Gordon MacDonald, the author of Who Stole My Church?, said the idea for this book started when a man described to him how he felt betrayed and had become a stranger in his own church when “everything had changed overnight.” The author decided to use a fictional format to illustrate how different people react to changes to their church. The conflict in this story is not about doctrinal changes, but about changing the style of doing church.
His characters are as complex as any in the best fiction. He has avoided naming any particular denomination and has treated his fictional congregation with respect. Each of his main characters are given the opportunity to express his or her viewpoint, reasons and feelings in order to describe the various problems that arise when changes, both minor and major, are being made to long standing traditional ways of doing church.
The only characters who are not fictional are the pastor of this fictional church, Gordon MacDonald, and his wife, Gail. In his fictional setting of a weekly night meeting, he explains why changes in the way church is done is necessary through discussion and presenting historical examples. He begins with the biblical account of various changes, including the ending of the temple worship. I don’t want to give you the specific example that surprised me the most. I don’t want to spoil the suspense for those who might decide to read this book.
Yes, I said suspense. This is not your normal dry treatise, nor is it a diatribe. Here is an example:
“So that’s why you are doing that PowerPoint thing with your preaching? And the videos and the interviews?” Evelyn asked.
“Sure, and I feel light-years behind the curve. Oh, by the way, that’s why the leadership wanted to upgrade the sanctuary with all that technology. Because if we fall behind in how we communicate, we stand to lose our youth and our children. And we need to be as passionate about bringing them to faith as Jesus was when he hoisted them into his lap to give them a blessing.”
(However, I can’t help but editorialize on the subject of technique and technology. They cannot substitute for biblical teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit in spiritual growth and making disciples. I don‘t believe the author is saying that.)
This small group of dissenters were given the chance to communicate why they were against the changes, and they were willing to listen to the pastor and to each other. They began to understand one another and connect with each other during the discussions. There was one big exception: a person who wanted it his way no matter what. This is a true to life situation, except there would usually be more than one.
Gordon MacDonald’s explanation of how and why the new generation learns differently and responds differently than mine was the most valuable information in Who Stole My Church? at least for me. Truth has to be taught in a language that can be understood. We, the older generation need to understand the younger generation’s language and style of learning so they can understand the message about Jesus. Missionaries have to learn the language of the people they are going to serve. The church today, if it wants to serve the people of today’s society, can not use “church speak” and the cultural style of our generation. My generation, in general, had a familiarity and respect for the Bible; today’s generation may never have even seen one. My generation believed truth was truth; today’s generation has a fluid idea that truth changes and can be different for you than for me. That does not mean we have to accept that viewpoint; it does mean we have to understand it in order to find ways to talk about truth.
I love the old hymns and hymn books. I find most “praise and worship” songs to be boring and practically un-sing-able (with some exceptions). In this fictional church, music style had become a contentious issue due to this same perception among the oldest members, as it has in many churches. The discussion group invited the young musicians to their meetings to listen to them explain their point of view. By communicating what each person felt about the music, they were able to understand each other’s perspectives. Their discussions illustrate how listening and understanding is essential to creating a workable solution.
This book imagines a group in conflict, who through open and respectful discussions, begin to understand each other’s points of view. As they reveal their true selves, they grow in warmth (brotherly affection) for each other. They grow in how to help and support each other. They forgive each other. They even become more open to hospitality toward newcomers who dress and act differently than they do.
As the book draws to a conclusion, it begins to seem more like a happily-ever-after fairy tale; but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all were able to settle our differences in such a mature and loving manner?
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