Wonderful real life examples of the Kingdom of God in today's context. Warning the e-version editing is poor. Random words inserted like "indent" makes for an at times confusing read. Word spacing is tight and section headings absorbed into the main text. If you are willing to put up with poor e-editing I believe the content should be read be every believer.
Chester and Timmis are part of a Christian community on northern England attempting to do church differently - a serious exercise in doing Christian mission in a postmodern world. They argue that two key principles should shape the way we do church: gospel (word-centered, mission-centered) and community (relationship-centered). We need to be enthusiastic about truth, mission, and relationships.
Their Crowded House is a network of missionary congregations, mostly meeting in homes. On evangelism, "Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality." (63) Church planting is the best way to be a missionary. (87) "There cannot be mission apart from the local church. The local church is the agent of mission." (88)
They are not big on the sermon, saying there is little New Testament evidence for it. (114) Most character formation happens in informal conversations with lives being transformed in the messy relationships of daily life. They are so adamant on community that they say contemplation, silence and solitude is the "exact opposite of biblical spirituality." (141) They describe that tradition as "spirituality for the elite." (143) They argue for a spirituality that is communal. (149) They also argue that the best way to do apologetics is not by reason or rational proof. The problem of unbelief is not intellectual but of the heart. The evidence of living in community is the best technique.
Their conclusion speaks to a passion for God. "Christianity is not a strategy or a set of principles. It is a relationship of love with a Triune God." (203)
I certainly do not agree with everything Chester and Timmis have written but they do give the reader much to think about with respect to how we are doing church. This would be a good book for pastors and church boards to read. There would certainly be much to discuss.
The term "missional" is over-used and much abused today. Some bristle at the descriptor for it's cutting-edge, postmodern feel. But the basic gist of the idea makes a lot of sense. It all boils down to going vs. sending. Simply put: attracting people to a church with it's programs is not the NT model for "doing church". Rather than sending people to our church, we should be going to where the people are and reaching them. We should gather as believers to be built up, edified, and most of all to worship Christ together. We then leave the assembly to take Christ to the lost all around us. If that's what "missional" means, I'm all for it!
How do we do this effectively, however? How can I get my own self to open my mouth boldly and also to compassionately interact with the people God has placed in my life? These are questions which demand answers.
I think we need to get creative, and make sure our church activities don't sap us of any time and strength left to think missionally regarding our own neighborhoods and communities. We need to envision ourselves as missionaries to the places we live.
God ultimately has to guide us and empower our ministry, but there are strategies which may enhance our effectiveness in God's mission. One of the tools and methods that I most believe could work, has also been ignored by the wider church. In fact I still haven't come to a place where I have liberty to attempt this (or is it just plain ol' courage I lack?).
I'm talking about using small groups as home church-meetings, in a sense. We can invite people to come to these smaller meetings where we are more open and real and less "church-ly". We can let the lost see how Christianity is lived out in our homes and how it radically shapes our outlook. I look in vain to the New Testament for a one-man-gets-up-to-speak-while-the-thousand-congregants-sit-down-to-listen-quietly model of church teaching and preaching. I see believers interacting with one another, teachers interrupting each other as God gives them a word, and prophets judging the prophets in a vibrant, lively way.
I'm a little leery of changing things up too drastically, however. We have hundreds of years of tradition, not to mention the fact that preaching can be very effective in people's lives. So what about some kind of mix between an emphasis on home groups (where evangelism and discipleship can happen, and where gifted teachers can exercise their gifts) and corporate gatherings of the entire church for preaching and extended worship?
This kind of model is described in detail, in a book I gobbled up, called "Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community" by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. In the book they talk about living with gospel intentionality. They show how an emphasis on community is encouraged in Scripture. They see evangelism as a three-fold cord: building relationships, sharing the gospel, and introducing people to community (by means of the home groups). All the while, they encourage the Gospel and the Word to stay central. But they also encourage community involvement, and meeting social needs in the name of Christ.
The benefits of the emphasis on home groups is that church planting becomes easier. Training and discipleship can happen while people are ministering in home settings, and seeing ministry modeled up close and personal. Furthermore, the togetherness that this model fosters, aids in purity and spiritual growth, as we really can't become holy by ourselves, nor were we expected to (think Heb. 3:12-14).
"Total Church" does have some radical ideas, but I appreciated how they connected everything to the gospel. It's a book I'll be picking up again, as I continue sorting out how best we should do church for God's glory, our growth, and the eternal benefit of the lost around us. I confidently recommend this book to anyone interested in how to spur on evangelism, or mission, in their own church context.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Crossway Books for review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.