Where enemies become friends, where bitterness ends?

  God’s Church, My Place

Steve Tilley

BRF, 9780857460110, £6.99

Gimme, gimme shock treatment. A guide NOT for church leaders but for members to help them to get fully involved with the life and work of the community of faith. So not ‘how to be a good leader’ but ‘how to be a good member’. Excellent idea – a much needed book that clearly argues many valuable and challenging points about overcoming the stuffiness of traditional church, underpinning this with plenty of Biblical witness.

However, there were parts of it that made me grumpy. Sometimes very grumpy, indeed. The author is very open about his own opinions, his own cage rattling of the established order and the life-sapping attitude of doing church by rote. There are times when he makes me feel cross because he has lambasted one of my pet pleasures about church and I have to admit, grudgingly perhaps, that he is right to do so – he is trying to see what we do in church with the eyes of a newcomer not steeped in traditional ways and in doing so he shows up some of our attitudes and behaviours as nonsensical and barriers to involvement. But elsewhere I feel he is unfairly down on aspects of church, of worship especially, which sustain and nurture many. He is right that there are some folk who don’t like singing – I’m one of them, I could happily trash the hymn books – but at the same time it is obvious that we are poles apart when it comes to the value of liturgy.

I could grumble on about the things about this book which have needled me, but that’s the point, if it hadn’t set my teeth on edge then I don’t think it would have been doing its job – I’ve been a church member for over forty years, I’m bound to have become a little set in my ways and need shaking up. The ten short chapters are excellent pithy discussion starters for groups or individuals to begin reflecting on their own experience of church. The use of Ephesians and other scriptural material grounds each topic in the Bible while the author’s own, often witty, anecdotes of observed and engaged church practise keep his thoughts fresh and relevant. On page 56 there is a five point audit for where your church is currently positioned that I believe is immensely valuable and there are numerous authors quoted, chiefly from outside what we would call the ‘religious’ sphere, who provide a wider context for thought.

When it comes down to it I would like to say that this is a book I could recommend to be used judiciously as a resource for reappraising and reinvigorating church life. But actually, I think it shouldn’t be used judiciously, it should be used uninhibitedly, it should be given room to encourage people to not only dare to dream how a church community should really be, but to have the courage, the insight and the Spirit to put those dreams into action.

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