by John Armstrong
I was honored to receive a pre-release book in the mail last week from Zondervan Publishing. Written by John Armstrong, the book is entitled Your Church is Too Small
I have to admit it: at first blush, the title of the book was a bit off-putting- at least for anyone who, like me, is remotely sickened by the thought of one more book which boasts a formulaic solution to “your church’s size problem.” I was at once disinterested and disappointed…for about one nanosecond, because once I read the sub-title, my interest was piqued.
The book’s subtitle holds the key: “Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church”
Upon reading this, my disinterest immediately turned to intrigue.
So, while I’m at making admissions, let me also say: “I was mistaken.” Because as soon as I read the subtitle, I realized that despite its title’s reference to “size” this was not you run-of-the-mill book about church growth.
In fact it is not a book about church growth at all.
And it is most certainly not run-of-the-mill.
This is not just another book about opening the floodgates of “any old church” and making bigger congregations; this is a book about opening the collective mind of the church universal and making life-changing paradigm shifts toward a larger understanding of each other without focusing so much on “who’s in and who’s out.”
A book that addresses the cancer of disunity among Christians, now there’s a read!
Sadly, Church unity is not something you hear a lot about at the ground level. What I mean by this is that you won’t hear members of one particular faith community bemoaning how they wish they had a relationship with the church down the road.
Quite the contrary…
Outsiders observe the disconnect between our behaviors and beliefs, especially with regard to our love for one another- the love to which Christ called us. This disunity is visible and off-putting.
Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
He was right…is right; and while Romans 1:16 reminds us to not be ashamed of the Gospel, we certainly have no reason to be proud of our behavior and our lack of unity. It is shameful at times.
But I digress…
Although much of the first part of the book discusses Armstrong’s personal story and search for (and discovery of) Truth and Unity within the Church, it is not merely autobiographical in nature. He gives real examples and suggestions for restoring unity within the Eccesia.
Armstrong encourages the reader to contemplate the concept of embracing a “both/and” versus an “either/or” mentality. In other words, he suggests that we recognize the false dichotomy in which we feel we must choose between "fact" and friendship; and he stresses the importance of seeking both truth and unity versus choose between either truth or unity.
The book is not fluff, either. One has only to open the book and peruse the Table of Contents and Glossary and Notes sections to see that this book is not only well researched, but also well rounded in its referencing. Additionally, Armstrong’s ability to use names like Schaeffer, Newbigin, Calvin, Ratzinger, Barth, Lewis, Oden, Guder, Kuyper, Bonhoeffer, Packer, and the Taizé Community in one book masterfully proves his point by example. Although these great thinkers clearly come from very different places historically, geographically, and doctrinally, they all share(d) a passionate desire for the Gospel.
His argument is well made that if Christians from all the major “streams” enter into a Christocentric relationship of cooperation toward the mission of Kingdom work, the gospel will flourish.
I highly recommend this book which offers a fresh perspective and viable ideas on how to see Christ's Unity Prayer in John 17 come to fruition.
And on that note, an encouraging thought about Jesus’ Prayer of Unity:
God’s Word is powerful and transcends time.
When spoken, a word from God takes on its own life and continues forward out into time. God’s command: “Let there be light!” continues today, as billions of constellations continue to form and hurtle outward through space, creating new galaxies and new points of light.
So too, the word of the Living Word of God-the words that Christ used to intercede for His Church in Gethsemane-also hurtle forward through time, forming and glorifying newly created believers and creating anew His Church whose mission is to shine like the sun and be a beacon of hope to the world.
May it be so.
(BTW: The book releases on April 1, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.)