Critical Review of “Army of Ordinary People”

Posted: May 22, 2012 in Book Review, Church Planting, House Church, Serving others
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Felicity Dale received her medical training from Bart’s Hospital in London. After graduation, she worked as a family doctor in London’s East End. She and her husband, Tony, also a medical doctor, were involved in the United Kingdom with house churches, and with a ministry called Christians in the Caring Professions (CiCP). When they moved to Texas with their four children, they attempted to continue CiCP in the United States, and work through a traditional church. However, they continued to feel a strong pull toward simple churches, and, after several years, once again began to lead house churches, eventually beginning to train simple church planters. They have founded a magazine, House2House and Felicity has written three other books focused on simple church.

Felicity subtitled her book “Stories of real-life men and women SIMPLY BEING THE CHURCH.” The primary content of her book is just that – stories. She uses these true stories to teach lessons about simple churches, demonstrate methodology and philosophy of ministry for simple church leaders, or to motivate her readers to also get engaged in a simple church. In the second chapter of her book, “What is Church?” she explains that church is “a group of disciples relating together in everyday life; when they get together in His name, Jesus Himself is present” (36). She mentions different terminology – house, simple or organic church – but uses the three terms interchangeably, and says she prefers the term simple church. She regularly contrasts simple church with legacy church – a church that still has a building, programs, staff, regular meetings, and so on.

The stories – chapters – do not build on one another. There is no beginning, middle or end. However, the stories that deal more with evangelism and mission are first, then relational aspects, followed by the church serving. Chapter 15 addresses discipleship, and 16, finances. The final two stories are motivational, encouraging everyone to get involved in this advancement of God’s Kingdom.

The second-to-last chapter, about concepts that the Dales have learned, is a pretty faithful summary of the main lessons that Felicity attempts to teach. The Ten Concepts are:

  1. Church genuinely is “where two or three are gathered together in His name.”
  2. Jesus is to be the head of His church.
  3. God’s heart is for the harvest.
  4. Churches are meant to multiply.
  5. The resources are in the harvest.
  6. Simple is reproducible. Complex is not.
  7. Keep it small.
  8. Practice the priesthood of all believers.
  9. Christianity needs to be nonreligious.
  10. Leadership is servanthood.

(261-264)

Felicity finishes by pointing her readers toward more resources where they can find out more about starting their own house churches. She subtly presents the assumption that if these “ordinary” men and women can start simple churches – so can you! And points you in the direction of the first step.

The nature of this book – stories – makes it a very pleasant, easy read. The fact that the stories do not build on one another means that you can pick the book up, read a story, think about the concept or lesson presented, walk away, come back to the book a week or month later, and you don’t have to re-read from the beginning to remember what Felicity was trying to say. Each concept is presented individually. The stories themselves are very motivational. Assuming they are true – and there is no reason to think otherwise – God is doing some really wonderful things through small groups of people.

Of course, the lack of organization and flow in the book does make it seem like more of a light read than a well-planned and researched treatise on simple church. Undoubtedly, that was Felicity’s goal: a book that anyone could read and would enjoy reading, as a way to motivate “ordinary” people. However, no one will confuse this book with a manual on simple church or a history of the simple church movement. It’s not likely to be the primary text for a church planting class at a seminary, but I can easily see it being read, a chapter a week, by a small group or house church.

I also very much appreciated the fact that Felicity never criticizes “legacy” churches. She is obviously passionate about simple church, but she successfully avoids being critical of other church forms and does not build her argument for simple church on the basis of the failures of church in other modes. She advocates for the inclusion of house church in the legacy church set of programs, but she warns against turning a legacy church into a simple church. As she puts it “most people . . . didn’t sign up for that.” (234)

Although Felicity is not overt with her theological bias, it does come through. The heroes she chose in her stories are almost exclusively Pentecostal/charismatic. She doesn’t list miracles or power encounters in that summary chapter of key concepts – and I was actually surprised that she didn’t. Many other authors in the house church movement and in cell church manuals have emphasized the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in visible ways. Even non-charismatic missions leaders recognize the necessity of spiritual warfare and the power of God combating the power of the devil. Perhaps she was afraid to offend, or wanted to make sure that non-charismatics would also be excited about simple church.

Sometimes, her “ordinary” people were really not so ordinary. I believe Felicity meant ordinary to mean not clergy. In other words, anyone, whether seminary trained or not, professional clergy or not, could start a simple church. And of course, she is right. Anyone can, and frequently non-seminary trained people do it much better than those who think they have all the answers. However, in her stories, several times the “ordinary” person was someone who had been seminary-trained, or had been in professional Christian ministry. By the time of the story, some of them had chosen a different path, but they did have that experience to work from. I mention this point only because it seems to weaken her argument that anyone can do it. I would think she could have included many other stories. Or, perhaps, she wrote this book to church leaders as well. If so, it’s a worthwhile read, but it might be a little frightening for some when Felicity talks about the fact that current church leaders might have to find another job if they go this route!

In summary, I think that Felicity achieves her goal of encouraging all of us to consider simple church. Halfway through reading this book, I ordered two others that she has written. However, anyone who has just purchased the book, and is more of a cognitive, logical learner might want to start with chapter 20, then see how those key concepts work out in each story. Of course, for those already involved in a cell group or house church, it would be worthwhile to read the book as a group, talking over each story and the conclusion that Felicity draws from them, seeing if the experience relates with their own, and discussing the biblical principles that Felicity connects to the stories.

Army of Ordinary People at Amazon

Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing! Fascinating, inspiring, and thought-provoking.

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