Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus
By Mike Slaughter
Abingdon Press, 2010
Reviewed by Shane Raynor, a certified United Methodist lay speaker and the publisher of WesleyReport.com. Originally published by Circuit Rider magazine (www.circuitrider.com). Reposted here with permission.
While reading Change the World, it’s easy to forget that Mike Slaughter is still the senior pastor of a megachurch. That’s because his congregation, Ginghamsburg United Methodist, comes across in this book as more of a recovering megachurch. As part of its collaboration with United Methodist Communications, Abingdon Press has released Change the World under its umbrella of Rethink Church resources. That’s an appropriate label, because this whole book is about rethinking what church means. Perhaps Slaughter’s ability to think outside traditional religious structures is the reason he grew Ginghamsburg from around 100 members to a congregation of thousands in the first place.
While baby boomer megachurches were the “rebel” congregations of the 80’s, many of these institutions have become mainstream and predictable. Not so with churches like Ginghamsburg, which is always finding ways to push the envelope and stay cutting edge. According to Slaughter, church campuses that look like theme parks are out, and inexpensively operated house churches are in. Food courts are considered 80’s and 90’s- food pantries are now where it’s at, especially since the beginning of the economic downturn. And like George Hunter, Slaughter chastises the United Methodist denomination for having so many buildings and resources located in rural areas when only 16% of the American population lives there.
In many ways, Slaughter’s approach is refreshing. Countless congregations spent much of the 90s and 00s trying to become megachurches. (Come on, who will admit it? I know that’s how I measured success then. I still do to some extent.) But in Change the World, Slaughter gives allows congregations to grow big by growing smaller. It’s multiplication by division. Instead of cell groups and small groups being just part of the megachurch menu, these groups are becoming their own churches. Slaughter equates the old megachurch model with the self-contained luxury cruise ship. Now he wants to see churches focused outward more than inward. Instead of asking what churches can offer our families, Slaughter now wants us to ask we and our families can help the church offer to the world.
I like the approach, but Slaughter almost seems to create a false dichotomy. Why can’t it be both/and instead of either/or? Was the megachurch approach wrong all along or was it part of God’s plan to get us to the current season of servant discipleship? On the other hand, Slaughter is known as a visionary, and even with this book, he is likely ahead of his time. Like hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, the key to Slaughter’s ministry success has been skating to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is right now. Some of his current ideas seem radical coming from a megachurch pastor, but in ten years we’ll probably still be calling him a trailblazer.
Change the World gets a little preachy at times, and there’s some finger-wagging à la Jim Wallis (who writes the book’s foreword), but overall, it’s challenging and productive. Its biggest achievement is that it gives churches permission to stop trying to become Willow Creeks and Ginghamsburgs and instead, to do ministry where they are with the resources they already have. As someone who spent six years working in a struggling, urban congregation, I found this quite liberating. I’m betting that plenty of other church leaders will too.