McNeal defined the missional church as “The people of God partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world.” Observing that the institutional church has lost sight of that mission, he challenged it to get out of its rut.
Reggie McNeal speaks at the New Wineskins Convocation on Sept. 27 at Windwood Presbyterian Church in Houston.
McNeal was not a new face to many in the room as he has presented to both the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) General Assembly and to the Presbytery of New Covenant where the NWAC was held.
“We’ve built this incredible Christian apparatus, and the result is that more and more people are saying ‘no thank you,’” he said. “You know in your gut that doing what we have been doing is getting tired.”
Lifting up Christians in the “10/40 Window” as evidence of God “showing up and showing off” in recent years, McNeal said they have a better understanding of the Church as a “who” rather than a “what.” The West, he said, is guilty of being a vendor of religious goods and services. He said that the Church exists wherever Christians are, and rather than being “church-centric,” congregations should be “Kingdom-centric.”
“We’re either people of blessing or we’re not people of God,” he said. “There’s a way that we are supposed to be in the world. … Be the virus of blessing.”
McNeal likened the Church to an airport, which is meant to connect travelers to their destination, but it is not the destination.
“We get this confused when we think all of our metrics are around church activity,” he said. “It’s a very myopic and self centered way of looking at stuff. … we’ve done it so long, it feels normal.”
Using another flight analogy, McNeal compared the Church’s mission to an aircraft carrier. It’s not how many planes are stacked up on the deck, he said, it’s the kind of missions that are being flown.
“Put missions in the middle and you have an invasion force into the kingdom of darkness,” he said.
Among the examples and ideas he shared were:
- Encouraging congregants to bless three people each week;
- Asking servers in the hospitality industry “How can I ask God to bless you?”
- Meet with local government leaders and ask “what’s the one thing that would most radically change our community?”
- Adopt a school: encourage church members to mentor or tutor students or support public school teachers, who often have to spend their own money on supplies.
- He used the example of a church that recognized that they could not change every aspect of a child’s life that kept them from performing well in school, but they could change one thing. They could eliminate hunger. The congregation started a program that sends a backpack full of food home with poor children each Friday. The result: test scores went up, attendance improved and trips to the school nurse decreased.
- Two PCUSA churches in the Atlanta area – North Avenue and Peachtree – partner in a ministry to battle commercial sexual exploitation of children, which was identified as a serious community problem.
- A Methodist church in San Antonio challenged its members to spend an hour at Wal-Mart observing people.
- A church in Redwood City, Calif., challenged its members to go somewhere and pray, and ask God to help them see what He sees. The members gathered and collectively wrote down what they saw. “Six ministries were birthed right on the spot,” McNeal said.
- Adopting police officers and sending them a monthly note of prayer.
- Building prayer boxes for parishioners to put on their desk at work.
- One church puts an emphasis on tracking its members’ volunteer hours rather than attendance.
Many churches make the mistake of presuming that all people grow in faith in the same way, McNeal said. He points to customization as one key. That does not mean that programs disappear from the church’s life, but that people development becomes the understood goal.
“When a real person tells a real story about how a Biblical principle was lived out in the realities of their real life, then your people are on the edge of their seat,” he said. “They will in turn customize that message to fit their life. So, you still preach and teach, but you do so missionally.”
McNeal is the leadership specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, Texas and is a former adjunct faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.