Improvising Church

Improvising Church

Scripture as the Source of Harmony, Rhythm, and Soul

by Mark Glanville

Improvising Church
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: February 13, 2024
  • Item Code: A0745
  • ISBN: 978-1-5140-0745-7

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Plenty of books diagnose our post-Christian malaise. Here's a dynamic solution.

The post-Christian cultural turn is creating the conditions for a crisis of confidence in the church and in pastoral ministry. While such changes can be disruptive and disconcerting, our new cultural reality makes the present moment a uniquely exciting time to reimagine churches that bear witness to Christ. How do we move beyond cookie-cutter approaches (which may have worked in the past) to building the creative, compassionate, and incarnational churches we long for?

Biblical scholar and accomplished jazz pianist Mark Glanville plays with a metaphor of improvisation to chart twelve themes as the key "notes" on which Christian communities play as they bear witness to God in the world today. Building on these two dynamic traditions—jazz music and Christian community—Improvising Church unfolds a biblical, practical, and inventive vision for churches seeking to receive and extend the healing of Christ.

"In a world where Scripture struggles to gain a hearing and models for renewing the church are often drawn from the latest fads, Improvising Church is stunning. Drawing on his deep, loving engagement with Scripture and his long experience in churches on the margins, Mark Glanville offers a humble, exhilarating invitation to become congregations that help our neighbors encounter the joy of Jesus and his way in the world. Like the jazz that serves as its primary metaphor, Improvising Church brought me to tears and made my heart sing. It is a gift to anyone seeking to help God's people become who we're called to be in our post-Christian, Western world."

Michael J. Rhodes, lecturer in Old Testament at Carey Baptist College and author of Just Discipleship: Biblical Justice in an Unjust World

"Imagine an interpreter of Scripture with trustworthy credentials. Now imagine a musician who enchants with creativity. Next imagine a pastor who can mobilize a community to bless a neighborhood. In Mark Glanville, all three of these are one person. Read, listen, and imagine what more may be possible."

Jason Byassee, senior pastor of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in Toronto, Ontario

"There is a good case to be made that the missing component in our contemporary apologetic is beauty. In this book, Mark Glanville draws on his pastoral and musical experience to invite and instruct the church to move in ways—like good jazz—that show the beauty of God to a world that desperately needs good news."

Tim Morey, Life Covenant Church

"Improvising Church is a harmony of scriptural insight and pastoral wisdom, soulfully explored. Drawing from the metaphors of jazz, Glanville calls Western churches in post-Christian contexts to embrace an improvisational journey shaped by the biblical narrative and the perception of artists within incarnational community that loves their place and its people. Like a musician in sync with our contextual rhythm, Glanville urges us to embrace our interconnectedness with creation, tying that to the need to confront the legacies of colonialism with courageous solidarity. This book resonates deeply, hits all the right notes, and will inspire you to embrace a new, transformative song to improvise with for our twenty-first-century witness."

Drew G. I. Hart, associate professor at Messiah University and author of Who Will Be a Witness? Igniting Activism for God's Justice, Love, and Deliverance

"Mark Glanville writes with a kind of humility, curiosity, creativity, and compassion that are not merely desired but required when learning from traditions that you've been graciously grafted into—be it from Moses or Miles Davis, Elijah or Ella Fitzgerald, Nathanael or Nina Simone, John Coltrane or Jesus, the Christ. Mark has experienced a 'love supreme' and is inviting us to take giant steps of communal improvisation and imagine somethin' else, an alternative to Christendom and its colonial legacy, something that looks like Jesus, something that is the shape of things to come."

Jarrod McKenna, founding director of and formation catalyst at Steeple Church in Melbourne, Australia



Part I: Harmony
1. The Text Grants
2. Leader-full
3. Local
4. Beauty

Part II: Rhythm
5. Worship in Polyrhythms
6. Shared Life
7. Healing, Kinship, and Maternal Nurture
8. Creation

Part III: Soul
9. Voice
10. Conversations
11. Sins of Our Kin
12. Prayer


Appendix: Preaching That Nourishes Incarnational Communities
General Index
Scripture Index


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Mark R. Glanville

Mark R. Glanville (PhD, Bristol University) is associate professor of pastoral theology at Regent College, Vancouver, and an Old Testament scholar. He is the author of Adopting the Stranger as Kindred in Deuteronomy and Freed to Be God's Family: The Book of Exodus and has written articles for a variety of publications including the Journal of Biblical Literature, Refuge Journal, Journal of Missional Practice, Christian Educators Journal, Evangelicals for Social Action, Faith Today, The Light Magazine, and The Presbyterian Pulse.

Glanville previously ministered in a missional urban community, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, Vancouver, and was a professor of congregational theology at the Missional Training Center in Phoenix. He is a trained jazz pianist and lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife, Erin, and their two children.