As a young pastor of several years, I am not surprised when people come up to me and say, “We should have more of....” Maybe it is hymns, or quieter music, or spiritual formation, or discipleship, or being more missional. And I humbly admit that I also have my own biases or should we say my own passions that come from my own unique journey.
That is all to say, this book by Reggie McNeal resonates with my passion for people with a missional faith. That we should be more missional. To survive as a church in this modern western world, we need a huge paradigm shift of being missional. “Missional” is the buzz word today for outreach, evangelism, holistic gospel, and more. So it’s broad meaning can get lost in its overuse. I would define it as the incarnational reality of Christ naturally lived out to others, especially those far from God. Or more simply, Christ in us loving others far from God. If there is any word that I might add to it, it might be “intentional.” And that is what I believe McNeal’s bullhorn call is, an intentional missional living.
A Wake Up call:
I would have to agree with McNeal’s urgent cry for the church to wake up. Times have changed and we are losing our relevant engagement with the culture. As McNeal says the church “has largely forsaken its missional covenant with God to be a part of kingdom expansion. It has, instead, substituted its own charter of church as a clubhouse where religious people hang out with other people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them.” McNeal points out that only 26% of Americans go to church. Being from Denver-Metro area, I would guess that the figure is around 15-25%. Pretty dismal when you think about it and even more depressing considering that the rate lowers drastically for the younger generations. The reality is that as McNeal says, “Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world - people outside the church think church is for church people, not for them.”
- Not a how-to book. Personally, I think that church-model or church growth strategies (how-to philosophies) can be blasphemous. We reduce God and his blessing to a formula. If you just do A,B, and C then God will bless you. I do think strategies can be helpful but they need to be God given, Spirit inspired, and locally relevant - and common sense helps too.
- I believe that the ‘Church should not be a clubhouse’ mentality is helpful. When we make decisions towards services, ministries, events, how much do we think of those outside the church.
- McNeal observes an interesting contrast between the Pharisees evangelism strategy and Jesus strategy. The Pharisees would say, “Come and get it” and be like us. They would withdraw from people in attempt to not be contaminated. While Jesus strategy was “Go get ‘em” and was known as welcoming sinners and eating with them. Sadly, our churches act more like the people that Jesus despised.
- A couple ideas for missional living. 1) Don’t build buildings for yourself but partner with the community in something the community can use as well. Partner with a YMCA or rent out an existing space. 2) Adopt a school: help with literacy classes, mentor and tutor students. 3) Get out there: instead of meeting as a small group or class in the church, meet in a restaurant or coffee shop. You never know what God could do.
- This missional paradigm shift takes changing the score card. The success of the church is not wrapped in buildings, budgets, and butts, but celebrating people being sent our or out-reaches within the community.
- McNeal has some great thoughts about life coaching towards spiritual formation. He says, “Instead of dumping a packet of church club member stuff on them, why not interview them about what they would like to see happen in their lives in terms of their spiritual development and personal growth.” He has a great analogy of walking into a YMCA and being intimidated by all those contraptions of torture to having someone walk alongside him and dialoguing about how to live a healthy life...and even use those machines to what spiritual coaching could look like.
- In speaking about vision and values, McNeal says, “It is critical that heroes be made of the right people and the right ministries that embody the vision and values of the congregation.”
- If there is any weakness that I see in this book, it might be the consulting feel closer to the end of the book. The book does an excellent job of not reducing God to “to do list” or a “sure-win formula.” McNeal talks about changing the scorecard which I believe at a philosophical level is essential but as he starts to focus on missional results, it has a modernistic feel to it. I think it is great to aim towards God transforming results but ultimately I need to leave it in God’s hands.
“Missionless religion that calls itself Christianity is an affront to God, however it styles itself.”