29/09/2011

So you don't want to go to Church anymore? (by Jake Colsen)

It was about five and a half years ago that I first heard of Jake Colsen (pseudonym for two writers: Dave Coleman and Wayne Jacobsen) and this amazing book.

I first read 'So you don't want to go to church anymore?' in April 2006; it was available to read online, or to print; some friends had downloaded, printed and laminated a version, which we were able to borrow. I was not sure what to expect, but found it profoundly moving and thought-provoking in the extreme.

While I had been happy enough with the church congregations we attended both in the UK and, later, in Cyprus, I was well aware of growing discontent with 'organised religion' and the dangers of institutions and structures swamping the spiritual life of many. We were beginning to see stresses locally, and this book was exactly what I needed to read at the time.

I even wrote some further thoughts about the book - called 'What is Church anyway?' - on another blog, and over the intervening years have thought, off and on, about the contents. I've read several other books on similar topic, but never quite managed to let go of the idea of attending a church service on Sunday mornings, even though it had become rather sporadic in the past couple of years.

Events transpired to make me want to read this again. I have it in printed book form now, bought from Amazon and have lent it to several people, all of whom have found it interesting and thought-provoking. After a frustrating morning last Sunday, I decided re-read the book for the theology rather than the story; I have to admit that, as a novel, it lacks much substance. The main plot is Jake's growing awareness of what it means to follow Jesus, alongside his increasing disillusionment with organised Christianity.

The story begins when Jake hears a slightly strange character called John talking about Jesus to a group of angry people. He is intrigued, and they chat awhile. Jake is an assistant pastor at a large and outwardly successful church, although he is not entirely comfortable with some of the things that are going on. And when John appears one Sunday morning and asks for a tour of the premises, Jake begins to see things through different eyes, realising the futility of much of what they do. He also becomes aware of how it can be all too easy to try and shame people into church attendance, rather than encouraging them to follow Jesus and care for each other.

The book does stress - through questioning and conversation, again - that there is nothing wrong with believers meeting together on Sunday mornings to sing, or pray, or even listen to talks, if it is what they feel to be right, if they find it helpful, and if it encourages them to walk with Jesus through the week. The book does not push different kinds of informal church services, or even house churches... it proposes a completely different model, more in line with that of the early New Testament, where the Church - as the Body of Christ - consisted of individual people caring for and walking alongside each other.

Jake goes through several difficult stages during the course of the book, and for a while blames John's radical outlook. But gradually he grows in trust and contentment, as he meets others on a similar journey. He begins to reach out in similar ways to others, and finds whole new meanings to words like 'fellowship' and 'gathering'.

I remembered most of the plot from before, so I read it this time for the theology and encouragement rather than for the story itself. And, once again, found the book extremely helpful and inspiring - so much so that I even jotted down a few sentences in a notebook for easy reference.

I would recommend it to anyone, with the caveat that we are all at different stages, walking slightly different paths, so it undoubtedly will not appeal to everyone in every situation.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th September 2011

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