Freed to Serve (by Michael Green)

‘Freed to Serve’ is one of many similar books dating from the 1980s which I found in our bookcase of Christian books. I’d heard of Michael Green, an Anglican minister, theologian and writer who is now in his eighties. The blurb on the back says that this book is a radical call to assess Christian ministry. I have no idea how we acquired it, nor whether I had previously read it.

While written primarily for clergy (particularly those in the Anglican church) and others in Christian leadership, it’s a very readable, clearly written and interesting book. Nearly 35 years ago, Michael Green was clearly a forward thinker, perceiving problems with the ‘one-man’ leadership style of many churches, even then, and assessing what he saw as the way forward, if the church was to survive into the 21st century.

The first few chapters of the book look at what the author perceives as guidelines related to Christian ministry from within the New Testament. He begins with some stark contrasts between the early church and that of the 1980s. Much of what he states is still relevant today. He continues by looking at the ministry of Jesus, which was primarily that of service, not authoritarianism, and then the importance of equipping all believers, not just a few, to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.

In the later chapters of the book, Michael Green takes an honest look at some of the controversial issues which were dividing the church at the time. Apostolic succession is a peculiarly Anglo-Catholic one that seems almost irrelevant to me, but it was clearly a stumbling block at the time, between Anglicans and other Protestants. He looks, too, at the debate about women in ministry. At the time of publication, women in the Anglican church could do almost anything other than preach sermons, serve Communion, or be ordained. That has clearly moved forward in the past few decades; for any detractors, there are some excellent, Scriptural arguments in favour of women being treated no differently from men, as far as church leadership goes.

I have to admit I didn’t read every word of the book. In some places, what the author said was so close to what I saw as obvious, that I skimmed somewhat. Some paragraphs were so full of Scriptural references in parentheses that they were awkward to read through. Footnotes or after notes would have made it easier. But really, those are my only slight quibbles with the book. It’s inevitably somewhat dated, yet the author, ahead of his time, perceived the importance of television and video in outreach to the community, and even imagined something approaching Internet video calls, with a prediction that counselling would be able to happen via television and satellite.

This isn’t a light book, despite its readable style and short length; it’s under 150 pages. New believers might find it too critical, and those outside of Christian circles and faith would probably roll their eyes after a couple of pages. It’s written for those who believe, who see problems in the way church congregations are run, and who would like to see a vision for something different.

'Freed to Serve' is long out of print, but often available second-hand. And it's the kind of book that turns up randomly on people's Christian bookshelves, too...

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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