What If Jesus Was Serious About The Church

By Stephen Clark

by Danielle Dolin

The beauty of an Etch-A-Sketch is that you can experiment as much as you want. When things go awry, flip it over, give it a good shake up, reset, and start again with a clean slate. Reset buttons on devices work much the same way. In this book, What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church (Moody, 2022), Skye Jethani offers several reset buttons for the church.

Formatted like your typical devotional and decorated with doodle-like drawings, Jethani seeks to call the church back from event-driven, isolation-fueling, business-like corporate structure to New Testament community, meaning “living in communion with God and one another for the sake of the world.” It’s not a novel idea, but hisapproach is fresh.

Within five broad categories, he offers 51 short “meditations” on various aspects of church life. Each brief bite points to an issue, provides biblical context, and offers clear correctives.

The five broad categories tackled are the family (meaning, church), reunion (addressing the need for true community within the body), meal (making the Lord’s supper more than a passing ritual), gathering (getting the act and focus of worship right), business (understanding the real point of church), and servants (correcting how leaders view themselves and how we relate to them).

Jethani sets the tone for the book in his introduction aptly titled “Restoring Family Values.” He claims, “Most pastors now stay inside church facilities all week managing programs, and ministry happens when people come to them.” My reaction is a conditional no and yes.

I’m not sure it’s accurate to say “most” pastors are holed up in their churches between Sundays. Many spend a good deal of their time managing the staff and activities, but also manage to get out and about visiting shut-ins and responding to calls for help. I do agree that a lot of churches function in an if-we-build-it-they-will-come mode. (Behold, they stand at their doors and wait!) This is the comfortable way, and being too comfortable is a topic Jethani attacks in meditation #39. (By the way, there is no index of the 51 vignettes, something that would enhance the book a lot.)

An interesting semantic problem Jethani raises surrounds the use of churched verses unchurched. He argues, rightly, that we once viewed people as Christians or non-Christians, believers or nonbelievers. This distinction spoke to their relationship with Jesus as being central, not their attachment to the church. This has shifted. Rather than taking the gospel out into the community to make disciples, we tend to try to draw people in to become members, or at least to win a free gas card.

He addresses this lacking more specifically in meditation #1 where he points out that “Jesus and His apostles never equate the church with a building or an event.” He reminds us that our calling is to “foster the incarnate human connections through which the work of God is ultimately accomplished.” Systems, programs, processes, and events don’t embody Christ to the world — we, His people, do!

Throughout the book, in 51 small bites, Jethani takes generally accepted ideas about church and presents them in unexpected ways, mostly by simply putting them firmly back into the context of scripture. Some items are more hard-hitting than others. Some are interesting but not necessarily reset buttons. And item #51 about the church not simply being strong but anti-fragile could have used a bit more explication.

This would be a great book for a church staff to prayerfully walk through together, allowing their set ideas of how to do church to be challenged and reset.

Stephen R. Clark is a writer who lives in Lansdale, PA with his wife, BethAnn, where they attend Immanuel Church. His website is www.StephenRayClark.com. He is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and managing editor of the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. He is also a news writer for The Baptist Paper and his writing has appeared in several publications. A longer version of this review appeared in the Englewood Review of Books and is used with permission.

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