Book Review: Not In It To Win It by Andy Stanley

Book Review of Not In It To Win It by Andy Stanley
This is a review of Not In It To Win It by Andy Stanley. Released in 2022, into the politically polarized divides of the post-pandemic world, Andy Stanley addresses why choosing sides, no matter what the side, sidelines the church. Though Not In It To Win It is certainly contextualized in the conversations following the pandemic, the book reaches beyond this conversation into many other areas of polarization, division, and disunity in the church. 

In Not In It To Win It, Stanley helps pastors and followers of Jesus realize that they are writing their own pandemic story, that others are reading, and each response adds to it while people are watching. It is his hope to help the church write a good story in this divided and polarized world. Throughout the book, Stanley helps individuals realize that the uncertainty of our time isn’t the problem, nor is it what created problems, but rather it merely exposed what we value most as individuals, and exposed the mis-prioritized values of the church. We aren’t fighting against culture, nor saving America and American values, rather we are experiencing a way of life that declares Jesus is Lord. Andy Stanley criticizes the Christian community for an approach that has alienated many Americans through unChristlike rhetoric and fear-based behavior, which contradicts their professed goals of missional evangelism and outreach. Throughout this book, he underscores the inherent unity among Christians by referencing Paul's analogy of the church as the body of Christ, where all believers are connected and cannot opt out of this unity work, regardless of personal differences or disagreements.

As a book, Not In It To Win It, is divided into three parts; Part 1 (My 2020), Part 2 (Our History), and Part 3 (The Way Forward). Over ten chapters, Andy Stanley examines the ways in which the Christian community has deviated from its duty to each other, from its mission, from Jesus’ teaching, and from the examples of church history. In Part 1, Andy sets the stage of the post-pandemic world, unpacks the Christianity found in our culture wars, and looks at the unhelpful ways that being “canceled” has become a thing. In Part 2, History, Stanley looks at the example of church history and the teachings of Jesus, and the way the church has focused on winning in response to a Messiah who intentionally lost. He helps us to rediscover what it means to not reduce our belief in Jesus to merely a belief, but into a statement that declares Jesus is Lord. The final part, Part 3, looks at the way forward for the church and what it means to develop new practices and commitments as the church and as followers of Jesus. This read is just a little over 200 pages, but deals with scriptures, church history, modern examples, and a prophetic call to both individual and communal reflection.

Andy Stanley is a well-known pastor, author, and communicator who serves as the senior pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. He is recognized for his relaxed but dynamic teaching style, but also his willingness to address and tackle issues facing the church. Though I do not always agree with Andy Stanley and have not cared for most of his other books, this book uniquely resonated with me. That being said, Stanley has authored several books on leadership, faith, and church practices, often focusing on practical applications of biblical principles in contemporary settings. Though I would have a very different ecclesiology than Stanley, I think Andy has uniquely reached a niche and audience that many others have not, and I have the utmost respect for that.

I read this book a few years ago, but I am finally just getting around to reviewing Not In It to Win It. After hearing him present this book at an event, I was driven to read it for myself, as I was too disturbed (and continue to be) about the disunity and political alignment of the church on many sides of conversations. As a pastoral leader, I have firsthand seen the way our political entanglements, our love for debate and fight, have done nothing but taken us farther away from the testimonial unity that Jesus prayed for the church. Given the increasing polarization in society, I was interested in Stanley’s challenge to cultivate unity and foster re-engagement into the mission of the Kingdom that emerges from a confession that believes Jesus is Lord.

Andy Stanley successfully highlights the discrepancies between the stated goals of evangelism and the actual behaviors of the Christian community. His use of biblical analogies effectively underscores the need for unity and inclusivity. One of the book's strengths is its candid assessment of the church’s failings, coupled with practical advice for improvement. However, the book could benefit from more concrete examples and strategies for implementing these changes at the grassroots level. Despite this, Stanley’s call for a return to core Christian values is both timely and compelling. Throughout the book, Andy points out how “First-century Christians considered Jesus as a living king. He was their Lord. He was not merely Lord of their prayers and worship rituals.”[1] The challenge for us is to rightly prioritize what it means to believe Jesus is Lord, because “What you stare at determines what you gravitate toward.”[2] It is important we truly look at the Kingdom of God teachings of Jesus, the witness of the church, and remember that we’re Jesus followers. As Jesus followers, Stanley reminds us that “We won because he lost. So now we are free to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, even if they declare war on us.”[3] Because we are Jesus followers, we are not here to save an American way, but rather to “take up our crosses and follow.”[4]

The readability of Not In It to Win It is greatly enhanced by Stanley’s clear and engaging writing style. The book is well-organized, with each chapter building on the previous one to reinforce the central themes. The layout is user-friendly, featuring subheadings and bullet points that make it easy to follow and digest the content. Stanley’s approachable tone makes the book accessible to a wide audience, from church leaders to laypersons.

Not In It to Win It is a relevant and thought-provoking book that addresses critical issues within the Christian community. Its emphasis on unity and authentic practice of faith makes it a valuable resource for anyone looking to deepen their hope for greater church unity. I recommend this book from Andy Stanley, for church leaders, members, and anyone interested in fostering a more mission-focused Christian practice. Overall, I believe that this book can serve as a catalyst for important conversations and practical changes within the church, encouraging a move towards more Christlike behavior and effective evangelism in a world that is tired of seeing the church take sides, fight culture wars, and cancel those they disagree with.

[1] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), 171.
[2] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), 202.
[3] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), 145.
[4] Andy Stanley, Not In It To Win It (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), 217.

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