Book Review – How To Be A Christian Without Going To Church: The Unofficial Guide To Alternative Forms of Christian Community by Kelly Bean

by Mark Votava

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This is a fantastic book by Kelly Bean!  She helps us to reimagine what an embodied Christianity can look like in the twenty-first century.  Local community outside of the structures of what we know as the institutional church is a big emphasis of hers.  I find this to be compelling and inspiring.

Kelly takes us through a paradigm shift from going to church to being church in the particular place we live.  I love how she has a strong emphasis on the idea of parish and neighborhood.  She draws out how we need to be asking new questions together about authenticity.  Uncertainty, relational community, sustainability, hospitality, intentionality, self-awareness, presence and listening will all be a part of our journey in this way of being.  I strongly agree and am delighted that Kelly Bean has written such a wonderful book at such an important time in our history.

  • Local and sustainable ways of life

“People have an increased awareness of the need to live in ways that are local and sustainable.”

  • New questions become important

“…we were not made to go it alone, and the body of Christ cannot be the body of Christ if we give up on each other.  But what happens when the structures, institutions, and forms that exist now – even innovative new forms – are no longer working for a growing number of people?  New questions become important…”

  • Authentic relational community

“These non-goers are likely to look for faith expressions that support integration of ordinary life, authentic relational community, hands-on engagement, and smaller, more sustainable forms of community.”

  • Lived communal examples

“More than ever, the world needs to see lived communal examples of what it means to be Christian…”

  • There will be uncertainty

“It comforts me to remember this: when the first Jesus followers threw down their nets, they had no idea what they were getting into.  When the Protestant Reformers parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church, they didn’t have new forms in place to replace the structures that had shaped their way of life.  When Francis of Assisi flung his father’s fortune in the street and set out to form a new community of faith, he had no idea what would be born.  Charting a new course does mean there will be uncertainty.”

  • The peace of Christ is with us

“No matter what our circumstances are or what craziness is going on in the world, we can remind each other that Christ is present – the peace of Christ is with us.  We are not alone.  A simple kindness, eye contact, and human touch bring a blessing wherever we are…”

  • Examine the call toward hospitality together

“When we, the community of Christ, examine the scriptural call toward hospitality together and then we work together, we can stretch our imaginations and our comfort zones.  It is important to keep in mind that sometimes we need to first be hospitable to ourselves, close that open door, and focus inward for a season.  When it is time to open the door, when we welcome the wayfarer, the immigrant, the homeless, the displaced, the lonely, the single parent, we incarnate the welcome of Jesus and we ourselves are transformed.”

  • Relational expressions of community

“Relational expressions of community can be healing and life-giving to us and to others…”

  • With intention and with action

“With intention and with action, and even without the structure of the church, we can indeed bring blessings to the world and extend transformative hospitality to others.  When we take the initiative to be present to people, to share our gifts, and to always keep learning from others, we extend the light of kindness and the Good News of Christ right where we are to whoever we are with.”

  • Being transformed by others who live differently

“There are many ways that, together, we can build bridges.  Being open to being transformed by others who live differently than we do not only helps change us but helps to connect and change the world.”

  • Working through our pain

“…working through our pain and choosing to gain new tools for dealing with conflict and engaging in communication brings benefit to not only ourselves but to all our relationships…”

  • Real-life experience

“…real spiritual formation comes from real-life experience…”

  • Called to be Christ to people where we live

“As Christ was God incarnate – fully God and fully human – someone we could see and feel, so we are called to be Christ to people, incarnating and redeeming the places where we live and work, for the good of all…”

  • Getting in touch with our own pain and becoming aware of our own brokenness

“Getting in touch with our own pain and becoming aware of our own brokenness is not an easy path, but it’s one that leads to our own transformation as well as the possibility of forming authentic relationships.  No matter how many good intentions we have, if we are not becoming more self-aware and taking active measures to continue toward growth and healing, our work and our relationships can only go so far and may end up causing more harm than good over time…”

  • Starting with our own neighborhood

“…if we can learn to walk with others, in ordinary ways and places, we help bring grace and healing to our neighborhoods and cities – to the whole of society right where we are.  I would add that in the process we receive grace and are healed as well.  The fact is that we need to start with our own neighborhood, our own zip code, to work toward making a better society and world.”

  • Stop to listen and learn from our neighbors

“When we stop to listen and learn from our neighbors and neighborhood, the need of the neighborhood itself can inform our action…”

  • Engage in local solutions and connection for the good of the world

“Christ, who made himself local and rooted himself in a particular place at a particular time in history, invites us to engage in local solutions and connection for the good of the world.”

  • Become communities that bear light together

“May we all keep growing, continue learning, and become communities that bear light together, even in our brokenness…”

  • Wounded by the church

“If you were wounded by the church and you’ve left in pain or discouragement, please, seek healing and don’t allow that place of pain to settle in and take hold of you.  Grieve, and when you are ready, move forward with the awareness that there is goodness to pursue.  For those of you who have been lonely or uncertain, be encouraged that you are not the only one in this place of change.  There is a place for you – make a way for others or seek out kindred souls for the way forward.”

How do you feel about the idea of being a Christian without going to church?  What positive or negative impressions does this bring up in you?  Does it bring you hope or fear?