Review: The Present Future (rated 3 stars)
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church
by Reggie McNeal
Although I’m only giving this book 3 stars out of 5, it is definitely worth a read for folks wanting to know why the “church” seems to have lost its task and mission. Reggie McNeal is the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and honestly, he’s so much funnier in person than he comes across in this book that I wondered if someone wrote this for him from one of his series.
He’s extremely provocative in the book as he seeks to challenge church leaders to realize they can longer rest on their pulpit chairs and expect the kingdom of God to be built in our culture. It’s a strong word for church leaders that I often found myself eagerly nodding my head to. At other times, I wanted to duck for cover.
My goal is to provoke and to frame conversations that lead to action, risk, and to rediscovery of mission.
He does this by proposing six new realities that the church must address: 1. Church culture has collapsed.
Please hear what I’m not saying. The death of the church culture as we know it will not be the death of the church.
Essentially, McNeal identifies that churches no longer enjoy the prevalent influence in society that they used to. Our culture is not looking to the church for answers or leadership, unlike the past (the “past” must have been before my time, because I haven’t seen culture looking to the church as a significant player during my lifetime).
2. We must shift from church growth to kingdom growth. McNeal hammers this home, and it’s perhaps one of his best chapters. Church leaders can no longer obsess over growing their attendance, enrollment, giving, etc. It’s not about what’s inside the walls. It’s about extending the kingdom of God into society.
3. We must release God’s people in a new Reformation. He indicates that the Protestant Reformation was a watershed event for turning the church upside down, but that much of it simply rejected church hierarchy and structure while also providing solid biblical doctrine.
However, the new Reformation must involve getting God’s people to embrace and receive the Great Commission as their commission. Too many church attenders expect paid professionals to do the work of the ministry. However, that rightly belongs to the entire bride of Christ, not just the leaders that God has set over them.
4. We must return to spiritual formation. Absolutely. I was screaming loudest thoughout this chapter. It’s not about adding more useless, activity-laden programs to the church — whether adult discipleship, kids or youth ministries, or family activity centers. It’s about helping lead people to maturity in Christ and sending them out on mission for Him. Yes, we should be meeting needs, but no, we should not be creating religious clubs that simply offer religious activities for good, moral people.
5. We must shift from planning to preparation. Here’s where I thought the rest of the book broke down, and it’s why I only gave it 3 stars. I know what he’s trying to communicate here, but he just doesn’t pull it off in the book. I had to drag my eyes across the pages from here on it just to finish the book. He does have some great “quoteables” but the chapter as a whole just couldn’t give the quotes all the substance they needed:
The better (and biblical) approach to the future involves prayer and preparation, not prediction and planning.
What he was trying to communicate is powerful. It’s simply that too many churches (and I think it’s larger churches) focus too much on “long-range planning,” vision-casting, etc. As they plan and strategize, it appears externally that if God were to show up, he’d actually interrupt their plans rather than complement or “bless” them.
6. We must embrace and encourage the rise of apostolic leadership. This actually was another great chapter. He urges churches to do all they can to allow their leaders to focus on their strengths rather than drain them by throwing the whole plate of responsibilities in their lap. When a leader has to manage buildings, parking lots, cleaning, teams, and everything that operates within the church, he/she eventually burns out. All that other stuff distracts them from accomplishing and focusing on the areas of their giftedness and what they love doing.
By relieving leaders of tasks and duties that they do not need to supervise, a church actually releases their leader to lead, guide and be more effective in the areas that they are gifted.
McNeal’s subtitle for the book is “Six Tough Questions for the Church.” It’s much more descriptive than the title, and all six are questions that churches should be asking.