Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Book Review: Breakout

Mark Stibbe was the vicar of St Andrews Chorleywood and a well renowned conference speaker. He is a bit of a mixture of charismatic Anglican and Toronto airport "Father's love" ministry. St Andrew's has birthed Soul Survivor, helped birth New Wine, provided a place where people like Mike Pilavachi and J.John to name just two could flourish into what they are today. Andrew Williams is the 2nd in command.

I had really enjoyed Mark's book "From orphan's to heirs" so was looking forward to this, again having had it recommended to me by a couple of people.

This review may come across as a bit negative, and that is not my intention, because this book is worth a read. Also, I celebrate the way God has blessed them and given them success missionally through developing a system of smaller groups and congregations up to 50 in number with specific missional goals. They are reaching people for Jesus and that is great to hear about. I still don't really know what to make of the book to be honest. It is very much a "This is what we did" kind of book, but I found several parts of it a little grating.

Firstly, there was the repeated suggestion that "No-one had ever done this before so we had to write it / do it / make it up ourselves". It probably did feel like that, but I have a book written in 1981 by Paul Yonggi Cho charting the development of their "Home cell groups" in Seoul, South Korea. Their cell groups, led by lay people, and the holy spirit, met all over the city, in groups of up 15 families, with a variety of missional focuses. The biggest church in the world runs something that sounds awfully like a "Mission Shaped Community" at St Andrew's Chorleywood (and something different to the "Cell concept" Ralph Neighbour brought to the UK). That is an encouragement to consider the concept once more, but it also meant reading this book having read Yonggi Cho's classic I could not get as excited about the uniqueness of the project. There was a lot of reference to them learning from St Thomas Crookes in Sheffield, which suggests the concept is not even unique to the UK.

Secondly, why do some authors, and tongue in cheek my experience would suggest especially Anglican authors, have an obsession with alliteration? The Alpha Course resources are a case in point. The abridged version of "Breakout" is that if I developed the full use of the 3 Ms, the 4 Vs, and the 12 Cs, then my Church may be able to successfully develop MSCs. Maybe it is the number of non profit groups with abbreviated names meaningless to outsiders that use our Church centre that has built up a level of dislike for it. I confess, it may be my issue, but it starts to put me off.

Thirdly, the whole telling of the story was billed as a really honest, warts and all account of the change to running these MSCs. There was some real openness about their struggle, but in terms of actual brass tacks, "what do I need to know if I am going to launch MSCs" kind of learning, then only about two and a half out of the 250 pages refer to the issues they faced and 2 out of the 4 problems were within the local Anglican communion.

Fourthly, I have read several people say things like "This could be the second reformation". I have heard it said about cell groups too. I just don't think claims like that help particularly. MSCs may provide an opportunity for reform within the Church, but they might not, and if they don't it does not invalidate what God has done through MSCs in Chorleywood.

"That St Andrew's is moving out of the barracks terrifies the enemy and his host, and signals an enormously important moment, a milestone, in English Christianity" is surely over-egging that particular pudding?

"If this is the completion of the Reformation, or indeed the beginning of a second reformation, then all I can say is, bring it on Lord!" grates every time I read it.

I can't help but feeling that the great success of their move to MSCs has been that a large chunk of the Church is more mission focused and that has greatly improved their mission. I am left totally unconvinced by their methodology, because I think it is a real case of "horses for courses". I was left feeling the most important thing is that they did something, rather than what they did. So if that something is cell groups, MSCs, Alpha Courses, Kidz Klub, whatever, just do something missional and do it well.

I believe this book highlights that visionary leadership, unity, careful planning, deliberate channelling of resources, and lots of encounter with the living God can help shape something brilliant. I do believe that has happened at St Andrews and thank God for it. It encouraged me.

But for me, in my Church in Shrewsbury, I am left slightly underwhelmed by what I can actually do here with the MSC concept other than listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance and seek creative ways to be missional. We are not starting with 900 people to build, we start with 300. We do not have a large international ministry which draws people here. We are not well known in a national movement. We are building from a different place. They are telling their story, which is fine, but there did not seem to be much for people not in their position.

A small part of me wondered whether the MSC thing was an easier way for a large, well known Anglican Church to spread its reach into new parishes. They are not planting Churches in the new place but they do have an "MSC" that meets there so that is ok. That means some local Anglicans will be attracted because St Andrew's now has an MSC that meets in my local community hall up the road, in my parish, instead of having to travel 6 miles to the building. That would also explain why two of the four learning points appeared to be about not upsetting local Anglicans. That said, they are reaching many new people with the good news of Jesus so their growth is not just transfer growth and that is really exciting.

I also think the book could have been about 50 pages shorter, as the final pages felt a bit like the end of the last Lord of the Rings film. They were important to find out the final technical part of the plot but the story was over.

Drawing this altogether you may think I hated the book. I didn't. It is well worth reading their journey and how God has spoken to them and helped make their Church more missional.


Jongudmund said...

"I was left feeling the most important thing is that they did something"

Probably true of every fad, er, I mean movement...

Ralph Neighbour Jr. said...

Ran across your blog and read this with interest. I have been impacted by Paul's comments in 2 Corinthians 10:12-16:
12 Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
13 But we will not boast beyond limit, but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us, to reach even to you.
14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.
15 We do not boast beyond limit, in other men's labors; but our hope is that as your faith increases, our field among you may be greatly enlarged,
16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's field.

Paul's view reveals the "field" we serve is the scope of what we are held responsible for. Looking over our shoulder at what the other brother is doing either makes us proud or jealous. There is only one way to look, and that is to the Head of the Body, who desires to reveal His presence manifested in us.

I agree that the cell is not the "answer." It can become a place where we can begin to experience 1 Cor. 14:24-25, which for me IS the answer.

I am not trying to promote my last book but I have a passion for its message to be considered. It is available on Kindle for a song or as an electronic download from Please review it and send me the link of your evaluation. "Christ's Basic Bodies."

I am an Englishman by heritage and love your culture more than the messy consumer-based one I am stuck in here in the States. The American church community is a disaster.

Ralph Neighbour

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Thanks for the suggestion Ralph, I will do that.

For the record we are still developing the cell concept here, and have been greatly encouraged by the Cell UK movement, with Laurence Singlehurst coming to preach twice. The fires started those years ago are still raging.

Have a look on our Church website to see where we have got to

And the discussion on here