Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dangerous Church

Right from the forward, written by Rick Warren, I had a feeling I was going to like this book. Warren says “To be a dangerous church is to be about what Jesus was about.” The title of the book could have been “Church” rather than “Dangerous Church”, since the author, John Bishop, is interested in us seeking the purpose of the Church which mirrors Jesus’ purpose of the Church. The need for churches today is to ask the right questions and this of course falls on the shoulders of the leadership. Is our purpose correct? If it is, do our methods mirror our purpose, or is there a disconnect? Are we having an impact? It will take some courage to ask these questions, but if we are willing to face them honestly, we can find ourselves moving in the right direction.

The first part of Dangerous Church is called “Risk Everything.” One thing I like about this book is that it has a lot of personal stories from Bishop, as he tells of some risks which he took. That is where it begins, with the story of his personal journey with Jesus. It’s in chapter 2 that things really begin to come together, as you see the direction he is going to be going. The chapter is called “What’s wrong with the church”, and this is the question, isn’t it? Bishop argues that the church has become largely apathetic in the areas which really matter to God.

The question we need to ask is whether we care about what God cares about. Clearly God cares about the lost, but do we? “The truth that we hate to admit to ourselves is that we usually don’t care too much about things that are lost, unless they are our things.” (pg 38) So if the lost matter to God, certainly they should also matter to us, and we need to make sure we are actually doing something about them.

He goes on to point out that many churches get stuck, and points out three indicators of being stuck. We could see our growth plateau, stop hearing signs of God working in individuals, and find out that our members aren’t inviting people to church. These are indications that our church may need to get unstuck. To get unstuck, we need to not so much worry about making the right plans, but instead trust that the purposes of God for our church will see us through.

Before he goes on to the next section, Bishop makes sure to point out that failure is a real possibility. Any time you take risks, you need to make sure you’re aware of the potential to fail. We can’t avoid risky behavior, though, because of risk.

For this reason, he moves on to the next section, titled “Reach Everywhere.” The issue for Churches to understand is that if the Great Commission is failing, this is our problem. There is need for us to really stop doing things which are keeping people from Christ. This is a theme of sorts through several chapters, as Bishop points out that we too often are hypocritical and play god with people. On top of that, there are things which we do in services which frankly make people feel uncomfortable. On page 103 he says “Most of us are great at doing church for people who do church, but we’re pretty stupid when it comes to reaching people who don’t do church.” Right on! He even tells a story about when he was visiting a church. I both chuckled and cringed as I read it.

So the need for leaders, and particularly pastors, is how we can make the services not become barriers to Christ. He’s not suggesting we change the message at all, but understanding the need to speak in ways which deal with people where they are, and doing so with the understanding that a real impact in people’s lives only happens when we preach through Christ in the power and conviction of the Spirit. Also in this section is the need we have to go to the people where Jesus went, meaning we may have to get dirty with them. We are called, after all, to the “least of these.” He points out in chapter 11 that while we can’t do everything, no one can, we can, and therefore must, do something.

The third part of the book is called “Release Everyone,” and this begins with a chapter called “Jesus would hire who you wouldn’t.” The important thing here is that often we avoid people who have bad pasts, but these might be just the people we should be using. In fact, Bishop points out that Jesus went after the outcasts. He didn’t go get followers from the elite, but from the shores of the lake.

It is in releasing everyone that we will make mistakes, and the author shares some of the mistakes they made in their growth, and in chapter 13 tells three important lessons he learned. I won’t go into them here, but they are worth looking at. He talks in this chapter about something they did which was a “bit reckless”. This may be the understatement of the book. It was very reckless, but they did it in order to see what God could do.

An interesting chapter in here was the one called “Purple salt: becoming a church that gets noticed.” He talks a lot about salt and its uses, and then on page 156 says this: “Salt is effective only as it comes into contact with other objects.” We cannot use too much salt, but we must get out with other people in order to be the salt. The reason for the “purple” salt is that we need to stand out in the world. People should notice us.

The fourth and final part of the book is called “Remember only God.” In the end, after all, the risks we take are all about God. He is the one who will deal with us when we’re in the midst of our droughts, which are bound to happen if we go into the world and take risks. These are the people and churches which will be attacked by Satan, so it’s important to rely completely on God. It’s important to know also what God has called us to be, and how He will take us there.

One final quote I like, which is really the foundation of the whole book. “Your potential is not found in what you have to offer God but in your availability to God.” (pg. 182) I did enjoy the book, and it gave me a lot to think and pray about. As a pastor who seeks to lead a church into dangerous territory, it’s nice to read a book which contains success and failure, lessons learned and disappointments felt.

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