Recently I read and greatly enjoyed Gordon MacDonald’s book Who Stole My Church? It’s a good read; very insightful and very relevant to many situations familiar to me and I think to my students.
It’s a made up story of an older pastor in a large local church, which has undergone a lot of changes in music and worship style, and so on. He finds that a substantial group of people, many of them also older people who have been leaders in the congregation, are now feeling disenchanted, and one of them voices the idea that someone has ‘stolen’ their church.
In the story, the pastor meets with this group each week for a few months, and they thrash out many issues and share some deeply moving stories, dealing with what lies behind their various perspectives on what is happening in their church life and in their personal lives, and how the two intersect.
At one critical point, MacDonald introduces the idea that there are three different kinds of groups, and after he sketches the three he invites his friends to consider which one best describes them, and their church. I’ve found it a very helpful typology. MacDonald doesn’t reference it to any other source, so I imagine it is his own thought.
Here is my summary of what he says: (from pages 198 – 202)
A strong sense of mutual purpose;
Synergistic: everyone’s effort counts;
Each person grows in some way, matures, develops;
Never afraid of conflict, as a real part of life;
Inspires others who are looking on.
People operate on the ‘me’ spirit;
Problem-solving means blaming others;
Drag down the larger organization around them;
Destroy people, one after the other.
Activities are repetitive, ‘always done that way’;
A lack of passion to be together, and don’t want to take risks;
Achievements require little courage or sacrifice;
Try to deny or ignore problems, but a little fever of conflict can emerge about small things—much energy expended, little accomplished;
Clearly his priority and preference as a pastor is for the first, the Generative, and clearly the Toxic is what we might hope to avoid. He suggests, and I would agree, that most churches fit best the ‘Habitual’ description.
Just a few reflections:
1. I think it is important to say that the preference for the ‘new’, for innovation and change, can itself be a trap. It is not necessarily ‘generative’, especially if it is change for change’s sake.
2.There is also something to be said for the value of the habitual. In our discipleship and in our life together, there are valuable rhythms and ‘habits’ we can live in—that’s the proper meaning of the term ‘habit’ anyway. But again this can be a trap, when it becomes an end in itself.
3. It is valuable to consider the ways in which this typology might apply to one’s own life style and discipleship: is it generative, or toxic, or habitual? Probably we are always some element of each, but with the balance shifting from one to another at various times.
4 It is also helpful to think about what might help or cause us move from the one to another, both as a group and individually.
5. Finally, I’ve found this helpful in trying to unpack something of what we mean by maturity in faith and discipleship. Ephesians 4 sets this goal out before us: not that each of us separately will become ‘mature’; this is the body, the community of faith which can grow ‘into Christ’—what an amazing thought!
So here is an invitation to become a group which is alive with the Spirit of Christ: generative and habitual, in appropriate ways.
I’d love to hear from others who might also have found this helpful.