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Unbinding Your Church (Pastor's and Leaders' Guide to the Real Life Evangelism Series) Paperback – January 1, 2008
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From the Publisher
Enthusiastic Endorsements for the Real Life Evangelism Series...
"...the `don't ask, don't tell' evangelism program will not reverse the trend. Humor, whimsy and joy in the faith will serve us better. Reese's book is written to provoke, to tease and to charm us back into telling our story."
The Christian Century
"...with clarity and sound theological grounding, we are invited into a grand adventure....could be a watershed book for mainline Protestantism."
Alban Institute, Congregations magazine
"The statistics Reese gives sober me, and they motivate me too. And her stories of vibrant congregations give me hope.....when you turn the last page, you can't just let this be another book you read. You need to let Reese's message affect you, and your faith community, and through you, other people."
Brian McLaren, Author of Everything Must Change
"Martha Grace Reese gently but persistently lures the Mainline back to the ministry of evangelism that is the heart of the church. Based on careful research and extensive listening, the Real Life Evangelism Series avoids gimmicks and the trap of the latest church growth fad. They invite pastors and members instead to a relationship with Christ that overflows the banks of our often cautious and reserved congregations. These books can convert even the most `evangelism-cautious' Christians into eager disciples who love others enough to tell them why Jesus is the answer."
John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
"Martha Grace Reese loves the Church. Hope for the mainline church abounds in these pages. She carefully demythologizes evangelism and then reconstructs it through common sense practices."
Jim Griffith, President, Griffith Coaching
"Unbinding the Gospel teaches us how to relearn the practice of evangelism. It's published at a teachable moment. Don't just read this book--use it!"
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
"Don't miss this one!"
"The Real Life Evangelism Series is a great resource for congregations. It is inspirational, motivational, and a great model and companion for congregations as they seek to be faithful stewards of the Gospel."
Belva Brown Jordan, Philips Theological Seminary (formerly Harvard Divinity School)
"The Real Life Evangelism Series knocks one out of the park! Reese equips mainline church leaders with prayerful and practical tools needed to change the church through the power of Christ's redeeming love."
Becky Garrison, Senior Contributing Editor, Wittenburg Door, Author of Rising from the Ashes
Martha Grace Reese gently but persistently lures the Mainline back to the ministry of evangelism that is the heart of the church.... The Real Life Evangelism Series can convert even the most "evangelism-cautious" Christians into eager disciples who love others enough to tell them why Jesus is the Answer."
John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
"This book is a marvelous resource--I heartily recommend it!"
Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly,Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
"Written with intelligence, heart and a sense of humor....this is real life evangelism for real life Christians."
Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (DOC)
"Unbinding the Gospel is a must-read for those of us in the progressive mainstream church that are trying to reclaim the `e-word.'"
David Schoen, Evangelism Minister and Team Leader, United Church of Christ
"Look at Reese's sections on the congregational dynamics that impact the growth or stagnation of our churches. She has put together an approach to sharing the gospel that works in mainline churches."
Bruce Humphrey, Senior Pastor, Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church, San Diego, California
"[Reese's] ideas are resonating with enthusiastic clergy & lay audiences all across the ...theological spectrum."
Christian Feminism Today
"There is a palpable sense of God's presence and availability in Martha Grace Reese's keen-eyed, level-headed, and big-hearted approach to evangelism. She poses the empowering possibilities of new life with style, verve, and an abounding sense of joy and trust in God. In a time when it is so easy to beat up on churches, she offers warm encouragement and wise guidance."
Robert Lee Hill, Senior Pastor, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri
"This book will be a great resource for small groups, churches, and pastors who are ready to be instruments of unleashing God's awesome Spirit in the world."
Yolanda Villa, Executive Pastor of Congregational Care, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas
"There is nothing quite like the solid research Martha Grace Reese gives us, along with clear, thoughtful analysis and concrete prescriptions for how we can move forward in faithful and effective evangelism. She manages to do all this in a book that is completely accessible to both clergy and lay people and fun to read! It is an amazing and timely accomplishment!"
Richard L. Hamm, Executive Administrator, Christian Churches Together, former Disciples General Minister and President
"Martha Grace Reese has done a great service to the church by creating the Mainline Evangelism Research Project and then reporting on it in such an engaging, faith-filled, readable way. This should be required reading in all mainline churches. Our continuing existence may depend upon it."
Richard Peace, Robert Boyd Munger Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary
About the Author
Martha Grace Reese embodies the experience of a researcher, corporate attorney, congregational pastor, middle judicatory minister, church consultant and author. She directed the Lilly Endowment-funded Mainline Evangelism Project, in which the Real Life Evangelism Series are grounded. The study, which included over 1,200 interviews, focused on highly effective examples of evangelism in mainline churches across the theological spectrum. Reese serves as President of GraceNet, Inc., specializing in church research, consulting and coaching.
Dawn Darwin Weaks is co-pastor of Raytown Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Raytown, Missouri. She has served as a pastor for ten years, published several articles, contributed to books, and has spoken throughout the country.
Top customer reviews
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As an example, the text recommends that a church conduct an "E-vent" where for 6-7 weeks EVERYTHING stops (except for worship)...no meetings, no boards, no teacher training or new member luncheons...EVERYTHING stops. Why? So that ideally the ENTIRE church family may pause for a 6 week period of Bible study and prayer. After all, for a Christian, what is MORE impotant than connecting with God? If the guidance is followed, a small group ministry will just NATURALLY develop (oh, it is SO tricky how THAT happens...first there were none, now there are a dozen or more...reading, praying, studying, loving God and one another)!!!
The author is quick to point out that the text is not to be WORK, but rather about merely allowing God to transform the church from the inside out. And, like the other texts in the series, it avoids using one of the most toxic words in a postmodern world, "evangelism" YET, it is evangelism at its very best (shhhh, keep that word a secret...but it really DOES work!).
Want an easy read that is theologically sound, crosses denominational lines, can be used by any size church, and can help make a lasting difference in your life and your church? THIS is the one!
"In some ways, mainline churches have operated like a minority political party, the 'loyal opposition' for too long. We have critiqued, held back and said what's wrong with other parts of Christ's church. Many of the things we've said may have a lot of truth in them. But it's holding back that's the problem. That's us planted in playground dust. Many of us haven't done as good a job of putting our beliefs and lives on the line to follow the Spirit. We don't have a lot of experience leading in new, positive directions. It is going to take vast divinely inspired imagination for us to shift if we want God to use us in powerful, creative ways for new things" (p. 15).
Too often the evangelism resources we use are geared to Conservative Evangelicals and they simply don't sit well and so nothing happens. Unbinding the Gospel, however, was just the first salvo, the first offering in a series of three books. It is an introduction to the issue and the process, written with church leaders in mind. At the heart of this series is the belief that our ability to share our stories of faith with others is rooted in a committed and living relationship with God. The series is intended to help stir the spirit within us and give us the courage to share those stories with others, that they might find God and perhaps find their way into our communities of faith.
Book 2 in what has become the Real Life Evangelism Series, is entitled Unbinding Your Church. It is designed for pastors and those leaders who will guide the process. Gay is assisted in this process by Dawn Darwin Weaks, a Disciple pastor who provides sample sermons (yes this process involves a bit of preaching) and worship suggestions, and Catherine Riddle Caffey, who designed the charts and forms available online for use in a six week intensive church wide study. The final book is a revision of the first book designed for use by congregation members that includes a forty day prayer guide. This final book is entitled Unbinding Your Heart.
My attention here, however, is on the book for pastors and key leaders of this event. What Gay has provided is a step by step process of planning and enacting what she calls an "E-vent" - an Evangelism Event. If you read this manual, at times you will find yourself overwhelmed - especially if you are like me and you're a small church pastor. Fortunately Gay sprinkles through out the book a reminder that each church needs to adapt this process to their own situation. What is most telling in this guide, is the reminder that anything worth doing requires time and energy and planning. This isn't a process that you undertake at short notice. You must spend time reading, praying, planning, praying, recruiting, praying, and on. Her goal: changing habits and not just minds.
I tend to be an optimist, full of hope, and as Gay suggests we have a tendency to get all fired up about something, but then let it slide away due to lack of planning and commitment. The realist on the other hand, sees the dangers and the difficulties, focuses on the details and never gets started. The key then is balancing our hopes and optimism with enough realism to stay the course once we get started.
The book is composed of two parts. Part 1 lays out the process of planning and carrying out the event. She suggests spending 8 to 24 weeks in step 1 - using in Unbinding the Gospel - to discern whether to move forward (that is where my congregation is currently at - our elders are reading the book, just starting the book). After or concurrently with Step 1, another 12 to 16 weeks is spent utilizing this book - Unbinding Your Church - as pastors, staff, music team, small group leaders, and prayer team, work to discern the way forward and to organize the event itself. Finally there is Step 2, the E-vent using Unbinding Your Heart (Chalice 2008) which lasts 6 weeks, followed up by evaluation and implementation.
This book is the key to the success. It is methodical, overwhelming, detailed, but ultimately the key to understanding the way forward. The books themselves are only part of the package. Other forms are available online (the password is in the book) for downloading.
If you want to get a better sense of the process and its foundations, check my review of Unbinding the Gospel here. Check too the website -- [...] -- and see what is available to review. I do think this is an exciting opportunity for the Mainline churches to discover their voice. The key, however, is rediscovering the conversation with God called prayer, something I like many find difficult to attend to with any consistency and diligence.
But i am entirely psyched about the prospect of giving mainline/oldline congregations the chance at new vitality through working with this book. Gay has assembled a very user-friendly, step-by-step, anyone-can-do it approach to opening up a traditional congregation to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Leaders will be empowered, members will get excited, and visitors will sense that life is in the veins of a church that "unbinds the Gospel" through using this approach.
Prayer and discernment are not the work of spiritual supermen/women, but there's a tendency in many churches -- not just mainline/oldline, but even many charismatic/Pentecostal congregations -- to assume that a very small cadre of prayer warriors will do the heavy lifting of vision and direction. Gay shows how most of us have a necessary stake in breathing in God's will, and breathing out God's work for almost any size or type congregation.
The medium sized traditional Protestant church, though, will find more here to benefit from than almost anything else out there -- especially those who have tried the Rick Warren approach, which has some merit, but generally doesn't find much traction for mainliners (wrong language, too steep a learning curve for approach). Terry Teykl's stuff is the closest you'd find (Methodist, mainly), but this is so very *applicable* and without a whole bunch of banners and keychains and stuff.
Read and pray your way through these three books, and you will find the blessing that was tapping you on the shoulder the whole time.
In Grace & Peace,