Friday, July 18, 2008

McNeal, The Present Future

The Present Future proposes six questions that the church should be asking. These six questions are set in contrast to six standard questions that are typically asked by churches. The typical questions are:
1. How do we do church better?
2. How do we grow this church?
3. How do we turn members into ministers?
4. How do we develop church members?
5. How do we plan for the future?
6. How do we develop leaders for church work?

The proposed questions are?
1. How do we deconvert from churchianity to Christianity?
2. How do we transform our community?
3. How do we turn members into missionaries?
4. How do we develop followers of Jesus?
5. How do we prepare for the future?
6. How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?

While there is much to be stated in the positive for these proposed questions and even for the material written to support the argument, there is a major flaw in the imaginative paradigm that shapes this book. The proposals offered in this book are a step in the right direction but they do not take it far enough. Let me explain:
  • First, the primary paradigm that shapes the writer's imagination is based on evangelical individualism. This is not surprising due to his tradition, but it must be noted that there is little to nothing in this book about what it means to be a corporate people. Almost everything is about how we service individuals within churches. This is a basic flaw in the church as we know it. 
  • Therefore, because the assumption of individualism is not addressed, the best we can conclude is that this book is talking about how to adjust a church and its life. It is not talking about how to lead a church into radical reorientation. Again this is not surprising because of the author's tradition and his job. There is nothing in this book about the death a church must go through in order to discover a new future.
  • Instead of a death that leads to radical change, the author proposing six questions as if these are THE questions for the future of the church and every church. This is an imagination shaped by modernity whereby the expert knows what the future will look like and provides the tools to get those who listen to him there. He is clear on what the future church needs, but the reality is that for every church to enter into its future, each one will ask different questions. These six questions do not equip churches to ask their own questions, they only replace old questions with new ones--even though these are better questions. That being said, we can conclude that this book is only speaking to adjustment change, not to re-creational change.
  • In addition, the author speaks from a traditional "evangelical" voice which assumes that the church has all of the answers for the world or for specific neighborhoods. While not overtly stated, the implication is that the church is in a monologue with the culture, not a dialogue where it is learning just as much from the "neighborhood" as it is giving. 
  • While the author states that we no longer need to ask questions about doing church better or about growing the church, when I read between the lines, it seems to me that this is still the unstated desire. The primary reason for considering these new questions is because the current church is not working. Church "success" is still what is at stake. And all of the new questions are about what the church can do for people to be a successful church during this time when the church is not working.  Are we really that narcissistic? This seems to be very "church" organization focused in its orientation and misses the reality of the organic life that God desires to develop within his people.
This might seem overly harsh, but my points are meant to delineate subtle differences between what this book is saying and what I believe true about the missional church. There is much to be valued in this book, but I am afraid it does not challenge the church imagination enough and therefore, most church leaders will use this book to simply improve or adjust what they are already doing and miss the call to radical re-creation that only comes through the walking through the land of unknowing. Without this, we will only reproduce what we already know. 

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