Thursday, December 18, 2014

Marks of the Missional Church

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware I would relish the chance to give a bad review in exchange for a free book. If I've failed to do so, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

I think I read this book wrong. Marks of the Missional Church was written by three friends of mine for a publishing company with whom I've previously worked. Therefore, it's pretty difficult to say less than exemplary things about it. I wasn't super excited with the book. I didn't think the writing was particularly crisp and the chapters seemed to blend into one another pretty heavily.

About four fifths of the way through (how long it took my dense mind to process all of this), I realized I was reading the book wrong. It's not particularly (or generally) geared towards me reading it by myself on the couch in two or three sittings. It's not that kind of book. Marks of the Missional Church is meant to be read slowly and in community. The entire purpose is for people to come together, read the relatively short chapters together and then live with the material for a while, before coming back to repeat the process.

Organized around the characteristic marks of the Church from the Nicene Creed (one, holy, catholic, apostolic), the book explores each in depth as it relates to the life of a faith community. This is a book for the Church, but perhaps not for the churches we most commonly see. There is an understanding of the need to recapture the kind of Church which Nicea defined (1700 years ago) as a means of reclaiming purpose, place, and value within our society at large.

Many of the chapters use stories - both imaginative narratives and real life examples of faith communities - to illustrate the direction to which the authors intend to push the audience. It is a great book to work through in a congregation struggling to understand exactly what "missional" means in real life. The book is rooted in worship, with prayers provided to bookend each chapter and guiding questions for reflection and study. It's not going to go over the head of most parishioners (although the reading level seems a bit higher than most similar books - and that's a good thing), but it should also be a difficult read, in that it challenges us to think beyond the typical church answers that so often allow us to forget the real necessity of uncomfortable growth.

I wish there were more stories. It was impossible for those chapters to run together, even when reading the book incorrectly. I wish some of the language was a little less formal and a little more conversational; sometimes it sounds academic, even if the content isn't so much. It's not as good as perhaps I'd hoped for, and I'm not sure I can give it as ringing an endorsement as I'd liek, but it's a great format for Storian Press to embark upon and I hope to see other, similar titles in the future. Marks of the Missional Church is a unique work that should at least be considered by pastors and those responsible for leadership and guidance in faith communities seeking to make and be a real difference in the world.

Just remember, make sure to read it right.

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