Reggie McNeal is writing for clergy and lay leaders of the church in North America. His premise is that we have substituted the real thing for “church as a clubhouse where religious people hang out with other people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them . . . and the Bible is not a book of models: it is a record of radical obediences of people who listened and responded to the direction of God for their lives” (pp. xv, xvi, xix)
After reading this book, I realized that every church I have been a member of was going through a transition from the past to the present (or they should have been). McNeal offers direction for the future. The book will only irritate those who are looking for new ways to do the old things that produced success in the past. It is for those who are asking questions about the future of the church, how to be a part of it and are not content with the old answers.
The sub-title is Six Tough Questions for the Church. The chapter headings are not questions but statements. The questions and answers are about how to deal with new realities, and more importantly, to get to the right questions:
- The Collapse of the Church Culture
- The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
- A New Reformation: releasing God’s People
- The Return to Spiritual Formation
- The Shift from Planning to Preparation
- The Rise of Apostolic Leadership
The Present Future offers guidance for churches that will not be left behind. It also (in just fewer than 150 pages) gives a brief context of where we came from, why and how. And why some churches will fade away and others will last. Included is a succinct explanation of modernism and postmodernism. The bad news is that modernism assumed “If we can understand the parts, we can understand the whole” (p. 53). The good news is that “Postmoderns are wildly spiritual” they have a hunger for “meaning and connectedness” (pp. 53 & 57). And that is why the church has a future, but not the church of churchianity but the church of Christ.
I had two disappointments. McNeal talks often of the inherent limitations of the “institutional church” and the many ways the clergy frustrates the church and the purposes of God. His remedy is not to do away with institutional church but to make church a little bit more of a fellowship and asks the clergy to listen more. But in his future, the institutional church and the clergy/laity system remain intact. “A priesthood emerged in Christianity very early and remains a powerful leadership function, both in Catholic and Protestant circles” (p. 122).
A second disappointment was the last half of the last chapter. I regret that it seemed to be the salesman’s closer. The church needs “Apostolic Leadership” and McNeal Inc. can train it. I have no doubt that Reggie McNeal has done more than I ever will to help others find God. I am just responding as one who has felt more used by church than living in God’s Kingdom.
Nevertheless, I hope my friends who are looking for a different way to “do church” will read this extraordinary book. I wish I could have read it 20 years ago.