“If it didn’t show up at church, it didn’t count.” –Dr. Reggie McNeal
As I have been prayerfully considering where God is calling us as a church, I have also been reading the book, Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church—and What We Should Do Instead by Dr. Reggie McNeal. To be completely honest with you, this wasn’t entirely my choice. This book is also the required reading for a gathering all Oklahoma United Methodist Ministers are having with our Bishop, Robert E. Hayes, Jr., toward the end of September.
I have been to enough trainings, seminars and classes with required readings to know that learning something of value is never guaranteed. As I started reading this book—before I even got 25 pages in—Dr. McNeal makes these three points:
- “The church and the Kingdom of God are not one and the same.” (p. xvi)
- “The church, as commonly configured, is often centered on activities among church people on church property for church purposes, and can become focused on preserving and perpetuating the program.” (p. xvii)
- “The Kingdom of God can be characterized as ‘life as God intends it to be.’” (p. 23)
Now please don’t hear what I am not saying. This is not a pointed indictment of the people of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Having been in local church ministry for more than a decade and serving at seven churches and numerous boards, committees and task forces, I believe what Dr. McNeal is saying can be true of any church or Christian organization.
There comes a point in every growing organization’s lifecycle that it becomes large enough where a certain amount of administration, policies, procedures, bureaucracy and so on become necessary to give the organization the stability and structure it needs to continue to grow. I say this to you as a former church administrator for two large churches, “This is not necessarily a bad thing.” But the great pitfall that arises soon after an organization becomes institutionalized is the focus can either slowly drift or quickly shift from whatever the original mission was to preserving the institution.
What this often looks like in any church is going from focusing on how many new people are we helping to bring into relationship with Jesus Christ or how many lives are we helping to change to instead focusing on what is our giving. And is it keeping up with what we need to pay for salaries, facilities upkeep and even apportionments? We no longer have something to give to others, that being the Good News of Jesus Christ. But instead they have something to give to us, their money and participation to help keep the institution afloat.
As much as we talk about Sunday morning sports or misplaced priorities leading to the national decline in church worship attendance, I believe what has done more to drive people away from the church is that institutional survival has become the goal, and non-churched or de-churched people just aren’t interested. They don’t have the emotional or historical connection with the institution so why would they care if the institution survives?
As we continue our planning and dreaming of what our future will look like here at St. Paul’s, I encourage you to prayerfully consider where God is calling us to go as a church. How can we help the people in our church, our community, and beyond live life as God intends it to be?
Again, so what now?
Pray for St. Paul’s. Pray for God’s guidance for our church and that we will have the strength, determination, and faith to live into the future God has for us. Ask God to reveal to you what is your part to play in this process.
- Come and Invite Others.
Continue coming and participating in the life and ministries of the church, and invite those you know to join you so we can grow in our faith and help others do the same as well.
On Sunday, September 27, from 2:00 to 3:30pm, we will have another Church Council meeting where we will be looking at how we can best restart a period of growth. To guide our discussion, we will be using the book, Renovate or Die by Bob Farr. Those who came to the last meeting received a copy. If you do not have a copy, please contact the church office. It is available on Amazon.com as well. If you are going to attend this meeting, I ask that you read the book beforehand so it can help facilitate our work.
As always, I cannot wait to see what God will do in and through us!
Rev. Kris Tate
McNeal, R. (2015). Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church—and What We Should Do Instead. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers.