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The Rabbit and the Elephant and the Review

Posted by on Jun 15, 2009 in books | 8 comments

Last week, I finished reading The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small is the New Big for Today’s Church by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna. For the past week, I’ve been thinking about this little book. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what to write in the way of a review. It’s not that I didn’t understand the book or that I didn’t agree with the authors.

So, why am I finding it difficult to write a review? Because this little book has triggered some changes in my thinking about the church, and I’m still dealing with some of these changes. I don’t know exactly where these changes are going to lead me. But, I promised to write a review, so I’m going to write a review.

According to the back of the book, “The Rabbit and the Elephant offers keys to twenty-first-century evangelism: leveraging the power of the small – and taking the gospel to where the pain is and where the people are”. The good news is that the authors do not actually offer “keys”.

“Keys” suggests that there are certain steps or methods involved in evangelism for small or simple churches. The authors do not offer these kinds of steps or methods. Instead, they offer an image of the church in the New Testament and examples of how to implement these images today.

In fact, the authors encourage their readers against following certain methods. Instead, they say that it is imperative follow the Spirit, and that the Spirit does not always follow methods. This is not to say that there are no patterns in the church. The authors say that we must find these in Scripture.

Because of these patterns (i.e. prayer, fellowship, meals, Scripture, community, participation), they believe that small or simple churches are better able to represent the church as demonstrated in the New Testament. However, the authors do not dismiss larger or even mega-churches. While they recognize dangers or problems with larger groups of believers, they also recognize dangers or problems with smaller churches.

Of course, these notions are not novel. Many writers have been encouraging churches to return to New Testament patterns.

So, what in this book has changed my thinking about the church? The authors’ point in this book is that the church as described in the New Testament is a quickly multiplying organism. While there may be a variety of organizations possible within this organism, only the ones that allow for quick multiplication align with what we see in Scripture.

If I am adding requirements to the church that cannot be quickly multiplied – carried to a new place – then I’m adding unscriptural requirements. As Paul traveled from place to place, he saw churches springing up in city after city… quickly. Paul carried with him everything that the church needed – that is, the Holy Spirit. Plus, he knew that when he left an area after only a few weeks (in some cases), the Spirit alone could oversee the growth and maturity of that church.

While reading this book, I’ve realized that I’m much more attached to attractional models that I previously thought. I certainly agreed with and practiced going outside the group in order to serve and evangelize. However, for those who decided to follow Christ, my first reaction was to bring them into my own group.

The authors suggest a different approach. Instead of bringing this new believer into an existing group of believers (church), they say that we should help a church grow up around them through their unbelieving friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.

I think this is an excellent idea, and I appreciate the many examples that the autors present. They told about churches  springing up in homes, in restaurants, and on city streets, all because someone trusted Christ and other believers helped them begin to reach out to the unbelievers around them instead of inviting them to “their church”.

Besides what I’ve said about, there are two other complements that I can give to this book. 1) I highly recommend other believers read this book – whether they are involved in simple churches or larger churches. 2) I want to read this book again.


8 Comments

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  1. 6-15-2009

    Hi Alan, you asked last week at the end of my review if I planned on posting more

    http://www.morethancake.org/2009/06/rabbit-elephant.html

    I think you have hit on something important that has been influencing my thinking as well. I think folks have placed far too much emphasis on models of Legacy Church vs. Simple Church, when in truth neither has been immensely effective at reaching the lost (I can post the stats on this if folks would like).

    I think Christians have been so busy fighting over who has the most biblical \method\ for church, that we have forgotten to put the Gospel above it all!

    Not to suggest that the discussion of ecclesiology have no value, I just would like to affirm what you are writing here regarding your change of thinking. I am planning a few post on this with some interviews coming from the other direction. I have heard from some great Souther Baptist folks these last month who are saying almost the exact same thing as the Dales. The Dales are coming at this from a Simple Church perspective. The SBC folks are coming at it from a Legacy Church perspective, but they are really coming to the same or very similar conclusions.

    I do like where this trend is leading us!!!!

  2. 6-15-2009

    Thank you for all your positive comments about “The Rabbit and the Elephant” here and elsewhere. We love the way you have distilled the essence of the book in this post.
    Tony and Felicity

  3. 6-15-2009

    Joe,

    I like the trend also, as long as it leads to more than just talk. :)

    Tony and Felicity,

    Thank you for the comment and the book. I appreciate what you are doing.

    -Alan

  4. 6-15-2009

    I just received my copy in the mail (it takes mail longer to get here) and am only beginning the book. The whole “liquid” vs. “solid” church concept has captivated my thinking for several months now when I was first introduced to these ideas in “Liquid Church” by Pete Ward. While I had a hard time grasping all that he was saying, the concept of the church being fluid–water able to flow into all the cracks of society–was extremely captivating and challenging. After reading your review, I am eager to get the book out right now and finish it!

    P.S. Haven’t had a chance yet to congratulate you on the new blog layout. Looks great. In fact, I have opened a WordPress account myself and playing around with it to get a feel for how it works. Will probably make the change myself in a few days.

  5. 6-15-2009

    Guy,

    I haven’t read Liquid Church, but perhaps I should add it to my reading list.

    I would choose blogger over wordpress.com – that is, wordpress hosted sites. However, wordpress.org – that is, loading wordpress onto your own domain – offers many advantages over either wordpress.com or blogger.

    -Alan

  6. 6-18-2009

    Alan,

    Can you go back to RSS feeds with the whole post? I don’t have Internet at home and I load the RSS feeds at work to read at home. With the new layout I only get the first paragraph : (

    Thanks,
    James

  7. 6-18-2009

    James,

    I changed it back just for you. :)

    -Alan

  8. 6-19-2009

    Thank you so much!

    James

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