Does Dirt Really Matter?

Yes! It does matter.

I just finish the book “Dirt Matters” by Jim Powell. Jim presents a powerful argument on how to transform a church from the inside out. I really appreciate his upfront approach to a serious issue in church growth: focusing on changing the cultural values of a church and ultimately cultivating a healthy environment within the church.

In this article, I will be giving my review of what I thought about his book.

To start, let’s talk about the author:

Jim Powell is the lead pastor of Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and director of the 95network, a nonprofit organization focused on encouraging and equipping the 95 percent of church congregations in America that are under 800 people in size. Through the 95network, Jim coaches, mentors, and consults with pastors and church leaders. He also speaks at conferences and seminars.

The overview:

One of the leading questions that every pastor has asked at least once in their life, “What can I do so my church can seriously impact our community?” Most pastors, at least when I was a pastor, want to reach and grow as many people as possible. We want our ministries, churches, and vision to live up to its fullest potential. Any seasoned pastor realizes that there are things about their ministry that need to change in order to reach the people God wants them to reach. In our effort to get our ministry moving in the right direction, we often focus on the tangible externals (worship styles, dress, etc) instead of the internals (church cultural values and ministry mindsets). Jim calls these internal values the “dirt” to a healthy growing harvest. He explains that, like a farmer who wants to grow a great crop, he must first cultivate a soil that will support healthy plants. The same is true with a church who wants to “bear fruit” and impact their community. Jim uses a fresh approach to the Parable of the Sower, found in Matthew 13:1-23.

What stood out to me:

Personally, I am pretty excited about Jim’s book. I wish this concept was better translated to me when I first started in ministry. As I read through the pages, it helped me put words to things I knew to be true, but I could never really conceptualize. Jim’s book holds so many good things that I could spend a decade writing about. Instead, I will pull one of my favorite parts of the book into focus.


Jim talked about healthy values driving the ministry. Spoken or not, every church has certain values they live by. Good, healthy values will create a fertile soil so people can grow. Unhealthy values can make the soil hard and unusable for ministry to reach its fullest potential. Values shape the culture of the church and can be hard to identify. Since it is easier to see the externals that churches are doing, we often judge “success” on what is happening on Sunday Morning instead of what’s happening in the heart’s of the people. When I was starting my pastorship, I mistakenly thought that in order to grow a ministry, you had to implement more current concepts in worship, structure, and methods. I have since learned that a healthy, creative, environment is the activator that make the externals work.

I have seen that one of the most powerful and dangerous things a pastor can do is get an idea from a conference or another church. This happens when we see a church doing something that works and everyone wants to duplicate it. Because of our desire to “see results,” we want to take that idea and apply it to our ministry without considering the values that make the idea work.

I was involved in a church staff that wanted to make prayer the main focus of our church. We visited a church that was known for their huge prayer ministry. After seeing a service and talking to the senior pastor and key leadership, we went back excited to share the ideas we gained. We spent a few meetings mapping out how we could add a prayer component to our venues. After implementing our plans for a bit, we noticed that it wasn’t living up to what we wanted to see in our church. I have found that Church leaders usually fall on one of three things when plans don’t work. They Blame (others or concepts), Bury (pretend it never happen), or Build (throw more resources or effort into the failing idea). We did all three things. We reworked the idea by assigning someone to oversee it (Build). When that didn’t work, we used a well common church phase, “Well, what works in one church may not work in all churches” (Blame the idea). Then we never talked about it again (Bury).

Now I am not trying to be critical of anyone, the point is we have all been there! I have spent countless hours banging my head against the white board wondering why great concepts weren’t working in my ministry. I have learned that there are values behind every successful concept. This book will help you understand and form those values.

My recommendation:

Every young pastor, new board member, or seasoned ministry leader who has ever worked in ministry has thought, “Wow, this isn’t what I thought it would be like!” Starting out, we want to apply all the great ideas we have, only to find it is hard to convince people they are great ideas! Ministry can be one of the toughest careers to have. Now-a-days, a pastor’s job is filled with stress and disappointment brought on by the new demands of a modern congregation. Technology has made it easier for churchgoers to compare their pastors to the successful “CEO-type” pastors of larger congregations. So, today’s pastor can easily fall into the trap of looking for quick fixes in growing a church. This book will help you avoid those traps and get your ministry on the right track.

I feel that Jim has raised the banner of changing the way we think about church health and growth. I think it is time for ministry leaders to stop wasting money on conferences that give us all kinds of good ideas, and start learning ways to cultivate the soil to plant those good ideas in.

I know that after reading this review it may seem like I am a spokesman for Jim’s book. This comes from a deep respect I have for Jim. But there is one small downside for me personally. While reading his book, I was looking for a little bit more stories of the “Ah-Ha” moments that churches have when hearing Jim’s concepts and then putting them into practice. I guess I wanted to hear about the struggling churches out there who learned this concept, accepted it, worked to change their dirt, and then saw the Spirit move. With that being said, it is going to be very interesting to see the impact this book has on churches. I look forward to seeing the great influence that, “Dirt Matters” has on our churches.

Don’t borrow this book, buy it! This book should be in every pastor’s library, talked about in every seminary, and discussed in churches that want to change their community. Everyone in the church community can benefit from reading this book. You can purchase your copy of Jim Powell's book, "Dirt Matters" on Amazon.