Review of Who Stole My Church?

March 23, 2010

Who Stole My Church?

©2007 by Gordon MacDonald

Published by Thomas Nelson

248 pages

I have had an on and off again relationship with Gordon MacDonald. As a young associate pastor in the mid-eighties I read his best seller “Ordering Your Private World” (which is still in print). A couple of years later I read his book “Renewing Your Spiritual Passion.” Although it was twenty-five years ago, I kind of remember spiritually profiting somewhat from those books, although if I were to re-read them now, I might have a different opinion. However, an admission of an extra-marital affair that he was involved in during the time he was writing those books kind of soured me on him. I did not read his “Rebuilding Your Broken World” or anything else by him (although that may be more of a reflection upon my former phariseeism than his restoration.)

Gordon MacDonald has been a pastor and author for more than forty years. He has also been the president of a couple of well-known parachurch organizations and is currently an editor at large for the magazine Leadership. He and his wife of almost fifty years live in New Hampshire.

This book first caught my eye a couple of years ago when it came out in hardback. I skimmed it a couple times at the bookstore, but didn’t want to pay the hardback price. However, when I eventually saw it in paperback, I plopped down my money. I am glad I did.

The subtitle of this book is “What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century.” It is a fictional tale told in the first person. MacDonald writes as a pastor of an imaginary New England congregation of a few hundred people. The church has had a proud history and is part of a (unnamed) denomination. The sixtyish “Pastor MacDonald” has been at the church for several years and has overseen the most recent of a series of changes designed to attract younger people. Not everyone is on board with these changes, especially the aging boomer generation. Plus, there are more changes on the horizon. A proposed $150,000 initiative to upgrade the sanctuary technology did not get the expected congregational approval. This has brought the change issues to a head. Also being debated is a proposed name change of the church.

The story revolves around a series of Tuesday evening meetings that Pastor MacDonald has with a group of long time church members in their fifties and sixties. This group shares a common church experience. They remember the same hymns, the evening services, prophecy conferences and “revivals”. They miss the choir and the organ, even the “singing Christmas tree”. They don’t connect with contemporary Christian music and casual church attire. Deep down, Pastor MacDonald feels their pain.

Each chapter details successive meetings of this group of believers, which Pastor MacDonald has dubbed the “Discovery Group.” Before each chapter, he gives us (“from his notes”) a brief biography sketch of different attendees. Some are retired, some self-employed, some widowed, some married, some well off, some not so much. Although one seemingly turns out to have been a non-believer, the others are serious about their faith and honor the scriptures.

As Pastor MacDonald gently guides the group into critical thinking about the issues, he is actually helping the readers. I couldn’t help but see myself sitting in the group. I have also felt their pain. Though this book is not an in-depth Bible study, the real MacDonald does use the Bible throughout to bring the light of scripture to the issues. He also gives several good history lessons. I found both approaches to be beneficial, as did his fictional discovery group.

This is an entertaining book, which makes it a pretty easy read. If you are over fifty and you have been in church much of your life, you ought to read this book. You may not agree with all the group’s discoveries, but it will help you see the other side of the issue.

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