I have mixed feelings about this book, but that is primarily because – prior to reading it – I had a huge misunderstanding about what this book was supposed to be.
When I first heard about Church of the Small Things, it was via a promotional email I receive from a group that produces online Bible study materials. The book was marketed, essentially, as a Christian look at “the small things,” as a book that wants to dig into the notion that God is at work in the most minute details and that the seemingly-insignificant acts of our lives. It appealed to me, the idea of holiness inherent to bed-making and car-driving and cubicle-working, and so I grabbed the book as soon as I could.
I wasn’t expecting a Priscilla Shirer or Beth Moore study per se, but I didn’t quite anticipate the book would turn out to be: Shankle’s account of many stories from her life, interspersed here and there with light and periodic allusions to the notion that God uses and works through the most seemingly insignificant circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a bad book. It is, first of all, funny. In several places I actually put the book down to laugh out loud. Although some aspects of the distinct “Texas, ya’ll!” humor didn’t quite hit with me, I chalk that up to personal preference rather than lack of skill on Shankle’s part. And it is a well-written book, in the sense that Shankle’s stories are well-told and wonderfully descriptive. Each chapter has quippy attached section of things Shankle wishes she’d known at that phrase of her life, and many of them made me chuckle. By the end of it, I felt I’d gotten to know her and her family, and I teared up over her story about her best friend Jen, who passed away in 2016 from cancer.
My struggle with the book I largely credit to this: I went in expecting Shankle’s stories to be the jumping-off point for chewy thoughts about God and His presence in the small things, and what I received were largely Shankle’s stories intermixed with a few fairly light Scriptural observations. Though Shankle integrates the Scripture well, it isn’t what I would call a heavily Scriptural book, nor is it intended to inspire study or deep reflection.
But that, I think, is a marketing problem. It’s just a shame because, in the last two chapters, I got a glimpse of what might have been: Shankle takes a deeper dive there into thoughts on God and faith and work and “the small things.” These accounts – especially of the courage it took to start a new church plant with her family – are interesting and meaningful, and Shankle hints at some thoughtful observations at how we can end up hidebound by tradition and how we overlook the holiness inherent in the small mundane acts of life. I can see, in the brief pauses for reflection between Shankle’s stories, the outlines of another book that I’d also like very much to read.
But this book has its own purpose, and it serves that purpose well. If you want something fun to read or laugh at, it’s possible you’ll enjoy Church of the Small Things, as long as its distinctly Texas-flavored Southern-evangelical sense of humor aligns with yours. The book also has a lot of good and thoughtful stories, and it’s a quick and easy read. But don’t make the mistake, as I did, of expecting the book to be heavy on spiritual reflection or Scriptural analysis – that’s not what it’s there to do. If only the marketing materials had made that clear!