Monday, June 8, 2009

"The Rabbit and the Elephant"

..."Why Small Is the New Big for Today's Church"

Tony and Felicity Dale start their book with this signature story from its title -- the difference between rabbits and elephants. I don't want to spoil the story for you, so suffice it to say, in their words, "Something that is large and complex is hard to reproduce. Something that is small and simple multiplies easily."

The whole rest of their book is filled with the same kind of refreshingly simple and sound wisdom, astute observation and sensitivity to what God is doing among the church today.

The real movement of simple church didn't actually begin with us in the west. Many of us know it started in the east, in China, spread to Korea and is also growing south of us in Southern America. Simple churches are springing up in Greece, in Africa, in eastern Europe (where newly built churches buildings are being torn down under all kinds of pretexts), and even in some Muslim countries. How can God multiply the church in countries that are actively, and increasingly, hostile to Christianity?

And just as importantly, in our own country, where sentiment towards traditional Christianity is changing from warm acceptance to open and active dislike, how can God revive His church here?

By bringing the center of attention onto His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who has managed to keep a good reputation among nonbelievers.

By bypassing the institution of church, which has lost its reputation with the general public.

By putting the gospel, worship, fellowship, and mission back into the hands of the people

There are many excellent themes running through this book, including:
* The vital importance of Ephesians 4 unity among all believers,
* The beauty of simplicity,
* The importance of following God's lead,
* The critical necessity of prayer first and last,
* The supremacy of God's word, living and active,
* And trusting in what God is doing

Here's what's going to happen, though.

For one thing, non-charismatics may curl up into defense position because the Dales are clearly charismatic. I can tell you as someone who has never operated in any of the "sign gifts," and who could not be properly termed a charismatic, I found the Dales' approach to be completely scriptural, solid and seasoned with salt. In fact, they several times, throughout the book, reassured the reader that you do not have to be charismatic to be involved with what God is doing in the "micro-church movement."

In fact, I had to agree with them when they said, on page 82, "In our experience, God seems to be blurring the distinctions more and more between charismatic and non charismatic believers." That would describe me and all the believers I know - and I know hundreds and hundreds of believers.

For another, those who have made orthodoxy (read "my church's catechism") of supreme importance may not like the Dales' methods. In fact, the authors have made a conscious decision to allow people to discover what the scriptures mean by applying God's word first to their lives, rather than to be taught what a particular catechism would say.

Personally I see this as an endorsement! But watch out for cranky naysayers who will shrill "heresy!"

The Dales also clearly support women's involvement in every aspect of church life, which may greatly bother those who feel women have been given only a limited role in Scripture.

Finally, those who are deeply invested in traditional church -- referred to as "legacy churches" in "The Rabbit," with gracious respect -- may find this book threatening, even though the authors repeatedly express their thanks and honor for what God has done through the institution of church. Those who prefer to remain in their traditional church can still start a simple church that meets at another time than their church service (as my husband and I are now doing).

In fact, the Dales' particular ministry, House2House is being actively supported by two mega churches, which they mention on page 194, and several more churches are described in "The Rabbit" which either support and encourage house churches among their members, or have transitioned into a network of house churches.

One aspect of "The Rabbit" which I particularly appreciated was the realistic approach. What God is doing right now is breath-taking. Thousands of churches worldwide are being started every year. Hundreds of thousands of people are becoming born again, and entering into an active living by faith. This is not merely lip service to the idea of salvation. This is the real thing! Still, in real life, there is also hard work, troubles, sometimes even death.

The Dales' do not hold back on cautionary tales and words of gentle warning. There will be those who go back to traditional church because simple church won't feel "right" after a while. There will be churches that blossom, grow, then die away ("We would rather have a church without the presence of the Holy Spirit be decently buried than maintained on life support indefinitely." I wish all of us had such practical and humble wisdom concerning dead churches). There will be churches that change from simple to traditional as a charismatic leader takes the glory and the control.

But, in balance, you will find in this book everything you need to start a simple church -- as the Lord leads!!!

The methods "The Rabbit" explains come straight out of Luke 10, four simple steps. The format for the Bible study is so simple it's mind-blowing!! I will be starting an in depth look of "The Rabbit," chapter by chapter. Yet, along with warm encouragement, engaging illustrations, and statistics provided by the Barna Group, "The Rabbit" offers an exciting tale that really, you would do yourself a favor by reading.

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