Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 4: Chapter 2


I’ve known Hollywood for nearly a quarter-century. We were roommates in college for a couple of years and kept in touch, mostly via Christmas cards or a yearly phone call. Then came e-mail and blogging and social networking and now there’s rarely a week we don’t communicate.

Anyway, he’s a deacon at his church and their board decided to walk through the book together. I needed something to read on a rainy Sunday (and Monday) so I thought it’d be fun to work through it with him. I’m glad I decided to do this, too. The book has my brain engaged big-time.

MacDonald decided to write the book as a work of fiction (after several failed starts and stops, realizing that there are already tons of books out there on church-change). He and his wife are the only two “real” people, and he creates an ad hoc committee of sorts, about 15 or so long-time New Englanders at a church of about 200. The characters are speaking for a broad range of what I’m guessing are actual comments he’s heard over the years regarding change and churches.

Let’s simply be honest and put it out there:

We all have a version of doing church that we prefer.

A perfect example was our church’s men’s breakfast a few weeks ago. We started with some table questions to get to know each other…everything from our favorite movie of all time to our opinion of the most important decision you can make in life. I really enjoyed this because there was a pretty healthy mix of generations at my table, everyone from a middle school guy to retirees. And the speaker was the head elder at our church and everybody likes to hear from him.

It was the “worship” time that caused a few thoughts to pop into my head like, “I’m glad I didn’t highlight this to my high school guys” and “I’m glad this wasn’t the Saturday some of our new college guys decided to give the men’s breakfast a visit.” See, there was a banjo involved. And the song choices certainly would’ve made my grandparents happy.

Now, before you type the hate comments, let me say that the singing was loud. And enthusiastic. And it was certainly well-played by talented musicians. My point is that this isn’t my cup of tea…not that it wasn’t good or worshipful or whatever. It certainly was appreciated by the majority of the guys there.

I’d expect the same reaction from the older folks if I’d had booked Stavesacre for the men’s breakfast. That certainly wouldn’t go over well among that group.

Anyway, my point is that we all have our preferences when it comes to how we do church.

This is something MacDonald highlights in chapter 2. In his fictional group discussing the changes at their fictional church, one of the group members, Clayton (a realtor) has this to say:

“I meet people all the time who are moving to our city. They want to know about schools, shopping malls, libraries, the whole nine yards. I always want to tell them about my church, but, you know, I usually don’t. And I guess it’s because I love my church–I really love all of you–sometimes I’m embarrassed about it. I just fear they’re going to be disappointed if they come. Are they going to see real Christianity here? Or are we just a bunch of people running a Bible club, more worried about what’s in it for us than for someone looking for something better than they’ve got?”

A few questions come to mind:

First, do we really want to be authentic Christians? There are dangers when we let people see past what we want them to see. We all have little skeletons we’d prefer to keep deep in the closet behind the designer clothing.

Second, how many of us actually meet new people to the degree that we’d ever get to a point of inviting them to our church? I mean, this is easier said than done if you’re not in a formal education setting. And, PTA or sports team parents or civic groups often don’t leave enough time for deep relationships.

Third, are we truly pleased with how our church would appear to a visitor checking it out for the first time? Many of us haven’t visited a church once we found one. Do we know that our website is now the official first visit, anyway? They’re gonna check out whatever interests them (from doctrine to kids offerings), listen to a sermon, etc., before they ever drive up. Who do our graphics on posters/printed materials appeal to? All this stuff matters.

Fourth, as the author asserts, if the leadership were to make changes in the church, would we be truly open and honest about the POSSIBILITY that it’s God who is doing the changing? Or would it be a gripe session, with the eventuality that the church is going a different direction that we are so we choose one of the other 10 great churches in the area that makes us feel most comfortable? Is a consumer mentality even a bad thing?

Finally, do we really care if our church “out lives” us? I mean, would some people be happy for “their” church to stay the same as long as they didn’t have to be uncomfortable? As one to deals with and serves the upcoming generation (and see myself as a bridge between two, or among three, generations) frankly, sometimes, I don’t think I’d like the answer.

And, so, today, I’m not sure I have a lot of answers.

But I’m hoping you’ll chime in with your questions or thoughts…