Who Stole My Church?

This article highlights the conversation at a "Discovery Group" meeting between Gordon Macdonald, a pastor and the editor at large of Leadership Journal. There has been much written on the time of transition in which we live…a time when the dominant worldview is shifting from "modern" to "postmodern" and the challenges that result from the overlap of such contrasting views in society. Macdonald's article, however, provides a helpful image…one of a real-life conversation in a congregation that is becoming aware of, and trying to face the coming reality that the world and the church is changing. the church as it was, as glorious and wonderful as it may have been (or is perceived to have been) will eventually no longer exist.

Macdonald proposes to this small group of congregation members (all with varying degrees of experience with and understanding of this cultural shift) that there is a revival going on across North America despite, or maybe because of, the changing worldview. He says, that people today are more open to talk about spirituality than they ever have been before. For the past 250 years, he says, people outside of the Christian faith predominantly rejected the notion of a spiritual reality. The opposite is true toady, with the note that spirituality is not necessarily referring to a Christian belief system. He goes on to explain that part of the shift is that individuals are recognizing that they are part of a much bigger reality connected through community. There has been much critique of the postmodern notion that there is no predefined absolute truth. Macdonald clarifies that a postmodernist, "claims that truth is really only what we see or experience from our perspective. And when a big enough number of us see or experience something in a similar way, then whatever that is becomes truth for us."

Finally, the conversation shifts to the subject of evangelism. How does one lead someone to Christ in a postmodern world? Macdonald offers no easy answer, but encourages the group to consider that the "old ways" are no longer working. He says, we should follow the example of the apostle Paul. "When he ventured out beyond the world of Jews and began mixing it up with Gentiles and pagan oriented people, he found new and fresh ways to explain who Jesus was and why people shoul organize their lives around him."

For the modern pastor or church goer this article would likely be frustrating. It would strike a cord with their reality, but would be frustrating none-the-less. It isn't a practical guide with how-to steps to becoming adept at navigating what it means to be the Church in a time such as this. But I think that is the point. The step-by-step guides don't work, because the reality is that each context is unique and the shift to postmodernism isn't happening in an easily measurable, uniform fashion. Macdonald, even though he ends with a quip about how it's no wonder younger pastors prefer to start new churches, because changing one is tough, models a necessary conversation. many churches and small group communities are good at lamenting about how things used to be and the glory days of the congregation, but many are either unaware of the coming reality or unwilling to recognize the fact that things WILL NEVER BE THE SAME! No one expects change and understanding to happen overnight, but the conversation must begin somewhere and it must begin now. The article never really resolves. We don't find out what happens to this small group or what landmark changes they are considering or have made and the kingdom impact those decisions are making. The article simply ends with the end of the meeting and with a restless pastor scribbling reflections in his journal. What a perfect way to end such an article! The conversation must continue. The journey will be long, but for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the world we must keep talking with each other, seeking to learn and grow and understand who we are called to be as the Church.

Macdonald Gordon. 2008. Who Stole My Church? When the church you love tries to enter the 21st century, Leadership Journal Winter 2008. 89-92

4 thoughts on “Who Stole My Church?

  1. Too much focus on ‘entertainment’ like music. How much impact will this book really have? This book is in vogue today and will most probably fade in the years to come. I can only imagine many book-worm pastors suggesting this book as a must read since it sidesteps the critical need to really care for one another and engage in true fellowship. We have become so inwardly focused….focused on ourselves…rarely truly caring about our congregates and definitely NOT those external to the church.

  2. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right. I have not read the book, my post was about the article alone. Maybe it didn’t come across in my post, but I was actually praising the article and the way MacDonald is modeling HEALTHY and NECESSARY conversation.
    I encounter a lot of people who say they are interested in “conversation” but what they really mean is that they want to have a chance to talk…not listen. Those of us who are “emerging” leaders in the church miss out on a golden opportunity to learn from and be challenged by those who have gone before us. I’m not sure how Andrew jumped to “entertainment” from my post, or the article, or the book, but he did, and maybe he will be willing to clarify what he meant.
    The only part of the article I didn’t like was his quip about young pastors wanting to start new churches since I am a person beginning that journey right now. Hopefully, however, I can find a seasoned pastor like MacDonald who will be willing to mentor me along the way.
    Anyway. Thanks for you input.
    Peace,
    Brian

  3. It’s obvious that neither of you have read the book. The “article” was simply one of the chapters in the book and didn’t deal with all of the topics the rest of the book does. Therefore, I disagree with Andrew. The book has so little to do with entertainment and so much more to do with how real people deal with real change. I just wish I were as wise as the pastor in the book …

  4. I loved this book; it’s the first book I have read straight through (in only 2 days!) in years. As the characters developed, I certainly recognized them as members of present and previous congregations. I have been frustrated with their convictions that the old way is the best way; but McDonald helped me to understand them a little bit better. I can now appreciate their reasons for wanting to hang on to what is familiar and, to them, sacred. I have more compassion for them, but I have to find a way to help them move into the future, just as McDonald did in the book. I have to be patient and work through a process, or I will be the biggest impediment to the very changes I want to see happen and that need to take place.
    Thank you, Gordon McDonald, for writing this book. I plan to buy several copies and hand them out to my leaders.

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