the “institutional nature of biblical ecclesiology”? I believe that what I have written accurately conveys the book’s general message, though perhaps I should have put in a little more to evaluate the degree to which they suceeded in their historical analysis.

    Upon further reflection, I disagree with some of the book’s conclusions and it is vague on what we should do with all the church institutions that have been built up. Perhaps a sequel should focus on the local church’s generation of its own institutions rather than importing foreign models and administration. As a house church movement matures, they can start their own parachurch organizations but retain local leadership.

    Perhaps I will do future posts on rightly understanding church history. In any case, can you say more about why you “are wary” about the line you read? I do not understand the sense in which you use the term institution. In this book, the main thing is that foreign church hierarchies imported from abroad constrict the natural growth of national church movements. Perhaps the context this book was written for does not allow for a careful treatment of the church institutions that presently exist.

    In the end, I believe that Western Christians should take this book as an invitation to start house church ministries in unchurched areas in the West rather than attempt to make existing institutions sufficiently flexible to reach to new areas.

  • Nathan Bennett

     Hello Lucas, thank you for your comment. One definite advantage of the house church model is the shorter distance between believing and doing, and if people are not tithing to support a building, OH DANG! there is a lot more money for people to be able to turn around and help people within the church’s reach!

    As the church progressed in age, do you think some sort of formal hierarchy would have developed, or would it have stuck at being a house church movement forever? One thing that is definitely necessary is the periodic shaking of the whole hierarchy so that Christians don’t get bogged down in maintaining the structure built up.

    One thing I have not yet fully understood in my study of church history is the full value of the Church’s absorbtion of the Roman Empire’s administrative structure. On the one hand, the Roman system did some funky stuff to the Body of Christ, but on the other hand, the imposition of Roman discipline in the years of the contracting political control of the Roman Empire sustained a unified Christian religious domain to receive the incoming Germanic tribes. One interesting thing is that the “barbarians” who sacked Rome were long a part of the Roman system before they decided to take what they could. The survival of Roman Christianity helped sustain the unity of Christians in the breakup of the Roman Empire even as new states replaced the former Empire.

    What do you think of this?

  • Lucas Dawn

     Hi Nathan,

    At least the house church model could free the group from funneling most of its money into “temples” and salaries, though I have been in house churches that hired pastors and did little for the poor. So I think even with this model the crucial question remains: what exactly are you really believing and doing?

    Paul had many problems with his house churches; in Rev., five of the seven churches need to repent. In Corinth, churches divided over whose leader had the higher status; in Thyatira, the powerful, wealthy “Jezebel” misleads a church enthralled with her. So yes, as time goes on, churches easily lose their first love: the one Lord, Jesus, and his humble, lowly way of mutual encouragement and service in believing and doing the truth he taught.

    The Roman church’s “development” along the lines of the empire’s leadership structure intensified this race for status and power. This domination could impose discipline in order to preserve unity under the great bishops, and even threaten emperors. And this discipline included persecuting and decimating other churches (the Donatists, Arians, Pelagians, etc.) that didn’t believe like the ruling bishop(s). And just because barbarians were quickly baptized, who wanted to enjoy their new status in a rich and powerful church, does not make this “unity” an attractive contrast to the breakup of the Empire in general.

  • Pingback: The Luke 10 Manual by Steve and Marylin Hill: Additional Thoughts — Evangelical Outpost()

  • Steve Hill

    Hi Nathan, Thanks so much for this review!