Monday, September 13, 2010

Review - The Church of Irresistible Influence

"The truth is finally revealed. Anything done in the name of Christ, in the name of love, is ministry. Anything."  That's a powerful quote that caught my attention from a book called "The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community," by Dr. Robert Lewis. The Church of Irresistible Influence is a story-filled book describing the early church's spiritual energy and depth which amazingly transformed the surrounding culture - and encouraging the church to do its best to do nothing less. Lewis shares the story of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, and encourages the use of a bridge metaphor to become a church of " irresistible influence" (or i2). The book has five parts:  i) Spanning the great divide - what will it take to reconnect church and culture;  ii) Designing the Structure - How-to of incarnational bridge building;  iii) Experiencing the Results - true stories of i2 in action;  iv) Expanding the i2 effort - through partnering and leadership development;  v) Anticipating the Future - the Church in the 21st C.

What would it look like if it were more important that our lives were more attractive, rather than our church buildings? Lewis discusses at length the FBC mission statement: "We exist to manifest the reality of Christ to the world by equipping Christians to live lifestyles of spiritual integrity...  i) Passionately committed to Jesus Christ (a heart for God); ii) Biblically measured (everything by the Book); iii) Morally Pure (in a morally compromised age); iv) Family-centered; v) Evangelically bold (willing and confident in sharing one's faith); vi) Socially Responsible (the community around us is our business).  ... and to equip Christians for influential works of service in our community and in the world."

They talk quite practically about "Structure" which is about unleashing people with purpose - this structure must allow for hands-on i2 exposures, personal i2 ministry, strategic i2 investments. FBC's small group structure is designed to counteract getting stuck in our own safe huddles. The SG structure "intentionally processes people toward finding a personal ministry of influence." : They diagram it as: 1) Discovery,  2) Seasons of Life,   3) Common Cause. Discovery is for newcomer orientation, small group training and church membership, lasting 8-10 weeks. The Seasons of Life phase is a 3-year long small group spiritual growth experience emphasizing relationships according to a member's particular life stage. Common Cause is a small group spiritual growth experience emphasizing service to Christ according to a member's gifting and design; the time commitment is year-to-year. A partial list of the Common Causes groups includes CR, Bethany Christian Services, Crisis Pregnancy Center Support, Crown Financial Ministry, Divorce Care and Prevention, Habitat for Humanity, Upward. There are groups centered around the needs in the church, needs in the community, needs around the world.

Chapter 10 talks about the how there is no greater investment than in finding and training the leaders of tomorrow. "So, what kind of church leader should we be seeking to influence? Those who possess the following characteristics: keen intellect, high energy, a track record of leadership accomplishments, spiritual passion and a godly lifestyle, an ability to think conceptually, results-oriented, an ability to work in a team environment, a bent toward idealism. Of these, idealism is perhaps the critical trait."

Chapter 11 was quite interesting, talking about developing a community strategy. Phase One: Community Research.  Phase Two: Focus Group Feedback (panels of 22 community and social service leaders, to interact with the results of the findings from phase one).  Phase Three: Survey of Churches. In their area, race and education remain the dominant issues. Eight others were identified: affordable housing, domestic violence, health-care access, youth in poverty, substance abuse, elderly issues, transportation, economics/employment. The ended up with the following recommendations after the survey:  i) churches participating in the survey should focus as much as possible with their internal ministries on areas of need; ii) churches should focus on existing programs in the community that are doing a good job at meeting needs rather than start something new; iii) churches should look for creative ways to work together; iv) churches should look to partner with other organizations in the community that are effectively meeting priority needs and which are consistent with the mission of the church;  v) churches should be actively pursuing racial reconciliation.

Overall, The Church of Irresistible Influence is a good read. At times it provides great stories and useful principles, while at other times it feels a little too much like a canned model of things that might work great for them but not for us (I don't think this is their intention!)  If you want to have a greater influence in the community, personally or for your church, it's worth checking out.

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