A Chemistry Conversation with Reggie McNeal
The pandemic is birthing a new thing in the church. Over the last six months, we have engaged in a decade's worth of innovation. Things have changed, things are changing, and will continue to evolve in ways we never anticipated in the days to come. What an exciting time to be a pastor!
What an amazing opportunity to get to watch God do a new thing.
In this Chemistry Conversation, Matt Steen talks with Reggie McNeal about what he is learning about discipleship in the age of the pandemic, how we can be shifting, and an exciting new opportunity to grow in our ability to disciple our congregations in a digital age.
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Matt Steen: Well hey, this is Matt Steen with Chemistry Staffing, and this is another Chemistry conversation. Joining me today is Reggie McNeal. I'm really excited about this conversation because Reggie is pretty much the "be all end all" when it comes to discipleship I'm guessing. Is that pretty accurate, Reggie?
Reggie McNeal: I wouldn't say that's accurate at all. Go ahead, I'm enjoying the introduction.
Matt Steen: One of the things I'm really excited about is Reggie has decided to come alongside of Chemistry and lead a lab on discipleship in the COVID age. Things may have changed just a little bit back in March.
You may have noticed that, Reggie. Reggie McNeal: Yeah, just a little.
Matt Steen: Just slightly. And I don't know about you, I never had a course in seminary that talked about pastoring through an apocalypse or a pandemic or anything like that. And so because so much has shifted, we've asked Reggie to come alongside some of our pastors and really kind of help us think through what discipleship looks like in this day and age. Really today, Reggie, what I'd like to do with you is just three basic questions, right. What are you learning about discipleship in this time? What are some of our pastors need to be thinking about? And then we can finish up and talk a little bit about what you're doing in the labs. So tell me, what have you been learning?
Reggie McNeal: Well I first of all want to say that the place we find ourselves is really a situation that was coming anyway. The COVID pandemic really has only just accelerated the implications of the fourth information revolution in human history, which is the digital revolution. It had implications for the church. Most folks in the church, we weren't caught up to that yet. It had implications in terms of the spiritual landscape out there, how to engage people, all that. So what happened is that the pandemic came along and suddenly we were just fast forwarded into the future. And so, we're now thrust into this digital age and we've got to figure out a way to "be church" in this new world. It is as provocative or paradigmatic shifting as the last big human information revolution, which was the reformation. It changed everything, and we're right back there. So what I'm learning through the COVID, there are a couple things. I could say first of all we were woefully unprepared in most cases. None of your listeners, I'm just talking about the other folks.
Matt Steen: Just in general. Right.
Reggie McNeal: That don't have an account with you, you know that ne’er-do-wells that are dragging that those stegosaurus tails are just cutting ruts in the road behind them. But anyway. But the truth is, we've just been kind of caught, you know, like a deer in the headlights all of the sudden. And so the biggest thing that we've learned is that the old discipling approach, which we call "discipleship," was by and large creating consumers for church programming. And we measured participation as the way to say, we're doing really well discipling here because we've got a whole bunch of people coming, and they're sitting in our small groups and they're showing up in our worship and all that kind of stuff. So when you can't do that or when that's severely impacted by the pandemic, now we're thrust into a situation where we've got think about, now wait a minute, how do we know if we're making any difference at all in people's lives. Which brings me to your second question, which is what do we need to do now. Well, we've got to move. We've got to make the big shift from a program development focus, which is just the western church. That's what we did, that's what we do, and we've got staff that have programs to run. They're project administrators and all that kind of stuff. Well suddenly, now we are confronted head on and thankfully so that we're supposed to be in the people-development business, not the program-development business. Now people hear me say that and think I'm against programs. I'm not. Any time you've got two people doing one thing, you've got a program. It's going to happen. My point is, what's the point. And in the church actually celebrating and measuring the development of people, which every disciple I know just about is a person. And so if we're really going to move from creating consumers into helping people to develop and deploy viral kingdom agents, speaking of pandemic, then that requires that we have people that are actually Jesus-followers. Their whole life is built around that sense of mission and purpose, and it's not centered in the church in terms of the church institution, an activity. It is certain in the church, but it's more kingdom-oriented, more kingdom-focused there. So what we've got to do right now, which brings me to the lab really, is we've got to figure out how do we make that shift from a program-development to a people-development culture? How do we create a new narrative for that? How do we create a new score card for that? And then what are the leadership competencies that we need in order to pull that off. So that's what I hope that they lab is about. Honestly, you know, if you were to say, "Hey Reggie." I know you would want to say this. "What does discipleship look like going forward?" I would be very reluctant to tell you. I have hints and notions, and I think have a better set of questions that I want to put in front of our participants in the lab, but I'm really looking for innovators and early adopters who can really put their mind to this. I don't think anybody's figured this out, and I'm certainly not claiming it, but I do think I can help process-wise with the right people in the room help us come to some understandings that we can use as practitioners and also pass along to other folks.
Matt Steen: One of the things that I really love about the way that this is being structured is that this isn't just kind of sit and listen to Reggie lecture, but it is a cohort and it is a conversation. It's really a learning community, isn't that right?
Reggie McNeal: Totally. A leadership community in the sense that I don't want it just to be a think fest because leaders always want results, not just ideas. So I'm hoping that there will be ideas born but that are implementable and actually shift the trajectory of the discipleship efforts of the participants involved in the cohort. I think, honestly, we've known this for years; pastors have been saying this in every survey. What's your biggest challenge? And we say, well it's discipleship. And then you try to have a conversation around discipleship and it always gets bumped. Anything else gets in its way. We've got to raise money for this. We need a new staff for this. We've got to think something for this. And I think that's telltale in itself. The second thing about that is we also know that most pastors admit that they've never been discipled. So why would we expect... that is, discipling is a competence. I hope that the people that are participants in this, you don't have to be a Marvel Avengers discipler to be a part of this team, but I do think you have to be willing to go to school and tack on some new skills and pay attention to some new stuff. But I guarantee you, being a disciple, knowing that you're making a difference in people's lives and their trajectory of life and that they're enjoying the life that God intends for them, nothing else in ministry brings greater satisfaction. All those program achievements and all that, we know this. I hope some folks will participate in this just because you're ready for a good shot in the arm as a reminder of why you said "yes" to God to start with.
Matt Steen: I think what this whole experience is reminding me of is just what you're saying. This is what we got into ministry for in so many ways. We're called to it, and we're called to pour into people and help people pursue that life that Christ has called us to. So much of what this pandemic has done has forced us back to
the basic blocking and tackling of ministry, albeit with some high tech, online stuff. But it's really called us back to the pastoral as opposed to the high program. I'm really excited for this cohort of people that are going to lean into this and come away, really, with a roadmap for what true discipleship looks like in this new age.
Reggie McNeal: Me too. And I just think, what an exciting - as frustrated as we all are - what an exciting time that God decided to put us right here, watching the new world come into existence. There's times in church history that if you just didn't spill the juice for 500 years, you're okay, you know. But gosh, how boring is that. Here we have a chance, we're in a creation moment. This is exciting, so let's do it. I'll take the first twelve, I don't care how many people beg. But a little bribe can go a long way. I shouldn't say that probably.
Matt Steen: Not while we're recording at least. So hey, we'd love to have you be a part of this lab. Details are going to be down below. We can link off, find out all the information of when that's starting down below, and you can learn a little bit more about Reggie as well. So Reggie, thank you so much for taking some time to share with us. I'm really looking forward to -
Reggie McNeal: [CROSSTALK] What else have I got to do? I'm in a pandemic. I'm sitting here. No one wants to read anything that I've written or listen to my podcast. I mean, I was bored. So thanks for swooping by here and giving me a reason to live.
Matt Steen: Any way I can serve. Reggie McNeal: Go be COVID-free.