Messy Church (Book Review)

Messy Church

Messy Church

The church is a family. We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, and brothers and sisters with one another in Christ. There is certainly more to the church than just this, but the concept of church as a family is a huge aspect that is often overlooked in practical application. In his book, Messy Church: A Multigenerational Mission for God's Family, Ross Parsley emphasizes this truth and shows by example how the church can truly live as a family.

Numerous books have been published recently, all trying to answer the question, “What’s wrong with the church?” Most seem to focus on a particular problem, and then they proceed to castigate the church for failing in that area. This is not an entirely wrong approach, as most of the problems these books highlight are legitimate ones. Yet I wonder if we are spending too much time bandaging bruises and too little time examining the core issues from which these other problems stem. A lack of understanding about the nature of the church is one of the core issues, and Parsley has made some great strides toward overcoming it.

Most people today tend to think of church as a building, a weekly meeting, or an organization. Even if we cognitively know that church is the people, we still get a mental image of the building where we “worship” whenever we hear the word. When we instead force ourselves to think of church as a family, we are able to see it in a whole new light. I won’t spoil the entire book for you, but here are just a few of the insights found therein.

  • “Families aren’t perfect, and neither are churches” (p. 17).
  • “If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of becoming consumers of goods and services rather than the family members God designed us to be” (p. 35).
  • “God designed us to live in a community of selfless serving, sharing, and correction” (p. 63).
  • “When we practice church as family, what was once known as the generation gap disappears. We may wrestle with generational differences, but we have a chance to anticipate and collaborate like never before. … We won’t win the battle ahead without each generation sharing with others the great exploits that God has done among them!” (p. 95).
  • “The struggle to remain relevant has pulled at the church since its inception, but we’re tempted now more than ever to be accepted by the world for the sake of influence” (p. 123).
  • “Love is always a miracle. God’s love for us transforms our lives. Our love for one another comes as a result. If there is one thing that our churches should be known for, it is love” (p. 142).
  • “I’m convinced that many Christians, and churches for that matter, are stymied in their growth and maturity because they are unwilling to embrace truth and love. … There are communities that stand for truth, and despite the consequences, they’re going to tell people exactly how it is. … Other churches let love flow freely and never get around to the need to explain the truth” (pp. 156–157).
  • “Love at the expense of truth is no love at all. Truth at the expense of love turns to tyranny” (p. 157).

I don’t usually mark my books, but I wish I had read this one with a highlighter. There are so many great quotes to take and ponder. Messy Church will definitely challenge your thinking and hopefully your perception of the church.

Now I don’t agree with everything Parsley said. Most notably, he seems to hold to the clergy/laity distinction and the idea that churches need a single human leader to guide them. While he brings up many good points about accountability for these leaders, he would do well to reconsider that paradigm altogether. In the Scriptures, we see that all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9). And while there ought to be multiple elders to oversee each local body, we never see a biblical example of a single pastor/shepherd over a flock. Christ Jesus is the head of the body (Colossians 1:18) and our only Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). [Edit: Ross Parsley stepped in to make a comment on this below. Read it for his own clarification.]

That aside, I still highly recommend Messy Church! It was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and I believe it will serve to edify the church as a whole.

What Do You Think?

Have you read Messy Church? Do you plan to? Let us know your thoughts when you do. Do you think of the church as a family? Please share in the comments below.