22/06/2009

When the Church Leaves the Building (by David Fredrickson)


I had not heard of David Fredrickson. He is an American, who was the pastor of a church congregation for about thirty years. I came across this book because it was 'recommended' to me by Amazon, because of the other books I had read and enjoyed on similar theme.

'When the Church Leaves the Building' is, unsurprisingly, another book focusing on 'church' as the Body of Christ, rather than a building or specific congregation. The theme is for Christian believers to be relationship-based rather than institutional.

The author relates how he and his congregation felt the need first to throw off their structure and programs. He quotes an amusing 'typical' church structure, which I certainly recognised as familiar from most non-liturgical services I have attended over the years - not intending to decry those who choose to meet together on a Sunday morning, but showing how the focus can all too easily be on the services rather than the other people. And while undoubtedly some people can find and worship God in a typical congregational service, all too many are counting the tiles on the ceiling and thinking about lunch.

Even after developing a much freer, non-hierarchical structure to their Sunday mornings, based more on the New Testament model of everyone bringing a song, or something to say (rather than an organised performance by the 'worship team'), Fredrickson found that his congregation still relied too heavily on the Sunday services. So they made the even more radical decision to stop meeting as a group on Sundays altogether for a couple of months.

The main narrative, describes the steps taken, the difficulties encountered, and what happened locally. Alongside this is described a related, metaphorical incident when the author tried climbing a dangerous cliff, and had a hard time getting back to the starting point.

Scripture related to the word 'church' is explored, too; the whole book is set in the context of wanting to grow in Christ, and in love for others. The author explains how any gathering of believers is 'the church' - even just two or three, getting together over coffee. He stresses how important it is to continue to meet, to talk about life and doctrinal issues, to encourage and support each other, to use our gifts to build each other up. But he doesn't believe that most large Sunday morning gatherings are actually helpful to many people.

It's not the greatest literature. I found it easy to read; I was interested in the process, and how people related to what happened. But I didn't find the writing as such particularly inspiring. However, I thought the content well worth reading.

It's also very encouraging to those of us who are increasingly disillusioned with Sunday morning 'church' services, and should be interesting to those who disagree, too.

Similar themed books I've read in the past couple of years, some of which are quoted in this book, are 'Divine Nobodies',So you don't want to go to Church any more?', 'Liquid Church', 'Blue like jazz', 'They like Jesus but not the Church', 'Church that works' and (with some reservations) 'Pagan Christianity'

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 22nd June 2009

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