Multiplication Center

Get Off Your Donkey – An Interview with Reggie McNeal

August 8, 2013

Reggie McNeal, author of Get Off Your Donkey and Present Future, will be speaking this year at Vital 2013. This interview originally appeared on Q Place

Q Place: Tell us about what you do.

Reggie McNeal: I work with Leadership Network out of Dallas.  My specialty is missional leadership. I help leaders in Christian organizations get out of the church business and into the people business. They don’t always know that’s what I’m going to talk about but that’s what you get when you have me. I just think we’ve got to move to a more Kingdom-focused conversation.  I help people think through this process.

QP: If the church could make one change what would it be?

RM: I really think that Jesus was probably serious about that “loving your neighbor” thing.  It seems that this has been far too long taken as a suggestion or as a second mile responsibility—once I get all of my other stuff done or once we get all this church stuff put to bed, and if we have any energy left over, etc….  I serve on a lot of ordination councils and I have never had a group ask, “How is loving your neighbor going?” I think if the church—meaning you and me—would love our neighbors as ourselves, that would be the single most important movement in the western church.

QP: This might be the million dollar question, but what would that look like?

RM: It would look like a whole lot of things.  We tend to shrink wrap “neighbor” down to our place of residence. But when you look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells to describe loving your neighbor, geography had nothing to do with it.  He defines “neighbor” as a person in need.  That may well be the people on your street, but in my town I need to think about the kids at a Title 1 school who are not going to learn to read if someone doesn’t step in and mentor them.  I think Jesus intends for us to be people of blessing who look for people in need and help them.  Some of that is individual, but a lot of that has to be done corporately because I probably can’t raise literacy single-handedly. It can look really big or it can look as small as an act of kindness where I get off my donkey and help someone across the street.

QP: Can you develop that “Get off your Donkey” idea or are you going to make us read your book?

RM: Ha ha!  I don’t mind telling you. In the Good Samaritan story nothing good happens until somebody gets off their donkey and actually responds.  I do think that all over America, our communities can’t wait on other people to show up; we have to take the initiative ourselves.  It’s not a question of how to build the church, but how to bless the community. I think this biblical narrative will help us have a great church.  Get Off Your Donkey has a lot to do with how can we respond personally to the need we see all around us. I do think that service is a long lost discipline. Most of the spiritual disciplines that we’ve upheld have to do with personal consumption—I read my Bible, I fast, (although I discovered I can fast quicker than most people—other people are just really slow).  But it’s about engaging people in need, building conversation, and building relationship.

QP: What do you think hinders us from “getting off our donkeys”?

RM: Well, there’s a lot of things. Self-absorption, lifestyles that are so busy there is no margin for actually building relationships, indifference in today’s culture because we are so assaulted with need at every point. I can’t go to my email without being flooded with all kinds of needs.  I think we’ve built up boundaries and a little bit of detachment because we can’t respond to everything.  So we go to the other extreme and aren’t touched by anything.

QP: Are you excited about the Vital conference?  (That’s a loaded question.)

RM: I should beexcited if I am talking to you!I’m really intrigued by the idea that folks would focus on the art of conversation, particularly with a gospel and missional intentionality.  I don’t think that I have ever been to an event where that was the singular focus. I think it will be fun.

QP: Can you give people a little teaser of what they’re in for?

RM: I’m looking forward to exploring the notion of how discipling and service coalesce—how we become more of who we are as we make ourselves available to other people. I think just the chance to noodle on that together is going to be great.  And, I think other people speaking there are really helpful.

QP: Could you share a ministry risk you have taken—is there a funny anecdote up your sleeve?

RM: Well, I don’t know if this is funny or risky or what, but I was a pastor in another life, and I wrote a column for a local newspaper.  I befriended a journalist who was, well, how I can I say this?—Not everyone thought highly of him because of how he treated folks. He also wrote porn as hobby.  But he was kind of an intriguing guy and we became friends over a two-year period with conversations every week. I wouldn’t say that was risky looking back, but at the time it certainly wasn’t like responding to a typical churchgoer.  I would probably put that in the most intriguing experience category, because he was and still is a lot of fun.  I remember the actual time he crossed the line into faith. That particular episode for him was about 2.5 hours long with very intense prayer and a sense of an enormous amount of spiritual warfare—I mean if I had to say I saw someone’s soul hung in the balance, I literally felt that in those 2.5 hours.  It was an interesting birth, almost a breech, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it.  He’s a Jesus follower today, I’m very happy to report.

QP: It seems like your curiosity about him spurred on your friendship. How do you think we can make that kind of curiosity contagious in the church?

RM: I do a lot of coaching and all the time people ask me to “speak into their life.”Truth of the matter is that if you want to be a really good coach you need to listen into somebody’s life.  People are fascinating, but you have to take time to listen.  You ask questions, you let them open up. They set the thermostat for how fast they want to warm up or how fast they want to go, and we need to respect that.  I think one of our problems with “gospel presentations” is that we run in to hose people down with a bunch of stuff and then we expect them to make a decision. It’s craziness! This close-the-deal mentality just gets in the way instead of thinking of these folks as real people. God’s not caught off guard by our being suddenly brushed up against others, so why not let the Spirit do what the Spirit does best and reveal people to us.  I don’t know how necessarily to get us more curious, but if you just let people talk they’ll say stuff that’s pretty interesting.

QP: You basically just described the whole Q Place ethos. Way to go!

RM: It’s what I do! I appreciate the prompt. And for those of you who think we rehearsed this then you’re crazy.

QP: What is your favorite summer activity and why?

RM: This is easy. Besides ice cream, I love taking the family on vacation. The kids are grown but they still come because I pay for everything!  We always pick a fun destination and have a great time. Without question, the best there is.

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