The Reggie McNeal Lectures at "One Thing"

I took the time to watch the two Reggie McNeal lectures which the RCA sent to us via email.

I recommend them. Here’s the link

I don’t agree with all of what he says (too narrow a view of the Kingdom, too disparaging of the church as “people of God,” too discounting of the sacraments as actual small miracles in church), but hey, he’s trying to make a point, I’m willing to let him overstate it.

I like so much the thrust of what he says, like about “blessing” and “how can I pray for you” and such. Indeed, that’s what I’m teaching our people here already. Also he’s very wise on “custom-designed discipleship” and the problems of the program church. And he’s delightfully funny.

I’d like to know more what he means by “apostolic,” because that worries me. But I do think he’d be very open to a sacramental approach to what he advocates.

Here’s what bothers me. It’s the way it’s packaged to us by the RCA leadership. Somehow the RCA leadership is suggesting that this “missional” approach requires a revolutionary change in our historic structures (classis, synods, etc.) The RCA packaging says that if we like what McNeal has said, we’ve got to go along with staff-down centralized denominational restructuring.

If anything, I would suggest that if we like what McNeal says, we could much better just discard the whole denominational staff!

If the leadership is really in favor of missional structures, then why don’t they get out of the way? Why don’t they stop distracting us with all their structural finagling? What a waste of everyone’s time the whole “missional structures” thing is, both the earlier attempt and this new current “son of missional structures.” What a phenomenal waste of time, the staff’s time and our time. The denominational staff looks more preoccupied with the church than we who really take a Reformed approach to Word and Sacrament.

I can’t understand it. Don’t they see the connection?

I can’t see how anybody who watches the McNeal videos would ever want a denominational staff job!

If McNeal is right, then who cares how large or small the RCA is, or what our numbers are.

8 thoughts on “The Reggie McNeal Lectures at "One Thing"

  1. Evidently, somebody cares about RCA numbers. My fear is they care about them too much and for the wrong reasons.

    I was at “One Thing” and was struck by how McNeal’s talks were in many ways a caution to the current trajectory of the RCA. While he offered is measured chudos to the RCA staff, he also offered a less vielded reality check. In all the endeavours to be structuraly missional, we are missing something more fundamental (and more closely found in the trenches of our congregations).

    One thing I found myself to challenge McNeal is his understanding of the church. When you listen closely, you almost hear hims say the church exists as a means toward an end. I fear it is that tidbit that ressonates so much with our RCA staff.

    Blessings, RogueMonk

  2. It seems to me that I have, in th not-to-distant past suggested exactly almost exactly what you do, Dan: a missional restructure that pretty much eliminates the GSC staff. It would be very interesting to hear how our staff would respond to this aspect of McNeal’s lectures. Since I have reason to believe that Wes Granberg-Michaelson reads this blog, I’m going to be so bold as to invite him to respond here.

    I agree with RogueMonk that, as a church, we are missing something in the congregations that is more fundamental than our structure. I don’t think I’m being overly cynical if I say that many (if not most) of the folks in our congregations really don’t WANT to be missional.

    This creates a(nother) problem for pastors. I recall a joint meeting of the GSC and the Commissions a few years back, where Ken Eriks presented something on Powerpoint related to coached pastoral networks (I think). He was trying to illustrate concentric circles of accountability, and inadvertently drew a target, with Pastors in the bulls-eye. I think pastors are in the bulls-eye in many ways these days; another way that I’ve heard it discussed among colleagues is that we are fighting a war on two fronts, caught between congregations that don’t want to be in mission and denominational assemblies and agents who seem to find it inconvenient to be Reformed.

  3. I think quite a bit about our sisters and brothers in URCSA, the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa. It struck me the other day that their entire denominational staff consists of one part-time stated clerk and one full-time secretary. I’m sure that’s in large part because they can’t afford more staff. And we need folk to keep the pension going, pay missionaries, etc. And I know that their tiny staff is a function of the money they don’t have. So I don’t idealize. And yet it is clear that you can have a Reformed Church without a staff! All you need is a synod. And, I might add, that’s one vital church.

  4. And I want to say, for the record, that I do not, for the most part, have a problem with the members of our staff. The ones I know are good people, who seem to believe in what they’re doing, who work far harder for us than we deserve with much too little money.

    The problem is that the existence of a staff almost requires the staff members to come up with work to do to justify their existence. And we, as a churchm have encouraged this. The other problem is that, in trying to make things run efficiently (a logical goal for a staff and, again, something we have encouraged) the existence of a staff creates a corporate bureaucracy which has problems relating to a church (which, by its biblical nature, is often inefficient and messy). So, in order to relate to the church, the bureaucracy tries to recreate the church in its own image. And, in the modern RCA, the church seems to have decided that it is easier not to resist that.

    There was, arguably, a point in history when a corporate-style denomination made sense, just as there was a time when it made sense, up to a point, at least, to organize the Church after the pattern of the Roman legions. Unfortunately, the Church tends to hang on to these models after the point when their usefulness has passed. So, it could also be argued, that is what reformations are for. We should be uniquely suited to that sort of work.

  5. Thanks for writing folks.

    I want to add one comment to what James says about many church members not wanting to be missional. Of course that’s always going to be true, as an occupational hazard of being a covenantal people. It’s the judgment of Jesus on his own people (fig tree, sign of Jonah, etc.)

    At the same time, our people instinctively know that the church is NOT ALL ABOUT Mission. It is meant also to be Worship. Most of our people want to go to church to worship, and they want worship that is worship for worship, not worship for mission.

    Yes, yes, of course, worship that is not missional becomes idolatrous, as mission without worship becomes program, but once again let me repeat my harangue. The church should not be about “one thing.” Worship and mission should not be collapsed into each other.

    I think we need to respect and honor our people when they come to worship. Push less talk at that them, say fewer things, score fewer points, say “let us” less often, give them solid and familiar vehicles, speak quietly, let them breathe and pray. I believe that if we trust the liturgy and the worship, we can pray our way into being missional.

  6. How could I argue witrh Daniel Meeter? Well, maybe that’s another post. 😉

    But seriously, I agree, and always have, with your “worship and mission” harangue, Daniel. The problem I was trying to deal with above (besides the fact that we pastors have to try to lead our congregations to deal with “both . . . and” rather than “either . . . or”) is that, with pressure from the denomination to be monomaniacally missional, and such deep resistance in congregations, the pastors are caught in the middle, with more steadily growing pressure upon us.

  7. I’m a little confused about the comments on this post that describe a “deep resistance” to mission. of course, both comments come from James Brumm, so maybe that says something about your context James.

    I must say that the people with which I journey in Lafayette, IN are not opposed to mission in the least. Of course, I am talking about a missional effort that is broadly defined in a Kingdom sort of way rather than narrowly defined in an evangelical sort of way. They are practically begging for this former sort of mission. They struggle to come up with the specific ideas and don’t want to organize the efforts, but for the most part, they are starved for mission. They want to get out there and be the presence of Christ in a 1000 different ways.

    Is our congregation a rare case? am I missing something?

  8. I hope your congregation is not a rare case, Drew (by the way, welcome to the ranks of contributors to this blog!), but, I suspect, neither is mine.

    In his address to the 2007 GS, Brad Lewis talked about two RCAs, and defined them largely in terms of the willingness of members–not pastors, not denominational staff, but members–to take responsibility for their mission (defined, I think, in the same larger sense which you use, and which I prefer). His presidential report is worth reading. The congregations that are (usually historically) self-interested and self-involved and afraid of and/or resistant to mission are too plentiful, but not universal. And we are called to pastor them, too. And, for those of us answering that calling, life is not easy. Good, brave men and women do this every day, and try not to grow weary in well-doing.

    You, Drew, have your own particular challenges that are just as difficult, I’m sure. I probably don’t address those because I cannot, because I don’t experience them. Your voice among us will help do just that.

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