According to the authors, there needs to be a reshaping of spiritual community. For many decades, even centuries, the concept of "church" has been locked in with an image of buildings, budgets and programs. This book is about creating something new…well, not necessarily new from scratch but something different from the institutions and structures of church that have caused millions of people to not only leave organized "forms" of religion over the past 20 years but also those forms that have caused so many God seekers to look everywhere BUT the church on the corner for spiritual help or meaning for life.
When many people read or hear, "the church must change"…they usually fear the worst – they fear they will lose what is most precious to their own journey with God. The authors bring some compassion to those fears as they write,
"although we call for church to change, we do not suggest that we obliterate all forms and habits of Christianity…"
Good news for the faint in heart…because new forms of "church" may look new but they are most often embracing those things that have been historically tried and found trustworthy…aspects of spiritual living that have "rerouted the legacies of family, nations, kings and peasants." In one conversation that Hugh was having with a man he knew, he asked a profound question that sheds light on these issues of change:
"if Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed everyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too – and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested? 'Hell yes!' was the man's reply".
The issues in new forms of Christianity really have to do more with the impact that people who follow Jesus make on their surrounding world. For example, do people take you as a follower of Jesus seriously? Do they respect your way of living? If someone were looking for guidance, would they be more apt to talk to you, visit a local church or buy a self-help book? The authors are pointing out that there need to be some "new wineskins" when it comes to followers of Jesus living for the Kingdom. They assess that the church has lost its "flavor" (i.e. saltiness from Matthew 5:13-16) and is living in various degrees of spiritual blindness. The statistics are there…the realities are humbling.
Tomorrow…on to some of the tensions in how many feel about their faith journey and their identity as people in faith communities. More to come…