I recently finished reading Gordon MacDonald’s new book Who Stole My Church? I can say without reservation that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was somewhat forlorn when I finished it. Every now and then I run across a book like that – one that I wish I could keep right on reading.
MacDonald’s book is highly relevant to what is happening in many churches throughout America these days. Reading Who Stole My Church gave me a deep appreciation of the task before our churches in general and pastors on the front line of change in particular. It can be a daunting process to steer a church through these turbulent times of transition. Most churches of over 100 members are likely to have several factions, each with its own agenda and own set of expectations. Meeting the needs of all these divergent people is, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an impossible proposition.
MacDonald has written the book in a highly readable format, one that lends itself very well to the topic. Rather than writing a standard didactic non-fiction work, the author has arranged the book in a fictional setting in which the pastor of a church is facing significant friction from a cadre of older, active members who are resistant to the changes being brought about by younger congregants with a different focus. In order to gently educate these resistant members to what is going on and why, the pastor forms a “Discovery Group” which meets on Tuesday nights to dig deeply into the matter. The group also serves as a venue where these committed church members can vent their ongoing frustrations about changes in the church. The fact that MacDonald puts the book together this way makes an otherwise difficult subject highly readable and even entertaining.
The book is subtitled, “What to do When the Church You Love Tries To Enter the 21st Century.” MacDonald well understands that the future of the church lies with the younger generation, not with the older folks, no matter how loyal and committed they might be. This view is not to downplay or trivialize the needs of the older members in a church, but instead, to break through the church’s denial system and help us all see that unless the needs of the younger people come to the forefront, the church will go the way of the dinosaur. MacDonald states:
Any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation will simply cease to exist. We’re not talking decades – we’re talking just a few years.
The author drives this point home throughout the book, usually through the voice of the pastor during the Tuesday night meetings, but also at coffee shops, the mall, and in other settings, including conversations with his wife. MacDonald also gives voice to those in resistance to these changes and does so in a way that shows he has deep insights into the nature and legitimacy of their concerns. In one chapter of the book, one of the male members of the Discovery Group is angered because he misperceives a point the pastor was making about evangelism and missions, two subjects this particular congregant is passionate about. The two meet for breakfast and, after giving this man an opportunity to express his feelings about evangelism and missions, MacDonald, through the pastor, states that times and methods are changing. Relationships and actions are more important than programs and words:
The difference is this. We’re in a new era where people want less of your carefully scripted evangelism sales presentation and more personal demonstration of your genuineness, your authenticity. They want to see evidence that what you believe had legs – that it does something.
MacDonald goes on to stress the vital importance of developing deeper relationships with people in our post-Christian culture in order to reach them. Stressing that more is now needed than the “Four Spiritual Steps,” the author states that we have to go deeper with people and allow them to see us for who we are and let our actions, not our words, demonstrate what faith in Jesus really means.
If you are concerned about the direction your church is taking, or if you want to gain insight into the dynamics of institutional change in a religious setting, then I would strongly suggest you read MacDonald’s book. I believe the author makes a solid contribution to helping both sides of the generational divide in today’s church gain understanding into what makes the other side tick. In the end, the book helps foster insight rather than animosity – compassion rather than conflict.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved