Who Stole My Church?

Welcome to the Trinity UMC Online Book Study!

For those of us who can’t join the church book study on Wednesday nights, here is an opportunity to discuss these important issues for the church. Every week, a discussion starter will be posted. We hope you will feel welcome to post your respectful and thoughtful comments. Let’s learn and grow together!

Who Stole My Church?
What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st  Century, By Gordon MacDonald.

Who Stole My Church? is a fictional tale told in the first person by Gordon MacDonald. MacDonald  writes as a pastor of an imaginary New England congregation of a few hundred people. The church has had a proud history but is now struggling with honoring their heritage while embracing new methods. The story revolves around a series of Tuesday evening meetings that Pastor MacDonald has with a group of long-time church members to discuss the changes that they are beginning to see in the way their church does “church.” As Pastor MacDonald gently guides the group into critical thinking about the issues, you may recognize someone (or several people) you know. You may even recognize yourself.

Week 1: Chapters 1 - 4

Brief Summary: A church meeting goes awry when church leadership proposes to purchase an expensive sound system. Pastor MacDonald, inspired (alarmed?) by this event, begins a Tuesday evening discussion group, known as the Discovery Group, with a select gathering of church members. He begins by giving the group the opportunity to vent their feelings about the way things in the church are changing. This leads to interesting discussions about who’s church it is, how the church has changed, how organizations change (or don’t change) and how Jesus discussed the need for changes in church with His disciples.

Food for thought:
“There is nothing permanent except change.” (Heraclitus)
“Change, like sunshine, can be a friend or a foe, a blessing or a curse, a dawn or a dusk.” (William Arthur Ward)
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” (Woodrow Wilson)

How do you feel about change? Do you find it scary? Exciting? Both?

How do you feel about changes in the church? In your church?

Discussion Starters (Feel free to respond to one or to all.):
1. In Chapter 1, pages 2-3, the pastor invites the Discovery Group members to share their feelings. The group members make comments like:

“Honestly, Pastor, I don’t see why these new people feel that they have to change everything we have done for so many years….”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s what I always say.”
“We used to have a wonderful Sunday School class that was packed every Sunday…”
“We need to teach these young people more Bible truth…They don’t bring their Bibles to church anymore…”

Which of the comments (listed here or other comments in the book), if any, do you identify with?  If you don’t identify with any of the comments, how do the comments make you feel?

2. In Chapter 2, page 20, Yvonne makes the following comments:

“I’m not sure that I have loved the church in the right way. I’m not sure any of us do…it’s God’s [church]. He owns it, and I never thought of that before… maybe God is doing the changing…

 What do you hear her saying? How do her words affect you?

3. In Chapter 4, changes in the way the early Christians “did church” are described - from temple-centered to the early Christians communing together and preaching in the streets of Rome and continuing through major figures in church history.

How has the church been reinvented over the span of your life? Can you point to major ways that the church has changed?

Week 2: Chapters 5-8

Brief Summary: As Pastor MacDonald continues to meet with the Discovery Group, we begin to meet the group members, one by one, and read their “stories.” In the meetings, Pastor MacDonald describes the many ways the world has changed and reinvented itself due to leaders, movements, transportation, media and information. He also gives a progression of organizations from need and vision to tradition. This leads to interesting discussions about how these types of changes can impact the church and the way people are brought to Christ.

Food for thought:
 “Once an organization loses its spirit of pioneering and rests on its early work, its progress stops.” (Thomas J. Watson)
“Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.” (Donella Meadows)
“The New Age? It's just the old age stuck in a microwave oven for fifteen seconds.” (James Randi)

Discussion Starters (Feel free to respond to one or to all.):
1. Chapter 5 lists some technological innovations that began affected the twentieth-century: common access to automobiles (and paved roads), airplanes, radios (and later, Christian radio stations), movies, television (and later, televangelists), the women’s movement, interstate highways, and the Internet.

Can you list others that affected the church positively or negatively?

2. In Chapter 6, pages 60-61, as the group expresses consternation about things that have happened in their church in recent times, like:
“No one memorizes Scripture anymore…”
“Everybody’s into sports on Sundays…”
“Prayer gatherings have dwindled…”
“People are reluctant to serve on the teams that run youth and children’s ministries…”

Which of their comments resonates with you?

3. In Chapter 7, the group members mention the following comments about changes in the way people come to know Christ:
“…people used to respect the idea of the Bible. There are many young people now who know nothing about the Bible…The notion of listening to a 12 minute presentation from a stranger and giving their life to Christ seems very strange to them.”

What are your observations about the common ways people come to faith in Jesus Christ? Do you have any sense that this process is changing? In what way?