Sunday, October 12, 2008

Who Stole My Church

Just finished reading Gordon MacDonald's book, Who Stole My Church.
I highly recommend it.
Brilliantly written.
Love the narrative style.
Points presented so well.

MacDonald presents powerfully how people take up an ownership attitude of THEIR church. That often means, I want to be COMFORTABLE and "Its' about ME! And people outside of my comfortable group, well, they can just go... someplace else."

Now, you may feel that is an overstatement, but MacDonald makes the point so strongly and clearly.
Jesus said, "
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

How must the man who hung naked on a cruel cross feel about so-called "followers" that ignore, scorn, reject and overlook those He died for.

MacDonald has a beautiful section where he addresses what he labels as the Shelf Life of a Church. He asks, "how do churches and organizations and marriages and even friendships sometimes start out with such freshness and then, later on, go stale?"
He goes on to explain that all human relationships and organizations have a similar beginning that is based on the discovery of a need or opportunity.
Need and opportunity, when defined correctly, lead to vision.
Vision represents the moment someone articulates, "this is what we should do about the need."
It is important to periodically revisit both the original need and the corresponding vision to see if they still form the basis of the church's present existence.

A lot of churches have lost their "first love." All you have to do is read in Revelation 2 to see what Jesus feels about that.

Need or opportunity leads to vision.
Vision leads to initiative and after awhile programs are developed.
Churches are bundles of programs. As long as they continue to meet the need and fulfill the vision they are fine.

Here is the problem... society and cultures change. Needs change.
But by this time the "bundle of programs" have built a following and the programs morph to institutions.

MacDonald defines, "An institution is essentially a bundle of programs that have worked reasonably well over a long period of time. The leaders devise strategies and policies to keep the programs going. They recruit space and staff, because they are the core of what makes an institution.

Here is where the problems can begin to grow. If we are not careful, institutions breed a kind of politics and internal conflict. And if leaders are not alert, people become more interested in running the institution than getting the results defined by the need and the vision.

You can have a church with a million programs, none of which are doing anything but keeping people busy.

Tradition is a stage of shelf life where people do certain things over and over, but have no idea why.
This is the stage, the moment, when the INSIDERS see themselves as more important than the people outside the church that they are supposed to be reaching.

Every church must determine whether or not it prefers tradition and their own comfortable style of music and preaching to the work Jesus said we are supposed to be doing.

Get the book. Read it.


ro.duh. said...

i want to read this. it's something that i feel like i've been thinking about a lot lately inside of my crazy brain. is it a easy read? or does the author use tons of complicating words? that sometimes turns me off to a book cause i get some confused! ha ha

Earl Thornton said...

The good thing about the book, it is written in a narrative style. The author is telling a story and any "big/complicated words" are defined.
Go get it or order it from Amazon.

ro.duh. said...

sweet! i think i will! if i don't buy it will be a good thing to ask for for a christmas gift

Jilliefl1 said...

“Reimagining Church”, by Frank Viola, is a book that approaches this topic from a different angle. It goes deeper to the root of the problems and addresses them with practical alternatives. “Reimagining Church” is the sequel to “Pagan Christianity?”, by George Barna and Frank Viola. It’s endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at It’s also available on

Earl Thornton said...

Jillefl1, I'm familiar with the book and the authors. I have known of Barna for over 28 years. The thing I have noticed in the last 6-7 years is that his research and publications seem to have an agenda. He has become part of the house church movement (which I have no problem with. I think the house church is a viable option for many people).
I respect Barna's and Viola's work. I think it has to be carefully judged. Accepting what is applicable and discarding what is not needed.
To your point, I appreciate Viola's scholarship, but do not agree with what he promotes as his preference.
Thanks for you post and the link. I hope it causes readers to dig down and think for themselves.