Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton are two of the brightest young stars in the evangelical firmament, and their recently released The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples (B&H, 2014) is case-in-point.
The authors begin the book by quoting Mahatma Ghandi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” (p. 1) Joy and Shelton recognize that Ghandi’s statement has the ring of truth to it and that the right response is not to defend our churches, but rather to honestly examine ourselves in order to better represent Christ and fulfill his command to make disciples.
Joy and Shelton, both pastors, wrote the book to show from Scripture what a healthy church looks like (p. 4). They do so clearly and persuasively. Their book presents and builds upon a fundamental argument: that there is a “ . . . normative flow of the gospel among the people of God. Throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes upon a people and the gospel takes root in such a way that it transforms that community and begins to flow beyond that group to the world around them (Acts 2:42–47; 2 Cor. 5:16–21). All of us who today claim faith in Jesus Christ are a part of this gospel flow. . . . The mission of God pushes forward through the people of God.” (p. 10) There is a “gospel flow,” as they call it, which is essential to the life and practice of the church.
Joy and Shelton point to the loving community on display within the Triune Godhead to argue that the people of God should be a community of love. Who God is, and humans are, has great implications for how the people of God do community, or church. This chart (on p. 51) illustrates the relationship:
|We are created by God for community.||Community is not a church program.|
|The Trinity is three interdependent persons in community.||The power of God is displayed through community.|
|Sin distorts the image of God in our community.||Building community is hard work.|
|Biblical community is the final apologetic.||Community must be accessible.|
Joy and Shelton write clearly, carefully, and thoughtfully about the key elements of making disciples within and for gospel community. Each chapter addresses one of these elements, specifically as they relate to the significance of small groups in the life of the church. Here is the outline:
Chapter 1: The Shepherd Leader
Chapter 2: Community Corrupted
Chapter 3: The Distinctives of Gospel Community
Chapter 4: Asking the Right Questions
Chapter 5: The Missing Link of Alignment
Chapter 6: Gospeling One Another
Chapter 7: Gospel Flow
The chapters relate logically and persuasively. Who leads the church and its people? See chapter 1. Why is leadership in the church necessary and difficult? See chapter 2. What exactly are the realities that make a healthy church? See chapter 3. How do church leaders (chapters 1–2) go about making a healthy church (chapter 3)? See chapters 4 and 5. What does it actually look like to practice gospel community as a healthy church? See chapter 6. For what reason(s) should leaders and churches undertake this good but hard work? See chapter 7.
Joy and Shelton make their point (well) for gospel community in the midst of a church culture that is often antithetical to community. “Gospel-centered community is a radical call amid a culture of mere attendance and casual involvement.” (p. 149) Do you or does your church fall into this culture? If so, you will be appropriately challenged by this book.
The mission of God that flows, by and for the gospel, through the people of God necessitates community. They rightly state, “The only thing strong enough to build and sustain Christian community is the gospel and the refuge found therein.” (p. 56) Joy and Shelton explicate the implications of this theology in a very helpful and clear how-to and why-to book for the church. If you are a pastor, small group leader, student or layperson in the church you will benefit greatly from closely reading, and responding to, this book.