This book inspired and challenged me at many different levels, as it tells the stories of people who are seeking to find a relevant Christianity for their age and lifestyle: people trying to ‘be church’ in the post-modern world of the USA and the UK. It will be of great interest to anyone seriously engaged with ‘fresh expressions’, ‘new ways of being church’ and ‘emerging church’.
It is fascinating to be able to read the stories of so many different people, on both sides of the Atlantic, who are taking the initiative in attempting creative approaches. Gibbs and Bolger have also taken the time to reflect on these stories and have provided insights into the movement of the church for different groups and communities. In talking with practitioners in their local contexts, between 2000 and 2005, they have discerned as essential the common themes of mission, kingdom, and being a community that seeks to follow the pattern of Jesus’ life.
The groups chosen were deliberately not part of an existing church structure but were simply groups of people who would call themselves Christian and who met together, at least monthly. I discovered that the hallmark of these groups seems to be a longing for authentic Christian practice 24/7. Ministry is in the community and the workplace, not only in church circles. While there is a ‘go to them’ approach, there remains a need for the community to come together for support and growth. Worship becomes more participative and comes out of the everyday experience of the community, not the input of one person from the front.
There is a challenging chapter on the need to change the style of leadership in emerging churches, away from one person doing everything, to a shared responsibility and use of giftings. Chapters on hospitality and spirituality cover old ground, but become fresh because personal stories from specific contexts are used as illustrations.
While this book is a ‘must’ for those concerned about the future of the church, I was left wondering where the existing congregations of people who have genuinely tried to follow the way of Jesus all their lives fit in these emerging churches? Is this emerging type of community and active discipleship not something that some of the small groups in existing churches are also currently engaged in? Who is doing that work today and what are the lessons that can be shared from that experience?