Read the Foreword Below and download the first chapter here!
At a recent confrence in Sydney on mission-focused churches, the speaker launched the gathering with the provocative lines "Most Christians are not engaged as participants in the mission of God" and "Churches have structured for passivity!" I visit a lot of very different churches, and I have to say that increasingly the Sunday worship experience is a very passive affair for the majority of attendees.
Often the audtorium is darkened so that all the focus is on the stage, which implicitly reinforces that we are present at a performance. It is not a big step from there to the notion that we come to church to be entertained and inspired by specialists. The people at the front assist us in worshiping in our private space and may well helpfully encourage us to live better for Christ in the week, but I will have contributed nothing other than my body heat to the experience. The structure does indeed seem to enable passivity. This seems a long way from the pattern we see in the early churches of everyone using their gifts and bringing something to offer when the body gathers. What has happened over the last thirty odd years that has moved us from the emphasis on "body ministry" to where we are today?
The Murray Williamses argue that multivoiced participation has always been at its highest during a renewal movement and then lapses in the intervening years. Specialist-led church is thus a sign of church decline-a desperate substitution of professionalism for collective passion. This book is therefore a timely reminder that, in striving to reinvigorate a struggling church and recover a mission focus, we may be barking up the wrong tree. Rather than keep improving the quality of the music and presentation at the front, maybe we need to start re-enfranchising the congregation and empowering them to have a voice and make an offering.
The Power of All is an antidote to the boredom many experience in church, and also to the growing irregularity of attendance. "What difference does it make if I am not there? The band will still go on singing and the preacher will preach, so no one will miss me!" Sian and Stuart have written a very practical book with plenty of ideas about doing church differently-not just changing the worship service, but also looking at the way we build community and make decisions together. These practical suggestions are firmly supported by a biblical framework, and also address many of the realities of making the transition and dealing with the inevitable messiness of change.
Having read the manuscript of this book, I was inspired to rewrite a sermon for a pastor's induction; to cut it down considerably and make space for small groups to engage with the text and produce from it their own hopes, dreams, and blessings for their new pastor, and he for them. What would have been a safe, predictable, and probably unmemorable (albeit adequately inspiring!) monologue became an occasion when the community of all ages and nationalities participated movingly in multivoiced benediction.
I reckon that new action in response to a book must be every Christian author's delight, and I know Sian and Stuart well enough to recognize that this is their motivation for writing The Power of All. They have not written a book to pump up their own egos or fill out their already impressive CVs; rather, they both deeply desire that the church be transformed for mission in today's post-Christendom context. The Power of All is an important book for all churches in the more affluent parts of the globe at this time of liminality and change.
Many churches are struggling to keep pace with population growth, and many are actively declining in numbers. In this book we are encouraged to arrest that trajectory, not by following the trends of celebrity-led culture, but by practicing biblical patterns of community life. This is a book that offers hope particularly to the smaller churches, because they are often best placed to encourage everyone to make an offering and most easily enable everyone to have a voice. The path to change, to renewed mission and social transformation, is simply to rediscover the gifts that the Spirit has given to every believer and offer ways for them to be expressed. This isn't a new message, but it appears to be a lost message that needs recovering.
This is a book that will greatly assist anyone who sits in church and occasionally wonders why they bother! It is a book for church leaders and pastors who feel frustrated and exhausted by the demands to "do church better" for their congregation. It is a book for people who want to recover something authentic, biblical, and connected with others in their faith journey. It is a book that we need to read and pass on to others. It is a book we need to act on.
Acting Director of Ministries,
Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia