Book Review: Everyday Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
“The culture has changed, therefore the church must change.” That refrain, whether expressed or assumed, is the dominant motif of much of today’s church literature. And almost always, I’m unconvinced. Too often evangelicals mistake superficial trends for tectonic shifts. And too often we simply mirror the culture, as if what the world really needed was for the church to be just like it.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ new book Everyday Church does highlight recent shifts in Western culture, and it calls for churches to change in response. Yet refreshingly, their analysis of culture and prescriptions for change hit the mark just about every time.
POST-CHRISTENDOM EVANGELISM FOR A POST-CHRISTENDOM WORLD
The main premise of Everyday Church is that churches in the United Kingdom, and increasingly in America, are facing a post-Christendom world yet relying on evangelistic methods left over from Christendom. For generations we have tended to subsist on capital generated by a church-saturated culture, but now that the culture has shifted underfoot we are overdrawing our account.
When church occupied a central place in the culture, we could expect people to come to us. So church growth proponents of various stripes focused on providing the best Sunday-service product as defined by the tastes of a targeted clientele. But now, increasing numbers of people simply have no background in church and no desire to go to church. We cannot entice them to come to us, which means that we have to go to them.
Of course, this is what we should have been doing all along. This is why Chester and Timmis’ call to missional engagement is free of the revisionist ring of so many contemporary calls to change. These brothers are convinced of the power of the gospel. They are unafraid of marginalization and persecution. They are not interested in making church sexier. Instead, they want the church to engage the world precisely by being the church: an alternative, Spirit-empowered community whose corporate life, verbal witness, and love for the world all work together to convey and commend the gospel. Newbigin and many others have been sounding these notes for more than a generation now, but Chester and Timmis serve us all by presenting the best of this type of missional thinking in a concise, applied form.
A VISION FOR A CHURCH ON MISSION
Everyday Church casts a vision for a church on mission through a sequential series of meditations on 1 Peter. This is an apt pairing since 1 Peter draws attention to the church’s marginal status as “strangers and exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1), a state we in America and the U.K. are rapidly rediscovering.
Chapter 1 unpacks this theme and chronicles the church’s move to the margins in the U.S. and U.K. as the culture has shifted in a decisively post-Christendom direction. Chapter 2 is a balanced discussion of how Christians should relate to an increasingly hostile culture. Chapter 3 paints an attractive picture of daily one-another-ing. Chapter 4 explores mission in the broad sense of deliberately engaging with non-Christians throughout your daily routines, and chapter 5 offers insightful counsel about how to find genuine points of contact between the gospel and the stories we tell every day. Chapter 6 shows how an eternal perspective enables the kind of generosity and sacrifice essential to “everyday church,” and the book concludes with some practical steps for putting “everyday church” and “everyday mission” into practice.
INSTRUCTIVE, ENCOURAGING, CONVICTING
If you are a pastor feeling caught off guard by our culture’s increasing hostility to the gospel, Chester and Timmis’ worldview work in chapter 1 and throughout the book could certainly help restore your equilibrium. If you have operated within any version of an attractional ministry mindset, Chester and Timmis’ calls to move toward non-Christians and their practical model of missional ministry should help restore a clearer, more biblical evangelistic vision. If you are struggling to help your people live on mission, then embrace this book’s constant refrain to do what you are already doing, with others—both believers and non-believers. (See chapter 4, especially the excellent “eight easy ways to be missional” from Jonathan Dodson on pages 91-92.)
This book is instructive, encouraging, and convicting. I am happy to recommend it. My only significant critique is that I think some of what they do in “gospel communities,” chiefly baptism and the Lord’s Supper, should be done in the gathering of the whole church. Chester and Timmis are careful not to downplay the corporate meeting of the whole congregation, but the functional center of gravity in their model is the “gospel community” in which “community, mission, pastoral care, prayer, baptism, Communion, and the application of God’s Word take place” (155; cf. 104). At a theological level, I think this removes the Lord’s Supper from its normative context (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18) and implicitly creates a polity structure in tension with Scripture.
Yet Chester and Timmis wisely insist that the ethos of everyday church does not depend on copying the specific structures they have developed. Instead, it means infusing daily life with relationships with those inside and outside the church, and infusing those relationships with the gospel. That is an ethos I not only agree with, but more importantly need all the help I can get in living it out. Through its biblical teaching and mediated modeling, that is just what Everyday Church offers.