What does it mean to be the church in the early decades of the 21st century? Can we expect the church to survive the various changes in society and culture--or will the church fall by the wayside, no longer relevant, no longer necessary? These are the questions that animate Lou Kavar's brief volume examining the state of the church and the prospect for its future.
At core, Kavar's book is a theological statement. In the second chapter he points to the centrality of death and resurrection to the Christian story, and suggests that the church itself, as configured and realized today, may indeed be going through death throes. "We are facing the death of the institutional church as we know it," he writes. (36) And those of us who have valued the church over the years, are grieving, grieving the loss of an institution that has provided us with nurture and purpose.
In a very helpful review of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, he provides concrete examples of how Christians are exhibiting denial, anger, and so on. I especially appreciate what he writes about how bargaining is often expressed by distraught church folks: "If we get back to basics, return to our traditions, or start a contemporary service and have better music, or preach without a manuscript, or don't preach at all, then we'll grow again." (37) He offers up a choice phrase when he speaks of the spirituality of bereavement, a spirituality, he says, that the church of today needs to embrace.
Kavar doesn't leave us at the grave without consolation and hope. He goes on to speak of the possibility of resurrection. In particular he argues that the church needs to be willing to embrace its role as a spiritual community. While that seems on the surface to be a no-brainer, Kavar makes a convincing case in pointing out how often the church has forgotten that as its primary focus. "[T]he transformation of a congregation from business as usual to a spiritual community," he writes, "requires the deliberate inclusion of a spiritual focus to every aspect of the life of the church." (83)
Kavar's book is filled with illustrations drawn from real congregations and their struggles. And while it is not a cookbook (How to Save Your Church in Ten Easy Steps), he does include many practical suggestions.
This is the sort of book that would provide a good basis for congregational study. It is very accessible, and at points very provocative. It even has a touch of the poetic, as his final sentences illustrate: "The Spirit of God is fire and wind as well as a still small voice. The Spirit animates with laughter, love, frivolity and also soothes with blessed quietness. Wise teachers and guides within congregations simply find ways to point out what's already there." On that front, Kavar succeeds.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255