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McNeal says “Wrong Question” #5 is “How Do We Plan for the Future?” McNeal writes, “Typical approaches to the future involve prediction and planning.” But if our predictions miss the mark, then our planning is misled. Instead of prediction and planning, we should approach the future through prayer and preparation.

That’s his “Tough Question:” “How Do We Prepare for the Future?” According to McNeal, this spiritual preparation involves vision, values, results, strengths, and learning. Strong vision brings purpose and commitment. Our core values are demonstrated by behavior’s we live out. Those who are preparing for the future also focus on results. We should also focus on our strengths; get better at what we do well. Finally, we must continually be learning.

My schedule got a little hectic there for a while, but I’m back. To continue with Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future, we’re on Reality Number 4. McNeal argues, “We have turned our churches into groups of people who are studying God as though they were taking a course at school or attending a business seminar. We aim at the head. We don’t deal in relationship.”

McNeal’s “Wrong Question” #4 is: “How Do We Develop Church Members?” He suggests we’re trying to assimilate new members into church culture and introduce them to “club rules.” Instead, he offers this “Tough Question”: “How Do We Develop Followers of Jesus?”

“We have assumed that if people come to church often enough they will grow.” McNeal asks, “What if we took out a clean sheet of paper and asked, ‘What do we want people to learn?’ and then went to work on this?”

He suggests that our approach would include: worshipping, learning to apply biblical truth to life and relationships, ministering to others in Jesus’ name, sharing the faith with pre-Christians, cooperating and partnering with other believers in the mission of God.

How would you approach this question? What would our relationship with Jesus look like if we focused on growth and not necessarily “church activity”?

McNeal notices the interest in God and spirituality in our culture. . . and thinks we have a problem. “We are so intent on convincing people that their life is screwed up, their faith is wrong, their beliefs messed up, and so forth, that we are inept at listening and engaging people. We look at people as ‘prospects’ for membership (this term is actually still used) rather than as spiritual beings with the same quest for God.”

He asserts, “We can argue for the existence of God and can argue for the veracity of Scripture and can present ‘proofs’ of the Resurrection. But it’s cold. It’s mental. It’s passionless.” I’m not sure that McNeal is correct on this point. We’re even a little fuzzy on arguing the existence of God and “proving” the Resurrection. However, very few, if any, were ever argued into the Kingdom of God. More often, they saw our lives, witnessed our relationships, and put up with our arguments. Some wanted more information before they finally committed, but that’s not what got them into the conversation to start.

McNeal concludes, “Now the world doesn’t demand what we have to offer anymore. In fact, many people outside of the church are more spiritually passionate and enthusiastic about God than many church members. They no longer need our kind of convincing.”

Is McNeal on track? What do you think?

Growing up I remember churches latching onto the phrase “every member a minister.” The idea was that churches didn’t hire one or two people to do all the work and everyone else just shows up. Everyone is to be a servant. Everyone does ministry.

McNeal argues that this is “Wrong Question” #3. “How do we turn members into ministers?” When we define members in terms of “ministers,” we do so largely in church terms and expect people to get “church work” done. (I would suggest this is a poor definition of “ministry,” but I understand McNeal’s point.)

Instead, McNeal suggests the “Tough Question” alternative: “How do we turn members into missionaries?” As missionaries, we’ll need to do cultural exegesis; that is, we’ll need to study the culture around us in order to more effectively reach those with whom we continually interact. We’ll need to go to “language school.” Words like “lost,” “saved,” “repentance,” or “the world” just don’t communicate.

McNeal writes, “Nonbelievers are already worshipping, because people are built to worship something. Our challenge is to upgrade their worship to worship of the true God.”

McNeal argues that to take our message to the people, we need to adopt “Kingdom Thinking.” We need to get past thinking about only our little segment (our church) and adopt a bigger picture. The issue is not how to get people to come to church, but how to introduce them to a relationship with Jesus.

He writes, “Jesus strategy was to go where people were already hanging out. This is why he went to weddings, parties, and religious feast day celebrations. Jesus loved being around people who were having fun! In fact, the Pharisees accused him of being a party animal.”

So, we need to go to where people are. “Taking the gospel to the streets means we need church where people are already hanging out. We need a church in every mall, every Wal-Mart supercenter, every Barnes and Noble.”

McNeal believes we best gain a hearing through acts of kindness. But we need to be prepared when people ask “Why?” Why are we serving? Why are we in the community? The incorrect response is: “We just want to help.” “Our pickup lines need some serious work.” Instead, quoting Pastor Cho of South Korea, McNeal suggests: “When asked by those who are blessed by them why they do their kind acts, they are told to say: ‘I am a disciple of Jesus. I am serving him by serving you, because that’s what he came to do.'”

Yesterday I quoted McNeal on the Pharisees’ Evangelism Strategy. They required people to become like them before they were admitted to their club. McNeal continues, “Translated into our day the Acts 15 question becomes: Will people need to become like us in order to hear the gospel?” He contends, “The Pharisees have cpatured the North American church in many places. It is the expectation of Pharisees that people should adopt the church culture, including its lifestyle, if they want admittance.”

McNeal asks, “Have you ever considered all the people we are counting on not to show up on Sunday at church? Medical workers, restaurant operators, utility crews, grocery store workers, gas station attendants–the list goes on and on. As Sunday restrictions on shopping and entertainment have eased, you might expect churches to be offering services for people who have to work on Sunday. Only a few do. Church leaders mostly whine about how the church is suffering under this cultural shift rather than making serious adjustments to make the church more available to people who are not a part of the church culture lifestyle anymore.”

McNeal calls for us to go to the commuity. Any ideas on how to get outside our walls?

In contrast to the Pharisees’ evangelism strategy, McNeal analyzes Jesus’ evangelism strategy. He writes, “Jesus’ evangelism strategy directly challenged the Pharisees’ approach. Instead of ‘Come and get it!’ it was ‘Go get ’em!’ Instead of withdrawing from people for fear of contamination, he ate with them. This was horrifying to the Pharisees. They shrieked their charge against him: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ (Luke 15:2, NIV). Instead of insisting that people clean up in order to come to God, Jesus preached that God accepts people as they are so that, in the light of his love, they can come to their senses and clean up their act (the story of the Prodigal Son). Instead of advancing religious institutionalism, Jesus talked about experiencing abundant life based on personal relationship with God. He gave himself away to poor people, sick people, unclean people, the disadvantaged, and disenfranchised from the religion of the privileged.”

“The Pharisees were monoculturalists (all religious fanatics are). Monoculturalism does not embrace kingdom growth, because it insists that people conform to a cultural standard in order to gain admittance to the religious club.”

“The bottom-line question the early church faced was this: Will Gentiles need to become Jews first in order to receive the gospel?”

More tomorrow.

Reggie McNeal proposes a “Tough Question” (in answer to yesterday’s “wrong question”). He asks: “How Do We Transform Our Community? (How Do We Hit the Streets with the Gospel?)”

“If they aren’t going to come to us, then we’ve got to go to them. This is the crux of the issue. Churches that understand the realities of the present future are shifting the target of ministry efforts from church activity to community transformation. This is turning the church inside out.”

“Problem is, what most churches practice won’t fare too well outside because they are selling membership packages (institutional wrapping: membership, fellowship, member services). The world does not want what the typical North American church has to offer. We can keep trying to get them to want what we have or we can start offering what they need. They need what people always need: God in their lives.”

“The North American church culture is not spiritual enough to reach our culture.”

Do you agree with McNeal? How are our programs focused? Do we emphasize “membership packages” too much? Are we “spiritual” enough to reach our culture?

The Second Wrong Question that Reggie McNeal focuses on is “How Do We Grow This Church? (How Do We Get Them to Come to Us?)” McNeal argues that the efforts of the church have been focused on how to attract people. How do we get them in our doors? How do we get them to stay once they’ve come?

He compares this to the Pharisees. He writes, “Their approach to sharing God was, ‘Come and get it!’ In addition, they had contorted God’s message to moralism: ‘You people ‘out there’ need to straighten up!’ The Pharisees had developed a very insular culture. They did business as much as possible only with other Pharisees (lest they be contaminated by the unclean). When they traveled they stayed with other Pharisees. They lived inside the Pharisee bubble (they had little Pharisee insignias on the burro bumper and listened only to Pharisee radio stations). Their message to people outside the bubble was: ‘Become like us (translated: believe like us, dress like us, vote like us, act like us, like what we like, don’t like what we don’t like). If you become like us (jump through cultural hoops and adopt ours), we will consider you for club membership.’ Does any of this sound familiar yet?”

I continue with thoughts from Reggie McNeal. McNeal asserts that our society and changing. If the church does not change, it will be in trouble. McNeal argues that the church needs to rediscover mission in order to move forward. Our situation is not unique.

McNeal writes, “When Jesus came on the scene he entered a world very similar to our own in terms of its spiritual landscape. . . . Jesus tapped into this widespread sentiment of disillusionment with religion but hunger for God with his teaching about the kingdom of God and how people could become a part of it.”

He continues, “The movement Jesus initiated had power because it had at its core a personal life-transforming experience.”

Finally, he concludes, “The appropriate response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self-preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than concern about style.”

A friend of mine, Brent McCall, compared churches to either a cruise ship or a battleship. On Cruise ships, the people are concerned primarily about themselves. When do we eat? Where’s the cruise director? When is the show? How good is the service? On the other hand, on a battleship, people are concerned about the mission. Is everyone doing their job? What is my role? How do I complete my part of the mission?

Are we primarily concerned about ourselves and our needs? Our most of our efforts and focus aimed at ourselves? Or our we focused on accomplishing our mission?