I want to close out this outreach series with a review of a book by Reggie McNeal called “The Present Future – Six Tough Questions for the Church”. Actually, the book should be entitled “Six Realities that need to be overcome”. Mr. McNeal is the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. I want to up front admit that this is not a comfortable book to read if you are a North American practicing Christian. So I guess it is appropriate that my review of it comes out an uncomfortable day (Tax Day). I think Mr. McNeal’s purpose in writing the book is to try and shake to the core our being comfortable with how things are with the church. But if you are willing to sometimes see yourself in a not very Jesus like light you should read the book. While I do not agree with all the logic he uses to make his points, the book is worth reading because there are valid issues raised by his list. Here are the six realities that he presents:
- The Collapse of the Church Culture
- The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
- The New Reformation: Releasing God’s People
- The Return to Spiritual Formation
- The Shift from Planning to Preparation
- The Rise of Apostolic Leadership
I will spend the next couple of post going through some of this list. Let’s do the first one now.
The Collapse of the Church Culture
This Chapter starts off with the following statement:
“The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a pervious world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations come from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.”
These are indeed pretty blunt statements. But I think, if we really face it there is an agonizing ring to these words. He goes on to say that he is talking about the church culture, not the death of the church that Jesus founded. The church established by Jesus will indeed be there when he returns. What he is really talking about what he calls the unique culture in North America that has come to be called the “church”. He goes into quite a bit of statistics to show the above point. I will not cover those as some are the same as I have given in previous posts.
In solution to this diminishing attendance in church he goes on to say that the wrong question is: How do we do Church better? He basically makes the argument that when a church get larger the pastor, or pastors, have to spend so much time on non-spiritual matters that the true meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is lost in the process. Many American congregations are more fixated on growing their “church”.
Here is another striking quote from the book. “Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world — people outside of the church think church is for church people, not for them. We may have saturated the market of people who want to be part of the church culture, who want church the was we do it in North America.”
The basic point I think he is trying to make is that many churches in this country have lost the reason why they are supposed to exist. The missional fix as he calls it is as follows:
The appropriate response to the emerging world is rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than about style.
While I don’t agree with everything here I do believe that the “church” is too fixated on their traditions and current practices instead of the service and sacrifice that Jesus clearly show us. Jesus truly had the service mentality. We need to get back to some of the practices of the early church. That is taking stands that are not very comfortable to our current members and totally uncomfortable to the current cultural trends of today’s world.