11/07/2018

Finding Church (by Wayne Jacobsen)

I have kept an eye out for books by Wayne Jacobsen since reading, many years ago, the book ‘So you don’t want to go to church anymore?’. That book, a fictionalised account of people becoming unhappy with their structured mega-church and discovering a more relational way of following Jesus, was quite a landmark in the lives of many.

I have appreciated a couple of other books by this author, and have just finished reading ‘Finding Church’, which has the subtitle ‘What if there really is something more?’ I haven’t been following Wayne Jacobens’s blog or Facebook page and wondered if it was going to be a book encouraging people to re-join established congregations. There are many books which do that, agreeing that the institutional church is far from perfect, but citing many advantages or benefits to belonging to a local congregation.

However, this book does not do that. Not that the author is anti-church in any way, and he acknowledges that in many cases a church congregation can provide a good environment for many people, either for short periods or long-term. New believers can be taught basics, and make some useful friendships through a local congregation. People can explore and use their gifts, and many Christians enjoy singing as a way of worshipping God, something which is easier to do in a group than on one’s own.

Nevertheless, there are thousands of people who have become dissatisfied with local congregations for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes these reasons may be critical or negative, with or without validity. Many local church groups become rule-bound, requiring Sunday morning attendance in order to be ‘part’ of the local expression of the body. They usually follow a set format, whether formal liturgy or a ‘worship time’ and ‘teaching time’, with little room for individuality. This suits some people, but we are all different - and when a congregation is made up of all ages, many nationalities, and many educational and cultural levels, it’s impossible for any talk or style of music to be relevant to everyone.

In many cases, people leave their local church congregations because they feel that there should be something different. They long for ways of connecting with others that don’t rely on sitting in rows on a Sunday morning. This book is, in a nutshell, about finding the Church - by which the author means the Body of Christ worldwide - by following Jesus directly, being open to the leading of the Spirit, and forming friendships with those around us.

The author mentions that the house church movement, and home groups within larger congregations, can be useful ways of connecting and forming stronger relationships than is possible in a once-a-week congregational setting. But he notes with sadness that they, too, often become rule-bound and institutionalised, perhaps expecting too high a degree of accountability, or extensive funding, or formulating rules which are seen as more important than loving God and our neighbours.

The writing is well-organised, carefully structured, and refers regularly to Scripture in context. The author shares some of his own experiences, both positive and negative, and his gradual acceptance of the idea that it’s fine not to belong to any local congregation. He examines many objections, including a chapter with specific questions and some answers, and he also sets out what he proposes - and is beginning to find in his own life and ministry.

Jacobsen is very keen not to be prescriptive. To produce a set of strict guidelines or objectives would create yet another rule-bound movement that would miss the point entirely. So he lays out his arguments, in the early part of the book, focussing on what he calls the ‘new creation’, where we are not bound by the laws or structures which were in place before Jesus.

He also suggests some principles, or values, to encourage people to move forward. So, for instance, there is a chapter called ‘Order without Control’, and another on ‘Authority without Hierarchy’. They form very general guidelines explaining how these Biblical precepts can be kept, without deteriorating into man-made requirements.

Personally, I found this book extremely encouraging. Much of what the author said resonated strongly with me - perhaps because I’ve been asking questions of this nature for some years. I have to admit I found some sections of the book a tad dry, perhaps too obvious; yet he had to write in a lot of detail to cover as many possible objections as he could. Others might disagree strongly with the principles in the book, and that’s okay; we’re all at different stages.

I hope it will, at least, help others to understand how it’s possible to be a follower of Jesus without belonging to any specific congregation. I hope it might also help those within traditional or modern church settings, who want something more, to see ways of reaching out into the community, and of building loving relationships with other believers during the week.

I recommend this very highly to anyone interested in these issues. Available fairly inexpensively for the Kindle as well as in paperback form.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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