It’s important to be able to do things on autopilot. Can you imagine having to think through every step to riding a bicycle every time you got on? Or opening your users manual every time you wanted to watch TV?
However, sometimes, autopilot can be a problem. We visited our premature daughter at the hospital every day for over 3 months until she was able to come home. Many times after that day, I’d get in the car, and be almost at the hospital before I realised that I should have been going in the opposite direction.
I suspect that going to church is an autopilot experience for most Christians. Sunday comes around and we get up, head to church, sit in the same place, and do what we always do. Interestingly, the Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t head to church on autopilot. We should turn autopilot off and engage manual. Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches us:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We are encouraged to meet together regularly so as to encourage and spur one another on in our Christian lives. I take this as encouragement to make church a regular and important priority. We are also urged to ‘consider’ how me do this, which I take as call to disengage autopilot. We are to think about why we go to church, what we will do when we are there, who will be there, how we might encourage them, and more.
Tony Payne’s brief book, How to Walk into Church is written to encourage us to switch off the autopilot and think how we can make our time at church amongst the most valuable activity we engage in each week. He writes:
We come not to spectate or consume, nor even to have our own personal encounter with God. We come to love and to serve.(p13)
This little book is firmly grounded in Hebrews chapters 10 to 12. We are introduced to the heavenly gathering called church and move to the implications of belonging to this church for how me spend our time together with other Christians in our local churches. Our churches are to be shaped by love, and this only happens as we make God and one another the purpose of our gathering. We meet to love, which means we meet so as to build one another by the truth of God’s word. Tony suggests that every time we walk into church we should be wearing a metaphorical t-shirt that says:
“God is important to me, and you are important to me”. And on the back it says, “And that’s why I wouldn’t dream of missing this.” (p37)
How to Walk into Church contains helpful suggestions for promoting ‘every member’ ministry. You don’t need to be the preacher, the Bible reader, or the song leader to be able to influence others. We can all strike up conversations shaped by the Word of God. We can look out for one another, notice who’s missing, and show hospitality to newcomers. If church has become a passive experience, then this book will help you to turn things back toward active engagement every week.
This brief book is one that I plan to use as a tool in our ministry. Our church has already purchased a box of these books and we are promoting them to our regulars. My hope is that the book can also become part of a membership toolkit. When people indicate that they’re keen to belong to our church, then we will talk through how they can contribute to the ministry. We may well give them this book, urging them to read it, jot down some notes and questions, and we’ll talk about it together. I will be recommending this book to churches, small groups, and individuals.
There are many strengths of this book, not least is that it’s only 64 pages and takes 30 minutes to read. Yet more importantly is that it is derived clearly from the Scriptures. Some books about ‘what to do in church’ simply springboard from the Bible into the pool of pragmatism.
Having read over this book a couple of times, there are improvements that I think could be made in a second edition. It’s a good book that could be even better. I’d like to be able to offer this book to anyone who comes to our church—whether they are Christian or not. Thus, I think the book would benefit by a clearer explanation of how to become part of the heavenly church, the church belonging to Jesus. While this point is made, a few pages completely devoted to the message of the gospel would strengthen its impact.
I’d also like to read more practical ideas for ministry at church. Perhaps in between chapters we could read some cameos of people in their service at church. Alternatively, each chapter could finish with some dot points of ideas, or even a section for personal reflection and prayer for the reader to map out some ideas for service.
I had an opportunity to raise these suggestions with the author at a recent conference and he was most receptive. I sensed that his desire is to serve the church by listening as well as by writing.
This review was written for The Gospel Coalition Australia