the weblog of Alan Knox

Total Church Principles

Posted by on Apr 28, 2009 in books, community, missional, service | 5 comments

A few months ago, I bought the book Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis with an gifts card that I received for Christmas. Several people had recommended this book to me, and the blurbs that I had read about it looked promising – although blurbs can be misleading.

Last week, I needed to read something “for fun” – yes, I had plenty to do and too many books to read for school, but I needed a break. So, I picked up this book and started reading through the first chapter. I’m hooked. I really like this book.

The authors’ premise is:

What we do is always defined by the gospel, and the context is always our belonging in the church. Our identity as Christians is defined by the gospel and the community. (16)

By being “gospel-centered”, the authors mean that we should be centered on both the message (word) of the gospel and the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. The authors recognize that some groups of Christians rightly focus on the gospel, but fail to live in the significance of the community. Meanwhile, other groups focus on the community while failing to see the significance of the gospel. Therefore, the authors suggest that the church should focus on both.

We believe there is an alternative. We need to be enthusiastic about truth and mission and we need to be enthusiastic about relationships and community. (18)

In Part One of their book, they write about the principles involved in being gospel-centered and community-centered. For example, concerning the church being “gospel-centered”, they show how God rules through his word and his Spirit. They reject a polarization between the two. Thus, the proper understanding of the word of God is as a word through the Spirit of God. Similarly, they say that this word is a “missionary” word, meaning that the good news of the kingdom is meant to be proclaimed.

However, living a “gospel-centered” life or being a “gospel-centered” church is often easier said than done. They say,

The church exists both through the gospel and for the gospel… Few Christians are going to object to being gospel-centered… The problem is the gap between our rhetoric and the reality of our practice. The continual challenge for us is to apply this principle to church life and ministry without compromise. (33)

The challenge for us is to make the gospel the center of our lives not just on Sunday mornings but on Monday mornings. This means ending distinctions between “full-timers,” “part-timers,” and people with secular employment in our team and leadership structures. We need non-full-time leaders who can model whole-life, gospel-centered, missional living. It means thinking of our workplaces, homes, and neighborhoods as the location of mission. (37)

Next, the authors examine the idea of the church being “community-centered”. They point out that following Christ is not an individualistic endeavor:

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. To fail to live out our corporate identity in Christ is analogous to the act of adultery: we can be Christians and do it, but it is not what Christians should do. The loyalties of the new community supersede even the loyalties of biology. If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians. (41)

This does not mean that the church becomes something that we add to our lives – just another to ball to juggle along with other responsibilities such as work, family, finances, etc. Instead, the community of Christ becomes part of our identity, such that our “problems” with work, family, finances, etc. become their problems, and their problems become our problems. We now live life together.

I think I appreciate their conclusion to this section on “principles” more than anything else that I’ve read in the book so far. Why? Because they give the same advice that I often give to people who are seeking this type of community life:

If you warm to this vision of Christian community, then start where you are. Sell the vision by modeling the vision. Don’t become a pain to your existing congregation, telling them everything they are doing is wrong. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people. Create around you a group of Christians who will share their lives and encourage one another in the faith. (50)

The only thing that I would change in that last quotation is the word “create”. I don’t think that we can “create” a community centered on Christ. However, as Christ creates that community around us, we can foster it and encourage it and not hinder what Christ is doing.

The next section of the book is called “Gospel and Community in Practice”. The authors write about certain church “practices” and how they would look if the church centered on gospel and community. I have read the chapter on “Evangelism” and thought it was excellent. Hopefully, I’ll be able to read more soon and wrote more about this book.

Meanwhile, what do you think about my quick summary of the first part? Do you think the church should be both gospel-centered and community-centered? How would you implement this in your life and community?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-28-2009

    Great post Alan. I may have to pick up that book. I think it confirms what the Lord has been revealing to me.

    Show more than telling. Live it out. I haven’t convinced anybody yet by my telling. Just made them mad.

  2. 4-28-2009

    I got my copy of Total Church last week. So far I have only read the Introduction and fist section. I too like the concept of Gospel and community both being the focus of our churches.

  3. 4-28-2009

    Alan I’ve read the book and found it to be a stimulating and challenging read. I do ten to agree that we need to have that balance that Timms and Chester highlight, and I also see how the two are more than complimentary but integral to each other if we’re to be known as followers of Christ.

  4. 4-28-2009

    Two things draw my interest. First, the understanding of “church” (God, spirituality, etc.) as being integrated throughout all of our life, not something we need to fit into another separate box and manage (the term “identity” was used). I think for those who don’t get it, this might sound like a mere semantic difference, but it is a world apart (pun intended).

    The second thing that perks up my ears is any approach to transforming traditional churches from within. In my experience, attempts to do so, even from top “leadership” positions (sr. pastor, etc.), most frequently end up in some level of a split. But such things happen, even when “led” (modeled) by lowly pew folk.

    The movie “To Sir With Love” by James Clavell (who was very drawn to transformative processes) and starring Sydney Poitier (who carries the role of “leading by being different” so well), is a great example of how one person, living to a different pace, can change an entire system. This approach is similar to the way Paul operated, revealed by his repeated use of the word “manifestation” (and variants) in II Cor.

    But I don’t think transformation from within is the only approach. Jesus seemed to bypass the traditional (even technically legitimate) Jewish structures, and it seems God is doing that today in large part. But neither Jesus, nor Paul, left off from caring for and mourning over the state of Israel. They both sought to reach the nation.

    I think we in our time need to continue to experience and act on a similar care for all of the saints, even towards those caught in and defending traditional (where that has become non-biblical) churches. Some of us might do this from within as one saint against the flow of so many others; others might regroup and model a different way as a community outside of the fossilized traditions.

  5. 4-28-2009


    I’ve enjoyed the book so far. I think you would like it.


    I think the practical sections are really good too. I hope you come back and tell us what you think about the book.

    Christopher (Ur Man CD),

    I’m glad to hear positive reviews from someone who’s read the whole book. Thanks!


    You may be right. In fact, I think some people will not be able to be gospel-centered and community-centered among the people they currently meet with. However, I think this should be our first step.