How Teach “The Five Smooth Stones”

5StonesBookCoverSeminary trained Christian workers often jokingly describe how inadequate their educational training proved to be for what they really needed for ministry. And while a few of my own seminary courses are long forgotten, like dusty books on the top of my shelves, there were exceptions.

Robertson McQuilkin was the President of Columbia International University during my student days in the late 70’s. He taught a course entitled “The Principles of Christian Work” that proved invaluable in my attempts to serve congregations and para-church ministries for the past 30 years. The course revolved applying five simple biblical principles to every ministry vision and plan the students would develop in any cultural context God assigned us.

Click HERE to purchase the book from Amazon.

He assumed many of his students would be in the leadership of congregations, or would be planting churches, around the world. He challenged us to not “cut” and “paste” from one successful ministry to our places of service. He would not let us settle for the simple explanation of, “Whatever works!” He equipped us so we would not make relevance an altar on which to slay God’s truth in Christ.

There were many ways that this course has left me slightly unsettled as I serve Christ through his church. This has been a good thing. This unsettling convinces me that I have more to learn and do not have all of the answers. My fingers are not tightly clinched around a specific method or program of small groups, service formats, musical styles or evangelism approaches. I believe God is not caught off balance by the changes and the endless variety in lifestyle and values found around the world. The commands of Christ, and principles inspired by the Spirit, clearly presented in the Bible are a very solid foundation for ministry anywhere and for all time. These basic truths the Spirit creatively customizes in an endless variety of spiritual families of disciples living for God’s glory.

It has been my desire for many years now to see Robertson’s wisdom accessible to many in the body of Christ who were not able to be in the classroom. May the reader of The Five Smooth Stones: Essential Biblical Principles of Ministry producing fresh crops of kingdom.

Download the EVALUATION QUESTIONS to help you determine which of the five principles need the most attention.


The Five Principles are:(download free learning activities for each unit of the book)
1. The Bible: making it the functional authority
2. The Congregation: aligning it with the biblical purposes
3. The Spirit: releasing his energizing power
4. The plan of Redemption: the mission of every disciple
5. The Lord Jesus: gauging servant leadership

Whom do the “Five Smooth Stones” help?
Pastor Pete has been serving Community Church for five years. He loves the people and has a burden to see the church be effective in witness and missions. He attends the Mountain Top Mega Conference in May and returns having been encouraged, inspired, and exposed to some creative fresh relevant models of witness and missions.

He started to pray while he was still in the motel at the conference asking God for wisdom to lead the church into a fresh advance. As soon as he returns he brings his core leaders together and for three hours pours out his dreams and hopes for the church. Some of the leaders seem to be like sticks soaked in gasoline and immediately catch fire and embrace the changes. Others are unsure because of how different the ideas are from how they have been doing church. They are concerned that change will produce resistance and maybe even a setback to their current ministries. And, in addition, there is a small group of six who are opposed to even considering most of the changes. They view the proposed changes as a personal accusation that all attempts at ministry in the past were wrong and ineffective. If they were so BAD how did they get to be a church Pastor Pete would serve in?

Pastor Pete leaves the meeting unsure and unsettled. All of the energy from being around the people at the conference seems to evaporate in the few hours of the meeting. Maybe his “new” ideas just will not work here.

How could Pastor Pete have handled his new ideas to increase the likelihood they would be considered and make a positive difference?

You are having coffee with Pastor Pete and he is sharing his disappointment. He can’t erase the three hour leadership meeting but how can he “recover”? What should his next steps be? (Circulating his resume for a job elsewhere is not an option! At least not yet!)

Missionary Mike is a church planting “coach” for the Northeast section of a city of ten million people. He has been asked to assist 15 national church planters and pastors who want his help in planting churches to reach over three million people. Missionary Mike goes to the regional missionary conference and spends a week in strategy, prayer, and planning sessions. He listens as other coaches from around the region share successes, struggles and ideas. He returns with several ideas on how to identify, train, and deploy church planting teams. He calls his leadership team together and lays out a three year plan that has been drafted. He invites their input and welcomes changes they suggest. But, instead of embracing the basic goals and strategy and just adapting the details to their context, the local leaders propose a totally different plan. Now what? Who makes the call? Whose plan wins?

Often it comes down to who will provide the money. Power often follows the pocketbook. But let’s assume Missionary Mike does not want to use that approach. How can he see this as a “teachable moment”? What should some of the next steps be?

The Five Smooth Stones book will provide some ideas that Pastor Pete and Missionary Mike could find helpful.