Two things I missed almost immediately when I graduated from seminary–1. A close group of friends in a safe space where we could talk about matters of theology and the church without being branded a heretic, and 2. Hearing about the books that I should be reading, and the discussions about church and theology that I should be engaging.
Because of my role overseeing the Doctor of Ministry and lifelong learning programs at Fuller, I get to talk to church leaders from around the US and around the world. I also read a lot of books, and I have the joy of being at the epicenter of discussions about church and ministry at Fuller.
This is the first of a series of regular (probably weekly) posts where I will share with you books that I think are worth reading (and maybe some that you should avoid), as well as topics that you, as an evangelical ministry leader, might find interesting.
Today: Books about church engaging the neighborhood.
Alan Roxburgh and Mark Lau Branson were the first people I am aware of who spoke forcefully about the place of the local church in the neighborhood. It is an understanding of the church that is less about attracting people into a building as much as it is taking the message of the gospel and the work of the church out beyond the walls of the church.
A few books have recently been released that are worthy of note and your attention. The New Parish and Slow Church are both excellent books that remind us that the work of the church does not take place only within the walls of the gathered assembly, but also, and often with the most impact, outside of the place we term church. God’s people in mission in the world is the work of the whole people of God not just clergy-types. Read these books and imagine new ways of being church.
City of God tells the story of how one church on Ash Wednesday carried ashes outside the walls of the church into the busy streets of San Francisco. This book is an inspiring work showing how God works in the routine and the ordinary when we are intentional about his work.
Moving the church out into the streets, the neighborhood is not easy. We like the safety of the church walls. Ministry leaders and people in our congregations both have difficulty of doing the hard and messy work of ministry in territory that we do not “own.” Rise of the Nones seeks to address ways to reach the growing number of people in the US who are not, and do not wish to affiliate with a church. The nones don’t want to be a part of a church, yet this book using the language of “unafflilated” rather than the older term “seeker” still promotes a strategy that is too church focused, rather than street/neighborhood focused. Maybe the strategy works in the author’s part of the US, but I have serious reservations. We cannot keep falling back on strategies that worked at one time in our history. The world has radically changed. The way we do church in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-post world must change as well.
Hans Kung reminds us: A church which pitches it tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling….[We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, live by improvisation and experiment.