Friday 15 June 2012

Book Review: 'Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours' by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

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.


Ian Goodson said...

Dear sir

I am personally aware of the good folks at The Crowded House. I can happily reassure you that Biblical preaching, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and church discipline are all hallmarks of their churches, or 'gospel communities.'

When they refer to 'mess' they no doubt are referring to the effect of sinful people living in close relationship with one another - mess that they continually seek to address with the gospel day in, day out.

wishing you every blessing

Kevin Bidwell said...

Dear Ian,

Thank you so much for taking the time to post a response to this book review. I am glad that your perception is that biblical preaching, the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline are recognised in the gospel communities, of the Crowded House.

As you will understand, my book review was not a critical study of the Crowded House but of the book 'Everyday Church'. This book does not place an emphasis on the three marks of the church and many concerns need to be validly raised. The intention of 'Everyday Church' is to provide stimulus for a radical re-shaping of church life into 'gospel communities'.

Could you help me? In your experience of the Crowded House, what place does the doctrine of the Lord's Day have, or the place of the law of God as a rule of life? Additionally, do the Crowded House have a clear view of ordained ministry or or is it a lay-ministry house church model? Furthermore, do Steve Timmis and Tim Chester believe that the Scripture teaches us the main principles of how the church should be structured, organised and ordered? These are genuine not cynical questions and your answers would prove most profitable.

I heard Tim Chester speaking at a conference on the church (on U-Tube) and his opening statement was that he did not believe that the New Testament taught a pattern for the church, therefore we need to fill the gaps to become missional (in essence). This places pragmatism and human logic above the authority of scripture.

I dissent to such an assertion. This has not been the teaching of the church over 2000 years. We may have disagreed about the precise content of the apostolic pattern of the church but to assert that there is no apostolic pattern is indeed another matter. Have you read Thomas Witherow's 'Which is the Apostolic Church?'. I found it really helpful.

Thanks for your comments and I really look forward to your response to my questions.


Kevin Bidwell

Ian Goodson said...

Dear Kevin

I'm so sorry this reply is months late!

My wife and I left Sheffield back in 2006 so I shouldn't really comment on how things are now at TCH nor of course speak for them. May be I should never have posted a comment in the first place! However, as you're in Sheffield I'd have thought you are were a prime location to go and chat with them! (And I for one would love to hear a discussion between two people on either side of the discussion - I'd find that genuinely helpful!).

I'll have a look in to the book you mention. Thanks for that.


Kevin Bidwell said...


Thanks for responding and you do not need to apologise for posting a comment. Once people write books that are in the public domain, then they need to be rightfully scrutinised.

During a time studying at ETCW, now WEST, I would get asked about the Crowded House, being from Sheffield. I decided to go along to make sure that I got my facts straight. I was doing research on the doctrine of the church at the time which led to a PhD on systematics, with a particular focus on ecclesiology.

I was appointed one of the elders/leaders wives to answer my questions. On this occasion, she asserted that they believed that the biblical model was for a church to meet in a house, supposedly "just like in the New Testament".

These are classic house church movement arguments. One that places the location of the meeting as above other vital aspects such as sound doctrine and so forth. In effect such an ideal always places fellowship as king above all else in my view. When I asked why they were meeting now in a church building on Sunday mornings, I was told it was because the homes were too small!! Perhaps this is why churches in the NT moved out of meeting in homes as well ... I know I am being sarcastic, but it does beg the question.

I have written a recent article for Evangelical Times on the subject of missionalism. My intention is not to take aim at the TCH specifically, but to get people thinking biblically about the doctrine of the church and not to simply accept new church experiments so easily. The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and not ourselves and the NT scriptures provide a healthy apostolic blueprint to be replicated in every generation.

Here is the ET article:

Also here is a good book by Guy Prentiss Waters "How Jesus runs the Church".

I do hope that this helps and thank you so much for taking the time to respond. If you are next in Sheffield we would warmly like to invite you to come and visit us at Sheffield Presbyterian Church (


Kevin Bidwell

Ian Goodson said...

Hi Kevin

I wonder - would you mind sending me your email address? I'd like to know more about your research on the doctrine of the church. Mine is