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The Dynamic Congregation

By Robert H. Ramey Jr.

Chalice. 1999. Pb. 139 pp. $15.99 ISBN 0-8272-0626-7

Reviewed by William Hawkins

 

Out of his "25 years of pastoral work, 16 years of teaching ministry in a theological institution and more than 200 seminars with churches and judicatories," Robert Ramey offers congregations the distilled essence of his considerable wisdom.

He structures his book according to what he understands the New Testament to claim are the four basic functions of a congregation that is truly an authentic community of the Holy Spirit: Fellowship, Service, Proclamation and Celebration (p. ix). Two chapters are written on each of the four functions, concluding with a ninth chapter that purports to demonstrate how these functions can connect in small groups. Throughout the book, the reader is referred to one of each of the eight appendices grouped together at the very end.

The book is “polity free,” presented through the lens of the hypothetical “Redeemer Church” described as a “slowly growing church of 350 members in a small city of 50,000” (p. xv). Ramey claims that the issues raised are found in all churches and contexts and thus translate readily across the spectrum.

The author is in command of his topic and well acquainted with the biblical, theological and ecclesiastical literature often cited in these four areas. He is in constant conversation with these other sources, suggesting and evaluating their content as filtered through his own ideas and experiences.

Since his enthusiasm does not prevent him from acknowledging difficulties and hazards along the way, he is not shy in critiquing matters from perspectives theological and practical. The Dynamic Congregation is not only clear, thoughtful and well-written, but is also something of a primer on the “best of” from this genre, referring the reader to numerous other works only where Ramey’s excellent summary quotations or synopses will not suffice.

The chapters I enjoyed most are ch. 1, “When Church Boards Become Faith Communities,” and ch. 8, “Renewing the Sacraments.”

Ch. 1 offers useful ideas for officer training and development, particularly emphasizing the value of “story telling and history-giving,” a theme to which he returns in ch. 9.

Ch. 8 provides considerable help for lay education on this essential dimension of worship that is woefully underemphasized in ways as simple as distinguishing an “ordinance” from a “sacrament” (a distinction too frequently lost on Presbyterian ministers unwittingly stuck on Zwingli!).

I found myself caught between utter disbelief and blind envy when Ramey tells of preaching a sermon on criminal justice that resulted in 27 people waiting for him at his study door following worship to find out how to get involved (p.42)! The ninth chapter on small groups appears more as a fine chapter on small groups than as advertised to show how the four functions of the church connect with them.

Aside from the former curiosity and the latter flawed chapter heading, The Dynamic Congregation is an instructive and idea-laden book. When preceded, undergirded and followed by the power of the Spirit promised to the first disciples (Acts 1:8), and then adapted for your congregation, the book just may prove to be what the subtitle claims: “A Manual for Energizing Your Church.”

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