19 November 2023
Matt Brain. God is Enough: The Alpha and Omega of the Church. Broughton Publishing Pty Ltd, 2021.
God is Enough is a stimulating, imaginative, and challenging book that explores the role of the church in general, at a parish level, and at an individual level, in partnering with God in the working out of his redeeming purposes for this broken world. Indeed God’s people find themselves “caught up in God’s plans and activity”. Bishop of Bendigo, Matt Brain couches his analysis and solution in the book in very practical terms, making it very readable for everyone.
While Bishop Brain readily acknowledges that there are challenges and dangers facing the church, the air is nevertheless filled with possibilities and hope. The author notes that while being a part of the church is the most glorious calling, nevertheless, we also find ourselves immersed in “the drudgery and fractiousness of working with each other on the simple things that make communal life happen”. One of the most important challenges for God’s people then, is finding a way of working together at the place “where ordinary life meets the extraordinary, where the sacred meet the profane”. The tension created at this intersection point makes us susceptible to showy or misleading traps, Bishop Brain writes. Importantly, however, as becomes evident throughout the book, what presents as a point of tension for us as human beings, is not a problem for God, who “[triumphs] over our weakness”. That is, God works through our weaknesses to achieve his purposes.
Bishop Brain does a fabulous job in unpacking “five common pitfalls”. His analysis brought a smile to my face because these pitfalls are so embarrassingly familiar. However, they are more than offset by his 10 reasons to be hopeful. What makes Bishop Brain’s analysis so powerful, is that it challenges the reader to reflect on who God is, who we are, and what it means to be church – individually and together in community. Bishop Brain provides a biblical vehicle to process our reflection by employing the body metaphor in identifying and highlighting the church as “both the many and the whole”. The use of gifts, given by God to all individuals for the building up of the Body of Christ is integral to this discussion. Bishop Brain’s discussion establishes the uniqueness of every individual and their gifting in contributing to the coherence of the whole. Fundamental to this enterprise is love, he writes, “because love is the tangible artefact of the gifts operating each for the other”. To quote my wife, “We don’t get through the drudgery if we don’t have love”. Invariably, he writes, we know we are doing well when love reigns.
Read more: Bringing Jesus to the growth corridors
God is Enough challenges and inspires us to imagine what the future might look like, encouraging us to reach out beyond what we see in the present. That surely is our inspiration to act in the present. What I like about Bishop Brain’s approach is that he is not challenging us to make dramatic changes or sharp U-turns, but to prayerfully make sensible, commonsense changes, led by God’s Spirit. His suggestions of change are usually a matter of degree rather than world-shattering turnabouts. We then trust God to multiply our works, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. For example, recognising that even interested people may find church services and activities incomprehensible or confusing, Bishop Brain urges us to “change language of attraction to that of translation”, and leave it to God’s grace and Spirit to change people and hearts. Bishop Brain’s approach lets God be God, for it is God, not us, who grows his church and who is transforming the world and its people. It is God, not us, who is establishing his upside-down kingdom.
Despite the declining numbers in the church, the horrors of abuse and scandals, we read that there is an abundance of evidence for us to remain encouraged. There are fundamental truths that remain intact, such as the resurrection, God’s transforming power, a global DNA that connects Christians around the world as the Body of Christ, and the global church franchise system that must surely be the envy of other organisations. On the global scale “there are green shoots of growth everywhere”.
Bishop Brain’s book is thoughtful and exudes hope. His style is well-grounded and down to earth. His references to “St Silas (by the Overpass)” and some of its members keep the book very relatable. At the same time, we are continually reminded that the local church remains a part of a global narrative in which God remains the main character. The book challenges us with important questions that persist beyond the reading of the book. “What is your call?” and “Who is it that God has made you to be?” and “What has God equipped you to do?” are sample questions. If we are to get the most out of this book, we do well to grapple with and reflect on these important, sometimes ultimate questions, whilst remaining in prayer to God who is always enough.
The Reverend David Sullivan is vicar at St John’s Frankston North with St Luke’s Carrum Downs.