Monday, August 06, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Present Future"

This post was first published here, March 3rd, 2009. It is an appropriate book for church leaders to re-think, re-evaluate, and re-new their church vision.


Reggie McNeal The Present Future
[Reggie McNeal, The Present Future, Jossey-Bass, 2003] 
TITLE: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)
AUTHOR: Reggie McNeal
PUBLISHER: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

What is the current state of the church? If the present churches were to continue in their current forms, what future will they have? Bleak and increasingly extinct. That is what church consultant and author Reggie NcNeal believes. In a provocatively written book, McNeal poses 6 wrong questions and counter them with 6 'tough' questions. The questions are tough because they are aimed at forcing a change in current forms of thinking about the church and its role. As we all know, old habits die hard, and hard habits need to be shaken up real bad before they can be altered. Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with existing paradigms. There is a visible pattern on some of the basic presuppositions of current ecclesiology:
  • When we do church 'right,' the church will naturally grow.
  • When the church grow, evangelism will expand
  • When evangelism expands, the world will be reached for God
  • All these meant that better planning for church 'growth' is the way to go.
Unfortunately, despite the most well-intentioned plans and programs, people are still not coming, save for temporal surges due to one-time events like disasters or terrible calamities affecting the wider community.

Briefly, the questions mentioned in the book are:

1) How do we do church better?[How do we Deconvert from churchianity to Christianity?]
2) How do we grow this Church?[How do we transform our community?]
3) How do we turn members into ministers?[How do we turn members into missionaries?]
4) How do we develop church members?[How do we develop followers of Jesus?]
5) How do we plan for the future?[How do we Prepare for the future?]
6) How do we develop leaders for Church work?[How do we develop leaders for Christian movement?]

These questions are meant to shift the old paradigms toward something which McNeal calls 'biblical Christianity.' What Reggie is saying is that the traditional church structure needs to adapt in at least six ways. The six shifts are:
  1. From Churchianity --> Christianity
  2. From Church Growth --> Kingdom Growth
  3. From Membership --> Missional
  4. From Church Development --> Followship of Christ (Spiritual Formation)
  5. From Planning --> Preparing for the Future
  6. From Developing Leaders for Church Work --> Leadership of the Christian Movement
I approach Reggie's ideas with an initial question: Is Reggie saying more of the same thing, with a different slant?

Brief Notes on the Book
1) First Reality: The Collapse of Church Culture
The first point is about refocusing on the Kingdom of God rather than the Church Empire. The trouble is, there are too many people equating kingdom-work with church-work and Reggie is spot on. Reggie's statement right from the start says it very well:
The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.
McNeal argues that this first point about moving back to 'biblical Christianity' from church-based ones is 'foundational' to the next five.

2) Second Reality: The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
This is not easily understood especially when the layperson does not see a difference between church and kingdom. Unless of course, one defines church as simply the institution or human structures and kingdom as something more God-centered. Reggie argues rightly that churches that base themselves on a consumer-type mentality, preparing programs simply to feed insatiable appetites of members are not really doing kingdom work. They are simply a spiritual aspect of the total consumerist culture. Ouch!

3) Third Reality: A New Reformation, Releasing God's People
This is partly related to the second point above, that people be freed from stifling church structures. The idea is that when people are liberated, they can do more kingdom work.

4) Fourth Reality: The Return to Spiritual Formation
This has to do with living both internal and external significant lives for God, rather than mere extrinsic toeing the line of basic church expectations.

5) Fifth Reality: The Shift from Planning to Preparation
The word 'planning' is more to describe a form of organizing activities merely for sustaining church or archaic building strategies.Instead, 'preparation' is key. This is a little strange as preparation does entails planning. I'm sure there is a better word to use, like 'old-paradigm plots.'

6) Sixth Reality: The Rise of Apostolic Leadership

This is a new twist to the phrase 'people of God as priesthood of all believers.'

My Comments
This is a book about Church. The theological word for it is ecclesiology.
Positively, Reggie has made some helpful observations about the current church environment. There is a need for the Church to change their mindsets surrounding church and the kingdom of God. Indeed, one cannot substitute church activities and call them fodder for spiritual growth. Creating activities may be part of the church life, but if done without a vision of what kingdom work means, it can easily wear out both paid staff and unpaid volunteers very quickly. While high in criticisms of the current traditional church, Reggie has a rather pessimistic view of the church in general. This leads us to some negative points about the book.

On a negative note, Reggie's work can easily be misconstrued as another attempt at church bashing. One can say that we already have lots of other books doing that, and we do not need another to break the already-fragile camel's back. Secondly, it is written specifically from a North American viewpoint, and we need to read the book in that context, and not blatantly apply them on a global scale. Thirdly, while he is spot on in saying that churches need to reconnect with people, by dissing current churches without proposing an appropriate alternative, apart from framing the provocative questions, McNeal is less than helpful. In conclusion, the best way to read the book is not to see it as a solutions-provider. Neither should we see it as a manual for battering any church. See the book as a wake-up call, as a way to re-frame our perspective of what church means and what its mission entails. Then and only then, can we gain something positive and edifying. Perhaps, Reggie's approach appeals to anyone holding the the idea of 'whatever there is out there, challenge it.' Read by responsible and mature believers, this book is a welcome addition to the school of constructive criticism. However, placed in the hands of a young, brash believer, it may unwittingly become ammunition for further wounding a bruised church. For some, it may become fatal.

Read with care. If it helps, use it. If not, do not be too discouraged about it.


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