Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission, Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, 2012, Crossway, Wheaton, Ill., ISBN 9781433532221, 161 pages, softcover, $14.99.
As an American Christian, I confess to being overly comfortable with my culture and overly sensitive to perceived threats to religious liberty and biblical values. In light of recent hostility by the U. S. Government toward Christian institutions (through mandated provision of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs for employees) and the apparent confirmation of these policies through the reelection of politicians who champion them, it is easy to see the Church's influence waning in our society and be tempted to anger or despair.
In that frustration, Everyday Church was an excellent wake-up call, breathing Gospel life back into my understanding and expectations of the Church and its relation to culture. Timmis and Chester both serve as pastors in the United Kingdom, a country whose Christian heritage has all but disappeared, so their sound scriptural advice is also given the weight of experience.
The authors' premise is that the West is no longer "Christendom" but has become the mission field. Though this cliché has been around for many years, they argue that churches can no longer do evangelism and outreach in the West from the assumption that people have a basic knowledge of the Christian story and jargon. Instead, they propose treating the West as the mission field it is, adopting the methods and perseverance of pioneer missionaries who devote themselves to learning the values, habits, and language of the people they are called to in order to find out how best to reach them with the Gospel story.
Over six chapters, Timmis and Chester build their case (mostly through an exposition of 1 Peter), showing how believers can reach their neighbors through engaging in the rhythms of their local communities and seeking to plant, water, and reap Gospel seed through living intentionally "as aliens and strangers" among their neighbors.
They exhort churches to take their focus from programs and projects that consume all their members' time (operating from an "if you build it they will come" approach to evangelism) and working instead to equip believers to reach their neighborhoods through plugging in to existing social structures. They remind readers frequently that ostracism and persecution are the norm for most Christians around the world (and throughout history), and that Westerners need to rediscover the faithfulness and boldness that comes from this.
In particular, their chapter on "everyday evangelism" is a powerful encouragement to Gospel faithfulness. Rather than offering a "how-to" on presenting a spiritualized Gospel message to unbelievers, the authors recognize that those outside the church are often found somewhere along a continuum from complete lack of knowledge and interest in Christ to healthy skepticism on the verge of conversion. They suggest engaging a person at whatever point they find themselves along that line, listening well, asking pointed questions, and naturally exposing them to the true Gospel to help move them closer to Christ--this changes the goal from programmatically "sealing the deal" of their salvation to actually loving them and modeling Christ to them to make them a disciple.
The authors' compelling call and their practical discussion of what church life, pastoral care, mission, and evangelism look like when the Church has moved from the center of culture to the margins make Everyday Church required reading for Western Christians. It is time for us to recognize that Christianity has been pushed aside from its favored place in society and to begin discovering how to be faithful witnesses for the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ in this new reality.
Type: Church ministry/missions
Take: Must read
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