Books & The Burbs

I’ve read a couple of books lately that are worth a mention.

Call to Commitment by Elisabeth O’Connor was written in 1963 and documents the story of Church of the Saviour in Washington DC. These were a mob of people who were well ahead of their time when it came to dreaming about how the church could be a tight knit group of disciples as well as an open and inclusive community.

The book tells the story of how they emerged, developed and have continued changing. Well worth a read for missionary thinkers!

I have also just finished Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, a book that didn’t quite meet up to my expectations. I read the first chapter online and sensed that these guys were saying some good stuff… and they are… its just that it hits on what feels like quite a mechanical approach to church.

Church still seems to become something of a factory line where if you get the mechanisms right then everything turns out great. Of course life is much more messy than this!

They write of 4 primary factors in a simple church – clarity, movement, alignment and focus and suggest that if you can get these 4 elements in place then it will happen. There is much good in what they say – much practical common sense wisdom for tired run down pastors spinning many plates and about to crash and burn. Their research shows that churches with the simplest processes and minimalist approach to programming actually do a much better job of disciple making than churches with all the bells and whistles.

If you are a pastor of an established church then you ought to read this book and pay attention. Where I feel it is weak is that by default it simply rolls back to that old mentality of discipleship occuring as people:

a) come to church (worship)

b) are then moved into a small group (community)

c) and then ultimately find a ministry (service)

Truth is people may become disciples along that path, but plenty can also travel the path and not encounter Jesus at all.

Read it with your eyes open and brain in gear and it’ll offer some great insights. Read it as ‘the answer’ and you’re dead in the water already.

I have also ordered 3 ‘suburbia’ books and am looking forward to getting stuck into them. They are:

Death by Suburb, subtitled how to keep the suburbs from killing your soul. I’ve have read snippets online and am interested to read the whole thing.

Then there is The Suburban Christian by Albert Hsu. I don’t know much of this book, but came across it via Simon Holt’s blog, where Hsu made a comment. Hsu’s blog is here.

And finally I have also ordered The Good Life by David Matzco McCarthy. I picked it up thru Simon Holt again and you can read his thoughts on it here.

I just noticed that Simon has also recommended this book – Australian Heartlands – so it could be next on my shopping list.

I am intrigued by what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus in the suburbs – what it means to ‘swim upstream’ when the current pulls so strongly in the opposite direction – when self fulfillment is the ultimate goal.

At the death by suburb blog there has been some discussion about whether we ought to just admit that suburbs are cancerous to any kind of spirituality and evacuate. Or… ought we stay and try to influence these places?

I know when I first saw the suburb we now live in I was drawn to it because it felt so barren and so soul-less. I was attracted to the idea of how the gospel could infect and transform a community with hope and beauty and a whole different imagination of how life could be.

Truth is its bloody hard work to do that.

Its hard to avoid the trappings of the consumerist life yourself, but to try and offer an alternative reality is equally difficult. Jesus call to ‘deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow’ doesn’t resonate really well with the person who has subscribed to the gospel of ‘just a litle bit more and I will be happy’. It sounds like absolute nonsense, and yet I believe the gospel for so many here in the burbs is that ‘you can get off the merry go round! You can stop climbing the ladder and you can be content with life as it is’.

What makes it harder to convey a message like this is that in our own lives we are reasonably affluent (or ‘effluent’ as Kath and Kim would say!) and we don’t need to grind as hard just to get by. I can work 4 days a week and we can live on that, but I appreciate (some) others need to work two jobs just to get by.

Many times we have considered selling up, giving it all away and going to live among the poor, but the weird reality is that we actually feel deeply called to live here and figure out what discipleship looks like here in the burbs.

So hopefully those books will help!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *