I realized after posting about Alan’s book on women in leadership (and several of you have said you now want to read it!) that I have omitted to mention another courageous book by another friend of mine. John Armstrong has written a bold book: Your Church is Too Small - Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church (Zondervan, 2010) in which he challenges us about Jesus’ prayer vision for the church in John 17:20-21 –“that all of them might be one”. This divine plea is often drowned out by the busy small-mindedness of much church life that can be obsessed with goals focused on the local church (and its survival sometimes!) What a contrasting vision to see that Christ yearns for unity for all God’s people across social, cultural, racial and denominational lines.
He shares his own story honestly – an extraordinary journey from hard-nosed judgmentalism to realizing how God has called Christians to a life of love together for God’s sake and the world’s. Few have walked such a dramatic journey from rigid exclusionism to kingdom-centered inclusiveness, so evidently inspired by God’s love and mission. Those who know John are often overwhelmed by his desire to learn from other Christians and to network across the boundaries that have so often limited evangelicals (in particular) to their own small boxes. How I admire him for challenging us about our own spiritual identity and our need to see God’s big picture so that we join him in praying and working for renewal of the entire Christian church. He calls it missional-ecumenism. His book is immensely readable and chock full of insights and challenges.
How demanding is this vision of missional-ecumenism! Coming from Britain to the mid-west USA I noticed how the (still) high percentage of church-goers here appears to allow much more competition between churches. Frankly, the possibility of joining in with others seems remote.
At one point John quotes me in the book as I give a positive example of missional-ecumenism from my experience of Spring Harvest when 60-70,000 Christians gather from every kind of church background. I told John that I had never experienced such richness as I taught at this festival. On one occasion I worked in small teams including charismatic Anglicans, a female Salvation Army officer, a Pentecostal house church leader, and an overseas Methodist missionary. It was a taste of God’s bigger picture.
BUT, when I was last in the UK I heard from a leader that such cooperation was no longer the norm. “Oh,’ said this leader, “things have changed from when you took part 10 years ago. There seems to be much less willingness to work in such open ways.” Now, I do not know the situation first-hand but if that’s true it sadly reinforces the critical need to take John’s book seriously because Jesus (John 17:20-21) needs to be taken seriously.
Thank you John for sharing your own journey, and expressing leadership so clearly through this writing. The right word about his book and vision is courageous. May we act differently because we have read it.