I've read the open letters to the dying church, the articles parsing the meaning of the latest PEW research surveys, and numerous blogs on the "Nones" and "Dones." If that's all I read, I'd assume the road ahead for the mainline church is going to get rough very soon and end in a dead end just beyond the horizon.
I don't want that to be the road ahead, and neither does Presbyterian pastor and author Nate Phillips. Phillips honors the church's past but recognizes that the past is not the way forward. It's time for the church to do something else. In Do Something Else, Phillips tells the stories of pastors and church leaders who are innovating ministry.
Do Something Else is not a blueprint for what churches should do. It is not a step-by-step guide for creating new ministries, reaching into the community, or crafting a hip worship service. It is a book grounded in a terrific theology of the church that tells the stories of church leaders who have found the courage and inspiration to do something else.
Phillips introduces the reader to his story and the Church's story so the reader knows where he and the Church have been, so together we can move forward in Christ's mission and call. Each subsequent chapter follows a similar pattern: Phillips opens with an illustrative personal story before introducing readers to three or four innovative church leaders and their work and following with the conclusion of his personal story.
Using this format, Phillips introduces readers to diverse leaders who are living what it means to be "church." Their stories of vibrant and transformative ministries give the reader hope that the future can and should be bright. Their stories spark the belief that if it can happen in Vancouver, Washington or Baltimore, Maryland or Columbia, South Carolina, then it can happen here.
For each leader, "something else" always emerges from a belief that the church is not just a building or a community of believers who gather to have their spiritual needs met. Dr. Matthew Bruce lends his voice to Chapter Four, "What We Mean When We Say 'Church'," to provide the theological grounding for understanding the church as the body of Christ sent to be a giving and serving community for the sake of the world, not for itself. It is this understanding of church that drives the leaders highlighted in this book to do something else for the sake of the world.
Do Something Else explores ministries that engage new ways to do worship, church plants, evangelism, outreach, church enterprises, and cooperative parishes. The book includes a study guide and questions for group discussion, which make it a great read for pastor groups and church leadership boards.
I found the book filled with great concepts that sparked new ideas for my own ministry context. For me, the chapter on cooperative parishes was most compelling. I currently serve as the interim General Presbyter for a geographically large and mostly rural Presbytery in the PC(USA). We have many small churches that can no longer afford a full-time pastor. In a fifteen mile radius, there may be three of these churches struggling to find pastoral leadership. There are larger churches who want extra pastoral leadership but not necessarily another full-time position. Within fifteen minutes, there are small churches who need a pastor but can't quite afford a full-time position. Too often churches who are geographically close to each other and are even participating in the same kind of ministries and missions are not cooperating or partnering in any way. Do Something Else has shown me there are new paths for these churches to travel besides the well-worn ones of hiring part-time Commissioned Ruling Elders (Lay Pastors), getting by with pulpit supply, or closing their doors. I will be speaking about cooperative parishes to the churches of our presbytery and the members of our Committee on Ministry.
Do Something Else introduced me to church leaders who refuse to live in the status quo. It introduced me to ways of being the church that offer new life in the midst of so much fear of death. The book surrounded me with stories of churches and ministries engaging the world with the radical love and grace of God. The stories, held together by Phillips' own, gave me permission to dream big and the hope that transformative ministry is not only possible but is happening right now all around me.
The church today faces many challenges, but I've heard what the church can do. I know what I can do. I can do something else.