I am writing this way too long after I read it. When I finished it, I immediately purchased a copy for a friend that is a young pastor. I have been thinking about this book for several weeks now. For too many of us, myself included, the church as a local body or a universal body seems a bit unnecessary.
After all, what is important is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not anything that I do, like attend church. I have heard frequently (and I believe) that you are not a Christian because you attend church. It is not hard to get the understanding that the local church is a nice add-on, but not essential, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy the local body or don’t feel particularly close to anyone in the local body.
I attend a mega-church. Many things about the idea of a megachurch make me uncomfortable. Particularly when I read books like this about the importance of the local church. I have a real bias, in no small part because I feel like I have been called to this particular megachurch (or at least do not feel like I should leave it right now.)
But Doug Bursch and many others (particularly Eugene Peterson) have reminded me that the individualism of our world that emphasizes me and God against the world is foreign to the worldview of the New Testament. The church is far from perfect, and every local church is far from perfect. But there is something about the local church that is essential to our spiritual growth. We do not grow spiritually in the abstract. We grow because we are encouraged by (and struggle with) actual people.
Doug Bursch is a pastor who does not always like people in the church. (If I were ever to become a pastor, I am sure that I would be even more extreme version of that.) But he is a pastor that believes in the church; just one that have been convinced about his own inadequacy to lead (or change) the local body apart from Christ.
The book opens with a story of his failure as a marriage counselor, and the beginning of a new vision for what the local church should be. A large part of that vision is a recovery of the mission of the church against the individualism of the age. But we are in this age and culture so we cannot completely remove ourselves from that culture. Our churches will always be filled with people that are more influenced by the culture than they are by the church.
I do want to read this again (I say that entirely too much). Before I read this, my go to book on the importance of the local church to spiritual growth was Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection. I still very much recommend Practice Resurrection, but I am adding The Community of God to my recommendation. These two books in tandem, using different perspectives and pastoral styles pairs the concept together well. As Christians we can’t really follow Christ if we do not love people. And we cannot really love people if we are not fully invested in their lives. One of the few places where we can fully invest in the lives of people in this individualistic world is the local church.