Too many churches limp along with no clear sense of mission. In Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission, Dr. Crofford clarifies the purpose of God’s people through the metaphor of spiritual respiration. “Breathing in” (worship and discipleship) leads to “breathing out” (transformative service in the world). Newcomers and seasoned believers alike will be challenged to discover their calling as the Holy Spirit sends the church out on a challenging mission to heal families, communities, and creation itself.
An interview with the author
What led you to write this book?
Christianity is fragmented. I wondered: What are the characteristics that all churches within the Christian tradition share? Mere Ecclesiology is an attempt to identify what unites us and to celebrate it.
You talk about “spiritual respiration.” What do you mean by this rather odd term?
Just like the human body must breathe in order to survive, so must Christ’s body, the church. It’s a word picture. “Breathing in” represents discipleship, coming to Christ and growing in our faith, both individually and corporately. ” On the other hand, “breathing out” is the mission God gives the church in the world, impacting communities through service that transforms. A healthy church will evidence both movements of the Holy Spirit, inward and outward.
Your chapter on “calling” has some surprises. Why do you present the word in such broad terms?
One of the downsides of the clergy/laity divide in how we conceptualize the church is that we become like a soccer match with only a few playing on the field and the rest watching in the stands. Yet Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that all of God’s saints (believers) have a place of service, a role to fill not only in the church but in how the church fulfills her mission for the sake of the world. It is not just clergy who have a vocation from God. We all have a calling to fulfill. This is really where the sub-title of the book comes into play: “Finding your place in the church’s mission.”
Is there a reason why you placed the chapter on the Lord’s Supper before the chapter on baptism?
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). When the church celebrates the Eucharist, I envision Jesus himself standing at the Table with his arms outstretched to all who are gathered. For those who come to Christ for the first time during communion, they can receive instruction later and be baptized. This vision is evangelistic, making the Lord’s Supper not only a time for believers to grow in their faith but newcomers to take their first steps toward God.
How did your service as a missionary in Africa affect how you wrote Mere Ecclesiology?
Africa’s fingerprints are all over this book! I love how Africans begin with “we” and only then move to “I.” It’s a communal way of looking at life where the identity of individuals is wrapped up in the group. That insight has profound implications for how we do church. It is not “Jesus and me” but “Jesus and we.” And what’s fascinating to me is that Western postmodernism incorporates something of this communal outlook. Many churches have been slow to detect this worldview shift. Mere Ecclesiology sees this not as a threat but as a recovery of the New Testament vision for the people of God, without losing the balancing truth that we each must have an individual saving encounter with Christ.
You include chapters on deliverance and healing. Can you tell us why?
Sometimes people pit science against the supernatural yet the two worldviews are not mutually exclusive. You can’t look at the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels or the advance of the church in Acts without being struck by the powerful movement of God not only to forgive sin but to bring wholeness. Healing and deliverance are part of the holistic “breathing out” that God intends for the church. Our Gospel must be comprehensive or else it is only partial good news.
You apparently think that the church has an environmental role to play. Isn’t that something of a distraction?
Some might think so, but I like what Howard Snyder responds: “Salvation means creation healed.” The bottom line is that when we take care of God’s creation broadly, we take care of human beings specifically. The earth sustains us, and God’s command is for us to take care of the earth. As the church, ours is to model that kind of love for all God’s creatures.
What impact do you hope Mere Ecclesiology will make?
It’s written to be a practical book. I’d like to see it used by pastors who have newcomers that know little or nothing about the church. I’m also hoping the discussion questions will be a springboard for small group conversations. Even those who have been around the church for a long time will discover new things or else say: “So THAT’s why we do it this way!” Many are worried that young adults have checked-out. I think they’ll find in the pages of Mere Ecclesiology that the church’s mission is not just for the hereafter, but also for the here-and-now. Most importantly, I hope it will help them see that God has a key role for them to play in changing our world through the church.
An excerpt from Mere Ecclesiology
“In the face of such a dizzying array of churches, is it possible—like C. S. Lewis attempted with his Mere Christianity—to identify a ‘mere ecclesiology’ (doctrine of the church), a core motif that unites the people of God despite our incredible diversity? Some have described this twofold movement as being ‘gathered to worship and scattered to serve.’ In Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission, a similar idea is what I call ‘spiritual respiration,’ the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12–31) breathing in and breathing out. No matter the denominational affiliation of a congregation (or none), a basic life function for any church is this inward and outward movement. The notion of spiritual respiration helps us visualize our life together as the people of God, God first transforming us (‘breathing in’) then the Holy Spirit sending us out in loving service to transform our world (‘breathing out’).
A few years ago, I revisited a campground in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the same camp I frequented during summers as a boy. That Sunday morning, the preacher did what I had seen preachers do many times when I was younger. He invited people to come forward to pray. While kneeling, I sensed God speaking to me clearly: ‘Greg, prayer is just spiritual respiration. So why are you holding your breath?’
God’s gentle advice to me on that Sunday regarding prayer is also good counsel for the church. The image of ‘respiration’ reminds us as God’s people to live in the rhythm of God’s Holy Spirit. It helps us understand both our corporate encounter with God (‘breathing in’) and our service together in the world (‘breathing out’). Both are essential.
Just for fun, take a minute and try only breathing in. It doesn’t take long before your lungs feel like they’re going to explode! Now try the opposite. Breathe out, pushing air from your lungs through your mouth and nose. Soon, your lungs are empty; you have no air left to exhale. You simply must take another breath or else faint.
Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples. He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22). It may seem a bit strange at first that Jesus would do this. What did he mean? Could it be that this little group of men—a seed of the much larger church that would be born at Pentecost—needed to learn a lesson about how the Holy Spirit works through his church? Breathing indeed is a metaphor for how the church is to function in the rhythm of God’s Spirit, gathering together for worship and mutual encouragement (inhaling), then scattering for transformational service in the world (exhaling). This model of the church—to borrow the words of Clark Pinnock—is a ‘Spirit ecclesiology.’ ”
-from the “Introduction,” pp. xiii-xiv
Praise for Mere Ecclesiology
“Greg has powerfully captured the church—’God’s mission in the World’—in these brief pages. Ecclesiology is generally a subject written and discussed in academic theological circles and rarely reaches the person in the pew. But this is one for the pew and will be valued as well.”
Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Ambassador and General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church
“In promoting a healthy church, Dr. Crofford emphasizes the need for ‘spiritual respiration.’ His conception of church health first requires a ‘breathing in’ of personal growth that is spiritual, knowledgeable, and communal. Second, spiritual respiration requires a ‘breathing out’ that is missional, ministering practically to others for their holistic salvation, societal well-being, and ecological care-giving. . . . Crofford identifies step-by-step strategies that help Christians to implement ‘spiritual respiration’ in finding their place in the church’s mission.”
—Don Thorsen, Professor of Theology, Azusa Pacific University Seminary
“Crofford invites us into a discussion regarding the theology of church and the practical implications for ministry. This thoughtful overview of the formational and missional characteristics of the church mirrors Jesus’ command to love God and love others. Here, the corporate body of Christ can live in authenticity to the doctrine handed down through the ages. This work will prove useful for the church engaged in the formation of Christlike disciples.”
—Carla Sunberg, President, Professor of Historical Theology, Nazarene Theological Seminary
“In this helpful and easy-to-read book, Crofford draws wonderfully from Scripture, the Christian faith community, and his own faith journey. He offers wisdom and understanding to all pilgrims, wherever they are on their journey. If ever the church needed a grassroots understanding to fulfill its mission in the world in this significant time, then this is the ‘back to the basics’ guide so desperately needed.”
—Gabriel J. Benjamin, Church of the Nazarene, Africa Region Education and Clergy Development Coordinator
“Written from his experience as a minister, a clergy educator, and a missionary, the book covers a broad range of topics that relate to the work of the church. Easy to read and challenging to your preconceptions, the book will profit every pastor and every layperson. This is an excellent overview of the work of the church. Refreshing!”
—Jesse C. Middendorf, General Superintendent Emeritus, Church of the Nazarene