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Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Re: Lit Books) Paperback – August 21, 2008
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Two pastors outline and apply a pair of overarching biblical principles that call the current body of Christ to a deep restructuring of its life and mission. "Church is not a meeting you attend or a place you enter," write pastors Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. "It's an identity that is ours in Christ. An identity that shapes the whole of life so that life and mission become 'total church.'" With that as their premise, they emphasize two overarching principles to govern the practice of church and mission: being gospel-centered and being community-centered. When these principles take precedence, say the authors, the truth of the Word is upheld, the mission of the gospel is carried out, and the priority of relationships is practiced in radical ways. The church becomes not just another commitment to juggle but a 24/7 lifestyle where programs, big events, and teaching from one person take a backseat to sharing lives, reaching out, and learning about God together.
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On a different note, I would like to point out a recurring error that distracted me until I figured out what was going on. (I have the Kindle edition of the book so it may not be relevant to those who have the print edition.) The recurring error is that the word "first" has been consistently replaced by the word "Initial". I would like to see this error corrected.
Daniel G McKenney
The key to the entire book is the idea of Gospel witness and Gospel community. There can be no genuine Christian community unless the Gospel word is the central authority, a community where the Bible is taught as authoritative. The community of believers is likewise vital to living out the Gospel witness to the world. The key is that a Gospel community is more than a couple of weekly meetings where Christians come from all around to pick up their religious fix for the week and then go about their lives. It is a whole life commitment. Scattered throughout the book are examples of people involved in a ministry called The Crowded House and they are a mix bag of people who minister in various ways. None of them as I recall are professional ministers but many of them have made substantial lifestyle changes to be able to spend more time in ministry (several work at secular jobs part-time so they can minister more often). The disconnect between Gospel and community is crippling the church and Her witness and urgently needs to be addressed.
I also appreciated the perspective. This is the second book in a row I have read on the church written by Christians in the U.K. and it strikes me as a "sneak peek" of what we might see happening here in the near future. How do we minister in America when Christianity is no longer the default, when it is not nearly as cultural accepted, when being a Christian is not assumed? This book answers some of those questions.
The chapter titled "Success" was worth the price of the book by itself and really gets at the core of what is wrong with so much of the Western church. When I read the section regarding Ephesians 4: 11-16 calling on leaders to equip others for ministry, I almost leapt out of my chair to cheer! Elsewhere in the chapter they dealt with the erroneous notions of success in the church. We equate large congregations with success. Growth is internal, big churches get bigger. Total Church suggests that the better model is growth through replication, instead of building bigger and bigger churches the church grows by planting more churches. A lot of what appears in this chapter is going to rub people the wrong way because it bumps up against their traditions but perhaps it will also shake some people up.
Chester and Timmis "get it" when it comes to ministry. Not perfectly for sure but there was very little I had a problem with in the book. My only concern is in application, because it seems that we have a long way to go before we can get to this model of ministry. I do think that the collapse of institutional Christianity has a silver lining in that as the forms and structures that stifle ministry collapse it will free Christians up to form Gospel centered communities that will be a witness to the world. It might just be that the paradigm shift we are seeing in Western Christianity, lamented by so many, is actually going to the be the healthiest thing to happen to the church since the Reformation.