BOOKS | Mikey Lynch
Saturday 18 July 2015
The big picture for our mission in the world is exciting. In his first book, Jeff Vanderstelt invites us to consider this big picture: “Can you imagine every city, every neighbourhood, every street, and every house saturated with Jesus’s presence through his people?”
Saturate is a quick and easy read. It is full of touching stories, funny and awkward stories, alongside lots of practical ideas for church and mission. It is also full of beautiful theological truths about what God has done for us in Christ and who we now are in Christ. It avoids the critical tone and sharp dichotomies of some other missional/gospel community books.
The strong focus on the gospel of grace early in the book provides a rich foundation and an important safeguard against the bold mission Vanderstelt reminds us:
“Jesus is better. He’s better than you.
He’s better than your small group. He’s better than your pastor. He’s better than anyone or anything else.”
He makes a strong case for the holistic nature of Christian spirituality, community and mission: We worship God in everyday life; the ministry of God’s people takes place beyond church programmes in the casual ordinary parts of life; evangelistic ministry is “messy, intrusive, uncomfortable”; mission should be on the agenda in every part of our church life and the best training for mission takes place on mission; and, as Vanderstelt says of a new convert: “Everyday life was the programme where he had been discipled to Jesus.”
Saturate shows us how to establish a holistic approach to pre-evangelism – something that I think is very much needed to be effective missionaries, especially in post-Christian, urban contexts. With a great story about an over-zealous Christian, he demonstrates how ineffective blunt and adversarial models of evangelism can be. We need to work hard at building church cultures full of outward-focused, self-giving love, and this paves the way for fruitful evangelism. Vanderstelt offers six “rhythms” of life to help us think concretely about this: eat, listen, story, bless, celebrate, re-create. (You’ll have to read the book to find out more!)
Notwithstanding Vanderstelt’s emphasis on grace and warning against having a “missional to-do list” mentality, the examples he gives promote a very intense model of discipleship and mission. Granted that church and ministry should involve all of life, how many hours “count” as all of life? Church and Bible study isn’t enough, apparently. But who decides? I worry that this approach will limit genuine discipleship to a small subset of Christians and actually limit the “saturation” Vanderstelt is after.
Saturate is a simple but inspiring read. It rehearses great truths about our salvation and paints a vivid picture of living for Christ and his kingdom in all our lives. Despite any shortcomings, it is a helpful read for pastors, ministry teams and church members wanting to refocus on seeking first the kingdom.