Thursday, 23 January 2014

Total Church

Last Easter I bought a book pack that contained three books by Tim Chester. Late November I got round to reading the first one, and only now am I reviewing this book, so some of it is already a bit hazy in my memory. Maybe by this Easter I might be into book two...

This book sets out to explain how Church could be done differently, and perhaps better. The old Sunday school answer to"What is the Church?" is sometimes said to be "It's not the building, but the people." This is a true statement, but sometimes why does it not look like it? The philosophy or driving idea of Total Church is Gospel and Community. Some schools of thought may over emphasie the Gospel at the expense of relationships, while others may over emphasie the community idea at the expense of speaking the Gospel to others. The Church needs a balance and this book put forward a mindset, while drawing upon The Crowded House moment in England for examples.
The authors put forward what I think is a quite common scenario. Church and/or Bible Study is seen as one extra task to do in the week, alongside hanging out with friends, work, cleaning and other daily things. So when life gets busy, like say for example you have a baby, then you may turn down your involvement in many things, including Church and take yourself off rosters and turn down your attendance. The authors ask, what if Church wasn't just an extra thing to juggle, but was at the center of a wheel and all other things come out of it like spokes? That way, when life does get busy, the Church is around you and instead of limiting your involvement, it actually increases. It's a nice idea.

Like many nice ideas, it sounds good, but it actually is hard to pull off. What they are asking for is Church to really do community. Really do it. Community is a nice buzzword, but it costs time, lots of it. It is inconvenient for people to be coming over your house all the time, it is inconvenient to car pool that one guy to and from work each day, it is inconvenient to depend on others when sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself, it is better if we only see that one person once a week in a structured unit of time and nowhere else throughout the week. And do you really want to invite your workmates to a BBQ that will have a few of your church mates there as well?

Although they do not say they are arguing for house churches, sometimes it felt like it. They definitely want everyone who attends a church to really know the people in it, so mega-Churches are out. In some respects, they are arguing for deep connections and not many connections. In their chapter on youth group they question the gospel effectiveness of the modem day machine:
Take a group of hormonal teenagers, put them all together in one space, and then wind them up with energetic games. It is not very realistic to expect them then to listen to a Bible talk! It is easy to suppose that attractive activities are the key to successful youth work. It is easy to suppose that the corresponding measure of success is weekly attendance. But God does his work through his word. The key to successful youth work is the Bible. This is how God does his work in young people. And the measure of success is not attendance but gospel fruit in their lives. 
They wonder what "youth group" would look like, if a 20 something took a few (like 3 or 4) younger people out to watch a movie, and then afterwards did a Bible study with just that small group. This model may not be seen as been effective as there is more manpower per head than other youth group models, but this maybe relational deeper.

The authors are thoroughly evangelical and completely trust the Bible in bringing "wholeness" to someone:
Is it naive or irresponsible to believe that the Bible gives not only an accurate and sufficient analysis of the human condition but also an effective response or “treatment”? Many people think so, and as a result a dichotomy is created between the ministry of Bible teaching and that of pastoral counseling. The former is considered the preserve of the “minister,” while the latter is for qualified (in a secular sense) members of the wider community.
If we hear of someone who is suicidal, cutting themselves, have anxiety attacks, etc do we quickly refer them onto someone who can "really" help them and get out of the way, or do we gather round that person, explain how unprepared we are to deal with the issue, but have confidence in the power of the Gospel and the community that can help bring about healing? This idea challenged me the most, as I am all for referring on tricky situations and letting the professionals do their thing. The authors do say professional help is necessary sometimes, but what do you do with the person when they are not in the professionals office? Do you hang around, call them up, go over their place, pray and read the Bible with them? All that takes time, energy and emotion, but that is what community is really about.

The book also has some good ideas about being open to the poor, and how church seems to be a middle class thing, which is completely wrong, but this post is getting way too long.

I do like this mindset presented in this book. It is an idea, and a good one at that. The only problem is that for it to be an effective model, we all have to actually want to be part of a community. To go over each others places, to deal with the difficult and down and outs, to have an open door policy at home, which will mean interruptions in our lives. But it will also mean we show the love of God to others and individual church members may be a bit more on the mission Jesus has called them to. The church after all should be know for it's proclamation of the Gospel as well as for its love.

Other Books by Tim Chester I have read
You Can Change - This is kinda of a 10 week discipleship course


Post a Comment