Your Church In Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimensions of Seasons and Cycles. By Bruce Miller. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. xxvii + 194 pp. $24.95.
Miller proposes a paradigm shift to help address the issues of pastoral burnout and loss of joy in the pastorate in this book. Rather than a focus on keeping everything in balance, Miller proposes that churches and pastors adopt another approach, rhythm. He argues that the pursuit of balance usually results in guilt and unhealthiness. Instead, rhythm creates a greater focus, more effectiveness, and increased strength.
At first it might appear that Miller is presenting another church model, but the author calls this a “metaconcept” that transcends all models and can be applied to any already existing church model. Ultimately, Miller wants his readers to “see six rhythm strategies for wisely leading our churches so that we are more fruitful in ministry and ministry has more joy” (xvii). “The intent of this book,” writes Miller, “is to offer you concepts and tools to make your church more effective and more enjoyable” (xxiv).
Rhythm is viewed through the lens of two Greek concepts of time: karios and chronos. Miller believes that rhythm is a better metaphor because it fits the natural progression of life cycles. Not only is rhythm seen in the cycles of nature but he also provides biblical support from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Often pastors are blindsided by unexpected events and circumstances. The balance approach may dismiss these as growth opportunities, but the rhythm approach welcomes new seasons, even if they appear to be an interruption. Miller also uses the scientific study of time (Chronobiology) that reveals natural rhythms in living things, such as heartbeats and temperature.
Miller observes kairos and chronos through three lens: language (two distinct Greek usages), theology (God is the creator of rhythm), and experience (both individual and corporate). In chapter three, “Discerning Your Organizational Stage,” Miller examines how to identify and discern stages of life in churches. He reflects on the predictability of natural stages of life and makes the same application to the church. Problems in the church find a context within rhythm, which can help the pastor “effectively manage transitions, and monitor warning signs of decline” (p. 31). The next chapter gives some guidelines to be used to evaluate a church’s life stages. Usually the seasons come through difficult and unexpected life experiences, such as a youth pastor’s resignation, a lawsuit by an unruly parent, or grief that strikes the church at the loss of a loved member.
In the next section, Miller outlines three karios rhythm strategies; releasing expectations, seizing opportunities, and anticipating what’s next. In the first strategy, Miller challenges pastors to have realistic expectations and to be willing to release them when life change occurs. The second strategy, seizing opportunities, allows for pastors to be proactive, to be on the lookout for organizational stages and ministry opportunities. The final karios rhythm, anticipate what’s next, encourages churches to view slow or limited growth as a season of preparation for the next stage of life. Once a church gives credence to rhythm, Miller concludes, “You coast more peacefully by releasing false expectations that don’t fit your current rhythm; you rise with more impact and joy by seizing unique opportunities this kairos season offers you; and you find more hope in anticipating the waves that still lie ahead of you” (p. 104).
The next section introduces four aspects of chronos rhythm in the church: pace, oscillate, build mission-enhancing rituals, and intensify and renewal. Chronos rhythm is based on seasons as seen in the calendar. Instead of keeping everything in balance or operating always at a highly intense level, Miller proposes that a church should pace itself. Not doing everything at once allows leadership to spread out major events throughout the year. The second aspect promotes rituals, but rituals that enhance the mission of Christ such as a discipleship study for a sermon series. Finally, in order to protect church leadership from overexertion, Miller suggests oscillation between intensity and renewal. With oscillation, churches experience “the joy of maximum exertion or the joy of deep relaxation” (p.145). Miller recommends making a yearly, monthly, and daily intensity graph to identify times or high and low intensity. By implementing the four chronos rhythms, he says, pastors will help their churches decrease the chances of burnout and “will advance Christ’s mission further with more joy” (p. 152).
Your Church in Rhythm makes a compelling and challenging case for church leaders to reconsider their approach to ministry. Readers will enjoy the practical applications and examples, exercises at the end of each chapter, interactive charts, and an intriguing subject matter. Bruce Miller concludes his work by encouraging his readers to embrace rhythmic living and implement rhythmic paradigm into their churches. Church leaders and pastors are encouraged to take these ideas and build on them. The author believes this will create a church leadership life with less stress and guilt and filled with more joy and peace.
Kevin Ewton with Glenn R. Kreider