Who Stole My Church

Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century
I just finished a most fascinating read called WHO STOLE MY CHURCH by Gordon MacDonald.  MacDonald, who also wrote ORDERING YOUR PRIVATE WORLD, writes the story in novel form about his New England church and their encounter with change in culture and philosophy of ministry in their 100 year old church.  The title is taken from a comment from one of the ladies of the church " I just want to know who stole my church"

What ensues is a months long process of weekly meetings with a group of 12-15 members of the church who are angry, bitter and discouraged at the changes that are happening in their church that seem to be leaving them behind.  Thoughtfully and pastorally, MacDonald walks this group through a time of discussion about what the purpose of the church is, why the church exists and who really owns the church.  Although you sense from the beginning where the book is going to end up, you enjoy the journey of each Tuesday meeting and you see the unfolding of hearts that speak and listen to one another about change.

Personally, this book was about every church that I've served.  I've seen all of these situations ( I could even put a name and face to some) and so it was encouraging (and at times emotionally very difficult) to walk back through some of these hard conversations and see how MacDonald did it with a pastor's heart.  It didn't come quickly, but I get the sense that "fast" was not in his vocabulary.

My personal take aways from the book:
1)Change  is going to happen.  It just is.  That's the nature of time and culture and the church that ignores that change is happening is forever stuck in that period. No going back--it won't ever be like it was back then and even if you went back and did what worked then, it wouldn't be as satisfying as it is remembered.  It never is.

2) Change is difficult and is even more so when communication is fuzzy.  I don't mean announcements.  Communication isn't just one way-it's a two way thing.  Words must be heard, but beyond that hearts must be listened to.  Even though the group protested the changes, what their hearts were saying was that "they didn't feel as connected to the church anymore" and this came because of lack of involvement in people's lives and understanding where the younger generations derived their thoughts about church.  Through great dialogue, both groups (young and old) were able to communicate on a deeper level.

3) Church belongs to God not to man.  If you stop and think about this for a moment you think "well, that's obvious" but the deeper meaning is that "the church" is more than collective programs and buildings.  The church is "the people of God" and of course he "owns" the church.  So, what does that say when we come together collectively?  It means, as scripture says, for us to submit to each other out of love and reverence for Christ.  Make sense?  Nobody owns the church?  Christ owns it and it's his.  The direction it goes really belongs to him and our prayers and thoughts should be so centered on Christ together that any changes made are really received as from Him.  This is hard to do because "man" wants to direct and lead.

4)Hearts need to connect in order for church to work:   About half way through the book the group loses a member (after a heated exchange on an issue in the church) and they admit that though they have known the person for years (church culture), they really didn't know his own life and issues. They never took the time to "do life" with him and understand some of his background.   Unfortunately, this is all too common in the church where we think "we know" people just because we do an hour or two hours with them each week at a building. But, that's not true.   People can fake "life" for an hour or two, but spend hours or days with them and you see the real side of life.  These people had never done that before and by the end of the book they are spending hours outside of the Discovery Group together (eating, studying, going to activities together) and are enjoying a whole new level of intimacy that was never there before.  This only adds to their excitement when they see the whole purpose and meaning of the church.

5)Some churches will never change.  I guess the sad part of this book for me was the realization that some churches will never venture into the land of "tough discussions" about why, and what, and how the church should address and interact with the age that it currently serves and ministers too.  For some, it's just too painful to address these issues.  They are forever destined to be that church that they always were (even if they are no longer meeting the needs of the community or reaching people for Christ).  They turn inward and die.  And for me, that's the saddest part--to see the living, breathing Church of Jesus Christ say to themselves, we'd rather die than change.  That's where the funeral begins for this church (the eulogy is already written "her greatest days were....") and a slow march to the grave has begun.

This is a great book that I would recommend to any church leader.  It's not about style or programming or even a formula of how to fix a "broken" church, but it is a prescription of how to walk through these waters with some sense of the Holy Spirit's leading.  You can borrow my copy if you want.

Other blogs
Man of Depravity-Tyler Braun
Postwiki Duncan Macleod


Chris Gambill said...

Jim, thanks for the great summary. I may try and get this into the hands of some of our leaders for us to look at together.