I definitely resonated with a lot of the book as the ideas he points out are many of the reasons that we started Revolution. There were also a number of things that really rubbed me the wrong way.
One of the most helpful things was his definition of missional leaders:
Missional leaders experience what God is doing and then tell others about it. In this way, they act as journalists to help us experience it, too. This means they spend time with God in prayer, asking him to show them what he is doing. This usually crafts a very different agenda for them than just doing what clamors for attention in their inbox. And it means they immerse themselves in life. They journey out of the citadel into the streets. Missional leaders, in touch with God and with the world, speak convincingly of what the people of God must do. You will not be around such leaders long without learning that their heart is being shaped by their encounters.
What this books kind of works around but never says is that we need to change how we view the doctrine of the church and how that plays out on a weekly basis. Our ecclesiology. Is the church here for the people in the church? Or is the church here for those outside of the church? What is God’s mission? Keeping the convinced comfortable and happy? Or finding those who are not convinced?
McNeal then works through 3 shifts that churches must work through to get back on mission and function effectively as a biblical church.
- Shift from an internal to an external focus.
- Missional is a way of living, not an affliation or activity.
- The missional church engages the community beyond its walls because it believes that is why the church exists.
- People don’t ‘go’ to church; they ‘are’ the church.
- The member-culture church violates the intent of God for his people by focusing its efforts on the spiritual silo
- Shift from program development to people development.
- We must change our ideas of what it means to develop a disciple, shifting the emphasis from studying Jesus and all things spiritual in an environment protected from the world to following Jesus into the world to join him in his redemptive mission.
- Loving God and loving our neighbors cannot be fulfilled at church. Being salt and light can not be experienced in a faith huddle. Engaging the kingdom of darkness requires storming it, not habitually retreating into a refuge.
- Even among the self-defined committed, the evidence is clear that church activity is no sign of genuine spiritual vitality. The lifestyles and values of church members largely reflect those of the culture.
- The missional church assumes that service to others is the first step, not some later expression of spirituality.
- Shift from church-based leadership to kingdom-based leadership.
- Missional congregational pastors now pastor the community, not just the church.
If there was one thing that drove me nuts, it is the same thing that drives me nuts about most books about the emergent or missional church. “If 2 or 3 guys are hanging out having a beer together, talking about life and God, then this is a church.” No, this is not a church. This is 2 or 3 guys having a beer together talking about life and God. Not a church. I was actually surprised to see this in McNeal’s book.
Despite this, the book does ask a lot of great (and much needed) questions that leaders and churches need to wrestle with. The reality is that the way we are doing church is often so off mission it is crazy. Thankfully, more and more churches are moving away from the program driven church, where we have a million things happening at our churches.
We have decided at Revolution to just do a few things and do them well. This will enable us to better reach people, as well as help them on their spiritual journeys.
McNeal’s definition of missional is one I struggle with. In the conclusion he tells the story about an organization that collects food during super bowl weekend to fight poverty. It has become a national organization, having thousands of volunteers and collecting lots of food. He says, “This is the missional renaissance in full flower.” My struggle with this is, how is this missional? This is being a good human. Is me handing out food being missional? Is me serving someone being missional? Those things are missional, but that can’t be the full definition (I’ve been sitting on these questions for awhile and will post some thoughts soon). But the question still remains, is missional just being human? Or is it something more? My feeling from the book is that McNeal sees it as being human. That just doesn’t sit with me well.
While he talked about moving away from a program driven model, which I think is good. The problem with his move to people development and getting people to serve outside of the church is that this can quickly become a program. So, while he fights against adding programs, he adds one. Which he admits to. Which seemed contradictory. It is amazing, as hard as we try, we can’t seem to kick the complex church. It might come in different shades, but it is still there.
While I found a lot of good things in this book, I was challenged a lot, disagreed a lot, agreed even more. Which makes this a good book. This is definitely something you want to read with someone else to chew on this together. Even though I heard from someone “this will replace Missional Church as the banner book in the missional conversation,” I have a hard time with that happening. But hopefully, it will get some leaders thinking about how to be on mission with God.
If you are interesting in this conversation and what McNeal has to say, I would say to read his books The Present Future and Practicing Greatness. This felt like he needed to write a book on the topic that he already covered in these books, which were better.