Today on the blog Aaron Gerrard reviews the book Thrive, by blog contributor, Rohadi Nagassar. Rohadi blogs at rohadi.com and you can read a taste of his book in his post: Can We Guarantee Church Plant Success? (and how to start a movement)

While many in the church today lament the loss of power, influence, and attendance, there is a growing group of women and men in the church who, while admitting the great challenge ahead, see an opportunity, potential, and hope. Rohadi Nagassar is one of the latter. In his book, Thrive: Ideas to Lead the Church in Post-Christendom, Rohadi brings a prophetic critique to the church of the past and present while energizing the hopeful church of the future.

“We must learn how to thrive outside of our past prestige.”

Rohadi asks hard questions of the church: questions about ethnic diversity, consumerism, privilege, racism, and in many cases the sense of intentionality about it all.  While no church would intentionally accept or endorse these means to get to an end, their practices suggest that a lack of education, awareness, and intentional conversations with people of colour, those from different socio-economic contexts, and those on the margins have allowed some of these destructive tendencies to flourish. Rightfully so, then, Rohadi tackles the historic and current trappings of colonialism and how in essence, its legacy and impact stands against the heartbeat of the gospel. The book calls into question, with both anecdotal and cited examples, many of the evangelical hallmarks of the recent past. Like a mirage in the desert, the pursuit of church growth couched in the well-intended language of evangelism and “success” has tricked the church and led it on destructive paths. Conversations and practices have leaned too much towards popularity and numerical growth and away from content, sustainability, and addressing the church’s inability to connect with the nones of our day.

While the book contains a no-holds-barred critique, it is done so from a rich theology of mission and the imago dei. The God who is imaginative, creative, and deeply invested in the local context, as shown through the very life of Jesus, can inspire and lead a movement of churches which are also imaginative, creative, and deeply invested in their local context.  

“We don’t need to rely on the hope of one new expression reaching megachurch status. Rather, it’s the accumulation of multiple implementers in the community, that when combined, reveal a movement state.”

“…when it comes to the re-invented church, mass appeal isn’t the goal, the accumulated impact of many ideas in motion is.”

Through risk, trying new ideas, embracing failure, and reimagining the definition of success through the lens of the gospel, churches in today’s context can engage their congregations in addressing the disconnect between conversations and lives happening inside the church and those happening outside of the church. The reality is that so many of our churches are filled with people who struggle to connect with conversations and people which exist outside of their secure lives inside the church and their faith. Rohadi’s book is full of helpful exercises, questions, and practices which will help pastors and local churches engage important conversations, many of which will be new for churches which have (un)intentionally attracted primarily Caucasian evangelicals of some stripe. If a church cares about connecting with people who have no footing in the historical European church and Christian faith tradition, and who may not look like them, then Thrive is a great conversation starter. Rohadi does not suggest that this process will be easy and without bruises, but it is essential and life-giving, dare I suggest fun, to embrace this sort of missional and cross-cultural reality.

I am a White guy of European descent, pastoring a church of many who look the same as me; I grew up in the evangelical church and continue in that tradition today. I found this book personally and professionally challenging. It forced me to look in the mirror and address my own participation in less-than-noble practices and my own desires to chase things that make me feel good but are not about the sustainability and message of the gospel in my church or community. It also inspired me. It reminded me that all is not lost, that Jesus remains on the move, and that the future is filled with hope because God does not give up and there is a movement of the Spirit in the air. I can feel it. Rohadi can feel it. This book breathes that feeling into life.

If you are looking for ways to bring more Christians through your church’s doors, this book is not for you. If you are looking for ways to return to “the glory days” of Christendom, this book is not for you. But if you sense, as Rohadi does, that the Spirit is always in the business of innovation, chasing after those who are far from God, and fighting alongside and for today’s church in the great quest of being a relevant conversation partner with our culture, then this book is for you. These are exciting times to be a dreamer, schemer, and idea-maker in the church.

Thanks for your work, insights, challenges, and inspiration, Rohadi. Job well done.

Thrive is available now from Rohadi.com or at the book table at New Leaf events.

Thrive is a book about turning ideas real. It focusses on the stark cultural realities facing the church. Namely, that the church we know will never return to the centre of cultural power. We need to re-imagine how to connect with a world that no longer defaults to the church in search of the answers to life’s questions. We have to discover ways to thrive on the margins of Canadian culture. We need new skills to act as a church from a de-centred place away from a posture of domination. In this sense, Thrive stands in contrast to most books on church planting, development, leadership, innovation, revitalization, etc. They rely on a false premise that in order for the church to succeed in the face of decline it needs to recover a position of privilege. We strive to re-attract culture back to a familiar place. But what happens when culture no longer thinks about the church?

Thrive. Ideas to lead the church in post-Christendom provides an overview, foundation, ideas, and application on ways leaders can adjust to the shifting culture in the West. This shift starts with you. What are the dreams and ideas you have picturing better in your neighbourhood, city and beyond? How can you turn that picture real?

There are 5 parts in the book. The first looks at the current problem and how the church wound up on the margins. The second revisits the vital foundation for the church today, namely our call to join mission. Thirdly, we engage how to turn the ideas to lead change reality. This includes an exploration of movements in a post-Christian context. Fourth, enemies and roadblocks always emerge and we need to be aware of them and ascertain skills to overcome. Lastly, part five talks about the end result, the reward for all of the work turning dreams real. No spoilers, but it’s not a reward you may think.