Monday, February 11, 2019

Learning to be the Church in a New World: A Review

Being the church today is a challenge, but this is nothing new according to Terrell Carter, the author of Learning to be the Church in a New World:  Recognizing and Overcoming the Challenges to Organized Faith in the 21st Century.  Rather than fearing these challenges, we should look to the Bible for clarity in how to embrace them and do the work that God has called us to do.

This more of a “why-to” than a “how-to” book.  Although Carter provides a thorough diagnosis of the situation the church finds itself in today, he takes us to scripture to find both encouragement and insight about a way forward.  As a researcher he has done a thorough analysis of the present reality, and as pastor he presents a biblical basis for engaging our world with the Gospel.  He writes from a missional perspective but in a manner that will communicate not only with lay leaders but the person in the pew as well.

There are three movements in the book. First, we must identify and be willing to navigate the challenges of being the church in the 21stcentury.  He acknowledges not only that the church has changed since the day when his grandfathers were pastors, but the rate of change has accelerated.  He discusses the cultural and demographic changes that impact churches today, then points to the significant challenges that faced the first Christians after Christ’s ascension.

The second is a call to trust in the “personalness of God.”  He reminds us that God is present but that sometimes God’s people struggle to recognize and respond to that relationship, a response that is essential for effective ministry in the 21stcentury church.

Third, Carter provides the biblical testimonies of those transformed by faith into Gospel innovators. For these, faith was “not merely an abstract principle,” but an experience with the Holy.  Their faith provided the means for them to become “overcomers.”

One way to summarize Carter’s perspective is that God can use flawed and imperfect vessels such as we are in order to impact the world.  This is what God has done in the past and wants to do with those who believe and then act on that belief.  This is the core of what it means to be God’s people on mission today.

I recommend the book for faith leaders, leadership teams, and decision-makers in the church.  This perspective is vital in order for the church to thrive in the 21stcentury.

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