Today I shared some interesting findings about people who have left the church. The response I received indicates that the findings are right on the money.
Josh Packard’s book Church refugees focussed on the significant number of people who are done with church, but not done with Jesus. Some of the key findings from the book were that:
“The Dones” say they left because of the judgmental posture of church people individually and collectively which assaulted the communal experience they longed for.
“The Dones” say they left because they are tired of trying to serve Jesus through the bureaucratic methods of church organizations which stifled progress and often gave little attention to what they cared for most. Many wished to build the Kingdom but were only offered opportunities to build someone’s church empire.
“The Dones” say they left because they want to answer questions about God through dialogue and struggle, not though prepackaged lectures and the predetermined positions of their community.
And “the Dones” say they left because their church only understood “morality” in terms of substance abuse and sexual activity with a common disregard to systemic issues of equality, poverty and unjust economics
I am increasingly convinced that we are reaching a tipping point.
The majority of followers of Jesus I talk to inside the church are just as concerned with the kinds of things that those who Packard calls “the Dones” name as their big questions.
What we call “church” has been shaped by all kinds of cultural influences. I don’t know many people who disagree with Priscilla Shirer:
“In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business. We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.”
I don’t think it is just me, I truly do think that the majority of church leaders are conscious of the gap between where their church is and what they long for. It’s just that there are not many viable models of church done differently.
My mates in the missional church movement have got on to a lot of very important ideas, however the truth is that most of the people who I meet who use the language of “missional church” are largely ineffective in getting effective examples of what they are talking about on the ground.
My mates in the more business/charismatic wing of the church have been quite effective in building big and financially sustainable systems, however their systems end up becoming little worlds in their own right and have very little positive impact on the culture around them.
It seems as though that, at this point of time, if you want to take the question of how you build a healthy church seriously you will end up in one of these two streams.
I am not convinced that either stream has adequate answers to the questions so helpfully articulated by Josh Packard.
I’m not worried… I trust that God is still at work, and in generation after generation He has re-formed His church to meet the needs of the generation in which it finds itself. Sometimes that re-formation requires a radical shift rather than incremental change, and I think most people believe that we are at a moment like that once more.
It is for this reason that I am taking some time to lead our congregations in a period of deep engagement with the biblical vision for the church in Ephesians 4.
I am not so much coming as someone with the answers, but rather I am trusting that by naming the questions as clearly as possible, and trusting that Jesus meant it when he said that He would build his church (Matt 16:18), we will see Him at work, shaping us in a new way.
My heroes are people like Basil of Cappadocia, Columba of Iona, John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each of them knew that the past of the church couldn’t be the future of the church. Each of them were interested in seeing faith with integrity rather than comfort. Their examples fill me with hope that there is an exciting future ahead of us… it is just going to be different to our past.
If you find yourself feeling done with what you call “church”, you are clearly not alone but please don’t give up. Choose instead to step up into the wrestle as God shapes the next chapter of the story.
If you are interested in our exploration of this question you can have a look here: http://citywidehobart.org.au/previous-sundays/