Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give Up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church – and What We Should Do Instead, Reggie McNeal, Tyndale Momentum, 2015.
Reggie McNeal sets out to do exactly what the subtitle suggests. The fist half of Kingdom Come explains why the church must give up fixing the church. While the second half deals with the what the church should do instead along with practical ways to do just that. The thesis of this approachable book is summarized in this statement by McNeal, which he repeats often:
“The church is not the point of the Kingdom; the Kingdom is the point of the church.”
The book is divided into two sections. One focusing on McNeal’s theory that in order for the Church to survive in this new day and age, it must refocus on the Kingdom. The second half gives practical examples and practical steps to achieve that. While the first half of the book is Pastor McNeal, the second half is Leadership Consulant McNeal.
In seminary, one of the first classes that I took was a theology class. We met in a room in the Hogwarts like library behind stacks and stacks of books. It was a small room, big enough just for the table and chairs in the room. The professor would sit at the table and the group of us would have these discussions. During part of the semester, he used the Lord’s Prayer to teach theology.
It was the first time that I recall having the Lord’s Prayer opened up and exposed for the richness that it holds. In the midst of these conversations I began to hear and say the prayer differently. One of the lines in the prayer is one that McNeal uses time and again in his book to support his argument.
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
McNeal, who was a pastor and denominational leader before becoming a missional leadership specialist for Leadership Network, sees that the Church continues to try to fix itself by reinventing programs that continue to reinforce the foundation of the Church. Instead of fixing the church, McNeal argues that the Church should be about Kingdom work. The Church should be focusing on fulfilling the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”
It’s like the little ditty many of us learned as children growing up in the church: “The church is not a building, the church is a people.”
McNeal identifies the key problem:
“While God seeks, through the deployment of his Kingdom people, to bring abundant life to the people he created, the church is often too occupied with its own organizational needs and development to join him in his efforts. Community engagement and loving one’s neighbors are seen as something to consider after we take care of church business.”
It did not take much to convince me that the Church is too often inner-focused than outer-focused. Part of my call (and that of others) as an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church is to lead the Church into being more outer-focused. The foundation of my theology and practice of ministry has always been Love God and Love Others. McNeal writes, “Love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably intertwined in a missional understanding of church. Service to others is a fundamental spiritual discipline.”
Being more Kingdom focused was not a hard sell for me.
To be Kingdom-focused is to be concerned with being Kingdom agents so that God’s Kingdom will be experienced here on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of standing around gazing upon the heavens waiting for Christ to return to take us all to heaven, we are active agents of a Kingdom that values life and justice of all people – here on earth.
And perhaps that’s why this section was easy for me to breeze through. This is a central piece of my theology and my call to ministry. I may not use some of the same language that McNeal used, but the idea of being Kingdom-centered I can wrap my head around.
McNeal goes on to make the connection between being about Kingdom work and vocation and call. He is open about the reality that Kingdom work does not, and will not, always take place in or through the Church. McNeal suggests that the future of the Church may not be within the Church, but could be found in various places within the community. How we understand vocation will shape how we fulfill the call to be Kingdom agents.
What I appreciated the most was McNeal’s focus on transition. He is clear that this book has two target audiences – clergy and lay leadership. These are the key players in transiting the Church into a Kingdom movement. McNeal is careful not to use the word “change” when talking about the Church. He states that change should refer to an individual, while “transition” should be used to talk about what is happening in the Church.
Churches go through transitions all the time. How we handle and deal with transitions will make or break a church. The leadership of these churches should be innovators and early adopters who can not only start a Kingdom-centered movement, but can lead a church through such a transition. McNeal’s “What Now?” steps are explained with passion and are simple to implement.
While McNeal’s tradition is different from my own, I found that his experience of being a Kingdom agent and bridging the gap between the Church and the Community was helpful and inspiring. As McNeal states in his book, “I wrote this book to challenge this way of thinking and to help church leaders rediscover their true mission – leading God’s people to partner with him in his redemptive efforts in the world. . . . seeking first his Kingdom.”