Saturday, September 19, 2009

Every Jesus follower I know is to some degree dissatisfied with the state of the church in America. This isn't new, of course. We have been trying to tweak or reinvent the church for all of the fifty some years I've been a Jesus Freak. (See the most recent "Jesus Freak" music video by DC Talk on have gone through in that time the church growth movement, the megachurch movement, the Jesus Freak movement, the small group movement, the healthy church movement, and the Purpose Driven Church movement. At the moment we are a few years into the emerging church movement. All have been responses to the disappointment many of us feel about the church in America. It is not as we believe God intends it to be.

That is the driving conviction behind a not too recent book by Reggie McNeal, The Present Future. He believes we must change because the culture has changed - from modern to post-modern - and life is done differently in the post-modern era, so the church must change if it is to speak into our culture.

He is, of course, right. The church must change. It must be able to communicate with the culture in the language of that culture. And for the most part it is not. But there is another message. The church must become missional.

By missional McNeal means outward focused rather than inward focused, which is focused on maintaining the institutional church. And he is right. But that is not a new message. And it is not a message unheard in our churches. It is what Jesus intended his followers to be. It was what he was himself.

The book is worth a read. McNeal has some cogent insights and some creative solutions. One fundamental truth that needs to be reclaimed according to McNeal is an emphasis on a real relationship with Jesus. I heartily agree. But as I read it, I was just a little hesitant about his view of the present church. I don't think it is quite as far from Jesus' model as McNeal implies. I was also just a little cautious of some of his fixes. Do we really need to develop a paradigm that is founded on a human personal spiritual trainer (read "mentor" if you are not up to speed with the new terminology)?

That might be helpful for some. But as I read it seemed to replace the personal relationship with Jesus McNeal was earlier in the book so passionate about. That's no healthier, in my mind, than the modern institutional church culture McNeal derides. But you decide. I recommend the book, even if just to stir our thinking.

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