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The Present Future: Releasing God’s People

It’s been awhile, but I want to return to Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future. In my last post (written before my week of Cedar Point, golf, and Michigan Adventure!), I introduced the third new reality for the church: A New Reformation: Releasing God’s People. If the wrong question is “how do we turn members into ministers?” the tough question is “how do we turn members into missionaries?”

McNeal contends that church leaders need to be willing to release church members away from the ministries and programs of the church to the community:

“If you are a church leader, be aware that when you head down this road toward developing a missionary force, you are going to do some significant soul-searching and ministry reprioritization. Your church budget may shrink. Your church calendar may get less crowded. You may not have as many meetings. You will loses control of the church ministry. You are going to be challenged not only to release ministry, you are also going to be challenged to release members from churchianity, to quit gauging their spiritual maturity by how much they “support the church.” You may see them less, but you will exponentially increase your impact on their lives and your impact on the community where your church is located.” (p. 48)

Simply put, the church needs to connect with people outside the church, those who do not know Jesus Christ. In order to do this, we need to stop spending all of our time, money, resources, etc on ourselves and reallocate some of that to those who do not know Jesus Christ. And this is more than having a church missions budget. It is more than money. It primarily involves releasing the time of God’s people in a particular community to impact that particular community.  The sad reality is that the majority of church “service” or “ministry” opportunities involve doing something in the church building for people who already know Christ.  Very few involve doing something outside the church building for people who don’t know Christ.

At this point I do want to make a personal clarification that McNeal does not address (though I believe, from reading several of his books, he would agree). I believe that the “mission” of the church is to be conformed to the image of Christ.  This is a work of the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit works through the church.  This mission involves at least two things: revealing Christ to the lost and helping Christians grow in their faith.  To put it in more popular terms, both evangelism and discipleship are required to fulfill the mission.

Furthermore, God has created each individual with unique personalities, strenghts, etc and the Holy Spirit has empowered each Christian with unique gifts.  Some Christians, by virtue of God’s creation and the Spirit’s empowerment, will focus on the “evangelism” aspect and some will focus on the “discipleship” aspect.  Christians should focus on their strengths and minister accordingly.  Therefore, I believe the church needs servants who stay in the building and build up the faith of those who already know Jesus Christ.

That being said, even these “discipleship-focused” Christians must understand that a primary aspect of discipleship is helping Christians see themselves as missionaries, as McNeal has suggested.

Now back to the book…how do we create a missionary church that is out there in the community? Here are some of McNeal’s suggestions:

“Don’t plan on taking a vote on whether your church will release members to become missionaries. What you must do is two things: create a culture informed by missiology and create venues where people can practice being missionaries.” (p. 61).

Specifically, McNeal recommends the following: 1) discuss generational cultures (cultural exegesis) to educate the church, 2) discuss the emerging culture to educate the church, 3) explore community needs, 4) expose yourself to a missionary church, 5) build for the community, 6) adopt a school, 7) get out there, 8) leaders must go first.

If this change is to be successful, then church leaders need to change the scorecard. In other words, we need to redefine “success.” Rather than using pew attendance and budget as measures of success, a missionary church will find other criterion. Here are a few possibilities: 1) how many ministry initiatives are we establishing in the streets, 2) how many conversations are we having with non-Christians, 3) how many church activities target people who are not here yet, 4) how many community groups use our facility, 5) how many people are we releasing into our community.

When all of these things are done, the church will be in a better position to reach the world for Christ.

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