(More about this forthcoming title can be found here)
This book felt like a letter. A letter written to me. But that would be silly, given I’d never heard the name Sean Stillman, nevermind known him enough to receive correspondence. Or at least it was a story that resounded deeply within me enough that I felt someone had developed mind-reading technology to know the questions that were on my heart. It’s a story of a travelling man – a man who journeyed much by motorbike. But it’s the story of someone who’s story seems so ordinary, so normal, yet achieved (and still achieves) so much. It’s someone whose life-story resonates with what life is really like.
Sean’s personal story, of how he grew up through frustrations of church, coming to love motorbikes and also to follow Jesus, was a gripping yet ordinary tale like many others we might have heard before. But from there, story after story tell of a life well-lived, using his passions, gifts and upbringing to best try and fathom how to take seriously Jesus’ call to make disciples in a broken world.
What do you do when you’re a biker, who spends many hours on the road in your squad, and hangs out with the most unlikely of company to ever enter a church building?
With many from traditional churches who engage with me about travel, they would want to tell Sean to stop travelling and settle down. To not risk so much. Perhaps even to cut his hair and keep better company. But Sean’s missional heart longs for the biking community who aren’t going to respond so well to the “average” church evangelism (whatever that means), and sees that to engage these people with the good news, lived out in community in word and deed, is what Christ is calling him to. He grasps that in the post-modern travelling world, the travelling, biking community, may not be able to be reached (or would be far harder to be reached) by staying put and knocking on their door.
Equally, through seeing folk from within these communities come to faith, he realises that crossing a threshold of a church building for them, is about as foreign as most of us entering a hangout of a biking squad! A different language is used. Different topics of conversation. Different ways of expressing themselves. Different hobbies. A different life.
Throughout the book, Sean tells heartwarming stories that honour the Lord Jesus, tell of his own struggles and provide the ways he has attempted to get round these “problems”. What I thought at points was going to be a rant against institutionalised religion was actually very constructively put struggles, longings, and questions, with obvious attempts to take what was Scriptural about church life and apply it in his own context. His ordination within Anglicanism and description of Zac’s Place services (that sound remarkably similar to many churches I know!), are obviously signs that in all his wrestling, he didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but has helpfully guided us step by step through how and why he has done everything he has done, with other people.
Realising that even within the diverse biking communities, that God calls people to be church with far more than “people like us”, he shows a love for such diverse people that goes far beyond the biking community, overflowing into other “unlikelies” within society. but also through to those more typically associated with much of our middle-class evangelicalism too.
All in all, Sean paints a picture of church, that many across our cities would say “if all church were like this, I’d be there in a flash”. But it’s a story that goes far beyond Sean, to other communities up and down the UK and beyond, all resembling warm communities that embrace the outsider, love the unlovely and are truly good news in motorbike form.
You may not agree with every minor way Sean takes his fresh expression of church-life (though do we ever agree with anyone fully?), but what this book will do, is warm your heart on the inside, by showing you an ordinary person, who was transformed and equipped by God to faithfully live out the ordinary command to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
What marvelous ways God uses us in the world to do His works! And what wonderful lessons we can all learn, from the easily-read pages in this book. You don’t need to have interest in motorbikes to find principles that we do well to apply to any demographic of the population who would struggle to enter our church gatherings.
A Sunday afternoon reading, well spent.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
(Ephesians 3, outlining how such weak things as church to the human eye, are actually God’s chosen means to bring about His eternal purposes)
[I must confess being given an advance proof copy by SPCK of this book and asked to review it, although by no means am I expected to therefore give a favorable review]