Leadership Network’s Reggie McNeal has written another crisp, insightful, and wonderfully practical book for Christians desiring to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” As is his usual pattern, the book is highly accessible and marries principles with real-life application.
The book rests on McNeal’s theological conviction that “God is at work in every domain of culture.” He longs for church leaders to embrace that foundational conviction. He writes, “Releasing and equipping the church to be the church where it is already deployed in the world—moving from the predominant church-as-institution perspective (church-centric thinking) to understanding church-as-movement (Kingdom-centric thinking)—is the most critical challenge and opportunity for the church.”
McNeal covers a lot of territory in just 180 pages. Each chapter discusses one of the eight “signature practices” of leaders who are collaborating with King Jesus in the advancement of his kingdom. To keep to my word limit, I’ll mention just one helpful insight from each of these practices.
- Kingdom collaborators practice a robust prayer life that helps them listen to and look for God.
Most of us spend our prayer time talking to God. McNeal counsels talking with God—spending sufficient time listening to him. Kingdom people are sheep, after all, and Jesus says his sheep “know his voice.”
- Kingdom collaborators foment dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Kingdom leaders agitate to make things the way God intends them to be. (This is actually how McNeal defines “kingdom:” life as God intends.) Step one is “selling the problem;” helping people to recognize, with some urgency, what’s wrong. McNeal suggests that pastors invite community leaders—police chiefs, city managers, school officials, city council members—to speak at worship services monthly. These leaders can articulate clearly and knowledgeably what issues are pressing for the shalom of the city.
- They combine social and spiritual entrepreneurship.
Kingdom collaborators see problems as opportunities and use entrepreneurial energy and thinking to tackle big social issues. Case in point: Life in Deep Ellum in northeastern Dallas. This combination church-coffee shop-art gallery is breathing spiritual and economic life into a distressed community that many had written off as hopeless. Building this church has required leaders to take risks, be willing to fail, and to steadfastly maintain hope in an “abundance mindset” while the rest of the world talks about scarcity.
- They marry vision with action.
This practice overlaps with the prior one. Here McNeal argues that Kingdom collaborators have a bias toward action. That means they know they will sometimes fail but press on regardless. They are comfortable with mess and unexpected twists. They never stop casting vision and connect each little step made to that bigger vision.
- Kingdom collaborators shape a people-development culture.
The bias towards action doesn’t mean a neglect of relationships. Instead, Kingdom collaborators channel enormous energy into relationships. They’re concerned about whole-life discipleship. Notably, they are willing to change the scorecard on discipleship progress from participation to maturation. They’re more interested in hearing how much people are growing in becoming “kingdom-first” folk than they are in counting the attendees in discipleship programs.
- They curry curiosity.
Kingdom leaders are life-long learners, and they seek out relationships with people different from them. That way they’re able to gain knowledge and insight they might otherwise miss.
- They call the party in their city for collaborative initiatives.
Kingdom collaborators know how to convene. They work hard at building trust, they communicate (and overcommunicate), and labor to get the right people at the table. And they recognize that the latter may mean showing up at other people’s parties before hosting their own.
- They maintain an optimism amid the awareness that the kingdom has not yet fully come.
Kingdom leaders know the signs of burnout and compassion fatigue and have developed intentional strategies for avoiding both conditions.
McNeal’s book is not for the faint of heart. Not because it’s tough to plow through (it’s not). But it requires a fundamental openness “to regard the church through kingdom lenses, rather than looking at the kingdom through church-as-institution lenses.” That will be a paradigm shift for many. Kingdom Collaborators unabashedly celebrates the scattered church.
This good book would be even better if McNeal had included one more chapter. Maybe it could be called “The Church that Nurtures the Kingdom Collaborator.” McNeal has respect for the local church (he sees it, for example, as “the largest bundler of social capital in most communities”).
But some readers will leave wishing they’d heard more about the value of the gathered church, and particularly how congregational leaders can craft worship, liturgy, and spiritual formation exercises in ways that specifically cultivate the imagination, risk-taking, perseverance, innovation, and generosity that mark Kingdom collaborators. Since a McNeal book is always a pleasurable and informative read, we can hope that perhaps this will be the subject of his next one.
Dr. Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).