Some 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?’