Total Church

Book Review – Total Church
by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis

Total Church is an attempt by authors Steve Timmis and Tim Chester to address an observed decline in Church attendance in the UK by reshaping our view and practice of Church around a dual core of Gospel and Community. They contend that what is needed most by Christians and non-Christians alike is the Gospel and that the Gospel is most effectively applied in Community.

Both Timmis and Chester, co-leaders of ‘The Crowded House’ in Sheffield, have backgrounds which have led to a discontent with traditional church models. Timmis relates how pastoring a doctrinally sound, loving church was ultimately frustrating as it was isolated from its surrounding community. Chester, endeavouring to plant a church in London, found that the relationships he was involved in were largely superficial and militated against forming real community.[1] This sense of dissatisfaction and a desire for the Church of God to be growing again in the UK prompted two reformed pastors to write not just a theology of Church, but a ‘radical reshaping’ of it.

From the authors perspective British churches have drifted towards one of two extremes. Either to the conservative extreme, with its emphasis on being centred around the Gospel (to the neglect of community) or the emerging extreme, with its emphasis on being centred around community (to the neglect of the Gospel).[2] Total Church argues that the two are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually dependent.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section deals with these dual issues of Gospel and Community centeredness. In Chapter 1 the Gospel is described as having two aspects. Firstly it’s content and secondly it’s missionary dictate.

The content aspect of Gospel centeredness means that the Church must be word based and its leaders skilled in teaching and applying that word. However, that word can never be taught without missional implications. The nature of the Gospel word commands the Church towards mission. As a result the word must be at the centre of the Church and it must point the Church toward mission. God acts through his word and so it must be at the heart of everything the Church does.

In Chapter 2 Community is put forward as the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people and the context in which both the Gospel word is best taught and the Gospel mission carried out. Being part of a community they argue is not a choice a Christian can make but rather a reality they must embrace. The community is that which God has ordained to carry out the missionary call of the Gospel word. The community has a dual function in God’s plan as it is the end He is working towards and the means through which He is achieving that end.

Having laid these foundations Total Church moves on to show how various aspects of church are conducted in a church Community that has an emphasis on the Gospel. The authors attempt to do more than apply Gospel and Community to a set of preconceived necessities such as pastoral care or youth work, but rather demonstrate how they are a natural outworking of having Gospel and Community at the heart of Church. This is a very different approach than that seen in other contemporary, popular books on Ecclesiology.[3]

In Evangelism they show how the Gospel word needs to be spoken and how the Gospel mission needs to be the motivation. Community is described as the most effective place for both to occur. It is in the community, through relationships, that the word is both spoken and authenticated. It is the whole community that is to share the Gospel word, allowing the church to act as a body, each part performing its unique role.

In Social Involvement they show how people’s poverty is primarily in their relationships. The Gospel word addresses this as it offers a relationship with God and the community addresses this as it offers relationships with others.

Church Planting is seen as the essence of the missionary activity. Church planting keeps the church on its mission rather than falling into a life of maintenance. If a church is planted correctly then the expectation is that both the planted church and the seeding church should grow as they consider both the Gospel word and the Gospel mission more. The additional benefit of remaining smaller, as you will lose some to the plant, means the community can continue to be as close as possible.

In World Mission the churches vision for mission is increased. The church is uniquely placed to offer not only hope for this life, but hope beyond death. The Church Community, rather than some other organisation, is God’s plan for sharing the Gospel word throughout the world.

The chapters on Discipleship, Training and Pastoral Care demonstrate how these are in essence continuations of evangelism where the application of the Gospel word is paramount. In the community of the church the Gospel should be constantly and consistently applied to the lives of believers. As problems arise it is the Gospel that is offered as a solution. Rather than submitting to the counselling culture that suggests that the Bible is insufficient, what is needed is deeper relationships in which the Gospel is suitably applied.

In Theology the Church is to take a leading role. The purpose of theology is to answer the questions asked of the Church in its mission. The result is a missional theology rather than a theology of mission.

The controversial chapter on Apologetics suggests the church has fallen into the fallacy that the problem of unbelief is primarily one of knowledge, a problem of the head rather than a problem of the heart. Instead the church in community should live as such to demonstrate that the Gospel makes a real difference, making people want the Gospel to be true, after which point the rational apologetics can help them see that it is.

In Children, Youth and Success the authors plead for new measuring sticks; no longer driven by numbers but by opportunities to apply the Gospel word in community. By allowing children and youth to be part of the community a more lasting impact can be made. Shedding a dependence upon number driven success will also allow bigger churches the freedom to plant without fear of reduced numbers and perception of failure that follows.

In conclusion the authors show that what counts more than any change to structures or strategies is an increased passion for God. What believers and non-believers need above all else is the Gospel Word and the context in which we receive it best and most frequently is Community.

Total Church is an extremely practical book without becoming dogmatic or resorting to figures for maximum size or number of meetings that are permissible. It calls the reader to question the motives behind the actions of their church honestly and to assess in which areas growth is needed.

Total Church stands out for as radical a reshaping as it wishes to be it is in essence a call to biblical fidelity; fidelity to the Gospel, fidelity to the missionary call this places on the Church and the community that is best suited to fulfil that call.


[1]Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Nottingham: IVP, 2007), 15.

[2]Chester and Timmis, Total Church, 16-17.

[3]For examples of beginning with aspects of Church and then looking for Biblical warrant see the highly successful: Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004). Or Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005).

 

Bibliography

Chester, Tim and Steve Timmis. Total Church. Nottingham: IVP, 2007.

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004.

Dever, Mark and Paul Alexander. The Deliberate Church. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005.

 

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  1. READER: Total Church | The Veritas Network - 17/05/2012

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