Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours
Tim Chester & Steve Timmis
Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2011, 197pp, paperback.
ISBN: 978 1 84474 520 3
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis appear to be carving out a popular brand of the church. However, their vision for ‘gospel communities’ amounts to a radical reshaping of traditional beliefs about the church. This latest printing moves beyond Total Church (2007) by presenting a myriad of more developed proposals for evangelism to be carried out by ‘missional churches’ (10, 51).
Everyday Church has seven chapters, and the Epistle of 1 Peter forms something of a spinal column throughout. It is not intended to be a commentary on 1 Peter, but rather a ‘dialogue with the first letter of Peter’ (11). The initial chapter ‘Life at the Margins’ offers a brisk analysis of the changing face of the UK, one that is a perceived to be a ‘post-Christendom context and culture’ (20-28). They should rightfully gain a sympathetic audience from any Christian who is concerned about the sad state of our nation. An evangelistic fervor shines through, one that is commendable, especially given that ‘70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service’ (28). Their analysis though, leads them to unfortunate conclusions which are unsupported by biblical exegesis and which should make people committed to reformed convictions nervous.
Chester and Timmis suggest in Chapter One that ‘Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there’ and that the ‘bedrock of mission will be ordinary life’ (31). The next chapter ‘Everyday Community’ places great stress on the development of gospel communities ‘with a commitment to being a family’, whereby Christians live as part of an ‘everyday community of grace’, which becomes for them, ‘God’s missionary strategy’ (64-6).
‘Everyday Pastoral Care’ (chapter 3) outlines that pastoral care is a community responsibility and that ‘we need to get away from the idea that “a minister” in the sense of an ordained church leader does gospel ministry in the pulpit on Sunday’ (79-80). The authors acknowledge that their suggested approach will mean that ‘we should be ready for mess and indeed welcome it’ (83). Perhaps this anticipated ‘mess’ is what the apostle Paul calls ‘confusion’ (1 Cor. 14:33). Paul suggests a different solution for ‘churches who are at the margins’, as he counsels the elders at Ephesus to ‘care for the church of God’ (Acts 20: 28).
In the remaining chapters, the authors recommend that we should drop our preoccupation with ‘church’ (99); it is the gospel communities where the main action of fellowship, evangelism and encouragement takes place, some of which do not meet on Sunday for worship at all (111, 122). For a book that is supposed to be about the church, there are a number of gaps. There is, for instance, little mention of the centrality of propositional preaching, the sacraments, the Lord’s Day, and the use of the moral law for sanctification. For those readers who desire a completely new approach to the way that we do church, it will be welcome: for those readers who are committed to the historic marks of a true church (preaching, sacraments and discipline), there will be any number of red flags raised.