What if Missionaries Started Being ‘Done with Church’ Too?

checklist-630x210Some of you are probably growing weary about people being ‘done with church.’ But it’s still happening. In fact, In Bill Muehlenberg’s Culture Watch, he recently posted an article called “On Leaving Church,” where he states;

“There are many Christians who have stopped going to church. They have not given up on God, have not renounced their faith, have not denied Christ, and have not become pagans. They simply are no longer going to church. That this is happening is not a matter of doubt, but why this is happening is in fact a difficult question to answer.”

He goes on to give a few reasons why he thinks this is happening:

  • Many believers are growing tired of the celebrity culture in our churches.
  • Many believers are fed up with the incessant entertainment and worldly amusements found in the churches.
  • Many believers are put off by the attempt to cater solely to a specific subset of the congregation, i.e. millennials, youth, Baby Boomers, etc., while ignoring their needs.
  • Many believers are tired of just being pew warmers, with no role to play.
  • Many believers are weary of the constant need to be “relevant” at the expense of orthodoxy.
  • Many believers are starving for the reality of First Century Christianity.

He further says “… many believers who are “done” with church still meet in small fellowship groups to worship, pray, and encourage one another.”

The idea of being ‘done with church’ is offensive to some, unsettling to most, theologically deviant to those ‘in the know,’ and yet still finds resonance with a growing number of people within the Church.  For those who find it offensive, I have often found that they can’t exactly pinpoint why, but just have an overarching church-view that doesn’t allow for the ecclesiastical ‘what if’s?’ of being done.  Theologically speaking, it gets a bit ‘Esau’ (hairy).  The underlining assumptions usually include some thoughts like these;

  • Jesus said He would build his Church (Matthew 16:18), and in every ‘locality’ where His Church is being built, He is not ‘done’ with it yet, so why should His people be?
  • Believers need preaching, teaching, admonishment, shepherding, and oversight.
  • Believers need an organization structure, usually a hierarchical system where each tier is ‘watched over’ by another (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13), etc.
  • Believers need to have things ‘administered’ to them like baptism, the Lord’s supper, and so on.

Being ‘done with church’ has called many to reassess their core assumptions about what ‘Church’ is, or what it is supposed to be.  It has also demonstrated, unfortunately, a stark lack of grace and patience by the Church towards those who are contemplating being ‘done’ with it.  As to the commonly cited reasons listed above as to why no one should be ‘done with church, the concerns of people experiencing this phenomena, YES – PEOPLE, should not be so easily dismissed.  These assumptions may be unstable or unsubstantially propped up by an overly-accustomed ecclesia.

Ask yourself the following questions;

  • Can Jesus continue to build His Church and the ‘localities of it,’ without any more of ‘church’ as we know it?
  • Do believers need a tiered system of oversight and accountability?
  • Can preaching, teaching, admonishment, shepherding, encouragement, and equipping for works of service happen in the absence of traditional churches?
  • Do believers need to be ‘administered to’ with regard to sacraments, or is it possible to ‘minister’ to one another on a level ‘playing field?’

By the way, this experience is not limited to congregational members of churches. Many Pastors and other church leaders are expressing that they’re ‘done with church too. For example, in Thom Schultz’ article, The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population he says; 

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.  John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”  John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation—often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

This example leads me to the intent of this article and the question at hand. “What if missionaries started being ‘done with church?’  The question at first glance, seems counterintuitive.  I mean, ‘Aren’t missionaries suppose to be ‘the ones’ planting gobs of churches to transform scores of communities for the ‘advancement of the Kingdom?’  ‘Aren’t they ‘the ones’ which our church supports for that very purpose?’  ‘Aren’t they ‘the ones’ who have been vetted, trained, commissioned, and sent ‘on behalf of’ our church? They’re supposed to be ‘The One’s,” NOT ’The Dones!’

You can see how quickly and how sticky being ‘done with church’ can be for a missionary.  Some might say; “The idea of being ’done with church,’ is nothing more than the subversive tactics of the enemy trying to take her down.” Others might agree and add that “A missionary who is ‘done with church’ has been successfully neutralized by the world or outwitted by Satan. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

What if being ‘done with church’ was not coming from the enemy, not just a temporary cultural buzz, and not just a whiney discontentment expressed by a dissatisfied generation? What if it was not just a calling out of disingenuousness, or a cry for help, but instead a move of the Holy Spirit?  What if He’s ‘done with church’ too?

If a missionary were to declare his or her done-ness with church, how would you respond? How would your church respond?  If a missionary said that she or he wanted to:

  • Forget about establishing bureaucracies, hierarchies, parliaments, liturgies, and systems, and focus on Making Disciples.
  • Stop creating programs, using methods developed outside of their contexts, and be pliable agents of change right where they are.
  • Lay the axe to the root of ‘church planting,’ and instead, plant the gospel in whatever ‘good soil’ they may find letting the disciples made by it (Acts 14:21),  gather and serve in whatever way ‘is best’ for them.
  • Avoid pulpit lecturing, pew sitting, and non-transformational monologues in favor of creating genuine conversational environments where participation, dialogue, and questions are welcomed and encouraged.
  • Cease from being disseminators of moral prescriptions and instead have meaningful and life-changing engagement with the world.
  • Quit being a ‘Missional’ church and get back to being on Mission.

What would your church say or do?  I fear that most would say “Good luck with that, go in peace, be warm and be filled.” (James 2:16) If you’re ‘done with church,’ then ‘as a church,’ we’re done with our support of you as well.” Instead of getting into the meat of the ‘done with church’ conversation, or why the missionary might be struggling with being done with church, it’s easier to just, dispel, deflect, and dispose of them.  For the missionary, this can be brutal. Particularly when many may be called to participate in the creation of a gathering people as opposed to a gathering place.  Many a missionary spends more time ’playing along’ with their supporting churches than their God-given task, more time in measuring up than moving forward, and more time entertaining than entrenching themselves in their calling and culture.

Last Question: If underground churches, like the ones in China, with practically no programs, hierarchal organization, events, or fanfare are so effective at bringing people to trust in Jesus and not merely hold to belief system, then why doesn’t the church model them? Why model the mega or the multi-site, or the mission-less?

“The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for the church of His people. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through a moving  people. He does not come on machinery, but on people. He does not anoint plans, but people.” ~ Adapted from E. M. Bounds

There’s no doubt that this is a difficult conversation.  There is no doubt that emotions will flare.  As a missionary, this is somewhat of a dangerous conversation to have, but what if Missionaries started to be ‘done with church?’

16 thoughts on “What if Missionaries Started Being ‘Done with Church’ Too?

  1. michael says:

    I AM that missionary who has said and is doing those 6 things.

  2. dave106 says:

    Miguel, I think you’re on to something. I have been advocating for a new paradigm for missions and missionary care. That paradigm, I believe, must be tied to a new paradigm for church as well. Are you familiar with Scott Bessenecker’s book
    Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Indu​strial Complex ? It is on the top of my to-read list. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Miguel says:

      Dave,

      I have not read it, but now I want to. I checked out your website briefly, feel free to contact me via twitter @Missionaries or via Facebook. I’d like to talk.

  3. Andy brown says:

    I have been thinking something not being able to put into words…this article makes one think about the true context of church and what it is Jesus meant, how the church is truly ministering to that calling and how this and the next generation is being prepared for the future. Anticipating round two….

    • Miguel says:

      “Round 2,” I like that. Although, it causes me to wonder how many iterations there have been and how many more are on the horizon. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Jonathan McGuire says:

    I’ve spent considerable time with missionaries who serve in areas with cultural contexts incompatible with how church is done in much of North America and every one of them have been done with our way of doing church since the earliest days of their first assignment.

    In fact, the only meaningful role that these churches play now is as a source of funding…but that’s still a pretty big deal and a primary reason that missionaries face a high risk by declaring themselves done.

    In my observation, the ones spending significant time on this topic are those who are increasingly concerned about how the ground is shifting under their feet ss they seek to hang on to a declining paradigm. The “done’s” are moving on and building what the church is going to look like next.

    • Miguel says:

      Yes Jonathan,

      I think funding is huge. The problem with missionaries being ‘done’ with the North American way of doing church is that often churches see that done as an affront instead of an adventure, an offense instead of an opportunity.

  5. Most missionaries I know are done with church. We go home to the west and are weary at what we see. I personally think the first dones probably were missionaries.
    A lot go home not wishing to plug into what is there, and frankly have no desire to repeat or replicate it here overseas.

  6. Marshall says:

    this week with a small group on “dones” at Florida sending off a young witness of Christ to a far-eastern (somewhat closed) country. They also long “done” with the system’s missions paradigm. honor to have met this young woman in Christ just before departure, and to be seeing more singles and young families crossing oceans & mountains with no fear of man, no fall-back nor plan to return here. Tears in joy all around!

  7. Excellent! Thank you for posting this. I am sharing, Sharing, SHARING!

  8. Raymond Broad says:

    The Christian faith has two commandments. 1 John 3:23. To believe on Jesus and to love one another. To fail the first one is to be lost to eternal life. To fail the second one is to stagnate against any spiritual growth. The first is only between you and God. The second is impossible without at least one other person and Jesus. A husband and wife unit is a church.

    • Miguel says:

      Just be to clear, I am not advocating for lone rangers in church or mission, but a fellowship that is formed by the Messenger of the Gospel and His message. Disciples are made via the Gospel (Acts 14:21), and disciples ‘gather’ it’s intrinsic to the DNA of a disciples of Christ. Also intrinsic, is the sent-ness in all disciples. (John 17:18) etc.

  9. msindisi says:

    I am a missionary who is in neither camp. We have no building, not part of a denomination, no liturgy, no instruments and no offering basket going around, no constitution nor legal identity. However we have elders and have yet to appoint deacons. So we are not done but we are not into all the bells and whistles of traditional church either.

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