McLChur 03-08-76




Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix


Brian D. McLaren

Zondervan, 1998, 2000, 227 pp. 




Formerly titled, Reinventing Your Church, this book includes and supplements much of what has been written by others, notably Leonard Sweet, about growing a church in the postmodern world.  McLaren’s suggestions range from practical to wishful.  Thinking exercises for each chapter are included in an appendix.  Unlike most books on church, this one gives a whole chapter to missions.  McLaren, for seven years board chair of International Teams, provides a very insightful list of obstacles.  As often the case, solutions seem feeble when weighed against the obstacles. 


The new church removes its antichange bias.  It assumes that as long as the church grows, it will have to adapt and change and learn.  Adaptability is what biblical history illustrates.   Maximize discontinuity.  “Change your church’s attitude toward change, and everything else will change as it should.  That one change has leverage to make possible all the rest.” (22-25)


Suggested mission for the new church: “

§        More Christians

§        Better Christians

§        Authentic missional community

§        For the good of the world” (28)


“The church on the other side must increasingly begin with ‘rawer’ raw material.” (32)


“In the new church, this attitude toward non-Christians will change.  ‘The world’ will be viewed less and less as the bad boys out there whom we fear, fight, and resist, whom we seek to control through legislation and intimidation with a self-righteous sense of superiority.  Instead, ‘the world’ will be viewed more and more as the needy neighbors who haven’t yet found the grace that has found us, … who are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and who can’t be expected to do any better until we find ways to help them want what we’ve got.  (The real test will be whether we can have this attitude even if we are persecuted violently in the world on the other side, as we may be.)”  (33)


“…we have neglected one small detail: seeker-sensitive Christians.  Christians in the new church must really love non-Christians.” (340


The church is by nature a missional community—a community that exists by, in, and for mission.  But the community is not merely a tool for missions.  The mission is the creation of an authentic community….”  (36, per The Gospel and Our Culture Network) [I would suggest the mission is creation of an authentic global community.  Dlm]


“…the church [is] a catalyst of blessing for the good of the world.” (37)


“What will our grandchildren be shocked about when they look at the ‘good Christians’ of our generation?”  “Are we willing to become as little children and start again?”  “As we move to the other side, our greatest enemy will not be our ignorance; it will be our unteachability.” (38)


The chapter on Systems Thinking stems largely from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. 


“The church’s program is the sum of its actions employed to achieve its mission.”  Ask four simple questions to evaluate our program: “

  1. Does this help uncommitted people…become followers of Jesus?
  2. Does this help followers of Jesus become better followers of Jesus?
  3. Does this enhance the development of authentic Christian Community?
  4. Does this empower, equip, deploy the church for a missional identity for the good of the world?”  (42)


“If a method solves the problem, it will itself become the problem sooner or later….”  (43)


Stop fighting fluidity.  “Clarify your mission—make it easier to adjust your program to achieve your mission—and increased effectiveness is sure to follow.”  (44)


“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes.”  “It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots.’”  945)


“I believe we are well placed to rediscover the stabilizing value, the awesome richness of ‘the Christian tradition.’” (55)


“If we want to have a good life, we sooner or later have to surrender to the remarkable concept of being…a good person.” (60)


“Some of used to think we could indulge in private immoralities (alcohol or drug abuse, sexual misconduct, financial malfeasance) as long as we took a strong stand on public issues (poverty, racism, war).  Some of us thought the reverse….”  Too many of us thought we could do just about anything as long as we said the right things and didn’t get exposed.” (61)


“…theology must come back to life—and not just as a technical matter, but as a creative pursuit and passionate inquiry, like the best art and the best science.”  (68)


“First, in the new church we must realize how medium and message are intertwined.  When we change the medium, the message that’s received is changed, however subtly, as well.”  “Second, in the new church we will be aware that our message is not perfect.  God’s message is perfect; but all of our versions of it are always to some degree out of sync with his version.”  (68)


“Postmodernism is the intellectual boundary between the old world and the other side.  Why is it so important?  Because when your view of truth is changed, when your confidence in the human ability to know truth in any objective way is revolutionized, then everything changes.”  (70)


“…opposing postmodernism is as futile as opposing the English language.”  “How does the Spirit of Jesus Christ incarnate in a postmodern world?”  (70)


A Chinese woman said, “You see, in my country, whenever anyone tells us what to believe, we know he is lying.”


Problems with the old apologetics: (74)

  1. Too often rests on circular reasoning.
  2. Too often defensive, not offensive
  3. Often mistakes potential friends for enemies
  4. It is strangely ‘worldly’
  5. It tends to get distracted
  6. It becomes dishonest when it gets desperate.   [He expands on these.]


“Instead of focusing on the eternal need for God, meaning, values, morals, and moorings, our apologetics focused on fossils, archeology, politics, legislation, and personal problems, especially those of teenagers.” (77)


“By overstating the value of what the gospel would do for people, they contradicted it and undersold its ultimate value: that it tells the truth.” (78)


Characteristics of the new apologetics:

  1. Offer mysteries as well as ‘answers’
  2. Focus on essentials, not minutiae
  3. Stress plausibility as well as credibility  “Plausibility has to do with its beauty and satisfactions—balanced realistically with its costs and struggles…”  “Credibility answers the intellectual questions: logical, intelligent, believable, evidence.  Plausibility explores social and emotional questions.
  4. Reason with winsome gentleness and respect vs. condemning competitors
  5. Help people at a healthy pace: don’t rush them.  Emphasize the process of conversion, not just the event.


New Patterns of Communication

  1. The life is the message: words plus deeds.  “Words of faith without works of love will not survive; no one will listen.” (88)
  2. “Words of truth…will be fewer and simpler and softer….  We now suffer from a glut of words, trumpeted loudly.   …whisper short secrets.” (89)
  3. Words will be servants of mystery, rather than removers of it
  4. Less jargon: more common
  5. Less lecture: more story.  “…words must be the tip of the iceberg, buoyed by a life lived well with laughter, love, compassion, and generosity.” (80)


Regarding structure, fit the shoes to the feet; don’t make the feet fit the shoes.  Structures that promote growth become obsolete.  Every trade-up in structure requires someone to give up power or freedom.  Plan to restructure every time you double in size.  (101-02)


About leaders.  Low self-esteem is the top problem for pastors (per psychiatrist Louis McBurney).  “We are in a high-demand, low-stroke profession in a culture that does not value our product or our work.”  (115)  "But what if just surviving these times is actually a sign of huge success, like surviving a plague during the Middle Ages?  What if one of your greatest accomplishments in life would be to simply 'preserve the gene pool' by staying alive and fertile...?" (119)


Missions. pp. 121-145  McLaren’s list of obstacles:  Task seems nearly done; denominational decline; loss of jungle mystique; home church is struggling and selfish; world is more educated; Christianity seems to have failed; postmodernism and pluralism; lack of balance between words and deeds; proliferation of parachurch groups; lack of dramatic results; too many disappointed missionaries; reaction to the “Ugly American;” indigenous missionary movement alleviates urgency; agencies have too many groups to satisfy; missions means almost anything; agency structure difficulties; focus on short-term; nominal Christianity; women and minorities excluded from leadership. 


“To the local church, mission agencies can seem like vendors who keep calling, calling, wanting, wanting, wanting.  To the mission agencies, local churches can seem like selfish, inefficient, tradition-bound, politics-paralyzed ghettos of wasted Christian potential.” (140)


“The bad news is that missions as we have known it appears to be in decline and probably will become a casualty as we pass to the other side.”  “In a sense, missions will lose their special status, but the loss will be more than compensated as global mission becomes the heartbeat of the church.”  (141)  [Perhaps the as should be if.  Is there evidence that this is occurring or will occur? dlm]


The new paradigm moves from missions as special to mission as the primary focus of church life.  “Every church a mission organization.  Every Christian a missionary.”  “Every neighborhood a mission field.”  (142)  [If our neighborhood is our mission, then is the rest of the world someone else’s mission?  dlm]


Three chapters deal with understanding and engaging postmodernism. 

Five core values of postmodernism:

§        skeptical of certainty

§        sensitive to context, (“Every point of view is a view from a point.”)

§        doesn’t believe anything too strongly (“Whatever!”)

§        values subjective experience

§        values togetherness  (162-164)


Good aspects of postmodernism:

§        an appropriate humility (We don’t know it all.)

§        a healthy skepticism

§        a thirst for spirituality

§        an openness to faith (vs. pure secularism of modernism)

§        a congenial tolerance

§        a limited relativism  (173-74)


“Faith was an embarrassment in the modern world.  It is what you had to settle for when you couldn’t have scientific certainty.  In the postmodern world, it seems, everyone lives by faith.” (175)


We need to be more fair, more experiential, address the tough questions of life, listen to their stories, tell our stories, address new issues, avoid coercion and pressure, rely more on art, music, literature and drama, believe that the Holy Spirit is already at work, rekindle community.  (173-183)


“…de-bug your faith from the viruses of modernity.” (189-196)

§        Give up the spirit and vocabulary of conquest and control.

§        Get rid of the mechanistic, linear, assembly-line process idea of faith.

§        Quit the laboratory analysis approach of everything down to its tiniest pieces.

§        Get beyond facts and information.  Postmoderns don’t know what spiritual means, but they are not bound to naturalistic constraints.

§        Individualism is too narrow.  Christianity is more than “my personal savior.” 

§        Organized religion seems bad while spiritual community is good.

§        Consumerism makes Christianity look like “a purveyor of religious goods and services” (Darrell Guder).