Book Review – Messy Church

Ross Parsley was the worship pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If the congregation’s name sounds familiar, that’s because you probably heard it on the news. In 2007, the senior pastor Ted Haggard resigned because he was outed by a male prostitute he had been paying for sex and crystal meth. The scandal was on national news.

While the scandal was breaking, Ross was in the hospital with his wife Aimee who was giving birth to their fifth child. He drove from the hospital to the church campus where he was named the interim pastor and served in that capacity until the congregation called Brad Boyd to be their new senior pastor.

In 2010, after eleven months of prayer and discussion, Ross left New Life and moved to Austin, Texas, where he and a small group started a new congregation – ONEChapel.

I didn’t know any of this when I requested his book Messy Church for review. I liked the title, and it resonated with a lot of things I have been thinking lately. But the book was far more than I expected, and I mean that in a good way. I actually wound up posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page, and I am thinking about buying copies for all the leaders in our congregation.

Parsley views the church not as a corporation or even as a pool of people but fundamentally as an interconnected, “messy” set of relationships. All these relationships are valuable. Relationships within families are important, of course, but he also emphasizes the need for multigenerational relationships that provide real mentoring, accountability, and encouragement – both for the young and the old.

This is something I have believed in for a long time. I learned how to study the Scriptures from my father and grandfather, who were often less than “kind” to me because they were provoking me to work harder and dig deeper. My dad was always challenging me to go deeper, to think harder. (We used to have “family church” one night a week, and I had to preach. I still remember “preaching” on Jonah at maybe seven or eight years old and being asked, “But what does it mean?”)

So, Parsley’s ideas really resonated with me.

He spends a lot of time talking about the need for the church to be more like a family, focused on relationships and not affinities. He admonishes the young for demanding that their elders be “cool” and then corrects the elder Christians who do not want to engage and involve the young. He also has some choice words for church leaders who abandon the older generations in favor of the “next generation.”

This multigenerational attitude is necessary for the church to succeed and grow. We must have people of all ages, working together. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the excesses of my own generation have deprived us of the beautiful guidance of our elders (not as in church leaders but as in older).

This was a book worth reading, worth discussing. Maybe I will buy it for our leaders. I haven’t decided yet, but if I don’t, I might still encourage them to buy it for themselves.

I read a digital copy of Messy Church as part of the netgalley.com program. I received no compensation from anyone involved with it for this review.

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