The Present Future

In this provocative book, author, consultant, and church leadership developer Reggie McNeal debunks these and other old assumptions and provides an overall strategy to help church leaders move forward in an entirely different and much more effective way. In The Present Future, McNeal identifies the six most important realities that church leaders must address including: recapturing the spirit of Christianity and replacing "church growth" with a wider vision of kingdom growth; developing disciples instead of church members; fostering the rise of a new apostolic leadership; focusing on spiritual formation rather than church programs; and shifting from prediction and planning to preparation for the challenges of an uncertain world. McNeal contends that by changing the questions church leaders ask themselves about their congregations and their plans, they can frame the core issues and approach the future with new eyes, new purpose, and new ideas. (Amazon.com)

I have listened to Reggie McNeal's podcast through http://leadershipbuzz.com for about a year now and I have found him to be a refreshing, no-holds-barred voice for healthy, missional change in the Church. "The Present Future: Six tough Questions for the Church" is no different. The book begins with McNeal making a case for the needed "missional" shift in North American church culture. His conclusions may be written by some as fatalistic and sensationalized, but despite his grim outlook on the preominant church culture in North America, underneath the stats and stories is a sense of hope; hope that the Church can become more like what Jesus had in mind, and that this "missional shift" may actually come from movements outside of what we have traditionally called church.

MacNeal poses six tough questions for the Church by first identifying the "wrong questions" that the church has been asking. The first "wrong question" he identifies is "How do we do church better?" The modern church has preoccupied itself with, "methodological pursuits while not facing the hard truth: none of this seems to be making much of a difference." (7) Churches have poured their resources in to buildings and rec centers and fancy equipment and shiny packages, focusing on an attractional model and methodology. "If we build it, and if we build it good, they will come." The scorecard has been based on how many people we can get plugged in to our programs and in the pews at our worship services. The problem, according to McNeal (and I agree), is that often the church has only succeed in contributing to the busyness of people's already busy lives. We have tried to program spirituality and keep it in a nice, convenient, easy to measure package. McNeal argues, "Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spirituality." (7) The better question, according to McNeal, is How Do We Convert from Churchianity to Christianity? He argues that in North America, "to become a Christian has become largely an invitation to convert to the church." (11) There is a lot that we need to unlearn in order to recapture the mission of the Church.

To be continued…

Summoned to Lead

sumoned.jpegLeaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances, and those who rise to the occasion are leaders. A retelling of the Ernest Shackleton story to showcase the fine arts of leadership that emerged from his failed expedition. (From the Zondervan Website)

Initially I struggled to engage with this book. It is drastically different than any other leadership material that I have read previously. While much of my previous reading on leadership has left me uninspired at best, I think it has somehow shaped my expectations of what leaders are going to communicate about leadership. Summoned to Lead, however was quite different. It wasn't the typical stuff about the divine fusion of vision and mission and 10 practical steps about how to become a effective leader. It wasn't a business model that substituted the word "kingdom" for "marketplace" or "church growth" for "profit margin." Instead, Sweet builds his work on leadership around the metaphor of "acoustic leadership" as opposed to "visionary leadership." The basic idea behind this metaphor is that Jesus gave us the Great Commission which is his vision for the Church. Sweet argues that the Church spends far too much time looking for a vision statement of its own when clearly Jesus is the vision. He argues that visions are heard, not seen. Like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, by the time you see it, it’s too late. Moses heard the burning bush before he saw it. We often don’t see because we can’t hear.

Sweet maintains the "acoustic leadership" metaphor throughout the book, sometimes to its detriment, but he comes to some helpful considerations for leadership in the church. He says that we are to be Missional, Relational, Incarnational (MRI)

We are Missional which means we have to get away from the idea that the Church is to be a "safe" place for Christians to take refuge. Sweet asks, "Are you taking risks? Is your church a safe place to take risks?"

  • We are not venture capitalists, we are venture conceivers.
  • The ultimate risk is not to take any.
  • The more risk we take, the more likely we are to survive.
  • “A church that should be bursting with creativity is basking in boredom.”
  • We need a theology of risk, which is best found in the parable of the talents.
  • We are Relational

  • Many churches are not designed for relationships. The more vicarious our relationships are online, the more we hunger for "real" relationships.
  • In the church, we have become propositional communities, not relational communities. And we are some of the last ones to “get” this.
  • The world steals our best lines because we don’t know we have them. Chase Bank: “The right relationship is everything.”
  • We are Incarnational

  • Dwell withing the culture until you find your dwelling in that culture.
  • Like water, take the shape of whatever you’re in without changing the nature of what you are.
  • There are certain aspects of the gospel that we will never understand until it is incarnated in culture.
  • All cultures need Christ incarnated… even postmodern culture. We must open ourselves to receive Christ in all these cultures.
  • Colonial is taking Jesus so you can be like me. Incarnational is finding Jesus already there.

Christianity for the Rest of Us

I have just finished part one of Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler-Bass.  The book is the result of her work in studying thriving mainline churches.  It is often argued that mainline churches are in decline (which statistically is true) and that conservative evangelical churches are on the rise.  These poles are thus attributed to the "liberal" mainline's "inattentiveness to scripture" and "worldly spirituality", leading many evangelicals to believe that all mainline protestant churches will fade away (some claiming that this is God-ordained.)  Butler-Bass, however, has identified numerous mainline churches that are functioning counter to this trend, not by embracing conservative evangelical theology and practice, but by reclaiming their tradition (not traditionalism), taking the Bible seriously (but not always literally…in a fundamentalist sense), and exercising a deep commitment to spiritual practices both communally and personally.

The first part of the book is simply story telling.  She asks the question (and offers her perspective) of, "What happened to the Neighborhood Church?"  While the church of our grandparents will never return…the world is simply too different…Butler-Bass, through her interactions with these congregations, believes that a new kind of mainline church is emerging.  This "emerging" church is one that joins with pilgrims on their spiritual journey, creating new homes and families along the way.

More to come…