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.