02.05.20 | Book Reviews | by Rev. Mark Harmon
For more than three decades Alan Roxburgh has used his roles as a pastor, seminary professor and church consultant to lead congregations towards a new model of being the church. I first encountered his writings in a seminary class. One of the required readings was his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood and it was in that book that learned the distinction between the “attractional church” and the “missional church.” The attractional church is one where the majority of the attention and energy is focused on getting people in the pews on Sunday morning. This is a model that was successful in the past (at least from a church growth perspective), but a model that has outlived its usefulness. Roxburgh, building on the work of people like Leslie Newbigin, is promoting an approach where the church is shaped by engaging both the culture and the biblical narrative. The focus of the missional church movement isn’t on repairing the church, it’s about living out the Missio Dei – the mission of God – in the world around us.
There are plenty of studies that point to the decline of the church in the western world and this has fueled a great deal of gloom and doom conversation. Roxburgh calls this “The Great Unraveling”, but rather than seeing it as gloom and doom, he sees it as an essential step in the reformation of the church. He likens it to the times he has witnessed his wife unraveling something she has spent weeks knitting so she could correct a mistake she made. The first chapter of this book explains how the flaws in the fabric of church were introduced and where the good news is to be found in the unraveling that is taking place today.
In the subsequent chapters Roxburgh identifies that various reactions to the unraveling that have taken place since it was first noticed in the 1960s to the present. He then addresses four of the ways the church as attempted to counteract this unraveling. All of these reactions have focused on preservation rather than real change and none of the reactions has had more than localized success. It’s important to note that Roxburgh isn’t advocating a dissolution of the church. He is merely saying that God and God’s mission in the world should be our primary concern, not the church and that is the focus of the fourth chapter.
After laying the foundation for understanding how we got to where we are and why our attempts to “save the church” haven’t worked, Roxburgh points us in a new direction for the journey. He identifies five practices that will be essential for the journey – Listening, Discerning, Testing, Reflection, and Deciding. Listening, discerning and deciding aren’t all that new to most congregations, but the idea that you test your decisions and reflect on the results are. These two practices acknowledge and allow room for failure without loss of hope.
The book concludes with a discussion of the old ways of thinking and other roadblocks that can impede progress.
This is an easy read and it’s just over 100 pages, so it’s not a big commitment of time. However, in those 100 plus pages there is a great deal of insight as well as a practical path forward for us. If you’re interested in reading this book, it’s available for free on Kindle with an Amazon Prime membership and very inexpensive in either Kindle format or paperback. Also, we have a copy of it in our library.
Roxburgh, Alan J., Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World – The New Shape of the Church in Our Time. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2015. 111 pp. ISBN 978-0-8192-3211-3