I love standing up at a conference and highlighting the books of the authors in attendence—yippee for writers and authors, speakers and teachers. I couldn’t sell the things if they didn’t write ’em. And, I like tweaking the audience just a bit, offering a title they might not be familiar with, or an author that is just a tad subversive to their pre-set agenda. (Ooooh, ask how that got me in trouble once when I highlighted an N.T. Wright book as I introduced Marcus Borg. Some church folk have no sense of irony.)
Still, I find that conferees or retreatants like to be told about books they might find helpful and get a kick out of me embarassing myself as I stumble over words, trying to make half-way appropriate suggestions which will enhance their learning at the gathering and give them something to take home more substantive than souvenirs from the snack bar.
And so, it is of great professional and spiritual concern to me that I do it right. Sometimes it works well, sometimes less so. At the recent PA State Council of Churches Pastor’s conference –which was focusing a bit on the emergent conversation–I neglected to shout out a title that, now, I really, really wish I would have. I am embarrassed to say that two of our keynote speakers have chapters in a book and I had not realized it. I feel shabby and want to make it up by publishing it here.
The Relevant Church: A New Vision for Communitites of Faith (Relevantbooks) is a spiffy little collection of some very good pieces documenting experimental new congregations, emerging communities, creative church plants and other stories of leading edge pastors and their concerns and convictions. Relevantbooks is a great, new, small publisher and we stock all their books. They are trying hard–hipster graphics and retro covers and weirdo stories—to met the younger generation and they get a huge, huge A for effort. ( Hey they did Steve Stockman’s awesome book on u2, Walk On.) I am sorry that I didn’t take this title more seriously. I just sorta forgot about it, actually.
These chapters are all very good, mostly by real pastors doing the real work of forging new practices in the street, as they say; Martin Smith of delirious? says it is a “must-read—a handbook for passionate, godly living.” Of course most of the decentralized experimentors themselves probably don’t view this as a handbook for anything, but merely the testimony of their shared lives and struggle for faithful forms of being church in a postmodern culture.
Two of the speakers at the State Pastor’s Conference have chapters in here, and I apologize to them, and to the gathered gang there at the Radison at Camp Hill, for not pushing it. Holly Rankin-Zaher of ThreeNails in Pittsburgh–an experimental, urban Epsicopal community, and Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles (a bohemian and very emergent Lutheran congregation) in Seattle both have chapters well worth reading. I think the mainline folks at the conference, after enjoying Doug Pagett’s fiesty and fun call to be church in new ways, related well to these two women, rooted as they are in their liturgical, mainline denominations. (The fluid and fun discussion board alternativeworship.org is curated by Karen, and is well worth visiting, too, by the way.)
Some of the chapters in The Relevant Church are wild and wooley and would be inspiring for anyone with a missional heart for the current generation of tattooed drop-outs—how ’bout reading the chapter about SKATECHURCH and praying for their brave witness, or learning from Mike Bickle’s interesting chapter about The (I kid you not) INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PRAYER. (I think they should add “And Pancakes” to their name & logo, but that’s just me.) Mark Driscoll explains the early days of Mars Hill here and Dustin Bagby writes about Mosaic Manhattan. Urban-D writes of Fla.vor Alliance Crossover Community in Tampa FL—this is not your typical collection of suburban church plant stories and I think anyone interested in outreach and cultural relevance ought to dip into books and stories like this from time to time.
And, I am happy to report, Holly and Karen’s pieces here, are among the best. These are wise women writing in a readable style amidst other bold contributions–from “God Is In The Pub” to “Dreaming Up Outragous Schemes With God” to “The Last of the Hepcat Churches.” I want to hold up this book and wave it around and applaud it’s verve and energy and heart. And I want to tell you that Holly Rankin Zaher and Karen Ward are two Spirited (and well-read) women, theologians, liturgists and church ladies to watch. You may have met them at the conference. You can read their stories here.
The Relevant Church: A New Vision for Communities of Faith edited by Jennifer Ashely (Relevantbooks) $12.99.