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“Above the Line”

January 8, 2012

Above the Line: Reshaping Relationships and Community in the 21st Century Church” by Peter McHugh. C3 Whitehorse/ Stairway Church.  Melbourne, Australia.  2010. 205 pages.

Review by Steve Hyde

Above the Line” is a book that was given to me by the author who is a personal friend.  Knowing much of the personal history of this church makes this book so valuable to me.  C3 Whitehorse, which recently became Stairway Church would be classified by many as a “successful mega-church”.  A church of more than a thousand active members in Australia is impressive, but the heart of Peter was not satisfied with numbers.  In fact, in his first book “Voyage of Mercy”, he talks about the culture of performance-driven leadership which needed to be changed.

This is a practical book which I read as a follow-up to Danny Silk’s “Culture of Honor”. Peter McHugh has been leading his church in a period of transition from a church which was your typical highly performance based “great Sunday service” mega-church, to a culture impacting movement of congregational ministers.  This book is the practicalities of what they have done in the midst of this transition and how they lead this culture change.  I appreciate how he also has other ministers/leaders in the church write how the transition has affected them personally and spiritually.  It is a very honest look at the inner-workings of their church.

Towards the end of the book, McHugh speaks of what he is looking for as an outcome of their church journey.  He states:

“When honour is practiced properly in church life it should make a difference and be experienced in that:

  • People are allowed to be who they are;
  • People are not threatened by another;
  • People are trying to understand one another;
  • People are putting the interests of others first while not neglecting appropriate confrontation;
  • People are not being controlled;
  • People are not trying to control others;
  • People sacrifice to give strength to others;
  • People sacrifice time, energy and resources for the benefit of others;
  • People facilitate trust;
  • People allow mutual influence;
  • People manage themselves to protect relationship; and
  • People don’t need to agree with one another to practice love, friendship and good communication.”

If you are like me, and you have had a bad experience in church because of controlling and insecure leaders, then the previous list looks refreshing.  What if leaders actually pursued a culture of grace (honour)?  What if leaders didn’t try to lead by control and manipulation?  Wow, could it be a Biblical expression of the true Church?  Yes! There is hope!

What does “above the line” mean?  It is seeking to be people of relationship and love.  A reflection of a Biblical church.  Below the line is referring to the things that commonly Christians get bogged down in like: programs, doctrine, church growth, and structure.   After all it was Jesus who said:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is Jesus’ above the line teaching.  Christians are to be known for love.

Here is where we have a problem.  Because we have focused on programs, structures, buildings, qualifications, and doctrine to be known for “love” is one of the last things the world thinks about when they thinking about Christians.  They often think of narrow-minded, prideful, arrogant, divisive (if they know anything about Protestants) and abusive. . . but one of the last things they may think of is LOVE.  Peter McHugh has accepted the challenge to change the culture of his church.  He wants to help people to be living “Above the Line”.

This is a great book which I would highly recommend.  Here’s the catch though: If you want this book, you are going to have to work for it.  “Big Publishers” only publish “Big Names” and Peter doesn’t want to be known for his name, so a big corporate publisher would never even glance at his manuscript.  If you want to order the book you can do so at Stairway’s online shop <click here>.  Many of the best books can’t be found in regular commercial bookshops.  This is one of those!

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