Go to Church, Change the World: Christian Community as Calling
In a time when we hear much about the loss of young adults from churches across North America, the title Go to Church, Change the World is striking. As a student development professional who works with young adults, I was intrigued, and grateful to read about community from an Anabaptist perspective.
Early in the book, we hear boldly and clearly that our first calling is “life together in this body of Christ.” The author draws us back to our identity as ambassadors for God’s plan for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19–20) and challenges us to “follow this calling by living together with other believers who are also pursuing God’s purposes.” In other words, we live out our love for Christ in an actual place with actual people.
Author Gerald J. Mast, professor of communication at Bluffton University, Ohio, has written and edited works about peace, nonviolence, the work of Jesus, and Anabaptist and Mennonite history. This book is a worthwhile read for people who care about living a life of love, forgiveness, justice, and peace.
In all of life, we can be reminded to live out this calling through concrete and accessible practices. Mast outlines five we can “take up expecting that through them God’s grace can flow to the world in all we do.”
1. Word – We are all called to “discover truth in the word of God and in the life and discernment of the church.”
2. Water – We are called to “join the church and respect life given by God in the water of baptism.” Jesus the Living Water informs our understanding of a life of refreshment.
3. Wine – We are called to “give to the church and serve others by sharing bread and wine.” An attitude of serving, and sharing ought to infuse our daily lives.
4. We – We are called to “encounter life in community and are encouraged to yield to the church.”
5. Witness – We are called to “be like priests who witness to the world in word and deed.”
The alliteration is memorable, but I was most struck by the water imagery of section 2. Water is necessary to life and is found all around us. Mast points out its importance: “To remember our baptism is to remember who we are in a world that makes it easy to forget. We are Christ’s, above all else. Water can help us remember who we are.”
I appreciated his incorporation of voices from biblical, historical, and contemporary contexts. As well, Mast’s bibliography is a launching point for deeper readings on these topics. With a clear emphasis on discipleship in community, the book brings a challenge to irregular attendance, consumerist mindsets, and disillusionment in contemporary circles about the church and its role. I enjoyed the examples and stories included, but I would have appreciated more. Since I plan to recommend this book to students, I will challenge them to collect more stories to inspire this kind of living.
Mast intends to spark more discussion with questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter. With three chapters per section, and the five sections overall, it provides substantial material for various purposes. John Stahl-Wert, in the foreword, suggests the book could be used as devotional guide, worship service planning companion, small group/Sunday school curriculum, and/or whole congregational reading material. For me, it will impact preparations for student leadership week, department staff training, and ongoing student government development this year.
I have a part in this life together, shaping and being shaped by the community where I find myself. In ordinary actual life, we can experience the mystery and transformation of God’s reconciling and redeeming work in and around us.