do the ends justify the means: continued

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.

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5 thoughts on “do the ends justify the means: continued

  1. Randy, every once in a while you hit close to what I try with my meager language skills to articulate.

    “They are leaving the church to perserve their faith!”

    Pretty powerful statement!!!

    “to live in spiritual adulthood by impacting the world around them.”

    It’s the essence of the MESSAGE—the MESSAGE—the MESSAGE!!!!!

    In my view, focusing on the “person”, the “persona” or however you want phrase it of Jesus on a constant ongoing Sunday after Sunday makes for Christian LITE.

    I stay with the message—the RED PRINT— I read it daily and don’t study it any more, but rather read a passage and drop out of my mind down behind my heart and reflect, contemplate, meditate, find the Stillness and try to deepen my understanding of what Jesus was teaching.

    Randy, by the third time I read this post, it (you) had my juices flowing.

    I have no idea of where church is going to end up on its present course, but maybe my fifteen year old granddaughter says it better than I can.

    “Good things fall apart, so better things can fall together. Better things fall apart so the best of things can stay together.”

  2. Interesting quotes from Reggie McNeal.
    My 2 cents: I’ve been in the church all of my life from Presbyterian to Charismatic to Southern Baptist (and how I wish I could return to my Presbyterian roots and assist the efforts of Tim Keller in NYC–my wife hates NYC).
    Now, My 2 cents: The failure i perceive in the Church in my generation is the failure to equip the everyday, non-professional saints for ministry. When denominations subtly and relentlessly professionalized Christian ministry, the equipping function of the Pastor, which is primary per Ephesians, got lost in the gathering. I, for one, am here in the DC area agitating Southern Baptist Pastors to refocus their attention and money on planting ministries to engage their members rather than on planting more churches (the Southern Baptist rabid passion) which further professionalizes the Ministry. Let’s give our members (especially all of the retiring members with time on their hands) the money, tools, leadership and organization to engage a hurting, chaotic, unbelieving world.

  3. thanks for the kind words, john. your granddaughter is a budding philosopher!

    and i appreciate your perspective, ed. i, too, am grieved about the idea of planting churches that become part of a broken system. and i love the idea of mobilizing retired ministers. why don’t you run for district office?

  4. Can I just simply say, “Amen”.

    I am currently seeking a new church home because of the very reasons that Reggie pointed out. I don’t want the gathering to be the only point, and when I do gather, I want to be sure we are focusing on the right things.

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