Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have played an important part in our journey from being a home-group towards being a mission-centred gospel community. Their Gospel-Centred Church study guide in particular resulted in us making that change. Plus Steve put me in touch with one of his team who has provided great counsel and encouragement over the last year.
Everyday Church is a follow up to their earlier Total Church book, and its subtitle “mission by being good neighbours” resonates strongly with our desire as a gospel community. The book is written out of experience in the UK which is great as somebody working in Europe (a similar missional context than the USA) but the book is also relevant for US readers as the US church finds itself slipping out of the centre (er, center!) of American culture too.
Chester and Timmis go to considerable lengths to make the point that the church is no longer at the centre of society but on the margins, and so we can no longer expect respect, privilege or institutional influence. In other words, Western Europe (and much of the USA) can no longer be described as ‘Christian society’. Personally I felt they spent an excessive amount of time hammering this point home: perhaps that is simply because I am utterly convinced of this already; presumably they know people that haven’t accepted this point. However, the rest of the book uses the book of 1 Peter as the basis for a reflection on how Christians are to live as strangers and aliens in the world, so establishing the links between our context and that of 1 Peter is important.
The book then starts to explore the implications of a marginalised “outsider” church in a secular culture:
- the secular culture is no longer Christian culture
- it’s a mission field – but are we really starting to act like missionaries? and practical cross-cultural mission?
- we need to rediscover the culture, understand it, and love it
- we are called to be a distinctive community – chosen and sanctified for missional obedience (1 Peter 1:2)
- this distinctiveness comes from love (in everyday life) – not by trying to imitate the culture (cool events)
So how do we ‘do community’? Their answer is we don’t! Community has to come out of a focus on God’s Word, rather than as the focus itself. Chester and Timmis provide some great insights in how we can care for each other on a daily basis by applying the gospel to each others’ lives. In particular, they use the 4Gs (God is great… good… glorious… gracious) as a very helpful framework to relate God’s word to the problems of everyday life – and to our own efforts to pastor each other!
Addressing mission, the authors explain Peter’s mission strategy for marginalised congregations in hostile contexts: respond with good deeds; live such good lives that people glorify God; declare God’s praises with words. “Our lives are the evangelistic events!” A great practical question they explore (albeit briefly) is how can we infuse our daily, weekly and monthly routines (from commuting, to shopping, to getting a haircut) with community, mission and gospel components?
One of the highlights for me (alongside the 4G’s discussion mentioned above) was the section on evangelism. Tim and Steve explain that they are NOT natural evangelists so their advice amounts to “evangelism for dummies – a guide for the rest of us” which is wonderful! They talk about how our culture has its own stories of creation, fall, redemption and consummation that we can identify and present a gospel alternative to,
There is plenty more in the book that is helpful, practical and solidly grounded in theological, Biblical, reflection. Their focus on making sure that the church is being the church, authentically and faithfully, throughout the week – rather than focused on programmes and events and a ‘church schedule’ – comes through practically and compellingly. The book is highly readable, and I would recommend it to any Christian serious about understanding their calling in today’s Western culture.