Readings about a Re-imagined Church

My Church Reading List for August

Here are a few suggestions for your cold August nights reading.  These selections appealed to me because they focus on trying to discern how the Holy Spirit works in the formation of the church and how we can use that same formula today to add a new sense of intensity, forward thinking enthusiasm and new ideas to broaden our parish base, call a new rector and live into the mission of the church to love and serve God as part of our unbroken chain of faith.

  • The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church [Paperback] Alan Hirsh; Studies the history of the early church trying to discover why it grew so fast and how we can recapture that growth.  He found the early church grew because, for the most part, it required a personal commitment—and often high risk—to participate.  But once people were committed to Christ there was no turning back. Hirsh calls this ‘Apostolic Genius’ describing the primary missional strength as the potent combination of the gospel and God’s people. He says this strength lies dormant in each Christian and local church that seeks to follow Jesus faithfully. But today’s Christian culture fails to see it so Christians miss many opportunities to transform the world by living transformed lives.
  • The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches [Paperback], Alan Hirsh.  This handbook is really a continuation of Hirsh’s theories about the power of the early church toward mission applied to life today.  The handbook offer suggestions on how to’ inspire God’s people into mission’. Hirsch has a formula he calls” mDNA”  where the `m’ is for missional—mDNA—to characterize the spiritual code of a missional church. The elements of mDNA are: Jesus is Lord; Disciple Making; Missional-Incarnational Impulse (sounds painful); Apostolic Environment, Organic Systems, and Communitas, not Community.  Personally, I am more into history than the squish and ooze of DNA so this book appealed to my sense of learning the lessons of history so I don’t repeat the same mistakes of history.  As for the mDNA–I’ll leave that to the Holy Spirit!  It’s genetic after all and I can’t do anything about it.
  • Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens; Neil Cole tries to assess the original intent of the church arguing that today’s religious institutions are not growing because they are more about programs and the institution than they are about people and our relationship with God.  This will seem like a very 1960’s rebellion kind of book to some because it is biased against the institutional church favoring one-on-one spirituality.  It is theoretically appealing but practically it’s major help for us at St. Timothy’s in looking for ways to grow the base is to open our eyes to be more focused on the people coming through the door than the building and other trappings.  Oh so Berkeley!
  • Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church.  Neil Cole says that ‘Christianity needs more than new programs, buildings, or worship formats. It needs a complete upgrade to a new operating system’. He picks up where Hirsh leaves off arguing that the early church became more institutional around 300 AD and has been flattening out every since losing much of its original zeal. He argues for an upgrade in ‘geek speak’. Church 3.0 argues that ‘upgraded’ churches shift from program-driven and clergy-led institutions to ones that are ‘relational, simple, intimate, and viral’. The church according to Cole does not serve its people, it is its people who serve God, one another, and a hurting world. He sees church not as an event to be at, but a family to be part of. Church is not a program for outreach, but a people that reach out to a wider world. OK, OK, but who is going to do coffee hour next week?  Berkeley goes to Silicon Valley!  The manager in me finds this ‘wait for it to happen’ style a little frustrating.  I am more a ‘make it happen’ kind of guy, but I do think we in the pews pile on the shoulders of our clergy too much responsibility for making us feel good about church when we should be the ones rolling up our sleeves and feeling good about our work for the church.  There ends the sermon!
  • Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola.  Viola is also a student of the early church and argues that the key to its success and fast growth was the personal commitment and involvement of the people, sometimes at great personal risk, to engage in worship.  He is part of a group who favor the ‘house church’ movement of small worship circles meeting in the homes of the faithful trying to recapture the intense faith and commitment of the early church.  This book appealed to me because it is how St. Timothy’s was formed by Rev Hodgkin of St. Paul’s Walnut Creek.  He gathered the faithful and celebrated the Eucharist in the living rooms, then the Grange Hall and . . .you know the rest of the story.  If St. Timothy’s is going to live into its 50th anniversary goal of planting a mission church it strikes me it may be as easy as this.  Find a small group of seekers and go pray with them—what a concept.

The challenge for any strategic planning process is that we are often stuck in today.  We remember what the past was like but mostly we remember the things we liked and those things we intensely disliked, but not much about how we got there.

Imagining the future is even harder because we tend to take today’s conditions and just project them forward.  These kinds of forecasts are often wrong.  One reason I like scenario planning as a technique when i work with clients is because it gives them “permission” to imagine alternative futures.  In telling the stories of those optional futures they can often see thru today to better understand both the opportunities and risks for tomorrow.

It is a powerful and liberating feeling to feel ‘in charge’ of your future.  That’s where we are today at St. Timothy’s.  Not only are we engaged in this 20/20 Vision process but now with Steven’s retirement we will begin a careful, deliberate process of discernment leading up to calling a new rector 18 to 24 months from now.

In many ways its like a sabbatical for the parish.  A time for us to take stock of who we are, how we are doing and what we want to be for the future.  Its time to pray and listen to God’s plan for us.  It’s time to live into our baptismal vows and go out there and do the work of the church.  It is NOT a time to sit around and wait for something to happen or someone else to act.

We are the church!  God is our source of light and life.  Christ is our shepherd.  We’ve got it covered.


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