“The Present Future”

Reggie McNeal addresses six new realities the Church faces today!

I’ve read many leadership books in recent years as part of the Doctor of Ministry program at Asbury Theological Seminary, and Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future has been one of the most impacting books I’ve read during this process (see other recommended leadership books in the sidebar).

Here’s a brief overview …

1. The collapse of the church culture
Each chapter addresses a “wrong question” and a “tough question.” In this chapter, the wrong question is, “How do we do church better?” The tough question (i.e. the right question) is, “How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?”

“Unfortunately,” McNeal writes, “the North American church has lost its influence at this critical juncture. It has lost its influence because it has lost its identity. It has lost its identity because it has lost its mission. […] The need is not a methodological fix. The need is for a missional fix” (18). McNeal believes the church’s mission is “to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world” (19).

2. The shift from church growth to kingdom growth
“How do we grow this church?” (IOW, “How do we get them to come to us?”) is the wrong question. The tough question is, “How do we transform our community?” (ie. “How do we hit the streets with the gospel?”)

McNeal describes “missional spirituality,” saying, it “requires that God’s people be captured by his heart for people, that our hearts be broken for what breaks his, that we rejoice in what brings him joy (27).” Such a spirituality ought to lead us “to take the gospel to the streets,” not “short forays into port off the cruise ship,” but “an intentional 24/7 church presence in the community, not tied to church real estate” (42).

3. A new reformation: releasing God’s people
The wrong question is, “How do we turn members into ministers?” and the tough question is, “How do we turn members into missionaries?”

McNeal suggests two things: 1) “create a culture informed by missiology,” and 2) “create venues where people can practice being missionaries” (61).

This bring me to my favorite part of the book where McNeal contrasts “member values” with “missionary values.”

McNeal writes, “Member values clash with missionary values. Member values are all about church real estate, church programming, who’s in and who’s out, member services, member issues (translated: am I getting what I want out of this church?). Missionary values are about the street, people’s needs, breaking down barriers, community issues (translated: am I partnering with God’s work in people?). One of these value sets will triumph over the other. They do not coexist peacefully” (65).

4. The return to spiritual formation
The question, “How do we develop church members?”, is the wrong one. The tough question is, “How do we develop followers of Jesus?”

Here, McNeal talks about spiritual formation. He says, “It includes personal spiritual disciplines, but it also includes the stewardship of our relationships, our work, and our life mission” (73).

5. The shift from planning to preparation
The wrong question is, “How do we plan for the future?” The tough question is, “How do we prepare for the future?”

McNeal writes, “Jesus taught us to pray, ‘thy kingdom come.’ That phrase is the fast-forward button in the Christians’ prayer life. The kingdom is a future that is already present. Our mission is to introduce the kingdom into this world, with its preferred future for humanity. The future is the best place to start” (119).

6. The rise of apostolic leadership
The last new reality McNeal deals with is leadership development. The wrong question is, “How do we develop leaders for church work?” And the tough question is, “How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?”

McNeal laments, “We are training leaders to address the leadership challenges of a world that is quickly passing away” (122). He adds, “Most have never understood that the call to be missionaries means a shift from the member, business-as-usual approach to church life. The shift from ‘doing’ church at the clubhouse to ‘being’ church in the world is a paradigm shift that has apparently eluded many church leaders” (131).

Several skills are needed by leaders who wish to lead missionaries, according to McNeal, including but not limited to, “vision cultivation and casting, communication, team building, change and transition leadership, mentoring and coaching, corporate culture management and resolution, networking, project management, systems thinking, and interpersonal relationships” (131).

Again, this is one of the most impacting books I’ve read in recent years. The Present Future continues to shape my understanding of leadership!

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