Total Church 15: Success

Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community

Chapter 13 is on Success

A lot of this book is counter-cultural to conventional ways of doing church. And this theme continues as they question ‘success’.

I’ll ask a question up front: – what does ‘success’ in church life look like to you?

Success in Total Church looks like:

– small multiplying churches rather than large single congregations that don’t church plant

– being gospel centred in everyday life and community.

– being an authentic community which is not just all about Sunday performance.

They have a pop here at soft-selling the gospel in order to ‘grow’ a church:

Entertain the congregation each Sunday with a good performance. Do not focus on the depth of their sin, nor the cost of cross-centred discipleship. Whatever you do, do not challenge the idolatrous desires of their hearts. Instead offer them sermons on how to realize those desires and find success in life. Or better still, tell amusing stories which excite them with a vague sense of optimism. That is one way to grow a congregation.

– leadership as enabling and releasing others for ministry, not about being enslaved by our own or others expectations

– growing Christians and growing gospel opporutnities

– an ecclesiology of the cross, where God’s power is seen in weakness – not size, numbers, charismatic personalities, technology, buildings etc

“The future of mission does not lie in grand strategies or mega-structures. Christ is building his church, for the most part unseen, in the shape of thousands of congregations. This is the future of the church: the sovereignity of the risen Christ and the ‘church of the poor’.”

Seems to me that basically they are saying there is no easy ‘short-cut’ to Christian authenticity – in everyday Christian living and in mission and evangelism. It’s got to be real from the bottom up, in individual lives and in communities of Christians following Jesus.

This seems obvious – but in post-Christendom what was assumed is now being exposed. Christendom (which in Ireland meant that pretty well everyone went to some sort of church) was so pervasive and apparently successful, was so deeply woven into the fabric of Irish society, that the external performance continued but with little depth or authenticity or spiritual reality. Nominalism reigned.

As Christendom continues to die away in Ireland, we have to rediscover the Christian basics: what church is actually for, what discipleship is, how to engage in authentic evangelism, connecting the gospel with real everyday life, being good news as well as talking about good news and so on.

As we reach the end of this book (one post to come), I’ve generally found it helpful and challenging as it has re-thought-out the basics and cleared away a lot of excess baggage that has accumulated around how we think of and do church.


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