Review of The Tangible Kingdom by @HughHalter & @Matt_Smay

The Tangible KingdomThe Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay provides a compelling picture of what the Christian church can be in contrast to the typical traditional, attractional church that is failing to engage many people today.

100 years ago Christians and those who are not Christians shared many of the same values.  As a result it was easier to find common ground.   However, “the shift in society’s view of the church has resulted in the marginalization of the church and the secularization of society.”  Many people no longer look to Christianity or the Christian church for spiritual answers.  “The world sees evangelicals… fighting to keep marriage between heterosexual men and women, fighting against gay rights, fighting against Islam, fighting to keep prayer in schools and so on…. People see us struggling hard to keep our way of life.”

While some people may have some positive view of church (perhaps from childhood experiences) and might consider coming to a traditional, attractional church.  Many people have distain for church and will never come to a church seeking God.  Halter and Smay argue that for them evangelism starts with changing assumptions.  The only way to do that is to leave our comfortable Christian bubbles, live and embrace the people around us, and love them as Jesus did.

Favorite Quotes

  • If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested? (P 10)
  • “Doing church differently is like rearranging chairs on the Titanic.” We must realize that slight tweaks, new music, creative lighting, wearing hula shirts, shorts, and flip-flops won’t make doing church any more attractive.  (P 130)
  • Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore…  Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ. (P 30)
  • we specifically ask people not to try to be “evangelistic.” We suggest to them that if people aren’t asking about their lives, then we haven’t postured our faith well enough or long enough.  (P 42)
  • To be an advocate means that when people are in need, they know that we’ll be on their team, and that we’ll be there whenever they need us, for just about anything. (P 43)
  • The pressure [to meet the needs of consumeristic parishioners] is so strong, [pastors] find themselves frantically trying to update their presentation, increase programs to attract people, or lighten up the message of the gospel. (P 57)
  • Helping them make a personal “preference” for Christ and his life will always be more powerful than bashing their values. (P 67)
  • What causes exclusive community is fear.  What creates inclusive community is love. (P 71)
  • What people want is an entirely new grid that encompasses every aspect of their lives.  Values like meaning, sacrifice, simplicity, risk, adventure, benevolence and justice will sell.  But they have to be modeled, not just talked about. (P 75)
  • The convictions we need to rally around should be about life giving, community transformation, holistic personal growth, sacrifice, beauty, blessing and world renewal.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a people committed to something that brings personal meaning and makes the world a better place? (P 115)
  • “If you want to help people, we have to dive into people, wade into the sea of humanity.” –Patch Adams (P 124)
  • Whimsical holiness: Whimsy is the posture we take that allows people to be themselves.  Holiness is that quiet inner posture that shines through and subversively witnesses of an alternative way to live. (P 139)

Personal Thoughts

I was really blow away by The Tangible Kingdom.  As I read it, I kept thinking, “This is what Christianity is supposed look like.”

Somehow we’ve allowed Christianity to be mostly about going to church, when it should be about going out, engaging with the people around us, and becoming their advocates.

Church has become mostly about the pastors and staff feeding members good worship services and other programs, when it should be about celebrating what God is doing and apprenticing people to become missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Christianity has become more about standing up for our values and protecting ourselves from the world, when it should be about sacrificing and opening ourselves up to the world.

I love the fact that as much as Hugh and Matt advocate churches change to a more missional approach to ministry, they don’t bash attractional churches.  In fact, they specifically say that if you lead or are a part of an attractional church, don’t bail.  Be the change.

That’s what I want to do, but…

I want to be a part of a community where people far from God are able to belong before they believe.  I want to hang out with my neighbors, invite them over for dinner.  I want to be the guy who will do anything for his friends, and proactively, not just when asked.

But to do that means I have to sacrifice my own comfort and convenience, and the truth is that as much as I think I’d like to live a missional lifestyle, over and over again I choose otherwise.  It’s not easy.  I have a job that never ends.  I’m married.  I have 3 kids.  I serve as an elder and small group leader at church.  Plus I’m an introvert, and when I carve out time in my schedule for myself I’d rather spend it reading or interacting with people on Facebook or Twitter.

Certainly it’s easier for some people than others, but ultimately those are just excuses.  I managed to carve out 2 weeks of vacation last month.  I’m spending 2 days at a leadership conference this week.  I found time to write this review, didn’t I?

Can you tell I’m wrestling with this big time?

If you’re a part of a attractional church (traditional or modern) I dare you to read The Tangible Kingdom.  It will rock your world if you’re open to it.  If you’re left the church or sworn off “organized religion” because it bears little resemblance to Jesus or what you think Christianity should be, reading TK may give you hope.

EDIT 8/10/2010: If you have questions about what incarnational community looks like and how to do it, check out this Incarnational Community FAQs page.


  1. Do you think Christians (and churches) need to change and focus more on going out and engage with people who are not Christians rather than waiting for them to show up at our churches?
  2. What do you think about living a missional lifestyle yourself?  One where you sacrifice your comfort, invite people with different values into your life, and accept them without pretense?
  3. Where do you struggle most with living a missional lifestyle?

Sorry, no book to give away.  But I hope you’ll join me in discussing the book by posting a comment, and invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post on Twitter and Facebook.

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