“Said plainly, churches are in trouble. All churches are, but certainly Churches of Christ. Whether or not they recognize the threats they are facing is a different matter. The future is fraught
“Said plainly, churches are in trouble. All churches are, but certainly Churches of Christ. Whether or not they recognize the threats they are facing is a different matter. The future is fraught with dangers. Many won’t make it.”
On New Year’s weekend, 1831–32, two churches came together in Lexington, Kentucky, in what is often known today as the Restoration Movement. Among the churches that emerged from this movement were Churches of Christ, which grew in the nineteenth century and then flourished in the twentieth. At their zenith, around 1990, there were over 13,000 Church of Christ congregations in the United States with nearly 1.3 million members. Especially in the southern states where Churches of Christ were concentrated, it seemed inconceivable that they would ever face their own death.
Like many communities of faith, these churches are now in rapid decline. The numbers are devastating. At the current trajectory, Churches of Christ in America, with a membership of just over a million, will be less than a quarter their current size in thirty years. As they awaken to their crisis, many of them are beginning to see themselves at the edge.
This book is an elegy for those churches. But it is also a story of hope and promise. As from the “Blue Hole”—the tiny, hidden spring from which flows the San Antonio River, near where Jack Reese ministers—there is still abundant life and grace to be found flowing into Churches of Christ, waiting to be uncovered. Anyone wondering how to stem the seemingly inevitable ebb of the fading Western church will find solace and help in Reese’s account of a once-thriving fellowship of churches that, God willing, may yet emerge from the grave into the light of resurrection.
“Equal parts theologian, pastor, and historian, Jack Reese is uniquely qualified to write this book. His pages are personal and prophetic—a reflection on what has happened among Churches of Christ and a description of what must be changed. I consider Jack to be a good friend, a careful student, and reliable counsel. I’m thrilled to read this book and privileged to encourage you to do likewise. These are uncertain days for the church, but we serve a strong Savior. He will use Spirit-filled teachers like Jack to lead us into a bright future.”
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— Max Lucado
pastor and bestselling author
“The first step to restored health is an accurate assessment of reality, no matter how painful that might be. The second is to be honest about your history, which can be equally painful. With a humility that acknowledges the present and owns the past, Jack Reese is pointing Churches of Christ to a better future. It will require death, but it can also mean resurrection!”
— Rick Atchley
senior minister at The Hills Church
“I grew up in the sister non-denomination of the Churches of Christ, the Plymouth Brethren. Our heroes were J. N. Darby and George Mueller instead of Stone and Campbell, but the similarities between the two movements were striking, so I’ve always had a deep appreciation for my spiritual cousins, whether they be instrumental or non-instrumental. It takes courage to offer a way forward, courage to name some of the failures of the past, courage to offer a diagnosis and prognosis that require actual change in lifestyle. That’s what Jack Reese offers in these pages, and I pray many readers take this positive, honest, and challenging book to heart.”
— Brian D. McLaren
author of Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It
“At the Blue Hole is a journey into the past of Churches of Christ like you’ve never taken before. Weaving multiple stories together, moving from past to present and back again, Jack Reese draws one into this thick story almost like a good mystery draws one in. Only in this case the whole story moves relentlessly toward the sources of renewal and new life—to the wellsprings that originally quickened Churches of Christ two hundred years ago. In these recent years of decline—accelerating decline—this journey becomes more and more urgent. This book is a wonderful guide.”
— C. Leonard Allen, PhD
author of Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church
“At the Blue Hole defies categorization. Part spiritual autobiography, part history of the Churches of Christ, and part missional epistle for a denomination that like so many others is in steep decline, this volume is Jack Reese’s prophetic call to his people to come back to Jesus. Only in acts of deep repentance, in a retrieval of the original spiritual vision and passion that sparked the Stone-Campbell movement yet retooled for the twenty-first century, can the Churches of Christ hope for a future. Well researched yet personal in its storytelling style, this book should be read by every Church of Christ minister, seminarian, and layperson, and by anyone who longs for renewal in the church.”
— Elaine A. Heath, PhD
author of God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church
“Some White ministers speak about the Black experience from a distance, out of books or from the stories of others. Jack Reese has lived it—in the neighborhoods of South Dallas and within the church I lead. He has seen firsthand the scars of slavery and Jim Crow. He knows the impact of White privilege on Black lives. At the Blue Hole is a witness to that lived experience. It’s the story of brokenness and redemption, the urgency of repentance and the power of mercy. In this moving, personal account of his own tribe of Christians, Jack expresses the struggle of all Christians to tell the truth about themselves, to see the pain of others, and to both receive and extend God’s outrageous, extravagant outpouring of grace.”
— Dr. Kenneth R. Greene
senior pastor at Metro Christ’s Church, Cedar Hill, Texas
“In this compelling book, Jack Reese masterfully mines the moments of wonder and pain that formed the Stone-Campbell movement and forged Churches of Christ. But no mere history is found here. Rather, we read the compelling stories and streams that flow into the present, shaping the realities of life and death for thousands of congregations today. Few in the church write with such penetrating insight and courageous honesty. But that is precisely where hope can take hold.
View Biographical note
Jack R. Reese has served as a preacher and missional leader in a variety of churches, urban ministries, and mission points across five continents. He is currently an interfaith leader and executive minister at the Northside Church of Christ in San Antonio. The author of The Body Broken: Embracing the Peace of Christ in a Fragmented Church, he has served as a community organizer, ministry consultant, professor, and academic dean.
View Table of contents
Table of Contents
Foreword by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
Prologue: The Blue Hole
1. Peace, Death, Storm, and Fire: Churches of Christ on the Edge
2. The Peacemaker and the Pallbearer: Choices and Consequences
3. Pray More, Dispute Less: The Road to Christian Unity
4. Freedom and Conformity: The Quest to Restore the Golden Age
5. Resources from the Blue Hole: There Is Life beneath Us Still
Epilogue: Cloudburst of Grace