Frank Viola's Reimagining Church continues to stimulate. I find it somewhat frustrating in places, mainly because it is hard work trying to work out how the reimagining he is proposing can be applied to an established church.
I have to confess that as I read the book I imagine that it would be far easier to plant a church than to be part of the process of transformation in one, but in one I am and this is where God has called me to be and to work out my ministry. Now either I've misheard and misunderstood what I thought was God's call on my life over the last 20 to 30 years because I'm locked into the hierarchical business model, or I'm part of God's plan to bring about the change he wants to see. I guess the one certain thing is that I am not a passive observer!
So how does the church need to change? Is the leadership structure all wrong? I can't fault Viola's argument, which in itself isn't new, that the traditional pattern of organised church has done very little to empower Christians to live out their call as members of God's missional family. But I wouldn't want to throw out the baby with the bath and the water just yet! On the other hand I'm not averse to a little bit of revolution and the upsetting of the occasional apple cart.
Somewhere, in all the models of church that I've witnessed and of which I have been a part, and all the models about which I've read, there are principles that I am sure should be applied. Principles like Willow's seeker focused approach, which regularly challenges me to make sure our main celebration is accessible to those seeking and not just the arrived. Cafe church with it's informal style and open exploration of issues and questions (not just better coffee and muffins). Principles like high grace, low risk and doable evangelism that come out of the writings and practice of Steve Sjogren and Jim Henderson. Walk across the room and Contagious Christianity, again from Willow Creek. And so many more.
So, although I may never end up in the same place as Frank Viola, I will continue to reimagine church and to challenge the people around me to do the same. The reason of course is simple. In a little while I'll put on my shoes and coat and set off to walk the mile and a quarter to the station to meet Anne. As I walk I will the faces of people who represent many more who find themselves far from God whether it matters to them or not.
They are the reason we need to reimagine church. Not because church doesn't suit us anymore, but because lost people matter to God and they are missing from his family, and he has chosen the church as the vehicle for reintroducing them.