Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2010

ReChurch: A Book About Healing, Restoration and Renewal

After more than a decade of writing about the lives of others, author Stephen Mansfield looks at his own experience, and in the process delivers what must certainly be his most significant book to date.

ReChurch:  Healing Your Way Back to the People of God is aimed directly at the all-too-common condition in which individuals find themselves estranged from a local church they love, and had found a place of service.   The book is also written in such a way that it functions on another level for pastors who find themselves in this identical situation.

If the book offers one thing — and it certainly offers much more — it is empathy.   Mansfield has been there personally and also offers the examples of history as well as Biblical stories of people who know what is like to be wounded, or to be outcast.

I’m reminded of an experience I had in the Syrian Desert.  I was speaking with an Arab friend of how foreign the desert is to me and how — raised as an Army brat in Germany and now living in Tennessee — lush hills and flowing rivers are more to my liking.  My friend took humorous offense and began extolling the glories of the “desert under God.”   Waving his arms in what I am sure were ancient ways, he said, “There is as much life in the desert as there is in the sea, but you must know where to find it.”

I cannot judge whether he was right about the physical desert because I have worked hard to spend as little time there as possible.   I am sure, however, that he is right about spiritual deserts.  In other words, during our dry and painful spiritual seasons, there is much life to be found, be we have to find it in places we have never considered before, digging for it in ways we have not yet tried.

Using a masterful economy of words, he allows also that sometimes we are victims of things beyond our control, while at other times we form recurring patterns in our journey.   He also avoids situations where want to lash out at those who have ambushed us, realizing that God may have had a part in all that happened; all the while recognizing that these choices may run counter to our natural instincts:

I grew to hate sermons on forgiveness, even my own.   They convicted me, true, and I did the things I was asked to do to deal with my offense and hurt.  But it seldom worked and I soon came to understand that there was a stronghold in my soul.  It seemed as though my inner life was coated with Velcro that trapped hurt and offense and held it tight.   Though I thought of myself as a fairly loving person, I could never let the impact of being wronged go.  I fed it.  I fantasized about it.  I even used it to fuel my intensity in sports or my efforts to rise in the world.  Because I could not let what offended me go, I used it as fuel and this only caused it to attach more firmly to that Velcro of my soul.

Relate?  I know I do.   The final chapter, “Coming Home,” deals with the recovery process, using covenant theology as a way of rethinking what the Church is and what should guide our decisions to reconnect.

ReChurch is available in hardcover from Tyndale under the Barna imprint, and in the foreword, George Barna shares his own personal experience with all that this book entails.   My one regret is that the book was so concise that I have liked to dwell longer in some of its subjects rather than the 166 digest-sized pages; however this work is really a pivotal, transitional title for Mansfield, and I’ll grant him a very high recommendation, on the condition he promises to write more of the same.

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