on August 9, 2011
This book is exactly what the subtitle describes, an insider's look at how we do church. John Stackhouse is a lifelong church guy, a seminary professor, an accomplished author, a reflective thinker, a Canadian, and an opinionated dude. Each of those realities comes into play throughout the pages of this book.
"Church" is a collection of 42 essays on a multitude of random topics related to the church, specifically related to the North American evangelical church. The essays are loosely categorized into nine parts (Worship, Preaching, Leadership, etc.), but those parts simply provide a basic skeletal framework for organization, as there is no continuity between essays within any given part. The nature of the essays is quite varied. Some are largely educational, like the fascinating summary of the history of Protestant denominations called "What's in a Name?" Some are emotive and pastoral, like the concluding essay about the ultimately missional purpose of the church, called "The Importance of the Local." Some are meant to challenge the status quo, like his challenge to marginal church affiliation called "Are You a Member?" And some are simple, unadulterated rants, like his critique of autocratic church leadership called "We Don't Care What You Think."
Regardless of the particular bent, each essay is written in Stackhouse's engaging, articulate, and brutally honest style. I was never bored, and the essay format allowed me to read a few essays each night and gradually work my way through the book. Some of the essays were more memorable than others, but I expect that I'll refer back to many of them when relevant situations emerge in my ministry. There were a few times when I wish his tone had been more gracious than condemning, but it is also his straight-shooting approach that makes some of his points resonate so effectively.
Ultimately, I'm happy to recommend this book to several groups. As a pastor, I was especially challenged by several of his essays about worship, preaching, and leadership. And I suspect that his frank messages might speak well into the lives of many pastors and church leaders. But he also has much of value to share with anyone involved in the church who would call themselves Christians. The church is a wonderful thing, but we fallen humans so easily foul it up. Stackhouse's unique book deftly moves between sharp critique, challenging motivation, and inspirational encouragement, to exhort us all to help the church more appropriately reflect God's vision.