This past week was quite amazing in that I had gracious time to be alone when needed, and the privilege of spending seven days with my family and my only grandson, John Luther.
The week also included the luxury of time with a book, Church Refugees (1) by Josh Packard, which includes data collected from a group known as The Dones. As well, I had the privilege of comment in the local newspaper regarding the growing pluralism within our community.(2) That may be how you found my blog.
The Dones, based on over 100 interviews among those who have left the churches, ages 18-84, are identified as those who “gave up on the institutional expression of church. They didn’t stop doing things to advance what they believed to be the work of God; they stopped doing things to advance the work of the church. Their substantial energies and skills are now poured daily into activities and structures that happen completely outside the purview of organized religion. They’ve opted for relationship over structure, doing over dogma, and creating with rather than creating for. In short, they’ve created a new religious home.”
Since 1973, following a profound God-moment on January 3rd, my life has been about serving the church and my community. The latter has received most of my focus after an encounter with God in 1978, and a calling to cities. During that near six year period, I had served the church intensely, to include associate pastor. As well, along with a small band of passionate believers, we physically built a new sanctuary, debt free! When it seemed that a small church was insufficient to reach a city, my family and I eventually sold our new home and relocated to another community to be a part of a mega church. We have now served there for over 25 years. “Devoted to the Church” would be an understatement.
I find the Dones not to be the people that during my 40+ years of church were easily offended by their pastors, or those dodging responsibly and without passion for “the lost.” It seems these are those who most desire true community and understand what it takes to get there.
“Community must be worked at, nurtured, and nourished. It’s a misconception to think that community naturally occurs when people get together often enough or that community occurs when people who agree with each other come together. Community happens when people share life together, when they see each other repeatedly and share experiences. These commonalities lead to a feeling th…at people can be counted on and to a shared sense of reality and values.”3
Packard and Hope go on to say, “Instead of understanding that shared life leads to shared beliefs, churches frequently want to make sure that everyone signs on to a common belief system before they can begin to do life with each other. This is not only a dubious way to practice Christianity according to our respondents, but also a profoundly ineffective way to build community.”4
Since that 1978 moment of clarity and calling in my life, my focus has been about following Christ in the marketplace perhaps long before that became the language of the contemporary church.
Somehow my life has always been about “the next”, an often misunderstood way of life, though at times it may ring of vision! I for sure have empathy for John the Baptist, and though tested no where to the extent he was, I can feel his heart. Luke records him “calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
I am not yet a Done but I do have days like John when I question what is going on. Not whether Christ was sent from God, for I know the encounters, the “thin moments” I have had with Him over time. My questions come when I look at the number of churches that dot the hillsides of our country, yet observe the direction that our country seems to be going. That by the way was not meant as a political statement. Our problems are spiritual, our politics only symptomatic!
When I engage within my community, and there find scores of people who love God with all their hearts, but are isolated from each other in their most meaningful spiritual moments, I wonder about our strategy as the Body of Christ and the limited impact of our spiritual siloes. Especially when it seems that so many of the critical, high impact decisions on behalf of community are left to those who at best may use religion solely for political gain and at times demonstrate the least integrity.
When Jesus gathered his disciples for that Last Supper moment, sharing the intensity of what he knew was about to occur, he made a statement whose meaning we may have lost in our intent to secure that critical moment in the form of a sacrament. He said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.” I wonder if the “this” he desired was not just to serve communion, but to practice true community?
1 Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith Kindle Edition, Josh Packard, Ashleigh Hope, 2015.
3Church Refugees, 2015.