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10. 2. 2023

Staff Health

Reggie McNeal: The Pandemic, The American Dream, and The Big “C” Church

| 2 min read

Written by Todd Rhoades
Aug 17, 2020 8:00:00 AM

What will the future of the church in America look like? While some are striving (and hoping) to get their church ‘back to normal’, others are realizing that what we are living through right now IS the new normal.

Today, I’m excited to share a piece with you written by my friend Reggie McNeal. Reggie is a best-selling author of books like Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church and The Present Future. He has been a catalyst of change in the Church for years, and has some great thoughts to share during this time of change and uncertainty.

Reggie writes:
Jesus had little patience for self-absorbed religion.  In one of his most famous parables he took church leaders to task for ignoring the plight of the needy.  In the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus radically altered two prevalent ideas governing religious behavior in his day. First he redefined neighbor as someone—anyone –in need. This inclusive approach flew in the face of prevailing contemporary notions that a neighbor not only shared geographical proximity but held similar religious and cultural convictions.  Secondly, Jesus refused to let the discussion of eternal life (the presenting question of the religious leader) drift to concerns about the life here-after. He focused on here-and-now expressions of compassion as the way to be properly positioned for eternity.
Jesus came on the scene both proclaiming the kingdom of God and demonstrating that kingdom by healing the lame, the blind, the lepers, and all manner of disease.
If the church will follow Jesus in this regard it may save the country.  And, second, taking Jesus seriously to love our neighbors will be the only way to save the church. 
Let’s start with the second assertion. In the parable the Samaritan got off his donkey and helped somebody who needed it.  Jesus made him the hero of the story.  The Samaritan demonstrated the kingdom, whereas the religious leaders played by their religious scorecard—they didn’t disqualify themselves from their religious duties by touching a dying person.  However, Jesus pointed out, they failed as neighbors, spiritually and otherwise.  
Over the past two decades there has been a lot of hand wringing by church leaders over the documented growing disaffection of people with organized religion. The response by too many has focused on some sort of church-as-institution fix: better worship band, better facilities, better programming, better preaching.  All this impresses church consumers.  But the only expression of church that will be recognized as authentic and embraced by our culture is a church that demonstrates a commitment to helping people live better lives. The abundant life that Jesus said he came to give.  Yes, people need Jesus; but they also need jobs, access to health care, good food, affordable housing, and education.  This is kingdom stuff – God’s scorecard!
Just this week I corresponded with a Black pastor in an inner-city neighborhood in one of our major cities.  A city that has been a hotspot for racial tension and violence.  His church is building a facility they will use as a gathering place, but also will include a health clinic, a social service agency and space for entrepreneurs as well.  He is building a better community, not just a church.  The pastor knows this is kingdom work.  The community is showing its positive assessment of the church as its response.  The hospital involved with the clinic has asked the pastor to serve on their board; the city development arm is working with him as well on several other collaborative efforts.  The church is appreciated and applauded for its contribution to community life.  This is what I’m talking about when I say that learning to love our neighbors will save the church.  
Which brings me to the next point.  Let’s return to the link I’m suggesting between the church’s obedience to Jesus and our nation’s future.  Just as in the Good Samaritan story, all around us people are bleeding out, having been beat up by any number of thieves—a viral pandemic, the economic maelstrom, natural calamities, mental health issues and drug addiction, just to start the list.  Add to this heightened anxiety from continued consternation over racial issues, the dynamic that every issue is being played out against the backdrop of a now-entrenched political/social polarization, and the constant outrage-stoking/anti-social social media.  These are the recipe ingredients for a nation camped in a severe funk.  A growing disillusionment is shaking us to the core – causing us to reexamine our national narrative, not just about the future, but also the past.  
The church’s emergence from missional amnesia, learning to love our neighbors as ourselves, represents the country’s best chance for avoiding an American twilight. It’s time for the church to play a counter-cultural role as people of hope.  As people of peace and blessing.  People of grace and love.  People willing to bind up the broken and wounded.  People who demonstrate the kingdom.  People able and willing to give an answer for why we cling to the hope that is within us.  
Let’s be clear – the “American dream” offers a poor substitute for the kingdom of God.  I am not suggesting that we can build a tower to heaven simply by addressing societal ills.  But I am convinced that bringing some heaven to earth is the best way to introduce people to God’s kingdom, that they experience the life God intends for them.  This is what Jesus did.  And we are followers of his Way.
During the current pandemic, it’s been heartening to see many Jesus-followers being the church, figuring out ways to respond to the needs of their neighbors (those in need in their communities, not just the people who share their street address).  As more and more attention becomes focused on physical regathering it’s important not to diminish these efforts.  Remember, in a hurry to get to church, the priest and Levite in the parable passed by the opportunity to act as God’s people in the situation.
I’m certainly not against gathering as believers.  Even during the pandemic, like many of you, I’ve found ways to connect with other Jesus-followers for spiritual refreshment and fellowship. However, during these past months we as leaders of the church surely have been confronted with the questions of how much resource spent on the weekly gathering was being translated into kingdom impact in our communities.  This is the time to explore how we can steward our resources to express being church as a way of life. The church is the largest bundler of social assets in our country.  If we, like the Samaritan, can get up off our assets and release them into and for the public good, great things can be accomplished.  
The pandemic kicked us out into the street.  Now’s not the time to look for a seat back inside as our major spiritual expression.  The country’s survival is at stake.  So is the church’s cultural relevance and missional integrity.  The answer to both dilemmas is the same – our understanding that we as the people of God are to partner with him in his redemptive mission in the world.  That mission is what it has always been: his kingdom come.
I love that last paragraph: “The pandemic kicked us out into the street.”
That’s exactly how I feel.
And maybe how you feel as well.
We’ve talked a lot in these Monday emails recently about all the changes all of us are going through. We’re all trying to figure this out. Reggie’s admonition to ‘get off of our donkey and help someone’ is both encouraging and frightening.  (‘Encouraging’ in the fact that this is really ‘what we do’ as church leaders; and ‘frightening’ in the fact that we now have to do this in tremendously different ways.)
As you navigate this next month, I’d love to help you talk through your on-going strategy, particularly as it relates to staff and your church online digital programs.


You don’t have to figure this out alone.  I’d love to help.  Let’s chat.




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