I was recently offered an advance copy of “Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church” by Bob Roberts Jr to review for this blog. Since she enjoyed the last review she did and wanted this one as well, today’s entry is a guest post by Rebecca Hitt.
You know, I like to think I know things. Well, I feel like I know a few things at least and am reasonably confident that I know how some things should work. I know Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 by heart (or used to…). I know how to scramble an egg (with bacon grease, of course, being a good, civilized Southern lady). I know how to play Pachelbel’s Canon on piano. I know how to beat a large foam ball until it looks exactly like a heavily cratered moon. And like a lot of American Christians, I’m fairly certain I know church. And “how to” church, so to speak. You bow your head when you pray, you sit in your designated pew at your local church, you put some money in the collection plate when it passes by, you sing a few hymns slightly off-key (but not too loudly, let’s not get carried away now). Maybe you invite someone from work to come to Sunday School with you or you pitch in for some community service. It’s a well-oiled machine of a system and you know it well. And a good many American Christians are comfortable with the routine. It’s not too hard. It doesn’t really require much out of you except on Sundays and maybe Wednesday night. But what if… what if that view of proper churching was incomplete? Or even spiritually inadequate? Bob Roberts book, “Lessons from the East” sets out to shake up the Western view of the church’s purpose and how the church functions.
The book is written as a challenge and a call to arms for American ministers, pastors, and church leaders. Basically, it says, if you think you know how to successfully grow or plant a church, you probably are wrong. Roberts uses examples of his extensive world travels and visits with world religious and secular leaders to convince the reader to rethink concepts that may have seemed a given, like what a successful church looks like. Well, clearly it’s one with an extremely large worship sanctuary and thousands of people attending any one of the multiple services, with just the right amount of projectors and screens, a nice sound system, and reasonably talented praise band. Everyone reads just the right books and speaks just the right words. Even better if the church is supporting multiple missions in a handful of countries. And if your church doesn’t look like that despite your best recruiting and fundraising effort, despite having followed THE tried and true formula for structuring church… sorry, Pastor… guess it’s just not in the cards for you to be one of the “good” preachers. Or maybe it’s the Enemy who is keeping the masses from busting down the doors to hear your sermon. Or maybe if you had had a hipper youth program, families would have flocked to join. But certainly not your methods, right?
Roberts proposes that you are looking at it all wrong. According to him, mistake number one that you made is that you failed to actually serve your community. Not communities in Africa or Asia or Central America but the one you are living in. You failed to meet the needs of people around you. Before you build a church, address the needs of the locals. In other parts of the world, that might look like provide access to clean water or creating gardens to produce food. Here it might look like providing childcare to single working parents. Serving others shows you truly care and wins their trust and respect. Roberts stresses respect as a vital tool in creating a successful church. Respect for customs and religions of other cultures and strong sense of kindness has gained Roberts access to areas in the Middle East and Asia that are usually more difficult for Christian missionaries to visit.
Second mistake you made was wanting to build a mega church when instead you should be forming cell churches focused on discipleship. He explains cell churches are similar to the small group movements in a lot of American churches but not nearly as categorized. Instead of youth groups and women’s groups and singles’ groups, they need to be diverse with people of various ages, social statuses, and interests so they can help each other grow spiritually.
And lastly, you had a picture of what YOU thought good proper church should look like. You never asked God what it needed to look like. Maybe He needs it to look like a couple of families gathered together in someone’s home. Maybe it looks like a group of coworkers that gather in breakroom during lunch.
I’m not a church leader. I’m not a preacher. I don’t even teach a Sunday School class. So what did I get out of the book? A question that kept popping up in my mind was “What do you want to be when you are a grown Christian?” I want to be kind. I want to be compassionate, to others and serve with a glad heart at every chance. I want to live my life in such a way that to mention I believe in God is redundant. To love others in such a way as to remind them of the much greater and infinite love that God has for them. I don’t want to be good at churching; I want to be good at following Christ. I never want to get so lost in the ritual that I forget the reason. I want to break down my expectations and allow His will to work through me.
I don’t want to know church; I want to know God.