I admit it: I’m stuck in Constantinian models of the church. I’m used to clergy, church buildings, and seminaries. I’ve lived through the books and conferences that have tried to help us out of the mess we’re in. I’ve been through the church growth stuff. I’ve heard it’s all about unleashing the laity and building a culture of small groups. I’ve read about going missional and organic. I admit that I hardly know who I am anymore. I’m a middle-aged white male who was pastor of an established church, and I’m now a church planter in search of what’s coming next — except that I hope it’s not another phase that will be discarded with the heap of books that are about as relevant as the flannelgraph figures we used to use in Sunday school.
In his book The Art of Pastoring
, David Hansen reflects on his predecessor’s library. The library represented all the trends in ministry that had come and gone during his tenure. Hansen writes:
My predecessor’s library haunted me. When he left his church, he left the ministry and forsook his library. Every single book remained in the office on the shelves, undisturbed; he took not one…
His library presented a bleak testimony to me … He and I were cut from the same piece of cloth. I believed that following Christian movements amounted to following Christ. I was suckled on trend-driven Christianity. I’d grown up in the thick of consumer religion. It was all I knew. I knew every movement represented in his library. I’d tried them all myself. I didn’t know if I could do pastoral ministry without them. But every time I looked up at his library, I knew that I had to try.
I’m tired of the discarded trends. Like Hansen, I want the rest of my ministry to be as free from fads as possible.
That’s why I’m a little wary of On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church
. I almost developed a rash reading about new paradigms, and as I tried to get my head around terms like mDNA, mPULSE, Future Travelers, ADEPT, Apostolic Movement, and more. I promise that I tried to keep a good attitude as I read this book, and I was well behaved most of the time.
The thing is, I think this book is on to something. We do live in a post-Christendom world. I think the authors are probably right that “the prevailing, contemporary church-growth approach to church will have significant appeal — marketability, if you will — to about 40 percent of the American population.” And there are some good insights in this book. We need to think about how to break out of some of the unhealthy institutional, consumer, and church-growth mindsets that are holding us back. There’s lots in this book that stimulates thinking about our current reality, and the failure of church growth theory to address our problems.
But it will take some work to get past the buzzwords. It will take some sorting out what’s useful in this book with what’s trendy. And it will also take some serious theological reflection and a good infusion of the gospel.
In short, I worry that this book will join the piles of books that promised the answer, but left us looking for more. There’s a lot to like about the book, but it’s not the answer. Better to use it as a way to stimulate your thinking than as a field guide you’ll discard when the next book comes along.
I talked to a friend recently who spent time studying Acts as he planted his church. I plan on doing the same. I’m grateful for books like On the Verge as they help me think through key issues, but I don’t need the buzzwords and I don’t trust myself to follow any more trends. Maybe I’m just stuck in a Christendom mindset, but I’m going to be slower to jump on any more bandwagons, even if they are On the Verge.
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