Sometimes I just need a good “kick in the seat of my pants” to get me going. That phrase – kick in the seat of the pants – has always been a reminder that I need to open myself up to new ideas and get outside the box of my thinking, even in church matters. Roger Von Oech wrote a life-changing book a few decades ago that I pull out occasionally just to remind myself that I need to keep my thinking open and responsive to what God is doing in my life and in the culture which we engage.
The book The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities gave me one of those “kick in the seat of the pants” moments as I digested and engaged the ideas presented by the authors, JR Woodward and Dan White Jr. Oh, I have heard some of the ideas before, as I’ve engaged with thoughts and books by Alan Hirsch, David Fitch, Mike Breen, George Bullard, and Alan Roxburgh, among others. But something about Woodward and White’s approach caught my attention.
It was like God was saying to me, “Quit complaining about the Western church’s failure to address discipleship and community, and get up and do something about it!” The book gave me that “kick” to realize the hope for our churches and communities when we engage again the Jesus way of relationship and sacrifice.
As I reflect on Church as Movement, here are a few of the ingredients I find make this a book that people who serve in Western Hemisphere churches should contemplate and study:
Early in the book, Woodward and White make the assertion that this book is written from a perspective of the “basics” of establishing thriving discipleship-focused, incarnational communities. They are writing specifically to those who are engaged in planting churches in this diverse, relationship-starved world. They also are writing out of their experiences of planting churches in many different parts of our country.
After setting a framework for establishing new communities, the authors teach all of us Western Christians, who are fascinated by big personalities and polished, elaborate programs, the basics of what it means to live out a discipleship-focused approach to being church in the 21st century. We could all use a good “kick” to be reminded that Jesus approached relationships as the basic of church life, not programs.
Church as Movement is written to engage readers in conversation and discussion. Each chapter concludes with questions for the reader to share in the context of a learning community. The questions provide for a reflective conversation about what the reader is engaging and learning about these new communities. The authors’ approach to “meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning” give each of us some room for our own understanding and growth. Many of these concepts will be especially challenging for those of us who have grown up in the programmatic world of the mid and late 20th century.
Learning in a group context allows us to engage the concepts presented and find practical ways to live them out. One of the most beneficial parts of the book is its balance between the theoretical and the practical. Take seriously the commitment of these authors to involve other people with you in looking at the concepts. Our accountability for learning and engagement with missional-incarnational communities are a necessity in our own community context.
Even though the book is written to church planters, church leaders in Sunday School groups, small groups, church staff, deacons, and other traditionally based groups will find the opportunity to process these challenging ideas in their own settings. And if you cannot connect with a group context, I would suggest you consider reading this book with a coach. Investing in a coach while studying this material can help you process your learning and commit to sustainable action.)
One of the constant challenges of church life is our human need to institutionalize and codify our movements. I highly recommend you spend significant time with the chapter on movement intelligence. The book does a superb job helping us think through our fascination with forms of church that have grown up in the industrial world of the 20th century.
Many of our churches have institutionalized the need for growing bigger, having more resources, and developing hierarchical structures. Spend time with said chapter and capture again the sense of church as a movement of relationship and discipleship.
I do not use this word lightly. In fact, I have deleted it twice and tried to come up with a softer word, but when I engage with this material, I sense the concepts that Woodward and White present are revolutionary for the nature of what churches will become. Their focus on polycentric leadership, a discipleship core, and community formation would change the whole nature of who we will be as churches.
If you take a careful look at life-changing movements, a majority of our churches do not fit the bill. We have become static life forces that tend to succumb to culture and provide little life-changing movement in our communities. If we were to follow many of the principles of Church as Movement, our churches would see radical change that brings discipleship back to the center of our existence. (Not many churches are up for that type of change. Most of us would be revolutionized by small, incremental changes.)
“A kick in the seat of the pants” – we all need to be taken out of our boxes and comfort zones and discover new, challenging ways to be and do church in the 21st century. This book will kick you right where you need to be kicked. The church planting world will be inspired and kickstarted with the practical concepts in this book. The traditional church world will be provoked and challenged to live out their mission and vision differently because of what they read. And remember – don’t read this alone! Let someone be nearby when you need that kick to get you going!