Missional Renaissance, an Interview with Reggie McNeal

Why did you write this book?  There is a lot being written about missional these days. You are right—missional is the buzz word!  Of course, that’s always scary in that once everything becomes “missional” it hardly has any punch left.  I have been watching this and wanted to accomplish three...

Missional Renaissance

Why did you write this book?  There is a lot being written about missional these days.

You are right—missional is the buzz word!  Of course, that’s always scary in that once everything becomes “missional” it hardly has any punch left.  I have been watching this and wanted to accomplish three things:

I wanted to give a working characterization of the term that people can come around that captures its DNA, a way of talking about it that can frame conversations.

Secondly, I wanted to clarify three significant shifts that are critical for churches and church leaders to make who want to engage the missional movement.  This helps church leaders who have current congregational leadership make some compass settings and begin to move in the right direction.

Thirdly, I wanted to provide leaders with some scorecard implications for celebrating the rich dimensions of the missional church.  The current scorecard really just celebrates the program church emphases.

So, how do you define missional?

For me, the missional church is “the people of God partnering with him in his redemptive mission in the world.”  All those phrases are important.  Seeing the church as “the people of God” is seeing church as a who, not a what.  This is critical, because it allows for a much greater bandwidth of expression for the church that has a much more incarnational dimension.

The phrase “partnering with God” means that it is God’s mission, not ours.  And his mission is older than the church.  It is also larger than the church.  This is a challenge for people who have spent their lives in a church-centric universe.  The church has a unique role in the mission of God, but we are not the point.  The church does not have a mission; the mission has a church.  God has decided to create a people who can partner with him in reflecting his heart of blessing to the world.  This is the deal he cuts with Abraham, a covenant that the church steps into.

The mission of God is “redemptive,” meaning that it addresses the whole spectrum of human existence.  Everything that was lost in the Fall is being restored in the mission of God.  Spiritual, physical, emotional, environmental, economic wholeness are all issues for the church because they are issues for God.

The scope of the mission is “in the world,” always beyond God’s people.  This is what Jesus affirmed to Nicodemus.  The whole world is God’s purview of ministry.  To shrinkwrap his concerns down to building the church does not reflect biblical thinking.

In your book, you talk about “three shifts.”  What are the three shifts you say are called for by this understanding of the missional church?

The first one is one that most people think about when they think of missional–the move from an internal focus to an external focus of ministry.  Many people, however, think that missional is some community engagement so they run out and do a weekend of service and claim they are missional; or, they see missional as a set of activity rather than a way of being church in the world.  This shift raises the question, “what business are we in—the church business or the kingdom business?”

The second shift is the shift from being program-driven to being a people-development culture.  We often think of how churches as a collection of the programs we have developed.  This perspective really pegs us to an activism and consumerism that is deadly to life.  This question raises the question, “what product are we producing?”  For many churches the answer is programs; the missional church is concerned about producing followers of Jesus who are enjoying the abundant life he promised and pointing others to it.

The third shift is the shift from church-based leadership to kingdom-based leadership.  The former
is institutional; the latter is leadership of a movement.  The former is confined to church activity; the latter is leadership that is deployed across all domains of culture.  The question here is, “what is our scorecard?” or “what will we celebrate?”  Leaders make those choices, and missional leaders have the courage to ask “how are people doing?” or “how is our community doing?” when they think about the ministry of the church.

Let’s talk about that scorecard?  What does it look like for the missional church?

I use a resource reallocation model when working with churches on this issue.  I think that leaders have a common set of resources they work with: prayer, people, time, money, facilities, technology.  I make lots of suggestions in the book on how our scorecard would shift in each of these resource areas as we make each shift.  Some people resist the notion of a scorecard, but what I’m after is helping people begin to celebrate different actions and behaviors that reflect what it means to be the people of God.

What is the role of the traditional church in the missional movement?

Missional is not a methodology.  I work with churches of all stripes and tribes who are tacking toward missional—new churches, liturgical congregations steeped in tradition, large and small congregations, urban and rural.  Missional is a way of seeing and being wherever we are.  Any existing church can join in.

Why do you call this a missional “renaissance?”

The Renaissance occurred when a confluence of cultural trends created a new world and a new way of thinking.  It is impossible to think post-Renaissance like you did pre-Renaissance.  Once you move from a Ptolemaic view of the universe to a Copernican universe, for example, you never think of the universe the same way.  The same thing is underway today.  We will not think about the church the same way after the missional renaissance.

What forces are fomenting this renaissance?

I think the rise of the altruism economy, the emergence of people’s capacity to chart their own development paths, and the phenomenon of the God-intoxicated culture all set up a different conversation that invites the church out into the cultural milieu with the missional expression.

What role do you see children and “children’s ministry” playing within the missional church?

This is a great question that gets at the heart of missional—people development.  Missional ministries help families take spiritual formation as a matter of preeminent concern.  Missional children’s and student ministries are helping their kids incorporate the loving-your-neighbor thing as a centerpiece of their efforts, seeing people growing through service, not growing into service.  At the same time they help families and parents have more intentional God-conversations at home.  One church I know both has their kids stuffing backpacks for food-challenged kids and going home from church with follow-up questions for their parents.

You write: “Worship is seen as the extension of normal routines, not something that is a discontinuity with the rest of the week.”  Can you tell our readers a bit more about converting daily routines into worship?

I think that in more incarnational ministries the stories we tell in worship are about God showing up and showing off all week as we play our role of being the blessing people of God.  Our celebration is more current so it is not primarily a historical lesson about a God who showed up in the Bible and in history.  Additionally, when we begin to see service as worship, and not just focusing on cranking out worship services, we allow many more people to find their own lives as part of that.  In the attractional model, we invite people to observe a few people do what they are good at; in the missional approach we celebrate more of the spectrum of life pursuits of the participants.

How much “success” have you seen in terms of getting traditional/conventional churches to embrace the mentality of the missional community?

I am very encouraged at this point.  My writing comes out of my experience with these churches and church leaders.  The questions have shifted over the past few years.  It used to be “what are you saying?”  Now the questions are “how do we do that?”  This is a work that God is pulling off.  It signals real progress.  My suggestion for “traditional” church leaders is to look at themselves as viral agents for the kingdom.  Create venues where the people of God can act like the people of God; expose them to the virus, then when they become virulently infectious, expose them to others who are susceptible to the virus.  Your job is to foster a pandemic.  I think it’s happening!


Reggie McNeal enjoys helping people, leaders, and Christian organizations pursue more intentional lives. He currently serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network of Dallas, TX. Reggie’s past experience involves over a decade as a denominational executive and leadership development coach. He also served in local congregational leadership for over twenty years, including being the founding pastor of a new church. Reggie has lectured or taught as adjunct faculty for multiple seminaries, including Fuller Theological (Pasadena, CA), Southwestern Baptist (Ft. Worth, TX), Golden Gate Baptist (San Francisco, CA), Trinity Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), and Columbia International (Columbia, SC). In addition, he has served as a consultant to local church, denomination, and para-church leadership teams, as well as seminar developer and presenter for thousands of church leaders across North America. He has also resourced the United States Army Chief of Chaplains Office, Air Force chaplains, and the Air Force Education and Training Command. Reggie’s work also extends to the business sector, including The Gallup Organization.

Reggie has contributed to numerous denominational publications and church leadership journals, including Leadership and Net Results. His books include Revolution in Leadership (Abingdon Press, 1998), A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2000), The Present Future (Jossey-Bass, 2003), Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006), and Get A Life! (Broadman & Holman, release date Spring 2007).

Reggie’s education includes a B.A. degree from the University of South Carolina and the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees both from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Reggie and his wife Cathy, have two daughters, Jessica and Susanna, and make their home in Columbia, South Carolina. reggie.mcneal@leadnet.org

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