Monday, June 21, 2010

Doing Church Differently

I've read a couple of books recently on doing church differently. They're the sort of book I wish I'd read in book group this year instead of the book we did do, which is best characterised as rich in complex theological language and poor in content. In contrast, I'd strongly recommend both of these for church leaders - not because I completely agree with them, but because they really get you thinking.

The first one is a book I've seen highly recommended - The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

Marshall and Payne basically argue that churches in general and church leaders in particular often spend far too much of their time looking after the existing structures (the trellis) rather than focusing their attention on growing Christians (the vine).

It's basically a persuasive book length plea for church leaders to invest their time in training people in the congregations to serve God better.

Here's an extract:

If we pour all our time into caring for those who need help, the stable Christians will stagnate and never be trained to minister to others, the non-Christians will stay unevangelized, and a rule of thumb will quickly emerge within the congregation: if you want the pastor's time and attention, get yourself a problem. Ministry becomes all about problems and counselling, and not about the gospel and growing in godliness.

And over time, the vine withers.

What we're suggesting is that [the sick and suffering] aren't the only ones that need your time and ministry. If you really want to care for them and see real gospel growth, then the wise thing to do is to train and mobilise the godly mature Christians in the congregation to do some of that caring work.

Another book, and more controversial, is Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

They argue for a total remodelling of the way we do church, to be far more community-centred, far more about living lives together. There are some very good points in here, but they often raise them in deliberately controversial ways, and don't provide a discussion of what it would look like for a traditional chuch to try to take some of this on board. It works and is convincing as a manifesto for planting radical house churches, specifically in working class areas (I'll post some of their discussion of class at a later date).

This is the sort of thing I'd really like to discuss with other people in church leadership positions.

The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which "God-talk" is normal. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share need, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.

At present the military and economic might of Western nations is struggling to counter the threat of international terrorism. It is proving difficult to defeat an enemy made up of local 'cells' working towards a common vision with high autonomy but shared values. They are flexible, responsive, opportunistic, influential and effective. Together they seem to have an impact on our world far beyond what they would if they formed themselves into a structures, identifiable organisation. Churches can and should adopt the same model with a greater impact as we 'wage peace' on the world.

G.K. Chesterton said: "The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world... The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us.

I don't agree with everything they say at all - for example their rejection of the importance of silence on p.139-140 seems a massive over-statement which contradicts the fact that both Jesus and Paul took long periods of such quiet, as well as the fact that I read the book while on a silent retreat. But there's a lot I do agree with, and a lot of thinking to be done...

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