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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Messy Church" (Ross Parsley)

TITLE: Messy Church: A Multigenerational Mission for God's Family
AUTHOR: Ross Parsley
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2012, (208 pages).

We need each other. In particular, we need each generation to be a part of the Church. Written by a worship pastor, associated with the same Megachurch led by the disgraced Ted Haggard, the author shares his journey toward making the family of God a Church family in identity as well as in practice. With frequent flashbacks to his own family of 6, he sees more similarities than differences about how families need to learn to stay together and to see their messy lives as a "Beautiful Mess." Messy in terms of the craziness going on with five growing children. Messy in terms of their frequent change of houses. Messy in terms of his changing portfolios, and ups and downs, in his service in Church, from being asked to be lead pastor, to not being selected. More importantly, he shares his vision of how despite the messiness all around, a family is a family. This means regardless of age and generational differences, it is possible to worship as one body.

"Families aren't perfect and neither are churches." (19)

A family shares in growth, change, pain, joy, and suffering. They see both the best as well as the worst of people. More importantly, they see the true person. They enable one another to be the best generation they can be. The muddy and the messy is the price to pay for honesty and authenticity.

Against a culture of "purpose-driven, power-driven, culture-driven, and seeker-driven," many churches have missed out the family component of Church. The two problems of modern American church is the "ultracritical" attitude, promoted by the unwitting stance of becoming too seeker-sensitive, and the postmodern mindset of questioning everything rather than acceptance. Why not learn acceptance as a family? This means learning to live honestly with one another, warts, darts, and all. Parsley makes several contrasts and making choices.

  • Like a family, Church is not so much about shopping for one, but being chosen into one. 
  • Like a family, dinner time is family time, not individualistic moments of ignoring one another.
  • Like a family, dinner time involves everyone, not just adults.
  • Like a family, we acknowledge the pains and hurts of brokenness, and seek to accept one another.
  • Like a family, we need to learn to live and learn together, despite all the mess.
"Our families are God's first classroom in life for learning about selfishness and love, fighting and sharing, disappointment and justice. This is one of the purposes of family: to learn to fight fair, to share what we have, and to root selfishness out of our lives." (56)

He then argues that the Church worship service needs to be all-inclusive, without separation of people into their age groups or specific needs. We let the young participate actively in the running of the worship and singing. We encourage the old to participate. Sunday is "culture-creation day!" Using worship as an example, the author urges the inclusion of young worship leaders, generous overlap of songs for all generations, use creative input from the young, and also include an "older element" in the services. Grow a "David generation" in which the identity and legacy of the Church can be passed down from one generation to the other. Use the five smooth stones of Family, Cooperation, Respect, Humility, and Innovation to keep building the family. Learn actively on the job rather than wait passively to be trained. Beware of the seeds of a consumer like church that comes from using relevance as a key operative word. Use the "twenty-year influence" to connect, to influence those within 10 years above and within 10 years below us. Let love be the tie that binds. Recognize the brokenness. Share the joys of a final result of joyful blending. Finally, the author shares his painful experience and struggles over leading the Church over a public storm, after the Ted Haggard scandal, and his personal struggle of dealing with not being selected to be the lead pastor beyond the interim position. He ends with the 5Cs of how to run an intergenerational Church service:

  • Creeds: They reinforce key beliefs that under-gird the traditions, history, and heritage of the church.
  • Confession: In an atmosphere of grace and forgiveness, one puts people above the messiness of doing church.
  • Communion: We keep the worship service centered on Christ and what Christ has done.
  • Canon: We remember and retain the gospel, the Word of life.
  • Connection: We connect with God, we help one another connect with God, and we in turn also connect with one another.
He has some wisdom to share with regards to the 4Cs of Mentoring.
  1. Coaching for life
  2. Caring for Needs
  3. Challenging for Improvement
  4. Cheering for Confidence.

My Thoughts

This is an important area for pastors and leaders of churches not to miss: How to bring about greater togetherness among the different generations in the church. I like the idea of a family connection. Just like a family that embraces one another, warts and all, the Church needs to learn to model after being family to one another. In fact, the goal is to make the Church more like the family, and the family more like the people of God. I am glad that Parsley provides some helpful practical tips with regards to how to make the intergenerational worship service a reality. It is so true that worship underlines the entire community building aspect that is Christ-centered. Any organization can connect with a family as a focus. Yet, it takes a common identity in Christ that cements our reasons for doing so. NewLife Church has paved the way to show the rest of us that it is possible. I like the part about how to care for one another both personally and corporately. I particularly appreciate the idea to move intentionally and incrementally, for people need time to change, and a good way is gradual change, especially for a Church the size of NewLife. I think the vision casting and teaching is so important for any church. This is another way of gearing every generation's perspective to look in the same direction. By modeling and discussing on the way, churches can learn to lead by example, and not be bogged down by the oft-used excuse that they have not been trained before. Too many people are too busy to be trained formally. More often than not, the best training is the learning on the job, the listening to wise mentors on the job, and the dependence on God, while on the job.

This may be a book about the messiness surrounding the efforts to galvanize the Church to move as one. It is in spite of this messiness, that when the Church truly and finally move as one, they will be showing the world what it means to live as one body, one people, one family.

Very practical, very important, and very necessary.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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