People are leaving the church. Those who leave may still believe in Jesus, practice spiritual disciplines, read Christian books and listen to sermons and podcasts, but many see no value in investing an hour and a half at their local church. Some leave for selfish reasons, others have bad experiences of church and were not ‘fed’ at the one they attended. Whatever the reason people are leaving and not coming back.
In Loving the Church John Crotts addresses the problem by presenting a vision of what church should be. Heintroduces us to a cast of characters who struggle to discover the purpose of the church. In the opening chapter we meet:
- Kevin, who with his wife and family recently left his church to ‘pastor his family.’ He meets with a few families every week and shares in the teaching duties.
- John, Kevin’s friend who is disturbed by his lack of attendance.
- Michelle and Mike, a couple who quit church to minister more effectively to their non-Christian friends.
- Rachel a single mom who ended up leaving her church because of their judgmental attitude toward her when she became pregnant out of wedlock.
- Rick a young professional who stopped going to John’s church to attend the mega-church down the road. Admittedly he finds the preaching shallower and misses the fellowship at his old church, but he sees it as a bigger pond to meet single women.
This cast of characters find themselves in conversation with one another at their local coffee shop and agree to meet together weekly to explore what the Bible has to say about church. Cotts weaves their conversation together with his own musings on the nature of church, its purpose, and importance. The format is engaging, making it a quick read.
Cotts and his fictional discussion group share a desire to present a Biblical picture of church. He surveys New Testament passages which delineate what the church is and describe its structure and purpose. Of course Cotts is not without his theological bias. His desire to be biblical in his presentation is filtered through a largely Baptist ecclesiology (The church Cotts pastors is an independent church). Church governance is described as consisting of two offices: elder and deacon and the sacraments are described as two ordinances. This bias does not detract from the book, but readers from a more, say Presbyterian bent, may have to make some adjustments for their context.
One area which I wish this book filled out more was some reflection on denominations. It seems to me many leave church frustrated with the lack of unity among Christians. Denominationalism is a real problem. On the other hand, denominational structures serve the local church by bringing resources, oversight and accountability. Cotts seems to jump from discussion about the universal church directly to the local church context with little thought about how churches relate to one another.
But this is a smallish critique. I like how readable this book is and think it would be a great discussion starter for a church small group or between friends at a coffee shop. Of course the fictional elements are contrived in order to hang a concept on (didactic fiction) but largely works. You need not agree with Cotts on every point to find this book challenging, especially if you lost sight of what the point of church is. I give this 3.5 stars