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  • Joe Bridgman

Book review: Everyday Church

I originally wrote this review for a church-planting internship on September 26, 2019.

In Everyday Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis urge Christians to adapt the culture of their churches to the changing society around them. They methodically demonstrate in chapter one that Christianity and Christendom are no longer a part of our society’s consciousness, leaving most churches completely misaligned in their missional priorities, especially considering that “Seventy percent of the United Kingdom population have no intention of ever attending a church service.”[1] Much of their book is an exposition of 1 Peter, emphasizing and applying its themes of exile and social marginalization. Their central concern is mission strategy, arguing from 1 Peter that “At the heart of this mission strategy are not services, courses, programs, and activities but ordinary lives lived for God’s glory.”[2] In other words, the church’s mission should be carried out in everyday moments. Such an “alternative and authentic society”[3] can winsomely call non-Christians out of the broader society and into Christianity.

Chester and Timmis accurately critiqued the Church’s cumbersome reliance on programs to systematize what should be vibrant, everyday, Christian community. “Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life,”[4] they write. This is a message churches need to hear.

However, in an effort to elevate the significance of everyday, ordinary life for Christians, they denigrated some of the extraordinary elements of a biblical church. Sometimes they made false dichotomies to strengthen their point, like good preaching versus sharing lives together.[5] Sometimes they flattened unique displays of a church’s authority by depreciating the sermon as a monologue,[6] or challenging the notion of “top-down pastoring.”[7] For them, a church on mission is “just hanging out, doing nothing spectacular, but with gospel intentionality.”[8] The ethos of their book would make a good appendage to a sermon-preaching, pastors-leading, evangelism-driven church, but not a good replacement. And it didn’t have to be.

Chester and Timmis gave insight into the psyche of a post-Christian context, as well as practiced wisdom for evangelism in everyday life. These provided a few ministry applications which are in bold below.

Adjust to the obstacles of a secular society. The U.K.’s secular society has expanded its influence deeply into its citizens. It is not just a far-reaching ideology, wielded by a political elite to affect government policies and news agencies. It is deep-reaching, warping the everyman’s assumptions, convictions, and concerns. An obvious but ominous result of this secularization is the disaffection with churches. “While one in four Americans has no contact with church, in Britain it is three in four.”[9] That’s not even measuring evangelical churches! At worst, for the average citizen, church is a ghoul from medieval times that tries to spook people into its dominion with fables. At best, it’s an anti-science organization of irrelevant ethics. This is perhaps the primary obstacle that Chester and Timmis want our churches to address. The lesson is simple: evangelize outside the doors of your church. They urge, “It is not a question of ‘improving the product’ of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events.”[10] This is an adjustment that all of our churches should make, and it might prove to be a greater obstacle in us than the ones in our secular society.[11] As we interact with our secularized neighbors, we will discover that the obstacles are not simply in their view of church meetings, but even more deeply in their view of religion itself. Chester and Timmis explain: “I have had a number of conversations in which I talk about faith in Jesus and my friends talk about ‘being religious.’ They assume we are calling them to be religious, not in the sense of law-based religious activity or morality but in a more general sense of a vague spiritual sensibility that they are free to interpret for themselves.”[12] Even the concept of religion has devolved from moralism, which at least assumed objective truth-claims, to a vague spiritual sensibility. I have seen this in my scheme. It is almost as if faith is a sixth sense, a sensitivity to emotional platitudes that they can no longer bring themselves to feel. They often even admire people who can! It’s as if a call to Jesus is a nostalgic call to a naïve time before life’s harshness crushed their inner idealist. Recently, a man in the local pub boasted of his Catholic heritage and Bible training, but when pressed, he rejected being labeled “a man of faith.” Why? His dad died of cancer. A local woman was raised a Christian, but she cannot bring herself to believe those things anymore. Why? Her mom, who taught her most of these things, died before her alcoholic father did. In a deeply post-Christian society, a call to Jesus is like a call to Christmas morning. They think we’re just asking them to feel the magic again. Since science and technology have already answered the metaphysical and ethical questions in a deeply secular society, religion has been sequestered to the intangibles like, cultural heritage, emotions, and strange coincidences. The church needs to adjust to this obstacle. We need to describe our faith in objective, falsifiable doctrines and ethics. Our lives must be “proof that the gospel is not an empty word but a powerful word that takes men and women who are lovers of self and transforms them by grace through the Spirit into people who love God and others.”[13] We must showcase the Bible’s more satisfying answers to life’s deep questions than secularism offers. These obstacles are great, but not insurmountable. We will make great strides by simply spending time with our unbelieving neighbors and acquainting ourselves with the obstacles.

Keep studying your context. No society is static. They are always changing. Today’s freshest ministry technique will be an artifact of Christianity in a few weeks. As Chester and Timmis put it, “We cannot work on our understanding of our neighborhood and then sign it off.”[14] The point is not to convert your astute synthesis of broad societal factors into a complex model that captures your cultural moment (and gets some Twitter traffic to boot.) The point is just loving your neighbors, whomever they become. One of the book’s most helpful tools for studying my context was called generative issues. They explain, “These issues mattered to people and so motivated their learning. Look for topics that generate energy in people, that make people excited, angry, agitated, and enthusiastic. These will often be windows into the things about which they care deeply.”[15] This approach teaches you about your context from your context. In hearing the generative issues of your neighbors, you will be studying their assumptions, paradigms, and worldview. Their perspective on Brexit might be laughable in academia, but you’re not writing an economic treatise. You’re just loving your neighbors. So, keep studying your context.

Direct normal conversations toward the gospel. The gold in this book is chapter five, “Everyday Evangelism.” If our churches are going to engage our neighbors outside of events and in the course of everyday interactions, we need much wisdom in the area of evangelism. While I am grateful for any method of evangelism that is bold and clear, Chester and Timmis expanded evangelism in my mind from a point-in-time presentation to a directionof every conversation. This is especially helpful for evangelism with people that you see on a day-by-day basis. I often find myself fearfully waiting for the “relational capital” (whatever that means) and their broaching of deeper topics before I tell the gospel to my neighbors. However, “We cannot wait for people to ask the metaphysical questions. We need to identify gospel responses to the Where are my car keys? and What do you think about this dress? questions.”[16] They don’t mean using vaguely spiritual words to answer these questions and then labeling it “gospel intentionality.” They mean that friendships have hundreds of conversations, and these conversations are not just building relationship. Even the small, everyday interactions have opportunities to lead your friends to a knowledge of the truth. One of their most practical suggestions for improving this conversational tact is to make it habitual with other Christians. They ask, “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”[17] The more we see Jesus reigning over every aspect of our lives, the more we can authentically talk to our unbelieving neighbors about Jesus in every aspect of their lives. Another good example of this everyday style of evangelism is using personal testimonies of daily reliance on God[18] and asking for prayer requests from your neighbors.[19] At times, I felt that Chester and Timmis worked too hard to avoid offending people with our evangelism, but I still felt challenged to direct every interaction toward Jesus and forgiveness of sins in his name.

[1] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, 17. [2] Ibid, 88. [3] Ibid, 140. [4] Ibid, 49. [5] Ibid, 140. [6] Ibid, 154. [7] Ibid, 72. [8] Ibid, 143. [9] Ibid, 15. [10] Ibid, 17. [11] For practical suggestions, see pp. 91-92. [12] Ibid, 39. [13] Ibid, 56. [14] Ibid, 43. [15] Ibid, 125. [16] Ibid, 113. [17] Ibid, 111. [18] Ibid, 128. [19] Ibid, 149.

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