Vacation Reading: Who Stole My Church?

Who Stole My Church?
What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century
by Gordon MacDonald

I couldn’t put this book down.  Literally.

It took me awhile to find my groove with the style of the book (it’s “fiction” but the author is playing himself), but once I did I was hooked.  Gordon MacDonald created a fictional old New England church trying to find a balance between honoring the great history of the church and its older members and finding relevance in today’s world.

Did I say fictional?  I’m pretty sure MacDonald was writing my biography.

Anyway, the only “real” characters in this book were MacDonald and his wife Gail.  Everybody else was made up, including the church.  But here’s the thing – every congregation is going through the same thing right now.  Even though this was technically fiction, in creating a church like this MacDonald was able to speak to pastors serving older congregations all around the country.

Because this was fiction, there aren’t a ton of quotes I was able to pull out (you’d have to understand the conversational context), but here are a few!

“We have to make sure that we’re speaking into the lives of people in a way that they can hear us.  No point in answering questions they’re not asking.  And no point speaking to issues they don’t care about.”

“If you believe in evangelism, you have to go all the way … all the way … to meet the person you want to influence Jesus.  You get involved in their lives to such a depth that they see your realness, your authenticity.  And then, in a moment that only the Holy Spirit can arrange, a wonderful transaction happens.  You may never know the moment it happens.”

“Virtually every generation produces some kind of music that reflects its own view of reality.  Both the notes and the words of their music will tell you how they see life and what’s most important to them.  And this is true in the Christian movement. … And the question – not an easy one to answer at all – arises: how does each generation open the door for the next generation to sing the gospel in its own fresh way?”

Vacation Reading: The Furious Longing Of God

This book was given to me by a church member a few months ago.  I hadn’t had a chance to pick it up, but actually quoted another one of Manning’s books in a sermon the other day.  I grabbed it on my way out of the office on Sunday and am so glad I did!

Some of it was a little bit wordy for me, but you can tell Manning has lived a life full of great difficulties and even greater grace.  I’d love to read some more of his stuff (any suggestions?).

Favorite quotes …

“All I have learned through trial and error is to stay alert and aware, especially of God smiling at our silliness.”

“If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who have lived in the course of human history, all their goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength, and love and united all those qualities in a single person, that person’s love would only be a faint shadow of the furious love and mercy in the heart of God the Father addressed to you and me at this moment.”

“I would add that the outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, neither the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs.  The love of Christ embraces all without exception.”

“To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves and to repeat it in spite of appearances to the contrary.” <- This one hit me hard.

“If we as a Christian community took seriously that the sign of our love for Jesus is our love for one another, I am convinced it would change the world.” <- BAM.

“How is it then that we’ve come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what we do for God? How has this come to be the good news of Jesus? Is the kingdom that He proclaimed to be nothing more than a community of men and women who go to church on Sunday, take an annual spiritual retreat, read their Bibles every now and then, vigorously oppose abortion, don’t watch x-rated movies, never use vulgar language, smile a lot, hold doors open for people, root for the favorite team, and get along with everybody? Is that why Jesus went through the bleak and bloody horror of Calvary? Is that why He poured out his Holy Spirit on the church? To make nicer men and women with better morals?  The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian. Our religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.”

Vacation Reading: The Church Mouse

I pulled this book out of my bag at the beach on Monday and I thought Bruce’s eyes were going to pop out of his head.

“Is that seriously what you’re reading on your vacation?!”

The mocking started when I pulled out a pen and started underlining.

Truth be told, I am not really a fan of novels.  My two favorite types of books are biographies/memoirs and books on theology and church leadership.  I realize I am on vacation and totally lame for reading work-related books, but … oh well.  I guess I’m lame.  This was actually an enjoyable vacation read.

Anyway – I started and finished this book on Monday.  It was a really easy and fast read, but still full of a lot of good information.  The author is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church (Alabama – West Florida conference, for all of my UMC friends out there) and completely obsessed with all things Disney.  He essentially took the basic principles of Disney – creating magic, having a focused mission, treating customers like guests, properly training employees, etc. – and talked about how the church could – and should! – adapt some of those principles.

I would definitely recommend this for pastors, but also for staff members and lay leaders.  It’s a new way to think about visioning!

Some of my favorite quotes …

“Jesus never spoke just in words.  He painted pictures.  He pointed out metaphors.”

“If the church continues to act as if the modern world still existed then the world around us will dismiss us as irrelevant.  This is truly a “whole new world.”  It is time for the church to wake up and engage that world with the best tools we can find.” <- Um, yes.

“Combining heritage and innovation is what the church is all about.”

“Disney does not open the gates to its theme parks each morning and hope for the best.”

“In the church we have the ‘greatest story ever told.’  We have two millenia worth of faithful men and women who have given everything for the cause of Christ.  God is doing incredible things in our midst today.  It is not for lack of stories that our people are not on a mission.  It’s lack of intentionality.”

“At the foot of the cross, we’re all equals.”

“If you help your people to see the need and the value then you’ll never have to beg for volunteers again.  Honor every person who serves in your church.  Celebrate each one’s ministry and they will all be happy to continue doing that ministry.”

“The community of faith should be a full-time (in lifestyle, not necessarily in pay) group of creative and innovative individuals unleashing living, breathing three-dimensional stories.”

“It is amazing how resources can be found when people truly buy into a dream.”

“The problem is that we sometimes become so focused on the results that we forget the details of the process.  Becoming a successful church is about every person doing the little things right every single day.  If you aren’t committed to the process of transformation, you’ll never achieve success in your church.”

“Don’t get upset with people for not becoming involved in a ministry or not giving to the church if you don’t intentionally train them in that expectation.”

“You’re a work in progress.  We all are.  God uses a crock-pot to make us more like Christ, not a microwave.” <- I love that one!

“Walt’s idea that we are to be “shapers of the world of tomorrow” is exactly what Jesus called the church to do.”

“The more you learn, the greater the chances of success.  Never stop learning.”

“The message of Jesus doesn’t change, but the methods must.” <- Amen.

“Being a Christian leader means giving respect without having to have it in return.  Jesus never demanded that people believe any certain way before he loved them.  Neither should we.” <- This one smacked across the head with a cast iron skillet.

“Be you.  You unique.  Be who God created you to be.”