I picked up this book on the recommendation of a few people from Church. As is clearly obvious, things are not normal at the moment and of course Church has been affected by that. Almost every activity we do has been cancelled or materially altered in some way, and as we start to look to ‘the new normal’, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a deep breath and evaluate what and how we’re doing.
As I’m sure it did for the people who recommended it to me, this book gave me so much to think about – there were so many quotes that made me stop and go back to read again that I couldn’t possibly share them all here.
We start with the basic principles that “the basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing and tending the vine”.
But for any vine to grow, it needs a support structure, a trellis. The trellis work includes management, finances, infrastructure, organisation and governance, and as the vine grows, so all this stuff becomes more complex.
As the author says “our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis”. We’re not trying to just get more people into our church, but to make genuine disciples of Jesus. Our trellis should be supporting, not all-consuming.
I felt slightly floored by the idea that “We should start with the people that God has given us, not our programs”. When someone leaves a volunteering role, it can be very tempting to just try and figure out who should fill that gap, rather than whether it should actually be filled. Instead, we should be thinking about the people in our church and considering what their skills and gifts are and where they could fit.
Then we end up with people doing things that they have a talent for, and not ministries that are staying afloat rather than flourishing.
The book talks about ideas like not having membership of the congregation, but partnership, to develop the idea of all being in it together. Ideas like training being parenting. Loving someone enough to want to see him or her grow and flourish.
The only minor thing that put me off was that when the authors were talking about training and developing, their focus was fully and pointedly on men, and not just men, but men who could ‘pastor their wives’. So not just ignoring women, but also men who don’t want to be married. This may just have been badly worded and not deliberate, but it felt jarring to me.
I don’t want to finish the review there, so I’ll finish my review with the chapter towards the end of the book that shook me, given the book was written in 2009. It started with these words: “As we write, the first worrying signs of a swine-flu pandemic are making headlines around the world.” It continues to imagine a world where public gatherings of more than x people are banned and could be banned for 18 months, then asks the hypothetical question “How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function with no regular church gatherings of any kind?”.
Sounds pretty familiar, huh?
The final question was the kicker:
“When the ban was lifted and you were able to recommence Sunday gatherings and all the rest of the meetings and activities of church life, what would you do differently?”