A Review of
Joining Jesus: Ordinary People at the Edges of the Church
Moses Chung and Christopher Meehan
Reviewed by Jeff Kennon
When I’m looking at a book, it’s funny how many times the subtitle really grabs my attention. And this is no less true with Joining Jesus: Ordinary People at the Edges of the Church by Moses Chung and Christopher Meehan. Ordinary people. How many times do we feel the need to be extraordinary? Being ordinary doesn’t cut it. No one notices ordinary. Ordinary doesn’t make the nightly news.
And the “Edges of the Church?” Just reading the title at face value, I picture those who don’t quite make it in. Or perhaps it’s those who feel as though they don’t belong. In some people’s viewpoint, these are the folks that are not necessarily church material (whatever that means). They don’t really mix well with the general religious population. Too needy. Their problems are not as refined as our problems.
Yet for Chung and Meehan, it’s those on the margins and those who possibly feel trapped in their everydayness in which Jesus takes up residence. And it’s these type of folks whom God uses to be the salt and light of the world. It seems so counterintuitive, yet time and time again in Joining Jesus, the words of Paul to the church in Corinth are embodied. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:26-27)
What I find intriguing about Joining Jesus is that it is a history, a sketch of a Luke 10 vision, and a series of eyewitness accounts of God moving throughout North America all rolled into one collection. Chung and Meehan share the work of the Christian Reformed Church’s mission to North America for the past 25 years. In doing so, they continue the story of their previous book entitled Flourishing in the Land: A Hundred-Year History of the Christian Reformed Missions in North America, written in 1996.
But as mentioned, Joining Jesus is more than a history. It is also an embodied interpretation of Jesus’s commissioning of his disciples in Luke 10. Each chapter lays out a verse or two from Luke 10 that guides the reader in viewing each mission story through the lens of Jesus’s empowering and sending of his disciples. But if I were to cite a key element understood by Chung and Meehan in CRC’s mission success as it relates to Luke 10, it would have to be becoming an incarnational neighbor. “According to Luke 10,” writes Chung and Meehan, “a neighbor is someone who promotes peace and joins in learning what God is doing. This is a posture of being ‘with’ and not doing ministry ‘for.’ It is hearing—really setting ourselves aside to listen to the stories of those with whom we are connected, essentially with our neighbors” (48).
Most importantly in reading Joining Jesus however, is that this history of the CRC mission is told through the use of story. As you read, it’s as if you travel all over North America and hear from those in the trenches of ministry. From college students in Seattle to Native Americans in New Mexico, Chung and Meehan interview a variety of folks allowing their stories to communicate how God is working throughout North America. And as the subtitle indicates, this work is accomplished by the ordinary with those who are not only on the edges of church, but oftentimes, those on the edges of society as well.
Personally, it is the stories from those on the field that make this book worth the read. Reading the story of Momma T, a frequent visitor to a small church in Detroit, Michigan, barging into the Bible study and shouting, “I need to hear Galatians today,” pushes me to rethink what it is for me to study the Bible. Momma T’s brother is trapped in an abusive situation in which his daughter’s ex-boyfriend, a former boxer, keeps storming into their apartment and abusing him, his daughter, and even his daughter’s new baby. So what does Momma T want in the midst of feeling trapped because she can’t seem to help her brother? She wants some Galatians.
But it’s not just the stories that give value to Joining Jesus. It’s also the wisdom from those who are walking with the Momma T’s. It’s the missiological insights from the faithful who are present day-in and day-out to the communities around them. Betsy Turnbull, who as a church planter with her husband, found that her child’s preschool playground became its own mission field. “These connections and conversations, and chances for discipleship,” she says, “happen in random places” (43). Also, Pastor Albert Chu, whose church continues to reach out to the large population of Chinese in Vancouver, Canada, expresses how, much like Betsy, “Physical presence is an important thing. We have to be always asking what we can do with the spaces we inhabit to be a blessing to our community” (140).
One might conclude that reading such a book as Joining Jesus might point one to new strategies for mission. In some ways, this might be true. But the heart of this history is not necessarily about what works today, but what has always worked. And as Chung and Meehan point out, the early church which “met together, supported one another, broke bread together, and went from place to place and shared their stories” is still what is needed to build the Kingdom (139). I find this both refreshing and convicting. Refreshing because of its simplicity. Convicting because of how we sometimes complicate God’s mission given to us by our over-programming. Yet the truth remains that God calls us who are ordinary to go to those who are on the edges. And as we do, as the stories found in Joining Jesus tell us, we might just find Jesus!
Jeff Kennon lives in Lubbock, Texas where is the director of the Baptist Student Ministries at Texas Tech University. He is also the author of The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking On Christ’s Humanity, published by Leafwood Press. You can find him online at www.jkennon.com.