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155 of 158 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, Thought-provoking, Frustrating & Inspiring
Synopsis

With the writing of The Present Future, Reggie McNeal lent his voice to a rising chorus in American Christianity warning that traditional church growth and development strategies are no longer effective. He posited that over the past hundred years or more, the church adopted an organization and operational model consistent with the needs and...
Published on April 23, 2005 by Brian Prucey

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49 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars right symptoms, wrong cure
In diagnosing an illness, a physician must look beyond the symptoms for the simple reason that many diseases may present the same or similar signs. The doctor will run a series of tests to rule out one or several possible diseases, narrowing the list of possibilities until he reaches a final diagnosis. If he treats a patient based only on the presenting symptoms, the...
Published on December 31, 2008 by Diane Dekker


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155 of 158 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, Thought-provoking, Frustrating & Inspiring, April 23, 2005
By 
Brian Prucey (Bossier City, LA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
Synopsis

With the writing of The Present Future, Reggie McNeal lent his voice to a rising chorus in American Christianity warning that traditional church growth and development strategies are no longer effective. He posited that over the past hundred years or more, the church adopted an organization and operational model consistent with the needs and expectations of modernism. With the cultural shift toward postmodernism, the expectations of the North American society have changed regarding established institutions like the church. However, the church has largely failed to recognize the influence postmodernism has had on the decline of the church. McNeal theorized that the church must force itself to recognize where the culture is and where it is heading in the future. American Christianity must then adopt strategies that best translate the timeless Gospel message into the language of the culture without compromising essential doctrinal truths. To help church leaders in this process, McNeal presented what he considered the six new realities arising from the advent of the postmodernism. His examination of these new realities provided opportunities for serious reflections on any future strategies of the church.

Critical Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses

McNeal's first new reality of the changed culture is the imminent collapse of the modern manifestation of the church. He did not suggest that the church as a spiritual entity is dead. He suggested the cultural expression of the organizational church is dying and the obituary is already written. The builder generation is passing away. Those in generations X and Y, along with the more recent millenniums, no longer see the relevance of the church. They do not support the institution of the church as their parents and grandparents once did. In response, the church must rediscover a theology of missions. For too long, McNeal asserted, the church in North America has operated primarily for the benefit of its own members. McNeal charged that the modern church has forgotten its true mission as the Body of Christ; that is, to provide a human voice to God's call of reconciliation to humankind. The remedy for the dying church in America is not a new method, but a rediscovery of its classic mission to a lost world.

McNeal's second reality of the changing culture faults abuses within the church growth movement of the past thirty years. McNeal proposed that the church growth movement primarily focused on building the institution of the church rather than building the Kingdom of God. The approaches adopted within the movement increased members, but did little to significantly transform people into kingdom citizens reflecting kingdom values. As a result, church leaders transferred their focus from engaging the culture with life-changing truths onto how to attract and retain people who were interested in what the church was doing for itself. Church resources have been concentrated on activities that make church members happy and keep them from jumping ship to another church. McNeal warned that such a consumer-minded approach to doing church fails to impact a culture that desires something fundamentally different from what the church has to offer in its programming.

The third reality calls for a new reformation. Whereas the first reformation freed the church from the stranglehold of a corrupt clergy, the modern reformation movement seeks to free the members from the burden of the institutional church. Presently, the common definition of an active church member is one who devotes his or her time to the needs of the church bureaucracy; that is, the care and feeding of the institutional church. The new reality of the postmodern culture requires members to engage the culture in creative ways that may not easily fit into predefined models of church work. The effective church of the future will thoroughly exegete its culture and will equip and empower its members to engage that culture in creative and meaningful ways. A more meaningful definition of an active church member will no longer be defined by their contributions of time, talent, and treasures within the church; but will be defined by whether church members are engaging their culture in meaningful ways outside the walls of the church. Members will become missionaries to the culture.

McNeal's fourth reality tackled the nebulous issue of spiritual formation. In the past, church leaders were concerned about how to develop good church members. In the future, leaders must learn how to help members become devoted followers of Jesus. McNeal's proposition is that a person can function as a strong and faithful church member and still live a devilish lifestyle outside the eyes of the church. All of one's life must fall under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The role of church leaders is not to build better members, but to build better disciples. Toward this end, McNeal suggested the church provide life coaching with the view toward spiritual formation. Life coaches provide mentoring and accountability to assist Christians in incorporating the values of the faith into every aspect of their life and personality. McNeal believes that the postmodern culture is searching for spiritual significance and would be attracted to the call of Christ if they see Christians living the life of Christ.

New reality number five, the shift from planning to preparation, challenged church leaders to prepare for the culture of the future by adopting a vision informed by the values of the Kingdom of God. McNeal asserted that if we plan for a future that does not materialize, then our planning has produced strategies inconsistent with the new reality and the church has wasted valuable resources. Instead, church leaders must prepare for the future by maintain a flexibility to respond quickly and agilely to the culture as it moves through the future.

McNeal's final reality calls for a change in the way pastors lead their congregations. McNeal proposed church leaders adopt an apostolic leadership model. Past and present leadership models seek to maintain the industry of the church. An apostolic leadership model best responds to the new spiritual landscape that reflects more of the world of Acts then America of the twentieth century (126). Apostolic leadership has a different measure of success. Success is measured by the church's impact outside it walls, not the strength of internal programs. Apostolic leadership in the new church paradigm will not be the sole purview of the clergy. McNeal asserted that all church members should develop apostolic leadership characteristics. Only when Christians at large take responsibility for engaging the culture will the church once more reflect its biblical roots.

Evaluation of Author's Success

Much of McNeal's thesis is well taken. This reviewer once served as church development director for the Northwest Louisiana Baptist Association with the responsibility of helping inner-city churches develop strategies for more effective ministry in transitional neighborhoods. What he discovered is that traditional churches, all of which were in serious decline, were more interested in returning to the glory days of their past. Their focus was on strengthening failed programs and shoring up crumbling infrastructure. They too were asking all the wrong questions. They wanted to build a bridge to the future with the rotten lumber of the past. Most of these church leaders would reject McNeal's words out of hand.

While McNeal's premise is thought provoking, he failed to provide enough specifics to be truly helpful. He stated that "church activity is a poor substitute for spiritual vitality" (7), but did not define spiritual vitality. McNeal accused church leaders of searching for new methodological fixes for sagging vibrancy. He proposed that leaders should pursue a new way of thinking about the problems in light of the new millennium. He suggested asking the question, "How do we hit the streets with the Gospel?" (26). The question of "How" is a methodological question.

McNeal's suggested approaches to dealing with the realities of ministry in a postmodern context leaves one with the impression that he has a low view of church membership. Specifically, ministry to the culture does not necessarily mean gleaning people for membership in the local church. For example, McNeal recounted a San Antonio church that took a portable baptistery into the barrios as a part of their block party ministry. Those who expressed a faith in Christ and so desired were baptized (34). This activity will challenge Baptist beliefs that the ordinances are for the church, and that baptism serves to unite the new believer into the fellowship of the local church. An essential part of spiritual formation is active membership in the local church--not for the sake of preserving the visible institution, but in recognition of the spiritual reality of Christ's presence in the midst of assembled believers.

Lessons Learned

A sign over a youth minister's door once read, "Challenge Everything." McNeal has done that. This reviewer discovered that his traditional rural church operates to preserve its institutional systems and structures. New members are desirable only for what they can do to shore up the institution. Evangelism is the means of self-preservation. McNeal's challenge to focus on Kingdom growth rather than church growth provided a new vision for this pastor's work.

McNeal insisted the new paradigm church would focus on spiritual formation. This reviewer's church focuses on helping members develop quality churchmanship. New member orientation is designed to point believers to internal church ministries that need tending. This pastor must seek to help people grow in their faith with respect to all aspects of their lives.

Believers must become disciples who then become disciple makers.

A challenging lesson for this pastor was the validation of an individual's community activities as a part of kingdom ministry, even though the church does not officially sanction it. Church members who volunteer at hospitals, community action agencies, and schools are performing valuable ministry in Christ's name. Therefore, this pastor has begun publicly recognizing and applauding such civic-minded volunteerism. There may be no direct benefit to the church, but kingdom work is being done nonetheless.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Challenge To Rethink How We Do "Church", July 11, 2005
This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
There was so much good stuff in this book, that I could practically underline everything I read. I was constantly shaking my head in silent laughter while at the same time nodding assent to the assertions made that how we Christians 'do church' must be re-evaluated and how that some long-held assumptions must be discarded.

As a staunch local church advocate, it would have been easy, at first, to label the author as a loose-cannon with an authority problem (the pharisee within me was saying what's wrong with the way we do church ?? - the church in America has been cranking along just fine, thank you very much, for the last 200 years - why should we change ??)... but there's no denying that the church in America is changing - the younger generation does not learn the same way or see life in exactly the same light as do their grandfathers, yet we blindly 'do church' the same way we did it 50-60 years ago. By the way, how's that been working for ya?? Perhaps some will say it works just fine, but many of us are not finding that to be true.

We tend to get wrapped around the axle with making the church grow (all to God's glory, of course - and it looks good on the resume) and making good church members (here's your new member packet detailing all the essentials you'll need to know on being a productive, obedient church member) verses encouraging members of the kingdom to have a vibrant love-relationship with Jesus, help them develop the gifts God has given them, and then turn them loose on the culture at large.

No, we 'church people' initially tell them to "come just as you are", but once they're are in the church, we'll strap them with rules, regulations & obligations (i.e. attend all services & don't forget tithing!!). We teach them that we, as the leadership, know what's best for them, teach them to submit to leadership, how we'll decide when they're ready to be used, how we'll decide what the ministries they should or should not be involved in, teach them that all their energies are for 'serving the church' - almost a total focus within the four walls of the church building with only a glancing nod to the lost community around us.

Reggie wants us to start thinking in 'Missional' terms vs 'club member' terms - to engage the community vs a 'hold the fort' mentality - that the church is indeed a place for pastors to equip the flock for ministry (please see Jesus as an example) - but that ministry must further the advancement of the Kingdom of God, not just the infrastructure of the local church.

I can't recommend this book enough to jolt us from our complacent 'church as usual' philosophy. You may not agree with everything he writes, but Reggie will give you something new to think about.

He asserts that old methods of doing church will not work for the 21st century church. We better wake up and smell the coffee in an age where the church is ever being pushed to the sidelines in the culture as irrelevant.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Churchiatnity vs Christianity, March 10, 2006
This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
I love this book. I ask my entire mission and worship committee to read it and had the name and ISBN # printed in our church news letter for the rest of the congregation. The author doesn't mince words. He wants to stop judging the success or failure of our churches and missions by the number of attendees. Stop talking the talk- without walking the walk. Stop trying to "fill the pews" and instead go out and show people what it means to have a personal relationship with the creator, God, Lord of all.

The congregations in my region have been contemplating consolidating into one church building. This would allow them to put their people and money and efforts into one "pot" and thus offer more diverse programs, etc. I felt in my heart that this was not a good idea. "The Present Future" came into my hands during the period of time when I was praying for guidance on this issue. Mr. McNeal spoke to my concerns, and helped me see a new perspective. Suddenly I was able to see the,"cruise ship" mentality that a big church offers, with coffee shops, work-out areas, and varieties of programs and entertainment. The "church " becomes about the members and not about God.

He talks about the "cruise ship" churches taking members from the smaller churches,("fishing from the same bathtub", as one minister in our area calls it). Mr. McNeal speaks to becoming missional churches. Going to where the people are, rather than wanting them to come to the church. He urges us to stop using "church speak" that an unchurched christian might not understand.

It was in one of his first chapters when he talked of Christians who were leaving their churches to "preserve" their christianity that I realized this was an important book. I highly suggest reading,"The Present Future" as a resource for real christian, missional church growth.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If ony I had known earlier..., May 7, 2005
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
I am reading this book the second time as I write this review, not just because it is a book with good points and hard truths, but it is a book that will challenge your perspective on your personal views of the church, and will either leave you thinking what I can do to help the church move forward, or set you to think that that the church is too set in her ways to move forward anymore. Just let an unchurched person read this book too and see what he thinks about it.

Just as Martin Luther nailed his thesis on the door of the church that started the reformation, this book is liken to Luther's thesis on the modern day institutional church, and the question is what we are going to do about it! This is a must read if you want to see what the next reformation for the church is to be like, but don't just read it, do something about it. McNeal warns from the start that if you like the church that you are in the way it is, then maybe this is not the book for you. What he writes is a hard pill to swallow, but it is one that we must. Reading it a second time, it feels like I am reading it for the first because it is like a "standard" to assess where the church is at.

Will you be a "next reformation" Christian?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Church, get your head out of the sand!, December 30, 2005
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
If you are a church leader with your head in the sand, ignoring the postmodern revolution in our culture, or unwilling to change methods to communicate the message, you will not like Reggie McNeal. He will jerk you up by the neck and shout in your face to wake up and smell the coffee.

This book is frightening for church leaders to read, but it is also highly motivating. The man knows what he is talking about, and we had better listen!

So what is he talking about? He tries to get church leaders to understand that the modern culture is gone, the postmodern culture is here, and the church is quickly losing the next generation (although the generation is still interested in spiritual things). McNeal says that by asking how we can build a better church we are asking the wrong questions. The traditional church will continue to decline and even disappear, but the movement of Christ will survive and even thrive.

McNeal urges Christians to shift from building the local church to extending the kingdom, to shift from wearing out church workers with church work to releasing them to infiltrate the culture with the gospel, to shift from "Bible study" to "spiritual formation" by applying the Bible to real life, to shift from planning to preparation, and to dare to train bold new leaders.

I read this book quickly, in about two days. I want to go back and read over it again and again. This is a book to give to all of your church leadership team and have them read it and discuss it together-- you can be sure it will be a lively discussion that could revolutionize your church.

On a personal note, I spent a day with Reggie McNeal and about two dozen pastors at a conference in Springfield, Georgia, and I found him to be just as stimulating and passionate in person. I was sharing with him about how we were running out of space for Sunday School classes, and he urged me that instead of thinking about building more classrooms, to have classes meet in local restaurants and garages and let the people's faith spill out and influence the unchurched people they will meet who come into the businesses on Sunday. He definitely thinks outside of the box.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heartfelt prophetic voice of one crying in the wilderness, July 24, 2004
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
Reggie's message is to all who are troubled that the Church today is answering questions that most people are not asking anymore. This book probes deeply into the present state of affairs of the Church and asks those questions that many people, both Christian and non-Christian, have been afraid to ask but desperately need answers for...right now! Reggie's message resonates with the scarlet thread of passion and inspiration that has been flowing through Christian literature for just a short period of time, especially in the writings of other prophetic voices such as: Jack Dennison, C. Peter Wagner, Howard Snyder, Mike Regele, George Barna, and many more. These voices are speaking truths that we all must hear and act upon.

For my wife and I who have been in full-time Christian ministry for over 25 years, this book brought great encouragement and divine confirmation to our hearts. We are not alone in our passions, burdens, and the paradigm shift that is moving us toward what we believe to be a God-inspired vision for 21st Century ministry design and community transformation. Don't read this book...unless you are ready to be challenged and poised to capture the true essence of New Testament Church and Christ's Great Commission to go and make disciples.

Michael and Kim Simon

The Powerlife Project

[...]
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly Enlightening - and Life Changing!, August 15, 2005
By 
Liam Woods "rpwoods" (Ventura, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
Take a new look at all you do in at church, through the lens that Reggie McNeal provides. I've been trying to 'see' this way sincde reading The Present Future for the second time. It is frustrating to realize how church/club-oriented we are. Our structure and traditions are designed to meet the needs of the church (club) and not the needs of individuals.

Now, we try to consider FIRST how we're impacting our community with the mission of Jesus, and how people's lives are being transformed; then consider how it affects the church.

If we can make the transition, God will use us more effectively.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful polemic on the institutional church . . ., June 5, 2004
This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
If you are follower of Jesus Christ but disillusioned by the institutional church (not excluding evangelical churches), McNeal's book is for you. McNeal says "I am writing this book as a polemical volume. I want to galvanize church leaders to action before it's too late." He then challenges the assumptions made in the current "church culture" which are usually much more about "how to make the church better" instead of how to help advance the cause of Christ in the world. McNeal uses words like "missional effectiveness" and "apostolic leadership." If you feel like something is missing in your church (even a Bible-teaching, believing church) don't miss this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, Shocking and Remarkably Inspiring, May 11, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
McNeal is right: this book is not for everyone. To read it openly and honestly will take a tremendous amount of courage ont he part of church leaders. Why? Because McNeal is giving voice to realities and questions most of the church has chosen to ignore or is to afraid to ask.
However, by asking the questions, McNeal and other emergent thinking like him are opening up a dialogical space where true reformation can (and will) occur within the North American church.
This book is probably one of my top 5 Leadership Development books and I know you'll find yourself coming back to it again and again for its wisdom, challenge and keen insight.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read, January 9, 2006
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This review is from: The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (Hardcover)
I liked this book because of its practical tone. McNeal echoes people like Frank Viola and George Barna on the need for a new vantage point to understand church. This book along with Rethinking the Wineskin by Viola and Revolution by Barna are prophetic voices for the coming reformation.
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The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal (Hardcover - October 3, 2003)
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