Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another Chapter of The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

New Reality Number Four: The Return to Spiritual Formation

Are we turning our churches into groups of people who are studying God as though they were taking a course at school or attending a business seminar? Do we aim at the head? Reggie doesn’t feel we deal in relationships enough. And we wonder why there is no passion for Jesus and his mission. Compare the relationship with a spouse (or family member). I don’t just know about my wife, I know her, and I love her and I relate to her.

Wrong Question: How Do We Develop Church Members?

Consider what most churches hand people when they join the church: a new-member packet. What’s inside? Offering envelopes, a church directory, a church calendar, a church officer and committee list and opportunities for service – usually a listing of church jobs that need doing…We have made following Jesus all about being a good church member. Church members have been told if they will only conform to church culture expectations, they will experience a wonderful Christian life.

McNeal thinks that we need to abandon the church culture idolatry and put in place a radical re-introduction of spiritual formation.

My good friend MDK has grown tired of the use of the term “unchurched” to describe people who do not follow Jesus. He asks, is our goal to make them “churched”? That says nothing about the mission we are called to be a part of.

Tough Question: How Do We Develop Followers of Jesus?

To live abundantly is to borrow from the future (that is the fulfilled Kingdom of God). This means that helping people develop emotionally, physically, and relationally is all spiritual.

Instead of us asking each other how is your church doing (or how is your ministry area going) we need to be asking, “What percentage of your congregants feel they grew to be more like Jesus this past year?” “How is God at work in your people?” Etc.

Lessons from the Y – McNeal compared someone from the outside joining the church to a newcomer joining a gym. Unusual machines, foreign language, everyone else seeming so much at home…

The Y he joined had a program which matched the newbie up with a trainer and took him through orientation. The trainer asked him what he wanted to accomplish with his membership and customized a workout tailored to his goals.

McNeal thought: instead of dumping a packet of church club member stuff on them, why not interview them about what they would like to see happen in their lives in terms of their spiritual development and personal growth?

Once this “spiritual development coach” completed this interview, they could then fashion a customized personal growth strategy for the person or family. Then the coach would say “Let’s get back together in a month to check on your progress.”

Instead of signaling to them that they are to find their way into church stuff and make the church successful, the focus is completely turned around. The church treats them as a market of one, convincing them that the church is there to help them develop an abundant life promised to them by Jesus.

He recommends churches provide life coaching for people. This needs to be viewed as spiritual formation.

This could accomplish several things: 1) you would be communicating to the person that personal growth and spiritual development are anticipated and even expected; 2) You would convince them of your enormous care for them and that the church is there for them rather than expecting them to be there for the church; 3) you would be doing research to determine what needs and hopes the church should be addressing; 4) you would strengthen the intentionality of what you are doing in terms of congregational activity and programming. If it doesn’t work, you can reevaluate and shift focus. 5) You could use this as an opportunity to introduce people to and educate them about spiritual disciplines and dynamics of spiritual growth. 6) You could prescribe growth regimens for people that intentionally infuse spiritual development in activities they are already pursuing.

We need to free people up and give people the time to do these things. This means less church activity and more people development.

Sharing Faith with Pre-Christians – We have made evangelism a sales activity in the N. American church. In fact we are not peddling Jesus, we are peddling church. Evangelism that will introduce Jesus to this culture will flow from people who are deeply in love with Jesus.

The communal aspect of spiritual formation is often neglected in our churches that have too often turned church membership to consumerism.

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