when i am blogging (as i currently am) about church leadership and the problems church leaders face, i am acutely aware that many of my most loyal readers might be asking, “so what’s the point?” i have a couple of motivations for writing about the church…
1. there may be some young ministers visiting this space that could potentially benefit from my wisdom (if they will avoid making the same stupid mistakes to which i regularly confess).
2. the american church is in flux and the form we choose (and, believe me, we are choosing) will impact our effectiveness for generations to come.
so if this subject matter is boring to you, please bear with me…we’ll get back to the comedy in the days to come.
yesterday, i wrote about the heated blog debate among church leaders who love jesus, but have divergent perspectives when it comes to church methodology and worship styles. if you missed it, read it here (and, by all means, read the comments!). today i want to share another perspective.
reggie mcneal, missional leadership specialist for the leadership network, was interviewed in the most recent issue of enrichment journal. the article was entitled, “engaging the church in god’s redemptive mission.” please allow me to share a couple of quotes from the article:
EJ: You state that church leaders are asking the wrong questions to solve today’s church problems. What should they be asking?
McNeal: Church leaders are asking: How can we get our church to grow? How can we get people to come to church? How can we create better church members? To me the most important questions are: What is God up to in the world? How can we join God’s work in our community? How can we turn members into missionaries so we can deploy them rather than simply assimilate them? How can we create better followers of Jesus rather than thinking about simply creating better churches? How can we have better communities rather than simply creating better churches?
EJ: In the past 25 years, what has been the No. 1 failure of the church?
McNeal: To create genuine followers of Jesus. We have been good at creating church members. We have been good at creating conversions into church culture and church lifestyle templates. But Jesus invites people to be His followers. This means we need to find out where He is going. To clamor after Him does not mean I must set aside my beliefs. Following Jesus is more than teaching people what to believe and how to participate in and support the church. I measure following Jesus by how closely I am following Him. This takes me into the streets.
EJ: In The Present Future, you state, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.” Explain.
McNeal: I need to follow this statement with something even more provocative to make sure we do not miss the point. It seems we created a pattern of pulling people back to places of spiritual birth instead of releasing them — as the ongoing incarnation of Jesus — to live in spiritual adulthood by impacting the world around them. I am not saying the gathered church is irrelevant or should not happen. But we have made the gathering the point. The gathering was not supposed to be the point. The gathering was supposed to celebrate how God was showing up in our lives away from church.
Instead, we have shrink-wrapped our notion of what God is doing in the world by assessing the health of the gathering. Did the worship go well? How many showed up? Did the choir get their stuff done? Did the band do well? Was the PowerPoint good? Was the sermon good? We act as if these things have an impact on the health of the Kingdom and God’s activity in the world.
We have done this for so long it feels normal.
the comment that most resonates with me is where mcneal says, “we have made the gathering the point.” it seems to me that is the crux of the problem (and i am speaking as a church leader). my peers judge my effectiveness based on my answer to the question, “how many is your church runnin’?” consequently (because i do not want to appear ineffective), i do whatever i have to do to get more people in my building on sundays. sadly, they are not being transformed and many of them fall through the cracks in our community, but at least i can answer my colleagues proudly.
i contend that the vast majority of the church’s mission takes place (or is supposed to take place) outside the weekend service and away from our campus. there is no way we can meet the people’s need for fellowship or discipleship in a couple of hours on sunday. and i hope most of my people’s worship takes place during the week. and when did it become standard for most conversions to happen in the church meeting, rather than in the marketplace?
the weekend meeting is important, but it is not the main thing. do you agree? and if so, how do we change it? more on this topic next time.