I absolutely loved The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today's Church by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna (or on amazon.com here.) This quick-reading book expresses so well in words what it is we are seeing first hand in our midst. I guess we aren't as crazy as people keep trying to make us!
So much within its pages resonates with our own experience. Tony, Felicity, and George have truly blessed us with a vivid, practical, and encouraging guide from church-as-we-know-it to church-as-God-wants-it (as W. Simson so aptly expresses it!) They have pulled this off without offending or speaking negatively against the Church at large.
Many today sense that there is a huge shift taking place globally. The Spirit of God seems to be "downsizing" the church in order to prepare her for the next (final?) stage of an unprecedented worldwide Kingdom harvest. Small is, indeed, the new big!
I like the way the Dales and Barna lead us through the elements of simple church by sharing their own pilgrimage. One gets the sense that what is shared has been personally lived, and not just some scholarly dissertation arguing the virtues and values of simple church.
In essence, the "revolution" we are living today is summed up on page 23-24 of the book:
The 16th Century Reformation was the result of a grassroots change in theology produced by ordinary people having access to the Scriptures in their own language. That Reformation is coming full circle in our day, only this time it is the church being put back into the hands of ordinary people, instead of the Bible.The rest of the book deals with the practical matters of this already happening in tsunami proportions--a global reformation of the Church every bit as big as the theological reformation of the 16th century!
"The objections [today] are similar as well: how can untrained and unqualified people run churches? Shouldn't that be reserved for the professional clergy? People who have jobs don't have the time to prepare a sermon, let alone get trained in hermeneutics. How are they going to prevent heresy? On what basis do they claim the authority to act as the church? Are they accountable to any higher church authorities? Can ordinary people administer the sacraments?"
My own copy of the book is totally marked and highlighted with the practical suggestions shared in this "return of the church to the people." For example, on page 71, Acts 2:42 is used as a simple framework for this New-Old church order: 1) they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, 2) fellowship with one another, 3) the breaking of bread together, and 4) to prayer. These four parameters offer a definition of what the Holy Spirit intends to happen when believers then, and now, gather.
While much of the book was an encouragement to me personally, what really got me thinking in this book is something that has long troubled me about the whole simple/house/organic church movement. While hard to put in words, it might best be described as LIQUID CHURCH vs SOLID CHURCH. Is the church intended to be a solid structure? Or a flowing, ever moving stream of living water?
Throughout the book, I found this concept intriguing. What has always bothered me is the short "shelf life" of the simple/house churches we have been associated with. Very few seem to survive more than a few years at best before "melting" back into water again. Coming from a "solid church" upbringing, if something planted (eg. a church) does not remain fixed and continue to grow, I tend to view it as a failure. What the Dales/Barna so masterfully show, though, is that these "church melts" are precisely the way the Spirit of God continues to permeate and impact society with the Gospel!
Flowing, living water was never intended to stagnate--or freeze!--into solid structures requiring huge amounts of maintenance to keep things going. We are meant to continually be on the move! Water--liquid church--is able to permeate into every crack and crevice of society. We reach our neighbors, co-workers--hey, the world!--not by asking them to come to our church, but by bringing the Kingdom of God right into their living rooms and work places!
Space and time do not permit me to further describe the implications of this, but suffice it to say, we often confuse the KINGDOM with the CHURCH, as if they were one and the same. Jesus clearly told us to seek first his Kingdom. We are commanded to make disciples of the nations. That is what we are to be about. Building the Church is HIS domain, not ours. A liquid/flowing/moving church will be able to extend His Kingdom to the ends of the earth 1000 times more efficiently than a solid church proudly boasting of having been rooted in the same location for the past 150 years!
I cannot conclude this review without at least mentioning the last three chapters of the book: Chapter 21: "Pitfalls to Avoid"; Chapter 22: "No Empire Building, No Control, and No Glory"; and Chapter 23: "The Art of Rabbiteering." As the authors so aptly put it, there is real danger in brilliant substitutes for what God is doing, fashionable fads, movements without momentum, people without passion, leaders without a limp (as in Jacob), and reformation without revival. The Devil is always out there trying to divert church planting movements initiated by God's Spirit. Empire building, attempting to take control of what we see God doing, and wanting to share in the glory are real temptations to all of us observing this movement of the Holy Spirit.
It is for these final three chapters, and the spirit of humility in which this book has been written, that I give "The Rabbit and the Elephant" my highest recommendation. Even though I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, my head is still spinning with excitement at the implications of getting on board with the "rabbit" revolution of what God is doing. I want to be part of what Jesus is doing in giving birth to thousands of small, mobile churches that will impact the entire planet and usher in the Kingdom of God as intended from the beginning.
Go out and get hold of a copy of this book today!