I’ve found myself referencing Reggie McNeal’s book, The Present Future, quite a bit recently, so I thought I’d highlight a few of the main points of the book here. Written in 2003, he identifies the six new realities of our changing world and how the church can respond to them. I wrote a book review for the Presbytery of New Covenant in September 2004 … I’m reprinting it here now … I find it’s all still very appropriate.
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church
By Reggie McNeal
“This book may not be for you.” These are the opening words of the introduction to the book, The Present Future, by Reggie McNeal. McNeal acknowledges that some of the things he says in the book will be very difficult to hear. He doesn’t like deconstructing a whole concept of what church is. It hurts. But, the truth is that the world is very different now than it was in the middle of the last century. The future is coming at us in a hurry; and the church of the modern age is not connecting with the people of this age. In addition, the North American concept of church has forsaken its missional covenant with God; instead, it has become a clubhouse for religious people. Basically, McNeal says, if you think church is great the way it is, don’t read this book. For those who venture the courage to read it, his discussion of six new realities will give the reader a new vision for what church can be.
The first new reality is, “The Collapse of the Church Culture.” For those who understand the end of the age of Christendom and the beginning of the post-modern or pre-Christian world, this chapter is old hat; for those who have never heard of these concepts, McNeal puts forth the facts in very understandable language and begins to lead us to a new place. The collapse of the Church culture, he says, “does not mean the death of the church” – just church as we knew it. McNeal has great hope for where God is leading us. We have to stop asking the old question, “How do we do church better?”, and begin to challenge ourselves with the tough question: “How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?” We have to give up the old assumptions about church and embrace a missional concept – one that goes beyond supporting individual religious clubs to one that embraces both spiritual growth and kingdom growth.
Kingdom growth concerns itself more with the question, “How do we transform our community?” than “How do we grow big (or even healthy) churches?” Kingdom growth begins by releasing God’s people to do the mission work for which God has prepared them. McNeal refers to this as the “new reformation.” Some churches have embraced the concept of the priesthood of all believers by encouraging every member to be in ministry. McNeal thinks that is still too institution-serving. Being released as God’s people means, rather, that every member sees themselves as a missionary to the people with whom they live and work and play. It’s not about members serving churches, but about churches serving neighborhoods.
In order to release our members as missionaries, the spiritual formation of all believers needs to be taken very seriously. Instead of trying to develop good church workers, we need to ask the tough question, “How do we develop followers of Jesus?” How many times do we ask new members how they’d like to serve in the church instead of asking them how they would like to grow in their relationship with Christ? Like the YMCA teaches new members the basics of working out, we also need to be coaching our members in becoming strong in their faith.
The last two realities are “the shift from planning to preparing” and “the rise of apostolic leadership.” McNeal begins chapter six saying, “God must have had a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time.” Wow! That puts this into a whole new perspective. We don’t need to be lamenting about the falling of Christendom, instead we can be rejoicing in the great work God has called us to – to be shapers of the Christian community to come. And McNeal shares the qualities of leadership that will catapult us into the coming age – he describes these new apostolic leaders as: missional, visionary, entrepreneurial, working in teams, genuinely spiritual and having a core value of cultural relevance.
While The Present Future is easy reading, it may be very difficult to digest because the re-defining of Church can be heart-wrenching. Yes, but I venture to say it can also be heart-freeing and soul-lifting. McNeal describes the church of the future as just the kind of church I most want to be a part of and one which most closely resembles walking with Jesus.
Another of Reggie’s books, Missional Renaissance, is also worth reading. He gives many more concrete examples of ways to change the “scorecard” of the church. I have just downloaded a third of his books, and most recent, Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church. I’ll review it in a few weeks.