Parish Visitor Article: Who Stole My Church?

Note: There were a couple of typos and grammatical errors in the column that went to print, but this being a blog, those errors are easily corrected.

It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to recommend a book. But I’m going to do this dangerous thing and recommend Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald. Who Stole My Church? is subtitled “What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the Twenty-First Century.” The subtitle is a fairly accurate indicator of the book’s intent. The title comes from the statement, “All I know is that someone stole my church and I’d like to get it back.”

This book was brought to my attention by Dr. Becky Dobbins who reports that she found mention of it on a website with an article that I had recommended on the pastors’ blog. I also saw mention of it, but failed to pursue it, thankfully Becky did.

Gordon MacDonald doesn’t reveal his age, but he does mention that he writes from the perspective of a pastor with 47 years of experience in five different churches. I found myself wishing I had half of his wisdom and experience. He has done a great deal to help me appreciate how hard change is for anyone who has devoted a lifetime to their church. I hope the book has made me more understanding and sympathetic to the difficulties of change. At the same time he is emphatic that changes must be made, indeed he seems intent on more radical change than I, myself, am willing to even contemplate.

MacDonald’s rationale for the necessity for change in the local church is encapsulated in a sentiment attributed to Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE: “When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside an organization, the end [of that organization] is in sight.” But part of the allure of MacDonald’s book is his point that many of the practices and denominations we now consider stalwart (including the United Methodist Church) started out as radical departures from past practices.

Throughout Who Stole My Church?, McDonald never loses site of the inherent, intrinsic value of the church which he roots not in its effectiveness, but rather in the simple observation that Christ gave his life for the church (Acts 20.28). I commend this book to you. I’ve ordered two copies for the church library. If you think it worthy of group discussion I would be happy to lead a study.