By Josh Hayden, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Ashland, Virginia
Sometimes a resource is so helpful it transcends the category it was created for and ends up changing the entire conversation.
Church as Movement is a resource that does just that—it broadens the scope of church planting to a growing movement that focuses on discipleship, the mission of God, and a holistic gospel that can transform the culture of any group of people answering the call to be church. This book can help provide a pathway to beginning a new missional community, but it is also helpful for existing churches seeking to transform their current culture for the sake of the communities and neighborhoods they feel compelled to serve.
While most reviews of Church as Movement will focus on how this helps new church starts, I thought it might be helpful to hear how this millennial Senior Pastor at a First Baptist Church found this book a helpful guide for his adventure.
Never Too Old for Missional-Incarnational Community
I grew up the son of a Baptist pastor, weaving my way through traditional churches for the first 14 years of life and then serving at a church plant for the next 18. These days, I’m pastoring a 159-year-old congregation that is taking intentional steps to becoming what JR Woodward and Dan White Jr. describe in the subtitle of the book as a missional-incarnational community.
A missional-incarnational community finds its vision to be guided by a deep commitment to the mission of God for the restoration of the world and is committed to living that mission in relationship “for-with-of-in” our neighborhoods and creation. Church as Movement is a helpful companion for discerning why being on mission with God matters and how being the church in today’s world is a meaningful response to the love of God.
Movement in 4D
Broken into four parts (Distributing, Discipling, Designing, Doing), Church as Movement is a guidebook that explores some of the ways leadership, discipling, organizational relationships, and formation are changing in the current cultural environment and ways the church can reimagine its own way of being in the world.
[Tweet “Ways the church can reimagine its own way of being in the world.”] In this new environment, the language of movement is a helpful framework to describe the flexibility and communal habits that are necessary to build bridges in a post-Christian culture suspicious (and often rightfully so!) of the ways churches have embodied faith, hope and love.
Journalist and author Charles Duhigg says in The Power of Habit,
Movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decided to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.
Church as Movement is a guidebook for disciple-making, with fantastic questions and helpful charts throughout, that describe the social patterns and habits of friendship that create disciples for the world today. The disciples described in the book rely on tradition and yet are remarkably innovative, which means that people aren’t facing the same direction at once, but they are held together by both the past and the future into this present moment.
There is a minimalist impulse described by Woodward and White that ushers us into the simplicity of Jesus’ disciple-making patterns. At its heart, this book encourages a discipleship that is emotionally aware and culturally astute for the sake of the mission of God.
In modernity the emphasis on right thinking created a baptism of business practices that churches believed would bring transformation within their people. However, Woodward and White recognize that churches are always much more than what they say in their mission, vision, and value statements. Church culture is a force. They write, “It has the power to pull people down to their base instincts or help them live up to their redemptive potential.” Even more, they recognize that for traditional church contexts like my own, our language is part of the problem. They highlight,
When someone says, “Let’s go to church,” it reveals a lack of understanding of the nature of the church. The church is the people of God. Church is not something we go to, it is something we are. We go to a weekly gathering, we attend a service, but we are the church.
Words create contexts and shape our understanding of who we are and where we are going together. Pastors of traditional churches, like me, would do themselves a huge favor to pay close attention to the words they use that disorient people from the mission and remember the old lessons from Sunday School that the church is not the building (or programs)—the church is the people.
There isn’t much for me to critique in this book. I tend to dislike charts in books, and yet these charts are incredibly helpful. I find guidebooks to be tedious, and yet the layers of questions provided necessary reflection points to avoid missing the transformative power of the text.
There is more meat to chew on than is possible in one sitting. For those of you in traditional church contexts like my own, you may read this at first and want to throw in the towel because it seems like a far-off and impossible future for your people. My advice: don’t run—instead, allow the disruption from Holy Spirit to lead you to new places. You’ll have some work to do. Some new wineskins will be needed for the new wine. But, has there ever been another way with Jesus? The path to resurrection always involves the cross.
There are five generations of people present in my current church. As I’ve applied the wisdom of these pages into the relationships, organizational structures, and communal habits in my context, the quality of relationships has improved and the mission has been multiplying disciples. Being church has never been easy, but as we live into the mission of God in relationship with one another we become more like Christ, who moves into the neighborhood (John 1:14).
Church as Movement has a proven track record for helping start missional-incarnational churches across the United States, inspiring young people to experience the hope and love of God in creative ways. But to its praise let me add that it helps your grandma’s church, too. And when multiple generations can experience the transforming love of God and participate in the mission together—we really do have a movement.
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