a review of "the present future"
4/10/2006 10:13:00 PM
Reggie McNeal's book, The Present Future is an intentional piece to attempt to "galvanize church leaders to action before it's too late."(xvii-xviii) As McNeal sees it, the church in North America is on the brink of extension. As he puts it, the church is living on "life support" (1) McNeal's entire work is an attempt to wake church leaders up and make the realize that these realities. McNeal says, "I'm talking about the church world in North America. A world that has largely forsaken its missional covenant with God to be a part of kingdom expansion. It has, instead, substituted its own charter as a clubhouse where religious people hang with people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them." (xv) Simply stated, the church isn't doing missions anymore, but rather just does church activity. The club-house religion that McNeal is talking about are the churches that spend most of the their time and effort on themselves and not on the community surrounding them. The churches act more like exclusive clubs rather than places that want people to know about Jesus.

McNeal is the director of ldeadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He received his PhD. and M.Div from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has worked with numerous churches for over 20 years. 10 of those years were in various staff roles at different churches and 10 years as a senior pastor of a church. He teaches in the D.Min program at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Revolution in Leadership and A Work of the Heart in addition to the Present Future.

McNeal's entire book seems to be based dichotomy between ministry and missions. There seem to be, for McNeal at least, two places to be: the church building and the street. McNeal strongly delineates between ministry and missions and also institutions and movements. If churches have some how separated these pairs, then everything in McNeals book is true, and there is no need to write anymore. But if the pairs are inherently connected, there is a problem with McNeal's argumentation, and the entire book really misses the mark; he is addressing the wrong thing. Based on Matthew 28:19-20, there doesn't seem to be a disconnection between ministry and missions as well as institutions and movements. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus, tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. The imperative in the Greek is "make disciples." Making disciples seems to be an all-inclusive approach where the mission and ministry are really the same thing, and cannot be separated. The process put rather simply is proclaiming the gospel, bringing people into the church, and preparing those who are brought in to proclaim the gospel. This is very basic, but in essence is what the church is called to do. In terms of institutions and movements, these two are also mutually inclusive. The church, whether McNeal agrees or not, is an institution. It is a body of people with officers that fulfill ministerial needs and offer logistical support to the church's expansion. The expansion would be the movement, which is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. As the church ministers to the world, it gets more and better followers of Jesus. The church in Acts and beyond expanded through a series of church planting movements. A church planting movement is a movement to multiply the institution of the church to different areas. Trying to delineate between the movement and the institution doesn't seem to fit the motifs in the Bible. The real problem isn't that the church isn't doing missions, it's that the church has stopped functioning. It's not that the machine is breaking, it's that it already has somewhere. Also, this critique and McNeal's as well are speaking in generalities. There are many exceptions to what McNeal states. The purpose of stating this critique early on is because the framework of McNeal's book and the analysis of it hinges on the contentions.

Church Culture vs Culture in General

McNeal's book outlines six problems that the church in North America is facing. The first problem that McNeal states is there is strong separation between church culture and culture in general. McNeal states that, "Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spiritual vitality" (7) and he gives a laundry list of what the churches in North America are doing in terms of providing activities. Among these activities are small groups, contemporary worship, service marketing, focus on customer service, create a spiritual experience, and being seeker friendly. Although these things may seem outwardly focused, as McNeal sees it, the church has created segregated itself from culture by creating its own sub-culture and using the "come and get it" mentality. McNeal says, "Those who hold to this perspective (refuge mentality) frequently lament the loss of cultural support for church values and adopt and 'us-them' dichotomous view of the world. Those with a refuge mentality view the world outside the church as the enemy. Their answer is to live inside the bubble in a Christian subculture complete with its own entertainment industry. Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus." (9) Rather than getting people to come to Christ, churches have been come more focused on getting people to come to their churches. Following McNeal's thinking, he seems to draw a line between church and Christ or he is overlooking the fact church is where people meet Jesus. The church is the body of Christ, and in order to be a viable part of the body of Christ, one has to be connected to the body. McNeal is right in that he says that people need to be connected to Jesus, but people are best connected to Jesus through the church. Thus, it comes down to the intent of what the church is trying to do. If the intent of the church is bridge the divide between Jesus and people by using things like small groups and contemporary worship, then they should. These things done for the sake of doing these bites McNeal critique, but if these ministries are done with missional implications, then they don't bite his critique

Church Activity vs Community Transformation

The second problem that McNeal's book is seeing church growth as kingdom growth. McNeal's contention here is that churches are more interested in getting more people on the membership role than they are getting they are getting people to know McNeal says, "The church growth movement was a missiological response to the initial warning signs that the church in North America had lost its mission." (20) McNeal draws a line between "church activity" and "community transformation" It seems that McNeal is saying that Churches increase the number and qualities of their programs in order to attract more members to the church. The members are heavily involved internally, not externally. McNeal says this leads to busyness rather than transformed lives. This critique is only true if the church activities are strictly internally focused. Many church activities are geared more internally, but the intent is to meaningfully connect people to the body of Christ, not strictly to keep them busy. If activity is the end, not the means, then what McNeal says is true. Additionally. McNeal seem to ignore church activities that are outwardly focused. This seems to stems from his thinking that ministry and missions are somehow separated.

Ministers vs Missionaries

Directly related to the critique already given is McNeal's third contentions, the struggle between making more "ministers" and more "missionaries." McNeal says from experience, "Every time I see the slogan, 'every member a minister,' I cringe. It usually means that there has been a lot of effort put into getting church members to get onboard" (45). McNeal later follows this with the question, "How do we deploy more missionaries into community transformation?" (48) One can cross apply the analysis given in the second problem and the original critique, except here, it should be applied the persons rather ministries. It seems that McNeal is restating the same problem from a different perspective. Following the problem, McNeal lists several suggestions for getting a church connected to the community. The suggestions are outwardly focused, and he seems to be implying they are missions as opposed to ministries.

Better Church Members vs Spiritual Transformation

McNeal states that the fourth problem is the tension between developing better church members and spiritual formation. In short, McNeal sees churches fitting their members into certain molds so that being a church member is about giving offering, church participation, and membership status. The churches are calling spiritual vitality with these things. Rather than developing better members, churches should have "life coaching" Life coaching is the practice of developing Christians to have good spiritual disciplines. McNeal lists worship, biblical truth applied to life and relationships, and ministering to others in the name of Jesus. This sounds a lot like Rick Warren in the Purpose Driven Life where he says people were created for worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions. McNeal's points are right if he being a good member is left to itself. The disciplines of being a good church member are inherently connected to spiritual discipline if churches teach them as such. The responsibility then lies in the hands of church leadership to teach church members how to do these things in such a way that they see them as being connected to spiritual formation and the purpose of going out and connecting more people to Jesus.

Preparing vs Planning

The fifth problem as McNeal's sees it is that churches do planning apart from God. McNeal says,"The difference between planning and preparedness is more than semantics in the biblical teaching. God does the planning; we do the preparing. It is God who declares: 'I know the plans I have for you,' he says in Jeremiah 29:11. He does not say, 'I am waiting for you to develop plans I can bless' "(95). Because of the differences between preparing and planning, McNeal goes onto explain that instead of planning, churches should catch visions and implement those visions. The problem here is that the Bible doesn't reveal how the church is going to reach the homeless population in New Orleans or plant a church in Alaska. This takes vision. This takes planning. It hardly seems that they are different, except maybe in a rhetorical since. Simply put, if vision and plans aren't God's plans, then they won't prosper.

Apostolic Leadership vs Other Forms of Leadership

The last critique McNeal gives is on leadership itself. McNeal is a renowned leadership developer. He function in the South Carolina Baptist Convention is leadership development. McNeal thinks that the form of leadership that church leaders need to embrace is apostolic leadership. McNeal describes apostolic leadership as follows: "The focus of apostolic leadership is not on office or gifts, but on content of leadership that responds to the new spiritual landscape by shaping a church movement that more resembles the world of Acts than America in the last half of the twentieth century." (125-126) He focus in on a "Learning Community" which connects "life to life" and "hearts to heart" (137) McNeal seems to want to make leaders the facilitators of groups embracing one another. This is what churches leaders are suppose to do. It doesn't require new buzzword to make it sound revolutionary.

Are Buzzwords Neccessary?

Apart from the original critique, the only thing that McNeal does that seems out of place is rhetoric. McNeal's stated purpose in writing the book was to be polemic, so that might be the reason he chose to write in the manner he did. It seems that McNeal uses as lot of buzzwords to make what he is saying something dynamic. Such wards are "post-congregational", (4) "missional" (all over), "transformational" (17), "organic community" (137), "chief learning officer" (118), "pre-Christians" (82), "life coach" (72), and "apostolic leadership" (125). In addition to a few new words, he seem to use a lot of postmodern ideology too. Among these are things like "journey" (xix) and "story" (xvi) which related to whole concept of meta-narratives and "movements" (16), "emerging" (23) which are related to deconstruction, decentralization, and de-institutionalization. Most of these words aren't used regularly in even in churches. When writers use this kind of rhetoric, they sound like they are coming up with new ideas.

Comments: 0
Post a Comment