Strolling Through Gordon MacDonald’s “Who Stole My Church?”, Part 5: Chapter 2, Entry 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.

After the last entry, somebody asked me what I preferred in churches. They were really asking me what musical style I’d prefer in a church service, but I didn’t know that until I answered with the following:

First, exegetical teaching. I once had a seminary professor tell the class that teaching Scripture was the art of letting the Bible speak for itself and getting yourself out of the way. Wise man, Dr. Constable. Anyway, I’m big on a verse-by-verse study of a book or letter. I’m not much for the current trends with sermons that are focused on the listeners “How to Fix Your Life” or “Seven Days to a Better Prayer Life.” All teaching should focus on Him and His Word…that goes for sermons or small group lessons. I even taught exegetically in my “film and theology” class.

Second, a grace-based filter for interpretation. You need to understand that I’m convinced Scripture teaches that His grace is the primary motivation for living the Christian life now. See, most churches are really good at teaching grace when it comes to salvation, but then quickly go into behavioral codes for living now…which I believe ultimately arrests spiritual development. So, I’m a big believer in consistently teaching that grace motivates us to live now, which keeps me from “majoring in the minors.” In other words, I don’t have to focus on what rock group my teens have on their t-shirts or what movies they go to, or even how many “quiet times” (again, I’ve never understood why that term/idea has caught on in evangelical culture) they’ve had this week, and can focus on them abiding in Christ and abiding in His Word. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than simple behavioral managament.

Third, an emphasis on small groups and one-on-one discipleship. Too often, in our culture the primary growth venue is seen as the main worship service. But, let’s be honest: A lecture hall full of 400 people is not very effective when it comes to discipleship. It might be good for information, but I’d suggest that a lunch time conversation afterward about the information would be more helpful in the discipleship process. I mean, I get more discipleship done in my Wednesday night group of guys (usually following up comments with coffee or something to get one-on-one) than I do in my Sunday School “lecture.” In small groups, they can ask questions. They can bring up personal situations as examples for application. You can talk about where you struggle. The one thing I’ve always thought was peculiar was that I tell parents that they need to have their teen in a small group of some sort, and they do, but then the parents aren’t involved in any type of small group (and I agree that we’ve got to expand our vision for what those look like) whatsoever. Yes, exegetical, grace-based teaching needs to be at the forefront of small groups.

Finally, an emphasis on ministry “by the Body.” So many churches say they do this, but mostly, it’s the paid staff getting it stuff done. But I believe it’s true that every believer, no matter what age, no matter what personality, no matter what, has been given a spiritual gift to help the church grow/mature. They need to be using that gift, and it’s up to the paid staff to be discipling them in ways they can use that gift, and provide opportunities to use that gift and ensure they’re being used well.

So, frankly, I don’t view the main service as anything more than what it is: a gathering of believers (with visitors present on occasion) worshipping through the (exegetical) teaching of the Word, giving, song, etc. So, when somebody asks me what I’m looking for in a church, well, I think bigger picture.

Because you can do small groups LOTS of ways. You can do the main service using many different methods. You can have many ways to allow the gifts of people to be used effectively. But those elements should be there.

So, when they asked me what music I like, you can see why I might’ve misunderstood the question. Now, if you’re asking me my preference: I’d go with some kind of grunge music. That soft-loud verse-chorus-verse style seems to allow for reflection and enthusiasm and getting to the point. However, what I’d really prefer is a rotation of musical styles so that every group in the church gets their favorite “style” at some point every 6 weeks or so, and then gets to serve others by trying to enjoy the other “styles” of those older and younger the other weeks. The only other real option I see is coffeehouse style…with a guitar and simple drums because almost every age group could get into that in some way. But I’m much more in favor of rotating styles. More people can get involved in the ministry.

Seems to me that is Biblical.

But that’s what I look for in a church: People who love each other and are willing to serve on another even if it makes them uncomfortable. And I think those four elements are what gets folks there the fastest.

Your thoughts, patrons?