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Friday, June 26, 2015

"The New Adapters" (Jacob Armstrong with Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter)

TITLE: The New Adapters: Shaping Ideas to Fit Your Congregation
AUTHOR: Jacob Armstrong with Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, (120 pages).

How much do we love the Church? Do we spend more time criticizing the things she does? Have we constructively built up the Church over the years? Do we really believe in the Church that we are prepared to adapt our ways according to changing times? In this book, after a conversation with United Methodist Church ministers, Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, Jacob Armstrong have come up with a model called "The New Adapters" model to bridge and help old established ideas with adapting to new reality in changing times. His vision of such new adaptation comprises eight broad proposals. Firstly, the vision must fit the mission field. This means that we cannot allow our own preconceptions to determine the ministry we want to be in. Rather, we need to know the community first through "learning, knowing, and loving the community" that we are in. This calls for an attitude of "Praying and Listening" so as to bridge our past "megaphone model" with the current "direct marketing" model to our community. Armstrong provides six questions to help do the listening. Secondly, the mission of the Church must include ministry to the poor. We must resist the temptation to stick to the wealthy, the influential, and the powerful. For such efforts tend to make us rely less on the providence of God. Preaching good news to the poor was Jesus' announcement prior to his ministry. Such "focus on the poor" can help bring any inward focus toward outreach. Churches that ignore the poor do so at their own peril. Thirdly, create new spaces for new people. Let these new spaces bring people from buildings to programs. Spaces are not just physical places but opportunities for people to work and live together.  This means not making visitors and strangers fit into our mold but to allow compassion and love to adjust according to the needs of these visitors and new people.
Fourth, the Church exists to worship God. Whatever programs or mission of the Church, there is no discounting the importance of worship. Here, Armstrong has a dual pronged approach. Not only must the worship be adapted to the new people, it has to be sensitive to the old. Armstrong comments:
"Many churches have what I call a closed loop. We have a way of doing things, a way of talking, and a way of worshipping that doesn’t allow for new people to connect. Without even knowing it, we exclude those we truly want to reach."
I agree. Sometimes, churches are so comfortable meeting existing needs that they fail to look at the needs of the unreached. The key word is intentionality about how the worship service is planned, how it is delivered, how it is conducted, and how it is been contextualized so that both the existing and the new people can participate well in it. One tool is the "twenty-first-century-lectionary" that follows the important days of the Christian calendar, and to preach not only the Word, but in a manner than ministers to people in need. Fifth, conflicts and criticisms will eventually come, no matter what ministry one is in. People may cast doubts or vigorously object the the new directions taken. New adapters will need to stand with courage between cynicism and cowardice, so that their ventures are done in faith. Six, no ministry can survive on one key leader alone. There needs to be continuity. Even Moses had to give up his leadership to a younger Joshua. Using teams, one can enable the ministry to flourish without being overdependent on any one individual. Seven, when it comes to ministry in the Church, there is no turfs to defend. New adapters cannot be stuck in protecting territorial rights to any ministry, but be able to collaborate in a way as to break new ground for every ministry. Collaboration is not only limited to missions or starting new churches, it also means inner transformation. Finally, Armstrong advocates the need to focus on raising up new and younger leaders. This is essentially investing for the future of the church. This calls for empowerment by the older members to encourage and build up the younger members. New leaders need not be young. Old leaders need not be excluded. What is needed is a united cooperation for the future of the Church.

This book offers a new hope and excitement as far as preparing the Church for a new generation is concerned. Existing congregations will eventually die out. The gospel will not. In fact, the Church too will continue to grow in various places. This does not mean maintaining physical structures or spaces. It means a new sense of belonging to the old old story of the gospel. It means learning to adapt without compromising on our faith. It means learning to cultivate the inner selves without being constricted by external trappings. Church structures and styles are never cast in concrete. They need to adapt. The gospel remains the same but people will have different needs from generation to generation. In reading this book, established members of churches may see change as a threat to their status quo. This is inevitable which is why new adapters need to be sensitive to these groups by regularly communicating and getting them to buy in. At the same time, while change is necessary, one needs to discern what areas can or cannot be changed at any point of time. While on the one hand, everything can be adapted, not everything must be adapted according to our own personal preferences. Whatever changes have to be consulted with the team, with the congregation, with the Holy Spirit in prayer and listening.

I find this book very promising in that it is yet another attempt to persuade old minds toward new ways. It has to be done carefully with respect and honour to the past. Yet, there is a need to exercise faith so that the ministry will fit the vision. This book is not only a good read but a powerful challenge for the rigid, the comfortable, and the change resistance to take a step back and be open to adaptation. Remember, adapting does not mean compromising. It simply means listening and responding to the soft promptings of God through the Holy Spirit. Shaping ideas does not mean conformity. It means learning to relate in love.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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