In her book, “For the Love,” Christian writer, blogger, and DIYer, Jen Hatmaker provides a collection of essays ranging from helicopter parenting to the future of Christianity. The idea for her book comes from a phrase she acknowledges she says a lot: “For the love.” It’s like saying, “Good grief,” or “WTF?” in different situations. Each essay (chapter) covers something that she has encountered that has caused her to utter the words, “For the love.”
The target audience for this book is the large number of women readers that have been congregating around Hatmaker for the last several years thanks to successes like her book “7.” Having said that, I enjoyed reading this book (there were some sections I skipped over). Haymaker comes from an evangelical background, which she explains at different points, highlighting the good things that came from that and the more challenging things. At her current place in life, a 40-something writer, mom, and pastor’s wife, she recognizes that church no longer needs to be the way it was.
The church has, she argues, over programmed and over staffed itself. Much of what she says makes good sense. A developing trend in mainline churches has been to cut back on church programming and staff. Much of this decision has been budgetary, not theological or even logical. What Hatmaker describes in her book is much more organic than programmed. It is not staff-driven, staff-developed small group ministry, it is instead a bunch of people deciding they are going to have dinner together once a month, or neighbors getting together on the front porch on Sunday evenings.
Hatmaker argues that discipleship can happen organically, much like it did with Jesus and the early church. Jesus wasn’t selling a church-wide program in a box that guaranteed success. There is a place Hatmaker (and I) will say for Bible studies in or outside of the church. But have we stressed the church, the staff, and the people by our programs? Perhaps.
As a staff person whose primary responsibilities are programming ministries (educational, missional), I have to agree. The tendency in the church has been to measure success by programs. All programs have given us is more programs. When one works, we try another. I have learned through my own set of failures and successes, that the most successful small groups have been the organic ones. When a group of people commit to one another to get together once a month or once a week and ponder the question John Wesley raised, “How is it with your soul?”
It is a challenging approach, which I think it part of Hatmaker’s point with her book, because it is counter to what the Christian church culture has created. Hatmaker gives us permission to not buy into that. She challenges us to be more Christ-like in our lives and in our ministries.
She also takes on short-term missions, a growing challenge to the church. There is a growing sense that we no longer apply bandaids or fuel mission tourism. Hatmaker tells a story that will break your heart to illustrate her point. The tension that she brings to light here is the tension I have felt myself on mission trips – how is what we are doing providing justice? Haymaker calls us to consider where we are in this tension and not to cause more harm than good.
I appropriated Hatmaker’s writing style. Much like Rob Bell, she writes like I imagine she talks. Reading her book felt like sitting on her front porch sipping sweet tea. It makes her writing/voice opening and welcoming. Hatmaker is not shy in acknowledging that there will be those within the Christian subculture who will not be okay with what she has to say. I have found that that is one sign that what is being said, needs to be said.
Jen Hatmaker’s book “For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards” is available from Thomas Nelson books. Thanks for the publisher and NetGalley for a digital review copy.