Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Michael Thompson

Library.jpg Reggie McNeal, Reggie McNeal,  Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009). 

Reviewed by Michael C Thompson, who blogs at Grasshoppers Dreaming
Sitting at a recent church conference at which Reggie McNeal was the featured speaker, I remember this excited and humor-filled preacher unapologetically declare, “The church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a church.”  I knew immediately that what he had said was right, and that it would require a paradigm shift for most leaders and congregations in Western evangelicalism.  
The truth of the matter is that church simply isn’t working according to the plans and strategies of the Western world, even though we are “doing church” better today than ever before.  The explosions of faith that are happening (and they are happening at staggering rates) are coming in places like Africa, India and China.  Pentecost is still being actualized in our world, even though it is lost within much of our own borders.

It is on this state of affairs that former pastor, speaker and church consultant Reggie McNeal offers Missional Renaissance.  In one sense this is a follow-up to his book The Present Future (2004), where he begins to challenge the church culture of our modern world.  For many church leaders that book articulated much of what they themselves were feeling about the church.  Now, McNeal wants to push the conversation further with an investigation on what it means for the church to become missional rather than institutional.

              Let me say this outright: This book is a must-read for Jesus-Creeders.  It is a natural follow-up to the concepts which are laid forth in the continual command of loving God and loving others, and sees the external movement of God on every page of Scripture – making biblical exposition necessarily linked to kingdom work.  In McNeal’s own words, “The missional movement understands that both truth and love must be present to reflect the whole heart of God for people” (32).  Demonstrations of the gospel must now take precedence over proclamation of the gospel in order for our culture to grab hold of it.

              The book itself is structured around A Missional Manifesto (Chapter Two), and then three paradigm shifts which emerge from the concept of a missional church.  After each of the three “Missional Shifts” there is a subsequent chapter which challenges church leaders to “change the scorecard” of what it means to be successful in this new era of being the church.  These chapters are important, for they provide a natural and necessary link to what missional church ideology might look like when manifested in the local congregation.

              The Missional Manifesto of Chapter Two is McNeal’s description of what a missional church looks like.  Admittedly, there is some difficulty in providing an adequate explanation for a movement which is defined only by the limitless bounds of the Holy Spirit, but McNeal’s attempt is a good one: “. . . the missional church is the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world” (24, emphasis in original).  This way of thinking is particularly challenging for those of us who have grown up in church, and who retain certain particular ideas of what church should look like and how it should approach its mission.  However, it is clear that such an approach has not yielded the fruits of the kingdom, more often leading to communities which wait for the world to come to them than taking the gospel into the world.  (Remember, Jesus said we would still be in the world.)

              The first “Missional Shift” is From an Internal to an External Focus (Chapter Three).  Here McNeal challenges the church to envisioning the church as something that people go do once a week to something that believers embody in every moment (44-45).  He goes so far as to summon congregations to “quit evangelizing” (47) – a semi-tongue-in-cheek statement intended to shake our understanding of what it means to reach people with the kingdom.  The goal of this shift is to move from congregations that are “attractional” to “incarnational” (49ff.).

              The second “Missional Shift” is From Program Development to People Development (Chapter Five), which probably scares most church leaders to near-death.  Simply explained, McNeal posits that our current attempts at church limit the opportunities of engagement and spiritual growth, by 1) limiting the opportunities to grow (only one hour per week for Bible study), 2) limiting the availability to serve (only church activities are using spiritual gifts), 3) limiting engagement with God (worship gatherings being overly focussed on watching faith being done by the ‘ministers’).  This desperately needs to change into a development of people for kingdom work.

              The third “Missional Shift” is From Church-Based to Kingdom-Based Leadership (Chapter Seven).  One of the big questions which McNeal raises here is what would happen if pastors moved from being “Directors” who are project managers to “Producers” who coordinate and provide opportunities for others to engage in kingdom work (139-141).  Again, I can think of many pastors and church leaders who would shudder at the loss of control and prominence in their congregations.  But, doesn’t that reaction help prove McNeal’s concerns as valid more than not?

              At the conclusion of Chapter Seven, McNeal offers a section of “Frequently Asked Questions” in which he briefly responds to many issues and concerns which he repeatedly hears as he interacts with church leadership.  I will admit that I have some of the same questions in my mind . . . and a few of the same concerns.  Yet, the vibrance and vitality of the type of church which he describes, modeled with the same Spirit which was unleashed on the first believers and still demonstrated in places around the globe, cries out to the longing soul that there is something more for the church.  There is something greater for the people of God who want to see the mission fulfilled.

              One of McNeal’s introductory points is that “God doesn’t postpone his mission, waiting for the church to ‘get it'” (36).  The work of the kingdom was ongoing before we started holding our congregational meetings, and it will continue on even though all of our church lie dusty and empty.  The unpredictable and unstoppable Spirit of God continues to move forward, and is not waiting for our modern evangelicalism to figure it out.  Thus, appeals the author, we have to change our focus and get on board if we want to participate in this reality.  When the church gathered together in Acts 15 to make critical decisions for the commu
nity, it wasn’t as if the Spirit of God paused and waited to see what was going to become of the Gentile Christians – the kingdom moves and we must constantly struggle to keep up (what a tremendous struggle that would be, right?).

              Thus, while there might be some finer points of theology and exegesis which we could examine as we pulled this book apart, it appears that McNeal has a solid grasp on what Scripture is summoning from the people of God.  Simply, this is because he works from the foundational step of loving God – loving others as the key to biblical wisdom and devotion.  Perhaps there are questions and scenarios which he will not be able to answer, nor will his thoughts about church fill in all of the gaps that exist in a world of unending possibilities.  But rather than provide us with a methodology or programming that yields great promises of ecclesiastical proportions, he desires to see the church become the people of God that experience the wild imagination of his Spirit at work in the world he made and has promised to redeem.

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posted July 31, 2010 at 1:55 pm

The writer said: “I knew immediately that what he had said was right, and that it would require a paradigm shift for most leaders and congregations in Western evangelicalism.”
The more I read the Jesus Screed, the more I learn that Western evangelicalism has been doing everything wrong for centuries. Not quite all, but almost, every post and every comment points out the shortcomings of individual churches, the institutional church, conservative believers, etc., etc., etc. Jesus must be really ticked off. Well, not at you, of course. You’re on the correct side. But he’s got to be pissed at all the Southern Baptists who have really screwed up what he was saying. I may quit going go church and just commune with nature. That seems to be the right thing to do.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for speaking up and pushing back. I agree with you: the last few weeks especially have been heavy on evangelicalism, though I’m not as sure it has been that heavily against. Brad Wright’s book showed the criticism of much of evangelicalism is not rooted in the best evidence. But Wilkens and Thorsen’s book has been a critique of how many think of evangelicalism, and it is an attempt to expand our perceptions of evangelicalism.
I think you will admit the Bible studies in the middle of the day are always positive.
I apologize if you think we’ve been too critical, and pushing back is always welcome. I’m always open to positive responses to what you think are negative ideas, and often that positive pushback can reframe the discussion.

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David Grant

posted July 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I love Reggie and have heard him speak on these topics. His teaching has profoundly impacted my thinking.
Why is it that I struggle with this statement?
“. . . the missional church is the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world”
Perhaps it has something to do with “partnering”. I hate to be picky but isn’t the church being transformed by God? I’m not sure God really needs our help.

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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I’m not in that “partnering” language either, though I suspect I’ve used it, but let me explain what I think is meant:
It is more about joining what God is doing than God joining us or needing us for his work. Though don’t forget that God entrusts his gospel work to cracked Eikons or clay pots.

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Bill Donahue

posted July 31, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Scot, I loved this book, and I believe Reggie is spot on. I read this some time ago and called him up to chat. I totally agree with his section on “changing the scorecard for the church” — What if we did not list in our bulletins how much $$ was collected last week compared to budget, but listed instead what we GAVE AWAY compared to budget. That might be eye-opening. And likely would be a first for many.
As for partnering with God, the Bible is replete with invitations from God to join his work. He has “put us in trust with the gospel” according to 1 Thessalonians 2:4. WOW. God is in control and never ceases to be the “Senior Partner” (if I may use that analogy). But he includes us to share in his work — even giving us responsibility and authority to carry on the mission (greater works than these shall you do…and go ye therefore into the world and make disciples… Who? Us? Really?) Amazing. His is way beyond good.

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posted July 31, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Does the church you attend post how much they gave compared to budget? If so, how do people respond to that? If not, why not?
Any thoughts on why people (staff and congregants alike) are less interested in how much is given away and more interested in how much in earned?
Any thoughts on why church leaders choose to accept salaries far greater in sum than that of the average attendant of their congregation?
I have been thinking about these questions recently and would like any feedback anyone can offer.
Thank you,

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Jerry Sather

posted August 1, 2010 at 9:47 am

Having been a pastor/chaplain for over 20 years, I may be getting a bit cynical. But this seems to me to be just a rehash of things we were talking about 20 years ago. Evangelicalism inertia seems to great to budge.

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kevin s.

posted August 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I think churches keep reprint budgeting figures in order to be accountable. If churches are earning far more than their budget demands, then there is a fair question of how that money is being used. I’ve never seen it as a manner of keeping score.
“Any thoughts on why people (staff and congregants alike) are less interested in how much is given away and more interested in how much in earned?”
Most churches I have been to regularly tout the results of outreach and giving events. Is this not the norm? Maybe it’s a Midwest thing.
“Any thoughts on why church leaders choose to accept salaries far greater in sum than that of the average attendant of their congregation?”
Depends on the leader. Many (Rick Warren, for example) also give away a far greater percentage of their salary than the average attendant. However, some are certainly satisfied to keep the money, and I find that problematic. The bible says pastors should be compensated, but to exceed the average salary of the attendees on order of magnitude is a bit much.
That said, I don’t know that this is a fair critique of Western evangelicalism. Average pastor salaries do not, by any metric I was able to locate, exceed that of the average church attendee. And there are many unpaid or part-time pastors who sacrifice the opportunity to have a full-time job to do what they do.
Here in America, there is a great deal of “market saturation”. Christianity has taken hold amongst large swaths of the culture, and citizens have had their opportunity to embrace or reject it. Not so in other nations, where Christianity stands out as a respite from oppressive regimes and religions.

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Brad Boydston

posted August 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I read it. The “scorecard” metaphor is strong. I liked that. However, a lot of the details and stories seemed dated. I felt like I was reading a “church growth” consultant book from the 80’s — only updated for the latest thing. I don’t know that it really added anything new to the conversation. Introducing the Missional Church by Roxburgh and Boren covers a lot of the same territory at a little deeper level.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed the book as well. My review is much briefer but just as favorable at

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posted August 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm

@ Kevin,
Thank for the response.
You’re absolutely right churches do “tout” giving… this is unnecessary since giving is part of the Christ-Follow job description.
I think I am addressing a more general audience. I am questioning the larger, more “popular”, well-known churches. Pastors at these institutions are not, by any means, scraping by. If they are, it is because they are behind on that third car payment, and on their best buy card after purchasing the LED big screen.
Rick Warren is an interesting example. I really like what the ministry he oversees is doing. It is easy to reverse-tithe, however, when you sell 30 million books and your 10 percept salary is six or seven figures.
My questions are also meant for the other churches who don’t fit the category of mega, or well-known.
What are we striving for? What models are we imitating? What is the structure of our culture? What do the MAJORITY of our funds go to – building projects, lights and sound, salaries and benefits – ?
My questions were also meant to explore what people in churches care about… the mission of Christ or the expansion of their particular church and its brand?
Again, thanks for your response.
I think these are critical questions and we must be honest about the answers.

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David Grant

posted August 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

Hey Bill,
Many church’s struggle with teaching moralism. That’s why I’m struggling with the word “partnering”. The applications from our sermons tend to lean towards what we can do for God rather than what God has done on our behalf.
I prefer language of John 15 to describe fruitful mission. Perhaps partnering is the same things as abiding, but in a time when people interpret teaching with trying harder I believe it’s important that we use language that encourages people think about God working first in them then through them.
It is Christ in the church transforming the church that gives the church the power and desire to even care about mission.
Thanks for the dialogue.

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