I had the chance to read an advanced copy of We Were Spiritual Refugees last November as part of a project I was working on. Rarely do you find churchy books equal parts entertaining and informative. Often books about church and new church starts are so narrative based there’s no practical wisdom to be gleaned or so prescriptive that it come across preachy out of touch with the variety of contexts in which leaders are forming spiritual communities—We Were Spiritual Refugees falls into neither of these traps. Instead Hays offers a personal narrative of her own transformation from traditional church pastor to church planter for people for whom church has become boring, irrelevant and painful, for LGBTQ+ folks who love God but were told by their previous churches that they were not loved.

Interspersed throughout the personal narrative are actual policies and documents her church uses to guide how they live into community. As a pastor who has done small groups and consulted on small groups for years Hays 4 page explanation on how they do small groups is worth the price of the book for its clarity and the pulling together of best practices. These documents are useful not in a “cut and paste” kind of way but as an example to readers who are figuring out what might work in their specific context.

But make no mistake, this is not a “how to manual” for new church start, ministry with and to Millennials and Gen Z, or how to be a hip fun pastor at a growing church. Instead it’s a highly vulnerable look at what it looks like to do the work of ministry in a specific context, with a specific people–with a calling from God. It’s messy and honest while being grounded in a sense of joy for this work of ministry–a rare combo.

We Were Spiritual Refugees is an account of what the church might look like in the future—relationship (rather than institution) centered, no bullshit, embracing of all God’s beloved children. Several times I caught myself thinking “I would LOVE to be a part of this church.” In other words, it gave me hope.

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