ENVISIONING THE CONTREGATION PRACTICING THE GOSPEL: A Guide for Pastors and Lay Leaders. By John W. Stewart. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. X + 226 pages.
The word on the street is that churches are not only dying, but they are irrelevant. Many are the diagnoses as well as the fixes for our predicament. Many of the fixes proposed depend largely on marketing gimmicks, and as is so often true of marketing gimmicks they become old hat very quickly. Most of them presuppose a consumerist mentality on the part of the church shopper. The solution is to become either a Walmart or a Starbucks. Big Boxes or coffee bars. The focus is on the customer, who is, we’re told, always right. The problem for churches is that God doesn’t always test well as a consumer product. To give but one example—worship. Although you would think that God would be the one being addressed in sacred worship, more often than not it is the consumer who is being courted. It really doesn’t matter if the style is traditional or whatever we deem contemporary. Whether it’s an organ or a guitar led service, more often than not God is sitting on the sidelines.
Among those who have attempted to steer the church away from this consumer focus is John W. Stewart, a former Presbyterian pastor and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Believing that things can be different; where consumerism isn’t the primary driver of church life, he offers pastors and lay leaders a guidebook that invites the church to practice the Gospel. His goal is to empower church leaders so they can guide Mainline Protestant congregations toward an existence that is more firmly grounded in the Gospel. As others have, he focuses on specific practices; practices he believes are present in the New Testament.