I blagged a review copy of this book from the author – but not the publisher – and I’ve never met either of them, so while I don’t feel I’m under any obligation to like it, I always like to offer a disclaimer.
At the start of his conclusion to this beautiful book, Chris Lane writes that he was tempted to title it Success and How to Avoid it: A Story of Church Planting in the Inner City. For me, as a reader of many books about various combinations of those and other words, that sums up why this book is so good.
Chris is keen to emphasise – almost to a fault – that this book is not his story. It is the story of a community, for sure, but it is a story linked into the deeper and better story of the Gospel by virtue of the fact that it echoes serious and regular obedience to Jesus’ invitation to eat together. Whilst this is arguably an excellent book about the realities of church planting, the vagaries of the Missio Dei, and the possiblity of God’s Kingdom breaking in wherever we aren’t, this is ultimately a book that encourages us to rethink and remebmer the importance of eating together. Food is central to how Chris and his community ‘do’ church – and this is beautifully reflected in both the stories and a thoughtful explanation of how Jesus’ meals can offer us a model for church and a memory-process for the Gospel.
That, however, was not my favourite chapter.
Now and again I read a book which I like, but there is a chapter in it that really resonates with me. For example, John Stott’s book Challenges of Christian Leadership includes a beautiful chapter on the difficulty, opportunity and biblical challenge of being a young leader. I recommend it widely. Chris’s book includes a chapter, ‘Vulnerability and Success’ that in my view is worth the price of the book itself, even as it will likely offend and provoke. This chapter resonated deeply with me, and I would encourage you to read it. Chris tantalizes the reader (And, in my opinion, delivers roundly on his promise) thusly:
“In this chapter I want to explore goodness and greatness, growth and success through the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus. I am not criticising [insert leadership guru name here] at all, only questioning the use of business principles such as these in the life of the church”
Chris goes on to actually explore what he says he will try to, using self-deprecating examples to reinforce the point. This last is a vital part of this book – Chris doesn’t take himself too seriously, and yet clearly knows who he is, in Christ. As a book offering a different way of thinking about church, community, leadership and miracles, I found this inspirational. He also challenges the oft-heard adage that ‘Healthy things grow’, in a section that is a powerful reinforcement of Jesus’ words that His kingdom is not of this world.
So who is this book for, and why should you read it?
- This is a book for pastors, paid or unpaid, who are disillusioned with the industrialisation of Christianity and wonder if there might be a way to follow Jesus again.
- This is a book for thinkers, pondering the possibility of church planting, theology, and community, in places that aren’t ‘sexy’ or in the process of gentrification.
- This is a book for anyone who is part of a church, and has been part of a church for a long time, because it is a wonderful, God-inspired reminder of the value of stability, the same presence in the same place, for the sake of people coming to Christ.
TLDR? Get this book, chew on it, and be encouraged by it.