Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Steeple Envy

Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus by Victor Cuccia on Amazon

I got to read and enjoy this book as another offering from The Speakeasy reader and reviewers bureau; you can follow the link to sign up and become part of the fun!

These Steeple Envy-related links might interest you:

Steeple Envy booksite

Steeple Envy on Facebook

Pastor Vic Cuccia's on Twitter, too

• ...and he pastors Emmaus (formerly Journey) Church in Jacksonville

The header description of Pastor Vic's blog, Christ, Community and Culture, pretty much describes the content of Steeple Envy:
What does it mean to live as a Christ follower in today's world? His message is relevant even when we aren't. He lived in community even though most of us don't. He engaged culture and many of us work hard to create our own sheltered subculture. Together let's rethink what it means to be the church.
steeple envy coverPastor Vic's energy, immediacy, and urgency comes across as if he's talking straight at ya about his concerns, dreams, and plans for the church; he says lots of what almost all of us inside the confines of the church who long to bring church into world and world into church think all too often. I'm thinking in real life he'd also be asking me questions and giving me time to respond. So is the book's content unique? Not really. I've been hanging around and participating in this kind of live and virtual conversation almost forever, but I particularly appreciate Steeple Envy being a quick, engaging book you want to keep on reading to the end. Nothing in its vocabulary is too theologically technical or otherwise off-putting to the average person, and I can't envision any seminary-educated leader feeling talked-down to, either. The author grounds the book in scripture, though a lot of the chapters are about his own negative and positive experiences with the church, especially as a pastoral leader. "In church?" He points out how perplexed Jesus and Jesus' first followers would have been to hear anyone talk about going to church, asking when "church starts or ends," because especially going by accounts of the newly-born church in the book of Acts, we learn we always are church, rather than church being something we do in chronological time that starts and ends.

What's the "Steeple Envy" idea? You could describe it as being about counting the numbers of people attending/ doing worship, the size of the physical plant or campus, budget $$$, pastors' salaries and perqs, charting how quickly all those quantifiables (hopefully) skyrocket. A person in a pew or a pastor glances at churches down the street or across town and maybe wishes they could be like those others that have bigger attendance, buildings, budgets...

Vic Cuccia refers to 1700 years of an institutionalized church, counting only those centuries Jesus of Nazareth's Way has been a type of establishment, even when not exactly officially governmentally established. Over and over again he references the description of the nascent church in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Vic Cuccia works and writes from a context that's evangelical in the current popular sense of that word, but everything he says also applies to the often more socially, politically, culturally, and theologically liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic mainline. He emphasizes not the past 1700 centuries of the Eastern Church, of the Western Church, and church bodies in the wake of the Reformation, but earliest accounts of being church. From scripture we know the church first ordained not pastors/bishops/overseers, not elders to help with governing the local church; they first set apart and laid hands on deacons, those servants who represent church to world, who show the world what church is supposed to be. Especially in Acts, we notice people doing a lot of more-or-less extemporaneous Spirit-driven, scripturally-inspired preaching. We also know earliest presiders at the Lord's Supper simply were worthy, mature individuals chosen from the local community. Mainline types have what at least externally appear to be structural concerns related to valid orders, apostolic succession, types of polity, ecumenical relations—Cuccia doesn't address any of that, although he does say church can be baptist, catholic, presbyterian, charismatic, etc., and I'd guess he'd recognize those structural concerns as part of a need to maintain order (and some decency, too).

Pastor Vic doesn't specify details for the church with the people you know in the neighborhood where you live; he admits your community needs a gathering place, whether someone's apartment, a structure built or renovated to be Church in this Town, or possibly something else. He discusses the financial and moral and theological accountability to which scripture and Spirit call the people of God as he reminds us corporate American and generically Western models of success and compensation don't at all align with the worldview of scripture. As Cuccia points out, Jesus spoke very often about attachment to wealth, money, possessions. Throughout, Steeple Envy seeks to convert people, not in a static, one-time sense, but to bring people into the way of the Gospel that transforms lives, redeems neighborhoods, and engenders hope, so lives become part of the reality of the new creation. Close to the end of the book, Cuccia reminds us: Love looks like Jesus. The church should look like Jesus as well. We are the Church. In the power of the Spirit, let's give the church back to Jesus!

my amazon review: being church according to scripture

No comments: