In The Tangible Kingdom, authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay tell the story of the birth of Adullam, “a congregational network of incarnational communities in Denver, Colorado.” Having trained church planters and consulted churches over a period of seven years, their hopes are that more leaders will become missional and incarnational. Halter, the primary author, aims to connect with the frustrations and disappointment of pastors and church leaders through sharing from his own journey. The early church was organic and decentralized, yet strategic, organized, influential and tangible. Your church could be too!
Halter starts off telling his own story of how he became disenchanted with organized church. On pastoral staff with one church, the increasing frustration with internal church issues led him to resign and flee the scene. Landing at a second church with no job description to speak of, at first Halter thought of it as a dream come true. Not long into the job, Halter realized this was not it either. He discovered his real passion when hanging out at a pub in New York City and witnessing to the waitress and staff. In this raw, unchurched environment, people connected with Halter’s manner of talking about God. Convinced this was God’s call upon his life, he and his family relocated to Denver, CO, to launch a whole new ministry focused on reaching the unchurched.
Hilarious and engaging, Halter provides an inspiring read. It challenges anyone to reconsider how they are communicating and living out the Gospel among their neighbors and the people they meet at Starbucks. Yet, Halter’s story is of an evangelist stuck in a church system like a round pole trying to fit into a square hole. Although organized church is not said to be bad per se, the tone of the book communicates that it is ineffective.
Many pastors are said to resonate with the disenfranchised feeling of frustration. I would concur that many pastors do not like the organizational and administrative side of church life, it is not their gift and personality. As a pastor who does enjoy organizing people and designing structures, I would disagree that this is a reason to give up on “organized” church. Many pastors just need help on both ends, in organization and in outreach. It sounds very romantic to quit church, go pub hopping (or Starbucks), start brewing beer (or coffee) at home and let church just happen organically. Halter does not say this is for everyone, but it sure feels like his alternative is better.
What is inspiring, however, is Halter’s heartfelt passion and authentic approach to living among and reaching out to post-modern Americans. Keeping in mind that his context is mountain loving and beer-brewing Denver, Colorado, the methods used are missional and incarnational relevant to the surrounding community. The friends he makes are equally disenfranchised with institutionalized church or may have never set foot (or ever would) in a church building. Minimizing any level of organization while maximizing tangible expressions of love has proven to be highly effective in planting these home-grown congregations.
As an international church pastor in Asia, my context is quite different than that of Denver, CO. Yet, many western expatriates may fit into this disenfranchised or even anti-institutionalized church profile. Others would fall into the post-modern category, searching for spirituality in Eastern mysticism. The majority of Asians, I have found, still love structure, big events, and stage performance. However, the relational approach Halter exemplifies will touch hearts of any nationality or generation. Recognizing this, I more clearly see the opportunities to be missional and incarnational in my expatriate community. In particular, I want to encourage, support and empower those in my church who are gifted and passionate like Halter, making sure we can keep them on board while not strangling them with organization hoops and hubris.
By Jacob Bloemberg