Tuesday, September 13, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Church As Movement [Ecclesial Architecture]

This review is part of a series of chapter reviews being conducted by several different bloggers over a period of weeks. My assignment was to review chapter 6 of this new book by R. Woodward and Dan White, Jr. entitled: "The Church As A Movement".
The sixth chapter covers "Ecclesial Architecture" and is primarily about community.
"The church is not a building, a weekly gathering or a program, but a people that God has called out of the world and sent back into the world to redeem and renew the world."
That's a great place to start from, isn't it?
Honestly, as I was reading over the book it kept reminding of another book called "Natural Church Development"by Christian Schwarz from way back in 1996. At the time, that book was the go-to book with stats and charts and research-based insights about how people learn, and how community is formed, and what makes a healthy church tick.
To me, this book is it's spiritual successor, and in that sense it is a vast improvement.
In many ways, the chapter I read on community was a breath of fresh air. It focused on the 3 C's - Communion, Community and Co-Mission without resorting too much to rigid programming.
I especially appreciated this:
"It is nearly impossible to decide on our mission from a sterile classroom. In order to generate momentum, we need to learn the neighborhood or network we are sent to and experiment in co-mission activities regularly. Inviting people to hang out at social events is fine. However, we should also hold events that engage in social justice through serving in a tangible way. Or we could bring art and beauty to those we are sent to."
The appeal to practical orthopraxy rather than theoretical orthodoxy was, for me, a welcome shift from the usual "Church Growth Movement" fare.
Most of what I read in this chapter I agree with, in theory. I didn't run across very much to disagree with, but if I'm honest this isn't the sort of book I would see myself using. Maybe because I'm already 10 years into my own church experience, and maybe because I'm not someone who typically refers to a textbook for step-by-step instructions, no matter how solid those instructions might be.

However, just because I wouldn't use the book, that doesn't mean that someone who is looking for good advice about how to facilitate and nurture a new church venture shouldn't give it a look.
There is a lot to like here.
If there's a problem it's probably coming more from me than from anything else. I'm wired differently than most. I tend to shy away from "How To" books by trained experts who have a proven methodology, especially if it's about the church.
Here's why: To me, the growth of the church isn't really our job. My perspective is that Jesus is the Head of the Church. He puts the members of the Body together just as He wants them to be [see 1 Cor. 12] and He has already said that He would build His church [see Matt. 16:18].
So, anytime I read a book that attempts to teach leaders and pastors how to step in and drive that process, it makes something inside me bristle.
Now, I do agree that it's a good idea for people to be aware of what's necessary for a church to thrive and what forces and practices tend to stagnate the life of the Body and the health of the community. But beyond awareness and advice and guidelines, I'm typically uncomfortable with strategies and programs that place the responsibility on leaders who are expected to manage these processes.
To me, these are organic and natural developments that we can provide the right conditions for, like a farmer who plows the hard ground, drops seed into the furrows and adds water and nutrients, but the growth itself - the actual movement towards life and health and eventual fruit-bearing - is totally outside our control.
As I read this book I kept picturing a young church-planter scribbling notes, drawing charts, creating job descriptions and writing out strategies to align with these ideas, and if that's the intended result, I'm not on board. 
To me, the process is much simpler - much less complicated and intensive - than this book might suggest.
To be fair, one might ask me how large my church family has grown over the last ten years, and how many other churches we've planted, and how many disciples we've made, and how many new converts we've baptized. Those numbers would probably not impress the kind of person who would find this book most useful, and so I do take that into account.
Our approach has been to simply focus on Jesus and to be disciples who disciple one-another and learn how to love God and be loved by Him - and how to love one another and to receive love from one another.
Over the years, we have certainly seen other churches form, and we have seen people come to know Christ, and we have baptized a few, and we have served and ministered to many others. But the stats and the numbers probably wouldn't make the evening news. Again, that's not what we're shooting for, either.
But if you're a new church-planter, and if you're looking for a well-researched book with great advice and helpful insights that could help you along the path, this is worth a look.



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