This month, Crossway was kind enough to send me a copy of Community by Brad House, and I was pleased review it considering that the title of the book is 1/3 of the name of this blog (…fitting?) and House is Community Groups pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a large church known for robust gospel community (and a church with whom Charis Community Church is affiliated). The book, with the bold subtitle “Taking your small group off life support” was written with a clear goal to do just that, however unpopular it may be. This book comes at a timely point in the Reformission movement where we have a bevy of churches, leaders and small group attendees who are tired of the old systems and methods of “community” that seem to be nothing more than an awkward social gathering, yet are unsure on how to cross into organic and truly gospel-made community.
Community, broken into three major sections, starts out by laying a theological groundwork for community in the church. This first section does what it was written to do, which is remind the reader of the gospel and the gospel’s communal implications, which is essential to building any foundation or vision because “A clear view of God puts life into perspective” (P.37). House uses a host of effective charts, graphs and diagrams to create a clear understand of the church’s biblical call to community and the practice of that call. Community is able to successfully avoid being theoretic and successfully springboards into a healthy deconstruction of the current state of the social purgatory that is most churches “small groups ministry”.
The Health Plan:
House gets to the root of the problem, which is, community has become an “event, rather than a lifestyle” (P.96-97). So House digs and digs and digs so much so that you will read this and hopefully feel some holy discontentment in this area. House talks about why non Christians do not and would not feel comfortable in the typical ‘small group’ setting in the Church, and where we Christians have built barriers instead of bridges to the culture around us (p.128) by the way we do small group. House deals here especially with ‘barriers’ (defined as ‘Issues of practice, culture and perception that inhibit the progress of the gospel” P.128) that tend to be legitimized, accepted as inevitable and pardoned in our church, such as expecting minimal time commitment, flipping the conversational switch from “small-talk” to “spiritual” in the after dinner ‘drum-circle’ (P.98), and that unavoidable awkwardness in most small group settings. But within this second part of the book, House does not leave us out to dry, but offers stories, models and insights as to how to practically break the cycle of unhealthy community in both gospel-founded and culturally conscious ways (the exact purpose of this blog!). In this part of the book especially, House says things that I truly haven’t heard before that sharpened my understanding and motivated me to action.
Community finishes with a section that cleans up and restores order to everything the first two sections have dissected. This is the part where House clearly articulates practical leadership needs, potential pitfalls in rebuilding as well as lay out the framework that has worked so well for Mars Hill, a 10,000+ person church with networks of intimate community and pastoral care that a church of 150 would be lucky to see. One of the most interesting things about this section is House’s detailed layout of Mars Hill’s community group leader training outlines, (including homework for leaders, and leadership meeting structure) along with a fantastic appendix that includes a blank outline for those interested in using Mars Hill’s model.
By the end of the book church leaders should feel significantly more prepared to train up new leaders, reach out to the community around them and experience more concrete, gospel-centered fellowship in the context of small group community. I would strongly recommend this book to church leadership and those who are not satisfied with the depth of their small group and want to start gospel-change. And while the book was not perfect, some topics were neglected and I was left with a few questions mostly on leadership expectations and discipleship, Community is an exceptional Operator Manuel for gospel-driven small groups that make disciples, build cultural bridges and love people well.
My Review | 9/10