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Community Formation (Chpt. 7) – The Church As Movement

The Church As Movement: Starting & Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities
by JR Woodward & Dan White Jr. (foreword by Alan Hirsch)
InterVarsity Press (Aug. 14, 2016), 240 pg.

I was thrilled to be invited to review a chapter in JR Woodward & Dan White Jr. new book, “The Church As Movement” (for which I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review), especially when they asked me to review Chapter 7, “Community Formation”. As someone passionate about community (after all, I wrote a book about it called “The Cost of Community”), I am always keen to see this topic explored with depth and integrity. I was not disappointed.

“The Church As Movement” is a practical guide that lays out a foundational theology for starting and sustaining “missional-incarnational communities”. The book is broken up into 4 parts with 2 topics in each section:

Part 1: Distributing

1. Movement Intelligence

2. Polycentric Leadership

Part 2: Discipling

3. Being Disciples

4. Making Disciples

Part 3: Designing

5. Missional Theology

6. Ecclesial Architecture

Part 4: Doing

7. Community Formation

8. Incarnational Practices

While I read the whole book, my focus from this point on will be on Chapter 7, “Community Formation”. The authors do a good job in concisely arguing about the essential nature of the common life among believers, naming the cultural trends that work against it (i.e. individualism). They effectively demonstrate that community life is not a nice, but optional side-product of following Jesus, but central that work of transformation that God does in our lives:

“The community stands as a protest against the tyranny of individualism and points to the renewed world under the reign of King Jesus.”

Given that such community is not optional, a convincing emphasis is placed on the need to make ourselves available for common life- a demand that goes contrary to our often overly-busy lives. It requires intentionality and sacrifice. It is when we make room for the common life in the Spirit that our shared missional imaginations and passions come to life and bear fruit.

Perhaps most important to the common life is the shared table- not merely communion as a sacramental ritual (while that has unquestionably great value), but the intimacy and generosity that comes with sharing meals with one another. In a culture where food is “fast” and often merely a source of entertainment, the authors call us back to the sacred intimacy of shared meals that transcends familial bonds. Again, such a commitment requires intentionality, consistency and constancy.

While my review of the book is largely positive, this is where one concern arose. While the authors did cite the boundary-crossing nature of Christ’s shared table, I do not feel it went far enough. While individualism was named as a historically and contextually specific barrier to missional-incarnational communities, the boundary crossing/breaking potential of the shared table lacked prophetic specificity, namely with respect to issues of racism (among a few others key issues). I believe this topic (and the broader themes of the book) needed a more specific engagement on the issues around racism, racial justice and reconciliation.

Related to that, but distinctly a concern, was the failure to adequate acknowledge the impact of privilege (and the need to respond appropriately to it). For example, a great deal of emphasis throughout the book and specifically in Chapter 7 talked about relating to our neighbour and neighbourhoods, yet it failed to address the pre-existing segregation that is in place. The boundary-breaking diversity of missional-incarnational communities will not happen unless we intentionally dismantle the socio-economic and racial segregation that so widely shaped Western culture.

However, aside from these concerns, the chapter provides a hopeful and helpful direction for people seeking to discover and share the genuine life-giving nature of true community. This book will be a lasting resource that many will benefit from.

churchasmovment-cover

The Church As Movement: Starting & Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities
by JR Woodward & Dan White Jr. (foreword by Alan Hirsch)
InterVarsity Press (Aug. 14, 2016), 240 pg.

2 Comments

  1. Jamie,

    Thanks for the review, and I agree with you, I think we should have added a section on racism, issues of privilege and so forth. While the prophet is mentioned in regard to exposing injustice and embodying a new reality, I would have preferred more space given to this personally. Thanks again for your words.

    • Jamie (Author)

      I was hesitant to add it, as the book is great. However, I hope to see it take more center stage in missional resources. Thanks for the great book.

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