Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive, by Mark Dever & Jamie Dunlop


It's been a hot minute since I've posted any sort of book review. Life sort of went topsy-turvy a few years back but more recently it's been sorting itself out, falling into place, and things are all the better for it. The events of life definitely made blogging take a backseat - and may yet do so - but right now, at this minute, I read a book I want to talk about it! Also, someone commented on an old post which sent a notification to my e-mail today reminding me that I had a book blog that could still be used. So here we are, you and I, together again! Let's have a little book chat, shall we? For old times' sake.

I've had my copy of The Compelling Community for years but no note around these parts that I read it and/or reviewed it previously. I know I read it but it could be that I purposefully didn't make a note of it. Talking about church life can be a rather sensitive thing from time to time. One doesn't want to go around offending willy nilly, and people are always apt to think that you are talking about them online when you probably aren't. That can lead to Trouble which is why I imagine I let the read go without commentary. Let me assure you posthaste that I am not talking about any particular church, church body and/or specific person in writing this book review. I am writing a book review and working my thoughts out. That is all.

First, I'd like to suggest say that every Christian ought to read this book. They should especially take the time to read this post-2020 when the whole world went haywire and community, as we knew the concept, blew up in our faces. It's time to return to community now (if you've not yet done so) and do so with renewed vigor to know how you can contribute to the building up of the body of believers to whom you belong.

A good question one should be asking one's delightful self is: "To what sort of community should I be returning?" One should hastily answer one's self: "I'm returning to a sinful community of which I am a chief sinner. I bring my own sin, making the sin pot bigger." If you were on a high social distancing horse, you should probably get off because staying there isn't beneficial to you or anyone.)

The church has been under attack this past year and no, I'm not talking about politically (but you could argue -- ). Over 30% of church goers (based on the last numbers I was referenced to) left the church to stay home and never came back. On the one hand, you could look at this as good news. The church has had been paired down. Those that remain are looking at each other, sometimes with new eyes, wondering how dangerous the others in the bunch might be. I'm not talking about germ dangers; I'm talking about fellowship dangers. Who formed what opinion during 2020? Who became more vocal, politically? Who became less? Who was more agitated by the demands of the day? Who chilled out? Who stopped working? Whose business took off and why? These and other speculative questions begin to fill the minds of those that remain in the pew and this is why I'd suggest that a serious, focused reading of The Compelling Community is rather essential in this exact moment in time.

In this book, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop write ignorant of anything that happened in 2020 (the book having been published in 2015). Untainted by political and social events, they focus their attention exclusively on scripture and what defines community within the church (local, but universal). Throughout this read they challenge their reader to consider various scriptural principles to building up the local body, breeding interaction between all members for their good and for the glory of God. They tackle things that get in the way of church fellowship such as:

* Sin

* Demographics

* Marital status

* Shared Vision

* Like-mindedness vs. that One Person We All Know . . . 

* Discontentment

These subjects and more are handled with a firm hand, the authors taking pains to plainly cite what can cause divisions in the church and what pastors and lay people alike can do to foster true community. 

And what IS true community and Christian fellowship? What drives and motivates our choices and decisions as an individual body of believers? What would compel a non-believer to pay attention to a church body - any church body - and to want to belong to what they see? Essentially there is a laying down of one's life and preferences for the good of another, being willing to learn the scriptures and teach them diligently and faithfully with and to one another. The desire of this sort of fellowship ignores the world's boundaries and focuses instead on our commonalities within the faith. With Christ and the cross as our focus, the differences between us disappear and we begin to see each other with spiritual eyes. We love as Christ and forget ourselves. 

I think this quote from the book sums it up as best as possible:

"A church composed of natural friends says little about the power of the gospel. Yet the gospel-revealing community of natural enemies will require sacrifices in every aspect of our life together. Not surprisingly, when Paul in Romans 12:1 speaks those famed words, "present your bodies as a living sacrifice," his attention immediately moves in verse 4 to congregational life. It is very possible to enjoy the idea of attending a diverse church, and yet never lift a finger to love someone who's quite different from you." (p. 81)

They make the point that you can form a club of very likeminded people who all like cars, chess, or even books and their love of that item is what is going to draw them together. There is nothing supernatural in the way two people can relate over a shared love of books (let's go with books) because it's easy for one reader to like another person who themselves likes to read. That comes naturally. What doesn't come naturally is when you blend rich and poor, black and white, male and female, British and American, book reader and illiterate, single and married, into a single group of people who are willing to lay their lives down for one another. What picture comes to mind when you think of a group of people who combine all of the aforementioned "labels" and who come together for the express purpose of  worshipping God in song, teaching and encouraging each other with the scriptures, and who pray boldly for one another? You think of something almost otherworldly, don't you? A supernatural gathering of people who do not look alike, act alike, or even think alike on the surface whose one and only commonality is Jesus Christ? You would pay attention to them, wouldn't you? Would you not wonder how they do it? You might find yourself compelled to lean in with questions and a desire to learn what the Lord is working in and through their gathering.

I could say a lot about The Compelling Community but, in summary, I'll just repeat that I think that at this time in history, when everyone is encouraged to own and love their own label, it's important to read this book. It is a straight forward message that reminds us that our focus as believers to be on God and God alone. Our excitement in gathering shouldn't be to get together on Sunday morning with our best and closest friends. It isn't about that at all! We are gathering not with the intent to change things socially but to fellowship and worship with a shared passion for Christ. That's it. When we look at Him we see what we are not and we also get to catch a glimpse at what we will be. There is excitement in learning to love those who you wouldn't naturally fall into place when when you purpose to love one another as God Himself as loved you. 

I definitely walked away from this book encouraged and refreshed. I feel refocused and renewed. I understand my mission and I'm committed to it by first being committed to Jesus and declaring my need to be obedient to Him. This review barely scratches the surface of the book and/or my reasons for thinking it should be moved to the forefront of discussion between believers in Christ. Sure, we hit a rough patch this past year and lost a few. But the church is by no means destroyed. Are you still in? Then we've work to do.


R's Rue said...

Thank you for the review. It sounds like a book that would interest me.

Anonymous said...

Thank You for the review. Welcome back. I was so happy to see your e-mail message in my mailbox.

Top  blogs