I just finished reading Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. The book presents a picture for what the church could look like if it was rooted in the Word and working in mission as a community of believers.
There were a number of ideas in the book that got me really excited, some that I had honestly never thought of before, and others that I disagreed with. What I want to do with this post is not really give you a point-by-point description of the skeleton of the book, but mention a few points that pressed on me in one way or another and try to expound on my reaction to those ideas.
“This book argues that two key principles should shape the way we ‘do church’: gospel and community.”
The core of Chester and Timmis’ premise is that Christians must be rooted in the gospel, which will cause us to be rooted in the community – the church. Slicing through the Christian vocabulary, to be rooted in the gospel means “being word-centered” and being “mission-centered because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed.” This community, created by a word, rooted in a message of good news that is to be proclaimed by a community of believers inviting others to join in their community is really the central theme of the book.
“Too much evangelism is an attempt to answer questions people are not asking. Let them experience the life of the Christian community.”
Chester and Timmis give a picture of a group of believers who are coming together (as small groups within the context of a larger church body) not to have some sort of business meeting or sort of book review, but a group of people who have been made into the people of God actually living like a community that loves and cares for each other. It is within the context of this community that evangelism takes place. Our Christian communities (small groups, home churches, missional communities, whatever you want to call them) are the “hermeneutic of the gospel”. The church that lives in this real community is itself a sort of “community apologetic” for anyone looking in. I love this idea, that a group of people loving and caring for each other speaks to the validity of the gospel being spoken by that same community. The key being that the gospel is articulated. Because if the gospel is not articulated, then what separates this group of people from a hippie campsite or a cultist compound? So the community itself is the apologetic for a clear gospel being presented.
For me, this makes church-planting actually seem feasible. Church planting ceases to be a husband and wife going into a neighborhood, guns blazing, throwing holy water on houses and trying to convince people to become Christians. Instead, church planting looks like a group of people coming into the neighborhood as the church plant, evangelizing the neighbors of the church plant. To put it another way, under this paradigm, I am not going to my home group simply to hear someone’s quiet time and answer some questions to kill any awkward silence. Instead, I am intentionally going into the neighborhood where my brother and sister in Christ live so that I can tell his neighbors about what Jesus did.
Chester and Timmis come from a house-church model (a collection of small groups of believers makes up the larger whole of the church), and through this lens they speak on a number of subjects and ideas that I don’t necessarily agree with and I really don’t want to get into a full-on “Here’s why so and so is wrong” sort of thing. There’s too many blogs that do that.
One of the things that stuck out to me while reading this book was my reaction to things with which I disagreed. In a chapter on counseling, my immediate reaction was to say “No, you need to have this person see a licensed counselor”. Later on in the book, I got genuinely upset at what seemed to be a dismissal of congregational preaching.
So here’s what I took from that:
1) I don’t really fully trust the sufficiency of Scripture as much as I want to, or want to say I do. If I did, I wouldn’t scoff and cringe when people try to counsel someone who is hurting with “God is sovereign” or “He’s working for the good in all things”. Honestly, think about that for a second. Is there any possible better news anyone could receive at any point in time during suffering? “Hey, I know this hurts, but God is in control and He has not abandoned you. Not only that, but He’s working all of this out for your good.”
2) I’ve got a lot of my self-worth and self-identity wrapped up in this idea that I need to preach to a congregation of people. Now look, I’m not saying that preaching is really just a conversation. I’m not saying that in the slightest. What I am saying is that my immediate response of flinching when I read about the possibility of doing pastoral ministry and never preaching is because I am selfish and self-centered. Pastoral ministry cannot, by definition, EVER be about me. It can’t. It is a shepherding and stewarding of what God in His sovereignty has entrusted to me. I don’t know if it was there intention, but Timmis and Chester really pointed that out to me, as a reader. I’m really wrapped up in the me part of ministry, despite the fact that there is no me part to be wrapped up in.