Book Review: The Advice of an Eavesdropping Ex-Terrorist (AND – Hugh Halter & Matt Smay)

In a episode of Chuck, Chuck and Sarah find themselves in a tense situation where a life-changing decision needs to be made, a decision that will shape their direction and purpose well into the future. Just days after running away together they find themselves faced with a choice – to they stay together or to pursue the spy life. In Chuck’s mind it was Spy or Sarah. As they each share the issue with confidants a recently arrested ex-terrorist quietly eavesdrops on both conversations. Sadly, we often find ourselves with a similar mentality when it comes to ministry practice. We struggle and argue with which way is the “correct” way to be missional in our world, gathered or scattered, believing that the entire future is at stake. It is within this context that the ex-terrorist who has heard both sides of the story interrupts and asks the question that can transform our entire missional scope and silences the debate: “Does it have to be a choice?”

Excerpt from: Chuck S03E13, Chuck vs. the Honeymooners

Outline of the Book

In Halter and Smay’s book, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, they challenge us to think differently, to move away from dualistic division that sets one missional practice over and against the other, to step out from our corners and work together to embody and share the kingdom of God. At the heart of the book is the affirmation that God desires both the gathered church, and the scattered church released through incarnational communities. They do this by firstly outlining the desperate need for the church, then identifying both the benefits and failures of each approach when existing independent of one another. It is from this foundation that the alternative is presented, no longer a choice, but a church embodying a “Yes” to both positions.

Pilots are Brilliant

The writer points out the difficulty and anxiety involved when communities go through the process of change, with departmental shifts within youth this is a current reality. It is within this context that the idea arises to establish pilot groups to help facilitate change without the danger of panic. The writers point out that “all real change happens at the grass roots level” (p.68) and pilot groups can help promote ideas and generate movement, without it feeling as though the change are top-down orders with the expectation of obedience. This does not reduce accountability, and as leaders we should be giving “quiet permission” to these initiatives, who can then stealthily promote missional movements. Within youth, this would work well, especially considering a Cadre is approximately the size of a tithe (10%). Having a Cadre pilot an idea and then bring others on board could be a successful approach when it comes to missional living. This can become both Research and Development, or perhaps an ongoing ministry. Either way, change is enacted without throwing the existing structure out – it will be transformation, not revolution that will lead the next generation to see beyond themselves.

Breathing Tension

Tension between ministry work and results is something quite significant when working in a large church. Part of the culture is one of growth and success, and for this reason we need to be very careful with how we handle this pressure. The writer points out two questions that arise when faced with this tension, firstly an unhealthy one: “How do I keep people coming to [SURGE]?” and secondly, a more healthy one: “How do I help every [SURGE Youth] become more like Jesus?”. I found it really refreshing to recognise that both of these questions will produce pain, that there is not a way to escape the tension, but that the tension can be used to increase the (peer) pressure to work for the things that matter. When we don’t just work with the consumer mentality and we ask young people to take responsibility for owning both their growth and their youth group, the reality is “You will lose people” (p.87). I am reminded of the rich young ruler and the cost of following Jesus:

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matt 19:21-22)

There is always a cost involved in ministry, but we must be faithful in challenging people, not simply pandering to their desires – especially youth that we are shaping for the future.

Sodalic AND Modalic

I loved the way the writers were able to forge a synergy between the gathered and scattered, not being satisfied with just one or the other. Central to this premise was the complimentary distinction between the modalic, the local and stable gathered church (pull in), and the sodalic, often identified as mission agencies that push out. Yet these two groups were not designed to function in isolation from one another, but to be one in partnership. In John, Jesus prays:

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (John 17:22)

This has implications for the wider church, but also for ministries such as youth, to be prepared to be released and sent, rather than just treating youth group as a time to grow and develop. In reality the sodalic will also generate growth, but too often this is ignored. When we get too comfortable in one aspect, the other must be reignited to balance the ministry out (p.128). It doesn’t have to be a choice, but a partnership – the church in action: gathered AND scattered.

Conclusion

So much of ministry is about balancing tension, weighing up options and ultimately integrating strategies. It is in these situations that we must show great humility, not losing our conviction and passion, but equally being open to see alternatives. Perhaps it is in this context that the ex-terrorist can ask his question, and by doing so, unlock a new possibility within the old.

Reference List:

Halter, H & Smay, M (2010) AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

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About Gavin Brown

I am a Youth Pastor working with students in Alice Springs, the heart of Australia. I have a passion for discipleship, equipping people to discover, live out, and multiply their faith every day, while simultaneously attempting to navigate the unique subculture of being a nerd that loves extreme sports.

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