By Gordon King
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
“The decision to maintain traditional forms of worship directed from the front of the church will result in the continued decline of the church.” This sobering statement was made by a recent speaker at the Winnipeg CBWC Leadership Forum. The speaker challenged us to understand that the culture around our congregations had changed. Young adults, who have abandoned the church, value participation, community, interaction, and the involvement of all the senses.
Chester and Timmis emphasize from the outset that our congregations live in a post-Christendom context. The church is largely seen as a relic of the historical past rather than a factor in the present life of our neighbourhoods. This is a message that we have heard repeatedly over the past decade. However, the authors’ contribution lies in how they move from this understanding of the church on the margins to consider approaches to evangelism and mission.
In the following paragraphs, I want to summarize some of the content of this important book. However, at this point I want to state its utility in two points:
- This is a good resource for congregational leaders that wish to re-vision their witness in the local community. Chester and Timmis are experienced church planters and theological educators from Sheffield, England. They work in a context that is more secularized and negative toward the Christian faith than most of us face in Canada.
- Each chapter provides exegetical insights into the Epistle of 1 Peter along with comments and reflections on building missional communities and engaging with people in the neighborhoods where we live. Pastoral leaders (especially church planters) will find useful material for preaching and directing their congregations.
I found the analysis of post-Christendom provided a way for me to grasp what has happened to the Christian church in my lifetime. Drawing on Stuart Murray’s work (After Christendom), the authors write about the following seven shifts; (1) From the center to the margins, (2) from the majority to the minority, (3) from a place of comfort to feeling like aliens, (4) from a position of privilege to plurality, (5) from exercising control to simply bearing witness, (6) from maintenance to mission, and (7) from institution to movement.
I know that pastors are familiar with this kind of analysis through their reading and experiences. I wonder if we have communicated this reality to congregants who are bewildered by the decline of their church. We witness in a context where people no longer seek us out to answer life’s questions or deal with sorrows. Church members need to face the fact that we will not recover our place by simply improving the product of our worship services. We will have to take the message and mission of the church out into our communities where people live, work, study, and relax.
The missiology of Chester and Timmis falls under three headings; building relationships in the community, sharing the gospel message, and incorporating people into a meaningful experience of Christian community. They are confident that Christian congregations can thrive at the margins. I appreciated their recommendations about re-discovering culture the way a missionary would engage in a new country. They authors emphasize that congregational leaders must be able to both articulate the content of the good news for people in their communities, and create a vision of a vibrant congregation in their particular setting. The authors’ approach reminds us that all mission and witness is contextual. We cannot pre-package a gospel presentation that will be equally relevant in any situation.
Chester and Timmis draw attention to the importance of investing time in building community. While church members are encouraged to engage in the dominant culture, there must be teaching about the few key points where faith leads us to offer alternate values and practices. The challenge of pastoral leadership is to define those differences in a life-giving manner and express them in the witness of the congregation. They emphasize that this witness will include the experience of supportive and caring relationships within the church community. Mission requires an attractional community more than attractional events.
I particularly appreciated the authors’ reflections on evangelism. We live in a time when older evangelistic tools like the four spiritual laws have been discredited but never replaced. Let me ask the reader of this review: When was the last time you attended a workshop on personal evangelism?
Chester and Timmis relieve of us the pressure of having to summarize the full gospel at any one time. In fact, in our time effective evangelists are good listeners who ask probing questions. They understand that their role will be to help people move one or two steps along the way toward faith in Jesus. The authors encourage us to be attentive to those critical moments when a person begins to question assumptions about life. We share the desire to live meaningfully and the sorrows of brokenness. Effective evangelism means contextualizing the gospel on a person to person basis. There will be opportunities to tell our own stories of sin, forgiveness, and new beginnings through faith in Jesus.
In summary, this is a helpful book for church planters and for pastoral leaders in established churches. The content can be contextualized for the setting in which they seek to build up the Christian community and take the gospel into the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Sounds like a great read over the Christmas holidays! Share your thoughts on Gord’s review, or Chester and Timmis’ book, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting on this blog post.
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