Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church
by Reggie McNeal
2009 Jossey-Bass (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) Reviewed by Dr. David Korb
Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance
is a follow-up to his previous work, The Present Future
, in which he describes the missional movement in America today. In the introduction to Missional Renaissance
McNeal asserts that “the rise of the missional church is the single biggest development in Christianity since the Reformation.” He goes on to say, “I think we are in a kind of missional renaissance, where the confluence of thinking by key thinkers is reshaping the landscape of our imagination of what we think the church can and should be. One benefit of this missional renaissance is that we can now begin to say what missional is, not just what it is not.”
According to McNeal, “going missional” will require church leaders to make three shifts, in both their thinking and behavior. These shifts are: 1) from internal to external in terms of ministry focus; 2) from program development to people development in terms of core activity; and 3) from church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda. The rest of the book is, for the most part, McNeal’s explanation of what he means by those shifts.
McNeal piggybacks on Blackaby’s emphasis by suggesting, “The missional church believes it is God who is on mission” and that we must “find out what God is doing and join him in it.” In his explanation of the second shift, McNeal states, “The missional church takes far more seriously the challenge to help people shape their path for personal development. …We must change our idea of what it means to develop a disciple, shifting the emphasis from studying Jesus and all things spiritual in an environment protected from the world to following Jesus into the world to join him in his redemptive mission.”
As I read this book, the thing that irked me the most was McNeal’s use of absolute, or blanket, statements. For me, the proliferation of “it’s only this way” or “it’s only that way” statements throughout his discourse discredited his thesis, as those statements paint an incorrect picture of the church today. For example, his statement above that the “traditional” model of church is only about studying Jesus and not following him is untrue. In fact, I believe he is wrong to suggest that you can do authentically do the latter without purposefully engaging in the former.
I also know of many churches that are both internally and externally focused, and are in fact doing both quite well. I am familiar with churches that do not see programs as an end in themselves, but only a first step or tool in the development of people. So to say “the traditional church is always like this” and “the missional church is always like that” is to simplify matters and do a disservice to both sides. I also found McNeal’s arguments self-contradictory, in that while he speaks against program development in the church, his book is tantamount to the unfolding of a “new program;” he’s inviting the reader to follow his prescriptive 3-point outline for doing church.
On a positive note, I appreciate the author’s push to move church members beyond the walls of the church. However, I found it interesting that McNeal’s plan for this external movement looks a lot like a program. He also seems to ignore the fact that all of the people in the church already have an external dynamic at play: when they leave church on Sunday, they live the rest of their week out in the world.
I honestly did not find this book helpful. I felt like the author rehashes the same themes and ideas over and over, but with different terminology. I’m sorry to say this is not a book I would recommend to others.