Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Josh Morgan

Keith Giles, an organic/house church advocate who offers all of his books for free electronically, recently released This is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended. First off, this book is a very easy read. The way Giles separates the chapters makes it feel like you are moving the book quickly and easily.

The book itself is intended to examine a biblical basis for what the institutional church and worldwide Church should look like. Long story short, Giles provides a wonderful, well-thought-out argument for the priesthood of all believers in a way that is accessible to most people (rather than heavy theological language). He notes important implications for what that looks like institutionally, including the lack of hierarchy. One of my deep spiritual/ecclesiastical values is an egalitarian organization, so I really appreciate the many angles Giles approaches this, from the role of pastor to the relevance of a "spiritual covering." There are so many wonderful things he says that I could elaborate on, but that would take forever and probably be redundant with his work. :)

There were a couple of parts that I struggled with. At one point, Giles mentions that he so dislikes it when churches raise so much money to put into creating or buying buildings rather than going to people. His rationale for this is wonderful, and I agree. When I was an elder at The Gathering, we talked about ways to make sure all of our income would go back out, which is what Giles' community succeeds at.

At the same time, I can and have seen the value of larger communities (Giles argues for very small groups) and church campuses. I grew up in small church communities and am currently drawn to the philosophy of house/organic churches. At the same time, I have been a part of some very large congregations lately. Particularly as one has been in the news lately in part because of poor financial planning related to their building, I have seen first-hand how much time, energy, and money goes into buying and maintaining church property. A lot of time, energy, and money that could go into people.

At the same time, my wife and I have come to appreciate the opportunities available with a larger congregation. While a lot of money may flow into administrative and building costs, these communities provide a lot of services to the world around them that smaller groups could not do. While the churches themselves may spend less on administration and building if they were small and without a building, then other organizations and businesses would have to pick up the slack on service. This might not happen at all. When it does, it usually occurs with non-profits, who also will often rely on donations and have the same administrative and building costs as churches. They frequently have more, as churches can often more easily be staffed by volunteers. In the end, more money may reach people if the institutional church does the work and includes the overhead. I get and agree with Giles' philosophy, but practically, biblical times were quite different than modern times when it comes to interpersonal service.

Further, church buildings can be services in themselves. While I hate the waste of space many sanctuaries are, many well-planned buildings can and are used for many activities and offered to the community to use. Further, appropriately thought-out buildings can teach spiritual stories and inspire people to go out and serve more. Yes, it is difficult to watch tens of millions of dollars go into a new building when people are starving. Yet what is the cost if that new building becomes a refuge for people to relax and become rejuvenated to then go out and help those starving neighbors? While I am very much a utilitarian with many things, I have come to value the importance of space that is life-giving. I've been to more utilitarian church buildings and those that are intended to be a sanctuary. I am much more open to people after spending time in the latter.

The other part I struggled with was a section on women leaders. Giles argues for the equality of women in the church with some excellent arguments. But then he ends by stating, "However, the authority to rebuke or confront a believer caught in sin seems to rest on those male elders and overseers who were recognized as having a Fatherly position within the Body" (p. 142). This statement stood out in stark contrast to the rest of this section and his book, which all provided examples and support for his claims. While the complementarian/egalitarian debate was not really the issue here, this statement just seemed unsupported.

While I spent most of my time here on the parts I did not fully agree with, they were actually relatively minor parts of the book. For anyone interested in organic church models and thoughts on hierarchy in ecclesiology, I highly recommend this book.

Josh Morgan

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review by Ken Eastburn

About a month ago I began reading my copy of This is My Body by my friend Keith Giles. As I read the first chapter I began to realize that this is an important book not only for me personally but for the entire church and for the growing house church movement.

There has been so much emphasis on the New Testament Church model and little understanding that this was God’s ultimate design all along for the beginning of creation.

During the time that I was reading This is My Body I was also preparing for a trip to the North of Ghana, West Africa. I have been working with “simple” church planters in Ghana for the last few years. They are using the simple/house church model in villages and other areas where it is almost impossible to raise the funds for a church building. Since the population of northern Ghana is about 95% Muslim the average villager is very hesitant to convert to Christianity.

As I read This is My Body I realized how well it would fit with the training I would be doing. So, I spent the next two weeks reading and preparing for the leadership-training seminar that my team and I were to conduct.

When I arrived in Ghana I was a little perplexed to hear that our seminar had been reduced from two days to one. But, being the rainy season here it would be difficult for many leaders to travel two days.

For the first session I used the first section of the book to establish the meaning of the Temple and the Old Testament Jewish system. It then became very easy to make the leap to the reality that these were shadows of what was to come. After looking at various passages in the Bible I divided them into groups to discuss the implications that this had for the church in Ghana. We also spent some time talking about the Priesthood of all Believers. It led to a lively debate about the need or lack of need for a church building. Since almost every village here has a mosque and almost every believer a former Muslim, the goal to have a building is the norm, much like in America.

For the second session I used the New Testament Leadership section of This is My Body. I started the session by asking how many leaders we had in the room. Every hand went up. Then I asked how many followers were present. There were a few hands raised and some embarrassing giggling that followed.

The concept of a hierarchical leadership system is very powerful in Ghana. Every village has a chief and we have learned that the first thing we do when arriving is to visit the chief and ask for his permission to be there. Pastors are well respect in Ghana and are used to being at the top of the pyramid. Some of them did not accept the fact that they were not the head of the church even after establishing that Jesus is the head.

At one point as we discussed leadership submission I brought a pastor up in front of the room to stand next to me. Then I asked the group, since we are both pastors, should I submit to him or the other way around? I then told them that if he came to me for help or advice then I would be honored to ascend to the highest point in the room. I then knelt down at his feet and looked up at him. I told him that it would be my honor to help him do whatever Jesus was asking him to do. This was a very difficult thing for most of them to grasp. One man even stood up and said that it would be good if we both knelt, but not one to another. I have to give credit to my friend Thomas Wynn for this illustration that I have seen him use before.

In the end I believe that this teaching is what God wanted to bring to these leaders in Ghana. There were a couple of times when there were so many hands up in the room and people speaking over each other that it got pretty chaotic. But it was a lively conversation and incredibly fun to lead.

I highly recommend reading This is My Body. Since I was dissecting it to find the parts to emphasis for my presentation I had the opportunity of reading most of it several times. I contacted Keith before leaving for Africa to ask permission to share the material and add my own examples and illustrations. I believe that this book has the potential to be used to train church planters all over the world in the world.

Ken Eastburn is the founder and lead servant at The Well, a house church network throughout Orange County, California and at various other places across the USA. Find out more at THE WELL GLOBAL


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reader Review: Brent Kollmansberger

Hey Keith,

I took your book with me on vacation and really enjoyed it. The Lord definitely guided you on the tone, which enabled you to present challenging and provocative concepts without your tone being challenging or provocative. I think it will help someone who is being guided by the Holy Spirit to explore this paradigm shift without becoming overly defensive.

As for me, it helped clarify in my mind what the priesthood of the believer is all about. Not just that all believers are part of the Body and have a real role to play, but that we are the priest, the temple and the living sacrifice.



Brent Kollmansberger