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Who Stole My Church?
by Tom Goodman
June 27, 2008

Lifeway asked me to write a book review for their Let's Worship magazine.  I'm sharing it with LeaderLines readers.  Stop by our church library to check out a copy of the book.


"All I know is that someone stole my church, and I'd like to get it back."

That was the frustrated outburst of Yvonne Padula, a fictional character in Gordon MacDonald's newest book, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century (released in January 2008).

Anyone who has tried to introduce change in an established church -- and anyone who has struggled to accept such changes -- will identify with MacDonald's insights.  Drawing on forty years of pastoral experience, MacDonald said he wanted to help longtime church members understand "why many things about the way we have made church work must change and reflect new realities."  Conversely, he also hopes that younger generations of church leaders can be more sensitive to the resistance that their changes bring.

The book was written as a narrative instead of a "how to" manual.  MacDonald created an imaginary church in New England and populated it with fictional characters from the "Builder" and "Boomer" generations who became frustrated over the changes that younger leaders made to their church.  MacDonald imagines what he would do as their pastor to help them navigate the changes.  Most of the book's chapters describe the weekly meetings that the pastor set up with his frustrated church members, and the topics they covered in those meetings.

Those who struggle with changes in their church will benefit from "overhearing" the conversations in these meetings.  MacDonald introduced his fictional church members to transitions in church music, characteristics of younger generations, and adaptations required for evangelizing, among other subjects.

At the same time, those who introduce changes to their church will benefit from the book as well.  In his story, MacDonald demonstrates a pastoral quality that is too often disregarded by church leaders in the midst of change.  Either from insensitivity or defensiveness to the criticisms against our changes, we aren't always willing to listen, be patient, and walk with those who struggle.  MacDonald imagines himself tolerantly listening to the complaints of the fictional characters resistant to the changes, and he provides them with training to help them gain a fresh perspective on the issues.

Despite the pastoral investment and the group's slow adoption of the changes, not every character gets on board.  One man eventually leaves with a dramatic flair of hostility that, sadly, most pastors will recognize.  Most of the characters in the book, however, eventually work through the process of change and gain a new appreciation for their church.

Discussion questions are included in the book for those who may want to take a group through the same process of discovery as MacDonald and his fictional church.

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