Review: Reimagining Spiritual Formation


Late in March a friend of mine who is working on his PhD twigged me to a new book out of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. Roger knows me well.. and he said this book would resonate with me strongly. In fact, knowing the scene locally, he suggested that perhaps it was time to plant a new church!

Reimagining

This was not my first contact with Solomon's Porch. Back in 2000 when we initiated a local gathering and a website dedicated to kingdom, culture and transformation we called it "The Porch," because we liked many things about the ethos of the outer court of the temple, mentioned casually in the book of Acts. The open meeting that we held on Wednesday nights was similarly referred to as "the Porch." It wasn't long before someone did a search for Solomon's Porch (SP) online and found their website, and Doug and I exchanged a couple of emails.

Since that time SP has become an example of emergence within the North American church, and Doug Pagitt has become a popular speaker in emergent circles. While the Porch is still young and small, it embodies the values many of us hold dearly. It is missional, and not attractional; it is holistic and not dualistic; it is communal and not hierarchical, and it is a place of creativity and risk. And while not perfect, even the brokeness is sacramental. The Porch feels "authentic" and reading their story was greatly inspirational.

The book itself is a learning experience: communal, holistic and incarnational. It is not a treatise on what could be or should be, but a reflection on the actual practice of the values and vision that so many of us in the emergent church share. Equally important, it is not an argument to try a different way, but a portrait one can pass on that actually demonstrates a new way forward. I have had many discussions with friends over the past ten years about a new way to lead, a new way to teach, a new way to hold meetings, and new ways to be missional.. and have often heard in reply, "but will it work? why isn't anyone actually doing it? where are the examples?" Now I can simply say, "here is how one group does it."

Naturally, this doesn't mean that this path will work for everyone. It is not a model, but a snapshot of one community as it lives out kingdom values. An attempt to implement SP values at the average First Baptist Church is doomed to failure. But enough reflection, what about the book? This is intended more as a summary than a review. I'll quote extensively, one of the beauties of publishing online.

Lenses and Impressions

First impressions on cracking the cover.. the format is the new "emergent" style where even the margins are full of thoughts and reflections. One is literally immersed in a community on opening the cover. It takes getting used to because you are suddenly tracking multiple conversations. Those of us who are used to making notes in the margins will have to carry a separate pad instead.

The main text proceeds in a structured manner, with journal entries from various Porchites adding counterpoint and personality. Most of the journal entries are helpful and reflective, inviting the reader along into the stories within the story. We are invited to view the community through multiple lenses.

While I will consider first of all the lenses offered by those who share their stories in the book, I will also run the book through the grid used by Frost and Hirsch in "The Shaping of Things to Come." I will presume my readers will agree that a faithful expression of church in our day is missional community. Frost and Hirsch are missional thinkers who use the following grid to cast a vision for the future.

1. The missional church is incarnational, not attractional, in its eccelesiology. By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which believers much come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't yet know him.

2. The missional church is messianic, not dualistic, in its spirituality. That is, it adopts the worldview of Jesus the Messiah, rather than that of the Greco-Roman empire. Instead of seeing the world as divided between the sacred (religious) and profane (nonreligious), like Christ it sees the world and God's place in it as holistic and integrated.

3. The missional church adopts an apostolic, rather than a hierarchical, mode of leadership. By apostolic we mean a mode of leadership that recognizes the fivefold model detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6. It abandons the triangular hierarchies of the traditional church and embraces a biblical, flat-leadership community that unleashes the gifts of evangelism, apostleship and prophecy as well as the currently popular pastoral and teaching gifts.

We believe the missional genius of the church can only be unleashed when there are foundational changes made to the church's very DNA, and this means addressing core issues like ecclesiology, spirituality, and leadership. It means a complete shift away from Christendom thinking, which is attractional, dualistic, and hierarchical.

The Book: Chapters and Sections

The subtitle of the book is "A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church." The book has that feel.. the community appears to be a safe place to take risks, and a place where nothing is written in stone. One might assume that "experimental" also means "here today and gone tomorrow," but that isn't the case. Rather this feels like the story of a peculiar family, a people on a journey together, not a group who are experimenting with community and tomorrow will experiment with something else.

At the opening of the book is a page that lists the values of Solomon's Porch. "We Dream of a Church Where" is posted here.

  • Ch 1 A New Approach for a New Age
  • Ch 2 An Uncertain Future
  • Ch 3 Spiritual Formation Through Worship (Sunday)
  • Ch 4 Spiritual Formation Through Physicality (Monday)
  • Ch 5 Spiritual Formation Through Dialogue (Tuesday)
  • Ch 6 Spiritual Formation Through Hospitality (Wednesday)
  • Ch 7 Spiritual Formation Through Belief (Thursday)
  • Ch 8 Spiritual Formation Through Creativity (Friday)
  • Ch 9 Spiritual Formation Through Service (Saturday)
  • Ch 10 Experimentation and the Long Haul

Chapter One

Chapter one introduces the book, the community, and the context. It also introduces the format and style, which is confessional and vulnerable. Doug makes it clear that this "experimental community" is about holistic formation. "The question that haunts me is not, "Will people like our church," but "Is there any real formation happening?" Doug admits that it is too early to answer that question, but points out that it must be asked in order to continually order the life of the community.

He also reflects that this really is the million dollar question, not only of Solomon's Porch but of the church world wide. A few years ago the question was framed this way: "What is it about the way we live that will cause the world to sit up and take notice?" Certainly our words alone rarely impact those around us, and there are now many voices proclaiming that the church in North America is on the ropes. Doug reflects, "It is possible that the way forward [involves] the church improving its current approach of education based formation. Perhaps all we need is better curriculum and better training for our pastors and teachers.. Perhaps, but I think not."

Similarly, Reggie McNeal writes in "The Present Future,"

"An entire industry has been spawned to help churches do whatever they decide to do... the mailings keep coming, and the conference notebooks stack up on the shelves.

"All this activity anesthetizes the pain of loss. It offers a way to keep busy and preoccupied with methodological pursuits while not facing the hard truth: none of this seems to be making a difference. Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spiritual vitality."

The journey of Solomon's Porch, then, is in seeking a holistic approach to spiritual formation. Furthermore, this formation is not merely individual but communal and missional, since community and mission define the very nature of the body of Christ. "Many Christians find that their fellow congregants play no more crucial role in their daily lives than the people they walk past in the grocery store." Doug seems to have a problem with this ;) Doug argues that our expression of Christianity must be local, global, historical and futurical (leaving a legacy).

Chapter Two

Chapter two places Solomon's Porch in the context of Doug's personal journey, the context of the community in which SP is found, and the context of western culture. Doug makes it clear that SP is not about standing against something, but rather an effort to incarnate a communal lived faith.

"In truth, we are not ANTI anything. Instead, we long to bring the best of what we have experienced with us and use it to help us move toward a new way of life...

"So if we're not ANTI, what are we? I"ve become fond of the prefix "post." Post does not mean against, but after. Our community could be described as post-evangelical, post-liberal, post-industrialized, and for htat matter, post-Protestant.

"By post-Protestant I don't mean ANTI. The Protestant church is the Reformation church. When Luther saw that practices in the churchof his day had outlived their usefulness, he felt a call to evive the faith -- not to abandon everything that had gone before but to recover the dynamic elements of the gospel. We today have the same calling. We can best honor the refomers of all ages by doing as they did and not just parotting what they said. We can and should be always re-forming.. seeking to create new ways of life and new ideas and theology, service and love that fit our world and our time...

"I recognize that today's "post" is tomorrow's "passe," and I'm okay with that. I don't think the reformers intended for their ideas about the church to be its final form for all time."

Doug takes pains to point out that the Porch community is about a people, not the vision of a few leaders. In this way the Porch differs from most modern expressions, and reaches toward something beyond the individual.

"In the early days as we shared our desires for the feel, intentions and ways of Solomon's Porch, we often asked a key question of one another: "What in your past that was lifegiving could we incorporate into our lives together?" We didn't look at handbooks or guides to starting a church. We had no interest in doing a "cover" version of someone else's model... We often say that we want the dreams of Solomon's Porch to reflect the dreams of the people in our community. We want that list to keep growing and changing with us. It was never meant to be stagnant.

"This idea of bringing our dreams to the church is quite different from the model of the "program" church many of us had experienced where the community becomes a collection of services meant to meet the felt needs of the congregants. We never wanted SP to be a place where people were "serviced."

This is the unrepeatable DNA of Solomon's Porch. It is literally the incarnation of a communal set of dreams and visions. The only way to an identical Porch in another city would be to transport the entire community.. but then it would be reshaped by context and it wouldn't be the same.

I wonder whether it is as easy to embrace constant change in practice as in theory? It likely helps that the Porch embraces a certain amount of liturgy, giving a sense of grounding in an unchanging history.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is "Spiritual Formation Through Worship." The placement of the chapter strikes me as interesting, as does the nomination of chapters itself. There is no neat trilogy here... as if worship, word and sacrament or service could capture everything about a faith community, or as if the large gathering represented the heart of the community.

On the other hand, who can deny the significance of the large gathering? In many faith communities that gathering uses a huge proportion of resources and can be seen to reflect an entire set of values. This is so true that Alan Hirsch comments that "many communities plant sunday gatherings, not churches" ("The Shaping of Things to Come"). The Sunday meeting tends to become the center that determines our ecclesiology, which in turn impacts our practice 24/7. Very aware of this, the Porch has reshaped the gathering significantly.

"Our intention is that Sunday night gatherings be a time when people contribute to the creation of a setting in which we are transformed, not a setting in which people come to be serviced by professionals or qualifed volunteers. I like to think of it as having dinner at a friend's house where it is expected that you will help pass the serving dishes and clear the table at the end of the meal.

"Our gatherings reflect our belief that we are in this together and that we all have something to offer here. Our worship gatherings are not meant to be shows or concerts. They are designed as interactive experiences. We invite participants to join in, share what they have, and take a piece of what those around have to give. We are a gathering of people who are on a pilgrimage through life with each other and with God. Our gatherings for worship are designed to help us on that journey.

"Because our gatherings are designed to be interactive and participatory, our furniture is set in the round so we can see one another.. over time, we have gotten used to seeing faces in church rather than the backs of heads."

LOL.. I don't know how many times I have sat in a Sunday gathering feeling so disconnected. Not long ago we met a couple who had recently arrived from Russia, where she had lived all her life. We asked if she had found a church community. She told us they were still looking, and that "all the churches here are like theatres."

One of the ongoing problems with the way we gather in typical western churches is the space itself. We neglect the most basic truth of physical reality: that physical space has its own ethos, its own message, and its own demands. As Marshall McLuhan put it, "the medium is the message." The message of a theatre is that the important action happens up front, and only a few actors are critical. We destroy with the environment what we try to build with our teaching. We will never attain a significant priesthood of believers when the environment creates a silent and passive majority, and we will never then transition to a missional community. Solomon's Porch has addressed these limitations.

"Part of our communal effort on Sunday nights is to limit the things that separate those in charge from those who are not; our hope is that all people will be part of this experience. That's why it's important that the roles people play not be confused with power in other areas of our community. We don't have special places of activity or certain rights that are reserved for some. Because we don't have a stage, we don't have to be concerned with who is utilizing that place of power. It is important for us not to centralize power or give undue power to those wearing microphones who speak to the entire group in ways that others do not. We are conscious of the feelings that come when one person has the ability to address the crowd with sophisticated sound reinforcement and what that communicates to others about whose words are important.

"On most occasions the sermon is followed by a time of open discussion where I ask for comments, interpretations, and thoughts of significance from our community. During these few minutes not only are brilliant observations made, but we are reminded that we are called to listen to one another and be taught by one another and not only by a pastor."

This is remarkably similar to what Jean Vanier writes in "Community and Growth," that we must be ready to limit the participation of the most gifted in the community in order to make space for the participation of all.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is "Spiritual Formation Through Physicality." This chapter, as many following, begins with a journal entry rather than with Doug's reflections. Karen writes about the weekly yoga class she offers, and she reflects on the symbolism of bodily movement as she shares.

"This state of being is holy. It is at this time that we become closer to God, aware of our bodies, of the divine. The clutter that competes with God's presence in our lives will fall away, and we are open to God's love and God's will."

"It has been an honor, a joy, a mystery, a sacrament and an expression of love to do massage for people, especially in the place our community uses for worship." Marlene reflects on the healing power of touch, a truth often relegated to the new age world, but embraced by the Porch community as part of our neglected Christian inheritance."

Following the journal entry, Doug reflects that such classes, like the massage therapist who uses part of the SP space, are intended to demonstrate the church's desire to live lives of connectedness and wholeness. Porch people are seeking to be formed spiritually, and physically, as people in harmony with God in body, soul, and spirit. This sounds curiously like Paul in Ro.12:1,2, "offering your bodies as a living sacrifice." Or it could be a reminder that God's plan for redemption includes all of creation. Doug reflects,

"When New Testament Christians wanted to be saved, Peter instructed them to join the community of faith by doing physical things -- undergoing baptism, selling their belongings, meeting daily, serving, preaching, feeding." We could add that the sacraments the Lord left us with were also physical.. bread and wine are given as symbols of the death and life of Jesus."

This chapter moves on to discuss communion, prayer and meditation, anointing with oil, crossing, easter and the body (Ash Wednesday, Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday) and the physical symbols and rituals (including a labyrinth) associated with the celebration of easter through history. The chapter ends with a journal entry from Marlene, the massage therapist who works out of the Porch community (box at left).

Doug reminds us that the real danger may be less from Eastern worldviews than that our fear will cause us to live in Gnostic ways, separating body from spirit and neglecting the physicality of creation and redemption."

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is "Spiritual Formation Through Dialogue." If we are really interested in discipleship and formation, rather than information and education, if learning and empowerment is the goal, we have to be concerned about our teaching methodology.

"The Tuesday night Bible discussion group is my primary time of preparation for the following Sunday's sermon, not only because it gives me a better idea of how to focus what I'm going to say, but also because I like the idea of the sermon being something more than just my thoughts and research on a passage. Part of our desire is to be a community that is equipped to contribute to the future thinking, life and faith of the Church. This means we need to not only hear the thoughts of those who have gone before us, but also to create new ways of thinking and living the dreams and ways of God.

"We are people entering into the story of God's work in the world and seeking our place in that story.. [and] I go into Sunday knowing that I am not just a guy spewing out my knowledge of the Bible, but a member of a community being formed on the spot by others.. a member of a dialogue.

"Dialogue isn't just helpful in spiritual formation, it is essential... we as the church need to find ways to help the truths of Jesus become embedded in those lives. For many people, that can only happen when they are allowed to turn an idea over in their heads for a while, to ask questions of it, to make sense of it in their own time and in light of their own experiences.

"Anna, another of the Tuesday-night regulars, recently noted that she has often struggled with more traditional religious methods. "During a sermon," she says, "I feel like my job is just to sit there and take it." For her, participating in a dialogue about the difficult questions and demands of faith has meant the difference between being an active player in the story of God and being the passive recipient of someone else's ideas."

Dialogue, and the ability to contribute even secondarily to the teaching that will occur in a large gathering, is not only an opportunity to learn, but is a further means of participation. It is empowering to know that we have a part in shaping the perspective on truth that we share together and that in turn will shape us.

This concept will be radical indeed to those who think that theology is the province of the trained professional. But then, the idea that Jesus chose fishermen to be his disciples is already offensive.

It is always a challenge for leaders to release control, but to go so far as to give control of the teaching direction to the community is moving beyond what many leaders would consider sane. It is a huge shift in responsibility, and effectively redefines the significance and function of the ekklesia. Doug relates,

"These practices have created an attitude in our community where people believe they can and should learn from one another. As a pastor, it's such a blessing to not be seen as the "Bible Answer Man," but as a member of the community, one who happens to have training, gifts and a degree in theology.

"The dialogical approach means that the authority of teaching and explanation needs to be decentralized away from me as the pastor both in the "pulpit" and during the week. I really enjoy this different role in our community. Even though I have found that I enjoy preaching and teaching, and there are even people who tell me they like listening to me talk, it's so refreshing for me to be one of the voices impacting a person's faith, and not to have the burden of being the only voice... There is no question that my community leads me as much as I lead them. All that through something as simple as conversation."

One could argue that the pastor is never likely to be the "only voice" that impacts a person's faith. In fact, those voices in most lives are diverse: books, movies, friends and family, music and more.

At Solomon's Porch the voice that forms members spiritually has become multiple and diverse. Unfortunately, in many gatherings the only voice heard is from leaders, and this can even be true in small groups. After some years in a leadership role and now attending a group as a "member," I find myself tending to sit back. We are conditioned to defer to leaders, and it happens without thought. This is bad for leaders, creating over-responsibility, and bad for the group, because it inhibits the life of the body (each part connecting to each Eph. 4). As Paul Stevens wrote, "It requires a constant effort to avoid creating dependence on leaders." Conditioning to passivity and deference to position is a huge problem. Admittedly, it is almost impossible to have the perspective from the congregation without stepping outside the leader's skin.

Doug is right to point out that their approach decentralizes not only leadership but authority. And this may be the profound contribution of the book.. to argue both in theory and in practice that the real decentralization of authority is possible, and yet it is still possible to have an orthodox, biblical and authentic Christian community. That is a somewhat radical perspective in practice if not in theory. While the Druckers and Senges of the world might agree that leadership can be disconnected from authority, or that hierarchy limits growth, this is still not a common perspective in the church where control continues to be valued above community.

Furthermore, as argued above, by giving voice to all believers, we empower all believers. To have a voice in the world means that we can become witnesses to the truth we live out together. Apart from empowering the voices of all in the community, we will continue to have a huge ministry bottleneck where the few do ministry and the majority remain passive consumers. Thankfully, the movement from a consumer culture to a producer culture is accelerating, and churches which maintain a consumer orientation are dying.

Oddly, I feel that I am evaluating a community more than reviewing a book. There seems no way to escape this, since the book is a window into the life of a community more than a theological treatise. We have enough theological arguments around community and missions, so this fresh perspective is particularly helpful.

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is "Spiritual Formation Through Hospitality." This chapter caught my interest less for the physical components of hospitality than for the apparent levels of community that exist within Solomon's Porch.

Somewhere Henri Nouwen remarked that, "Hospitality is not part of the Gospel; hospitality IS the Gospel."

Like many new communities, gathering over food is a powerful means to grow relationships. "When you see someone you don't care for at the mall you can lok the other way or duck into a store; at church you can focus on religious activity. But regular acts of hospitality demand that we take stock of how we are doing. The intimacy of eating a meal together puts unreconciled relationships in a different context.. It's hard to maintain the separated mentality of isolation when you're sharing a meal."

In the next paragraph Doug shares his heart to see deeper connections. A Friday group that consists of around twenty people.. married, single, with children and without.. gathers are various homes. Members have committed to being open and honest with one another, and being involved in each other's lives.

While it isn't otherwise obvious in the book, the Porch is a covenant community. I have yet to see the actual words of their covenant, but they do invite levels of commitment. I assume that those who actually sign a covenant form the core of the community.

"When someone enters your home, there is a mandated transparency. When you open your door and offer your chair, you are inviting another person into your life in ways that transcend mere acquaintance... Openhandedness entails risk. When one is hospitable, one is exposed, vulnerable, and open for misuse. At times people of our community, including my family, have opened our lies to others only to be hurt.. Yet it is this risk that makes hospitality a meaningful element of spiritual formation."

Levels of commitment in a community are perfectly natural. The hope is that individuals progress through these levels as they grow, moving from something like a novice to a full member of the community. Remember, Jesus had twelve close to him, and then three within the twelve. Doug says more about hospitality:

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is "Spiritual Formation Through Belief." The chapter starts with a journal entry that describes a bible study group, though perhaps the ethos of the group is a bit unusual (sounds much like the one we used to do). Following the entry Doug reflects that information does not necessarily lead to formation. That mystery has been resolved through learning sciences in the past couple of decades. Walter Brueggemann stated it like this,

"We now know that human transformation does not happen through didacticism or through excessive certitude, but through the playful entertainment of another scripting of reality that may subvert the old given text and its interpretation and lead to the embrace of an alternative text and its redescription of reality." Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home

And a more famous author put it this way,

"Use knowledge as a kind of scaffold by which to erect the building of love, which remains forever, even while knowledge is torn down. Knowledge, as a means to love, is highly useful; in itself, not as a means to such end, it has proven not only unnecessary but even harmful. I know, however, how your holy meditation keeps you safe under the shadow of the wings of God." Augustine to Januarius

The desire of Porch people is to form friendships where lived truth impacts lives mutually. As Doug puts it, "we learn from one another because we have proven ourselves trustworthy.. In our community, we've found that mingling information with hopes, experiences, ideas and thoughts often brings with it wonderful surprises. Bringing information alongside belief partners creates a mutuality as all of the partners shift and grow with the contributions of the others."

The chapter discusses the adult classes offered at the Porch (Life Development Forums), Professions of Faith (creeds and confessions), the sermon, and the Bible. In the section on the sermon Doug relates that the community is attempting to redefine the pastor/parishioner "contract." The attempt is to create an experience more like a "potluck" where people eat but also bring something for others.

The journal entry that follows the "sermon" section and precedes the "bible as authoritative community member" is striking. It plays the dark note to the light discussion, the minor key to the major. Belief isn't always easy, particularly in light of the contradiction we often experience between Jesus and His church. Things are rarely as simple as we would hope, and not always as clear as we would like. In a world with so many voices and where truth is relative, and when we ourselves are so fallible, how do we make any authoritative claims?

"At bottom our trust in the Bible does not depend on information that "proves" the Bible to be cedible. We believe the Bible because our hopes, ideas, experiences and community of faith allow and require us to believe." This sounds very much like Robert Webber, "Faith is participation in the truth embodied in the community."

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 is "Spiritual Formation Through Creativity."

"We attempted to find ways for creativity to be sewn into the fabric of our community, not as an add-on, but as a fundamental part of our spiritual formation. .. I did not presume myself to be the one who would reach artists. Rather, I hoped they would reach me, and that they would show me places of faith I had only imagined... this was not an attempt to market the church to artists, but an invitation for them to lead our community."

Wow.. that is impressive. It sounds integrative and hopeful. Doug goes on to explain that the traditional story of God's relationship with the world seems truncated, as if His relationship with the world sort of cooled off after the fall and didn't really get back in gear until Jesus arrived. It puts human activity in the world in a passive stance.

Instead, Doug suggests, we should understand that God the creator has been re-creating all things through Jesus. He invites us to be co-creators with Him. When we employ creative activity to love God or to improve the world, we participate with God in the redemption of the His creation. Doug shares a creative reading of the Lord's prayer:

Our Loving, Great Creator,
Make the world different, the way you want it,
Make this your place.
GIve to us in ways that we have not receive before.
Forgive us -- make us new.
Lead us into new good things and not into destruction.

The Porch people apply this approach to all that they are and do. Their physical space is constantly changing and being renewed; the free-form discussions after the sermon are unpredictable; creativity is valued in all aspects of their shared life. Doug confesses that not all their efforts have fared well, but that the courage to create cannot be separated from a willingness to fail.

I love the ethos of risk and creativity. I am reminded of the early work of Elizabeth O'Connor out of the Church of the Savior. In Call to Commitment she wrote that, "In a success oriented world, we must be willing to let come into being that which might fail." When we invest so much of our identity in work and productivity, this is a big challenge. But we offer a special gift to God when we walk that road in faith.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is "Spiritual Formation Through Service."

"The church was created to be the people of God to join him in his redemptive mission in the world. The church was never intended to exist for itself. It was and is the chosen instrument of God to expand his kingdom. The church is the bride of Christ. Its union with him is designed for reproduction, the growth of the kingdom. Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, "Thy church come." The kingdom is the destination. In its institutional existence the church abandoned its real identity and reason for existence." Reggie McNeal, The Present Future

A few months back I was sitting with a pastor friend who had been invited to speak at a gathering of churches on the topic of evangelism. "Evangelism," he laughed, "I don't believe in it." Evangelism connotes going door to door bothering people, or handing out tracts on the street, or accosting unsuspecting victims with the "four spiritual laws." These methods are task oriented, inauthentic, require virtually no relationship, and are disconnected from the life of the community. Thankfully, we are moving beyond these modern paradigms with incarnational and life based missions.

Solomon's Porch intentionally moved their gathering place into an ethnically mixed neighborhood with a high rate of poverty. That choice represents their intention to care for the poor and to avoid the middle class huddle typical of modern churches.

Chapter 9 opens with a journal entry from Katherine, a staff member at Solomon's Porch who had a heart to reach out to people in Guatemala. She shares some of her experience in Guatemala. The Porch community is missional, reaching beyond its own borders both in Minneapolis and trans-locally in Guatemala. This is one of the shortest chapters in the book, perhaps because being missional is part of the genetics of the Porch and not an organized program. As it should be, "outreach" is about hospitality and relationship and life. Doug spends a couple of pages reflecting on the parable of the good Samaritan and the meaning of "neighbor."

Chapter 10 is "Experimentation and the Long Haul." These four pages close the book with a one page summary of the journey the book makes, and an invitation to move forward in re-imagining a church that connects to culture and lives an authentic expression of faith in Christ in the world.

Conclusion

As I wrote above, it is difficult to review this book in the traditional sense because it is more like an invitation to a shared experience than a structured argument. It succeeds in its effort to invite us along on a journey.

Perhaps the greatest gift the book offers is not just an articulated vision, but an incarnate vision. Here it is, fleshed out, good and bad.. That will greatly help some of us to articulate our own longings and direction, and in turn help us invite others along on the journey. That is really critical, because many want to go there but need help in imagining that new place before they can feel safe enough to take the risk.

The comfort offered is that in fact this is not the dream or journey of any one person, but a communal dream expressed in life. Any similar expression will likewise depend not on an individual, but on something the Lord is doing in a whole community of people. And similar missional communities are being birthed all over the world.

It is clear that the vision of Solomon's Porch is incarnational, holistic, and non-hierarchical (using the grid mentioned at the article opening). It is a missional community that expresses authentically that the church is designed to give its life for the sake of the world. The book is a great read and would make an excellent discussion resource for new communities .

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005