Why go back to church after COVID lockdowns and restrictions ease? We are all exhausted after non-stop zoom calls so why can’t we just hang out with our friends? Why go to church where there might be people we actually dislike? Why go to church when we can download great preaching, or sing along to the best recorded tracks, and never have to meet new and awkward people? Rediscover Church wants to show you the beauty of the local church, and convince you that you need it—just as much as it needs you. “You have many reasons not to rediscover church,” acknowledge Hansen and Leeman but there is …
… one reason why you must: because through these people you don’t much like, God wants to show his love to you.(18)
In a sobering and realistic way, we must rediscover church because God’s purpose for it can only come about when we are physically gathered in community.
So What is Church?
The structure of the book walks through their definition of church. It is lengthy but they step through it slowly:
A church is a group of Christians
who assemble as an earthly embassy of Christ’s heavenly kingdom
to proclaim the good news and commands of Christ the King
to affirm one another as his citizens through the ordinances
and to display God’s own holiness and love
through a unified and diverse people
in all the world
following the teaching and example of elders
In each chapter, they explain this definition and show why a physical gathering is essential to accomplishing it. They address the common difficulties of churches and turn them around to show that these difficulties are a feature, not a bug. The conclusion is that you don’t get the church you want, but something far better—a long-term community of God’s people who grow one another and who show the gospel to the world.
A Book Written for our Time
I really appreciated that this book was written for this exact moment. With much of Australia in a hard lockdown, this book is timely.
I really appreciated that this book was written for this exact moment. With much of Australia in a hard lockdown, this book is timely. Hansen and Leeman continually acknowledge that church is not always a pleasant experience, and suggest that COVID only accelerated the rate of people departing from it. They address head-on the reasons why we stop going to church. For example, we stop going because we have to talk to people unlike ourselves; or because we are challenged to live differently by the preaching or by our leaders. It was great to find a book that confronted these issues.
Chapter 7—“How do I love members who are different?”—and the conclusion—“You Don’t Get the Church You Want, But Something Better” were the highlights for me; both pastoral and theological. They take us beyond an idealistic view of church (church is easy and everyone is so lovely!) to a more difficult depiction of it as a community of Christians who are sinful and weak and different from us.
This last feature is often the problem for us. “The reason we need to rediscover the church as a fellowship of differents is because we too easily fall into the world’s ideas about community,” writes Hansen (105). Well said. Being part of a church is like being part of a gym. It is tiring and difficult, but that is how it grows you. I appreciated the simplicity of their final recommendation. Literally, just turn up. Turn up on Sundays. Turn up during the week. By turning up you are committing to this people. That felt achievable. Fantastic.
Who Will Read It?
Sometimes Rediscover Church was hard to read. In the early chapters, the writing style is a bit more academic. Sometimes the book felt pastoral, at other times like a short-form essay. This difference made sense after understanding that some chapters originated from other articles and books. As a result, I did not always warm to the prose.
But a larger problem exists for this book: the people you really want to read this book, probably won’t. It’s like giving a talk on the importance of church at church. The people you want to hear that talk are the ones who aren’t there because they already think church is not important. Perhaps that’s more of a problem in secular Australia than it is in the more (at least nominally) Christian United States. In our context, this book might be better served to help grow churchgoers to become invested and committed members, rather than challenge non-church goers to start going.
What about the Church in the Heavenly Realms?
I also would have liked to read a bit more about what the church achieves now and, in the future. The picture of the church as the future gathering of God’s different and varied people from Revelation 7 makes one appearance in Rediscover Church, though I thought this would have been a key text to motivate us to love other kinds of people. In addition, there was only one reference to Ephesians 3:10 which came, unexpectedly, in the context of church discipline. I would have liked to have seen this verse teased out more to rediscover what the church achieves right now in the heavenly realms. Ephesians says that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Doesn’t that mean that by gathering right now as a church we are showing God’s incredible wisdom to the hostile heavenly powers and authorities? These are both powerful pictures of the church that have “right now” implications.
Against the Idealism of Church
No one gets the church they want. But everyone gets the church they need.
“No one gets the church they want. But everyone gets the church they need.”(143) As I read this book, I grew in appreciation for the way God, through the church, will shape and disciple me. It struck me that I long to be the kind of person they describe. I want to be the person who is committed to God’s people at my local church—not because it’s the perfect church, and not because I’m a perfect pastor. We’re far from that. I’m far from that. I’m a church planter that launched a church six months ago. We’re small. We’re getting to know each other. We do what we can. I have plenty of faults. We could do more. But I want to be committed because God loves this frail church.
This book made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation, that we suffer from an idealism of church. He says, “By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live, even for a brief period, in a dream world [about the church].” We want churches that are conflict-free; where everyone is like us; where we’re all happy all the time, and no one struggles. But by grace, that’s not what we’ve been given. We are confronted with real lives and imperfect communities. And that’s how God has chosen to grow us. This book made me want to be that kind of Christian that commits through thick and thin to that church and grow in the process. This result was probably what the writers were praying for when they wrote this book.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 27.