Church is an amazing thing, and a vital part of any Christian’s life. However, is it always what Christ originally intended? Is it run on the same basis that the apostles started with in the early church? In light of this, what would you do if you met someone you thought just might be one of Jesus’ original disciples – still living in the twenty-first century? That’s Jake’s dilemma when he meets a man who talks of Jesus as if he had known him, and whose way of living challenges everything Jake had previously known. What at first seems like a set of inspiring conversations soon turns Jake’s thinking and his church life completely upside down, and leaves him wondering: is there something we’ve missed with church, and if so, what is it?
Though this book is a work of fiction, the principles shared and the story itself hits far too close to home to be called false. It follows the journey of Jake Colsen; a family man and pastor who is fed up with the politics and red tape of his ever-expanding church. Though he does all the right things, reads all the right books and says all the right words, he lacks something. His soul feels dead inside him, and even though he has Christianity nailed down to a perfect delivery, he still feels empty. It’s at this frustrating point in his life that he runs into a man named John, a man with no home address or contact number, but an extraordinary – almost supernatural – knowledge of who Christ really was, and an impeccable understanding of the way He lived. The book catalogues Jake’s incredible journey of faith through thirteen groundbreaking conversations with this man that pops up at random intervals throughout his life.
If the title itself wasn’t enough to grab you, the story will. I love this book because it doesn’t tell you anything. It’s the kind of book written to make you think, not change your mind. It explores the way Christ related to people – the actual church – as people who needed a relationship with Him, not a religious routine. Isn’t it funny how none of us really question the way church is run these days? Praise and worship, prayer, communion, offering, the message, and then close with a song and a prayer. Church has become the place where the biggest liars, frauds and fakers gather every week. They aren’t even bad people. They are you and me; doing our best to look like we’ve got it all together when more often than not, we carry burdens that we aren’t free to share with anyone. Though there is nothing wrong with routine, churches often fall into the habit of “institutionalizing God” in ways that He never meant for us to relate to Him, or to each other. It creates a performance based religion where attendance is put above honest conversation, scheduled prayer times over heartfelt listening, or youth activities over true discipleship.
“In Ephesus it was ferreting out false teachers. In Galatia it was getting everyone to observe the Old Testament rituals. Today it’s convincing people to cooperate with the church program. It doesn’t matter what leads people away from God’s life. Anything will do, as long as it preoccupies them enough to serve as an adequate substitute for the real thing. It’s easier to see the problem when the standard is circumcision in Ephesus than when it is Sunday morning attendance in Kingston. But both can lead to the same place – bored and disillusioned believers, no longer embracing Father’s life.”
The entire book consists of hundreds of curveball questions thrown Jake’s way to make him truly stop and think about how his habits of religious living fail to correspond with the life of Christ. Consider a deep and meaningful conversation with a close mentor, and you will feel that same connection with John’s character as you read this book; a sense that you are known and loved, and are being instructed by someone who cares enough to share hard truths not always easily understood.
I highly recommend this book to any Christian that attends or has attended church in their lifetime. It isn’t designed to remove you from a church building, but to reinstate God’s original plan for His church: relationship. It is so easy to lose focus when we are wrapped up in all the “right” church activities, such as Bible study groups, music teams, youth ministry and leadership meetings. Good traditions are often the very tools the devil uses to get us off track on God’s purpose for our lives. This book is a great reminder not to lose sight of the love that holds us all together. In the search for truth, it is important not to trample the people around us in order to gain it. John nails it right here –
“Just consider you’ve gotten it backward. No church model will produce God’s life in you. It works the other way around. Our life in God, shared together, expresses itself as the church. It is the overflow of his life in us. You can tinker with church principles forever and still miss out on what it means to live deeply in Father’s love and know how to share it with others.”
Published on 22 August, 2014. Last updated on