Thursday, 22 October 2015

Book Review: Everyday Church (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis)

I recently finished 'Everyday Church: mission by being good neighbours' by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. It is an extended study on the first letter of Peter, written to a persecuted and marginalised church, and seeks to challenge the readers to consider how we reach the world around us with the gospel. There were some areas that I found very helpful to consider:

1) We can be tempted to assume some level of judeo-christian heritage influencing worldview

When we move to a new culture, the first few months are spent listening, watching and asking. We want to know what people value highly. We want to know the stories of individuals, and to know what historical and cultural events have influenced their identity and worldview. And then, as Christians, we seek to find ways to interact and engage with this, bringing the hope of the gospel.

But in 'the west', we can easily assume that we know 'our own' culture. We can assume that those around us have the same basic moral compass, and have simply chosen to reject the things of God, or to choose to stop going to church. But in the current generation, there are increasing numbers who never went to church in the first place.

I heard the gospel for the first time aged 17. I had never been in a church, or attended Sunday school, and had been exposed to no  Christian teaching that I can remember. At the time (over 20 years ago now) this was a bit unusual. However, this is increasingly the norm.

We need to stop and take time to consider the prevailing worldviews, values and culture that surrounds us and prayerfully look for ways to engage. Sometimes the best way to do this is simply to listen, and to ask questions

2) Arising from the first point, simply adding more church events and activities may be futile

I know quite a number of Christians who seem to think getting somebody into a church building will have some kind of supernaturally transformative effect. Not only is this an error, but it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to come to church events, because they seem irrelevant. (Of course there will be people who walk into a church and immediately hear and receive the truth with gladness - and this is something we should pray for. But these are few compared to those who would never set foot in a church).

We can assume that people will come in to evangelistic and mission events, but in fact we need to go out and reach out to them instead.

3) People long for real relationship

Western society is increasingly fragmented. One of the best ways to reach people with the truth about Jesus is through building relationships. As we come to understand priorities, concerns, worries and hopes, we come to understand how we can bring the truth to people. (And some simple, practical examples are given). Certainly that has been our experience - so many people are lonely, isolated and long for somebody to take and interest and to care

Think of those around you who do not share your  hope. How can you reach out to them with love?

4) Daily life is full of 'mission' opportunities

Sometimes people can feel that they are too busy for another 'event' or specific outreach activity. Yet when you reflect on your day to day life, you will realise there are many points at which we are interacting with those who don't share our hope in Christ. These can be simple daily tasks - walking to the shops/ work/ the park, playing with our children, taking the car to the mechanic, going to the market, many others (take a moment to consider your life). We don't necessarily need to add extra things, but need to approach every moment with gospel intentionality.

Parents with children in school talk often of the 'school gate' being a mission opportunity; I believe home schooling families also have many daily opportunities to share their faith.

Consider the mission opportunities in your everyday life. Who do you interact with? Where can you spend just a few more minutes with somebody? Is prayer a daily priority?

5) 'By this all men shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another'

As Christians we are called to have brotherly love for one another, to see all our resources as gifts from God to be used for His glory, to be generous and hospitable and to open our lives to one another. This is radically countercultural in our individualistic society. Hence as we live in fellowship with one another, others will be challenged to ask for the 'reason for the hope that we have'. The authors are under no illusion that this is always easy - indeed as imperfect humans, real relationships can get messy, can be painful, can require hard work, commitment and forgiveness! But this is in part the power of it all - those in the world might simply give up and walk away, whereas the kind of relationships that the Bible calls us to would not entertain this option.

Challenge: Do you have true relationships with other Christians, or do you simply sit in the same room for a couple of hours every week?

The book moves on to describe an alternative model of church life, where the Sunday service has importance for corporate worship and Bible teaching, but where the true Christian fellowship and shared living takes place within smaller communities. The authors take care to emphasise that this does not mean that church events, mission activities and Sunday services are unimportant, but rather that reliance on these alone will result in missing a large sector of society.

For me, it was a refreshing read. Our aim in all that we do is to share our lives and our faith. I have had times when I have felt very guilty for not going to a particular event, or doing door-to-door outreach (I actually have concerns about that, and it makes me uncomfortable). However, the times when I have really seen people challenged in their faith, or asking the important questions about life, have usually been around our dinner table as we have opened our door and sought to share our lives with those around us. Similarly, reflecting on the area where we lived until recently, we did not have many (?any) of our neighbours attend church with us, but we did have many opportunities to spend time with people, to speak of our faith, and to help people with particular needs.

If you feel frustrated that church can seem irrelevant and disengaged from today's society, I would suggest you read this book.

If you want to use every moment of your life to serve God and help others see the light of His truth, I would suggest you read this book,

If you know you tend to compartmentalise your life into the spiritual and secular, and don't know how to move on from here, I would suggest you read this book

And if you see nothing wrong with the way church 'is done' but are interested in stopping to reflect and evaluate your outreach, then I would suggest you read this book.

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