everyday church

It is more than twenty years ago now. My first effort at a series called 'Brightening the Post-Christian Blues' - through 1 Peter. The opportunities this letter creates for intersections of Word and World are striking. I love 1 Peter. It remains my favourite book from which to teach and preach...

Then along comes Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis. They do it so well. The book winds its way through 1 Peter - pretty loosely, it must be said - while, at the same time, addressing the missionary situation which the church in the West faces today. The result is a realistic, practical and truth-filled guidebook on how to be a 'gospel community', written by a couple of people in the midst of giving it a go. I loved it. One of those books that makes me want to be a pastor again...

I took particular delight in the way they know their sociological stuff (like so many others do) - but these guys engage it without compromising the theological stuff (like so many others don't). In the conversation between sociology and theology, sociology does more listening than theology for a change. That is so refreshing - and timely.

They start with affirming that 'it is possible to plant a church and see it grow without doing mission ... (but simply) by offering a better church experience than other churches' (16). True enough. Across the diverse spectrum from cafe-models to mega-models, the same assumption has been in place: 'people will come to church if the product is better' (31). That is not the answer. It just leads to disappointment - and burnout.

This book takes us back to 1 Peter where 'Christians are like immigrants, foreigners, temporary residents, refugees. We do not belong...' (32). They carve out an identity on the margins of society. They are into 'doing good in suffering' (51) and 'doing church under the radar' (111). Rather than looking for ways to flow with society out of a passion to be relevant, they look for ways to flow against society out of a passion to be resistant. Too many leaders today are too keen on cool to think in this way. Their desire to belong at the center, to be trendy and fashionable, and to be liked is just too strong. Too much salt. Not enough light. 'Our missional cutting edge is not events that are like the culture, but a life and message that are unlike the culture' (56). Plenty of salt and light. In fact, 'our strategy must be to litter the world with communities of light' (99).

This issue of 'doing good in suffering' which drenches 1 Peter (and so much of the New Testament) is an ingredient which so often seems to be missing back home - and the one I see so much more clearly living now in Asia. These guys don't miss it. They nail it. 'In all the contemporary talk of missional church and the plethora of cutting-edge strategies for reaching people with the gospel, little attention has been given to the issue of persecution' (153-154). What do you do with the obvious fact of history that persecution seems to be one of the 'most effective evangelistic strategies' going around? Are we prepared to hold so profoundly and deeply to the gospel that it leads to persecution - not so much from stuffy church people, but from the core voices which drive our society? I am not so sure. This seems to me to be the glaring blindspot - largely, because this overheated desire to be relevant has taken control.

Today, so many creative ideas and initiatives are heading in the right direction. They have the trajectory. But they need to hold their nerve, pressing on to a more complete vision - to the alternative and authentic community that is attractive because it is deeply impacted, first and foremost, by the very gospel itself. This is where this book is so helpful.

The book has some purple patches. For example:
pp48-49: a series of questions to ask in order to relearn the culture
pp86-96: showing how God as great, glorious, gracious and good transforms pastoral care
pp104-105: an exercise to help identify opportunities for mission
pp119-121: a description of 'gospel communities' - such a great phrase
pp123-125: a questionnaire to assess the health of a gospel community (see also pp175-177)
pp133-141: demonstrating how a person's "My identity, My problem, My solution, My hope" story - a story which everyone has - can lead to an 'intersection point' with the gospel story of creation-fall-redemption-consummation.

nice chatting

Paul

Comments

Ali said…
"Purple patches"? I had to look that up. Initially I thought it was negative.

The thought that struck me when you talked about persecution "from the core voices which drive our society" was that all the prayer for God to move in the West may be in the process of being answered via the periodic pushes edging the church to society's margins. Most of the church sees that as the opposite to answered prayer. And the church seems to be responding by wondering how to give so the persecution won't hurt so much.
not a wild hera said…
Thanks, Paul, good timing for me to read this.
Elizabeth James said…
Oh dear So prhps we are behind the eight ball in planning and running SWAG - Saved With Amazing Grace - Youth Worship Nights !!! Our granddaughter Ebony and I are collaborating on this new venture with over 60 of our congregation prepared to give it a go in order that our Youth find a suitable expression of Worship ??? First.night planned for 12 April with visiting evangelist from Kenya speaking !!!! :)
Paul Windsor said…
Yes, Ali - as the church gets pushed to the margins, I am not among those wringing their hands. It provides the opportunity to go back and think again about what comprises authentic, alternative, attractive gospel communities.

Glad it can be helpful, tkr

As for you, Elizabeth (akaQE3) - ... long time no see or speak. If you have a granddaughter with a heart for Jesus, I'd be taking every opportunity she offers to be with her as she expresses that heart. But help her have gospel measurements for her motivations and practice - ones that go against the flow. In that setting I'd worry less about the numbers and the buzz created - and more about building a setting where that Kenyan can share the gospel fully, powerfully - and with deep conviction. Pray long and hard. Tell him/her not to hold back on the faithfulness front - come what may! Much love to each one.