I am not sure how far this transparency will serve to benefit others, but as I age within the institution of church, while serving numerous roles in the community, alongside of those experiencing similar journeys, my thoughts have changed regarding little “c” church, if not my beliefs! It has taken some time for me to get here and if returning to my first love (as I read this morning in The Revelation) is what is needed, I trust those who care the most will allow room for rebound.
The first wakeup call came in December of 2008, with a sense of gut, if not an actual voice: “My Church is in Foreclosure.” Following a year of wrestling with what I had “heard,” a less than scholarly attempt was made to express just what I was sensing. That book, REPO, The Church in Foreclosure, conveyed the pain I was feeling after 36 years of active service in several little “c” places of “worthship” while witnessing their minimal impact on communities at large. Whether the scores of churches now closing, merging or struggling is due to the Great Recession of 2009, or some sovereign work by the “Prince of the Kings of the Earth,”1 we may never know.
Just this a.m., I sat in another meeting with one of scores of senior pastors, now out of work, disenchanted or displaced. A good soul I might add.
A book with much more credibility than my own, in fact supported by data from both theologians and social scientists, entitled Church Refugees, by Josh Packard Ph.D, Ashleigh Hope, implies that something has happened inside the walls of our sanctuaries, religious judicatories and Divinity Schools. That something is manifesting itself not only in the loss of participation among millennials, who have grown up in a less than Christian America, but as well, stalwarts of the faith.
“The Nones… (is) the name researchers have given to the growing number of people who now claim to have “no religion.” While stories about the Nones have dominated the media in recent years, I’ve been focused on a different group of people. I’m a sociologist who has been studying dechurched people. They’re what I call the Dones. The Dones are people who are disillusioned with church. Though they were committed to the church for years—often as lay leaders—they no longer attend. Whether because they’re dissatisfied with the structure, social message, or politics of the institutional church, they’ve decided they are better off without organized religion.” (See Josh Pollard interview below) 2
How did we get here? That seems to be the personal question I am wrestling with, as well as the corporate dilemma mentioned above. Perhaps the further we drift from an intimate walk with Christ, and less we share life with those unfamiliar with our faith, the thicker the Veil becomes that separates us from the revelation of who God was in Christ? A curtain of religion, not unlike the Veil that separated men from the Holy of Holies, seems easily reconstructed as we move away from intimacy with God, retreating to our religious silos for self justification. The more we justify that lifestyle simply based our frequency and the numbers of people that join us for church on Sundays, the greater our blindness and the less appealing our beliefs become.
The tragedy is that right before our eyes, both the next generation and the Elders that once supported the numerous worship facilities spotted around our globe are pulling back from the faith. The fruit of communion we profess (true community) is simply not there, in fact is failing our country.
If this is your first read in this series, you might need to review the previous posts, lest this appear some necessary rant on my part; rather, an attempt to reflect on hindsights from many years of sincere service above self. At the risk of sounding without hope, I believe that true change (transformation vs reformation) only occurs when a “new” model emerges that makes the old which we often so desperately cling to, seem so obsolete that we move from passionately defending the decline, to a subtle “Uhmm” and then a grand “aHa!”
We are in one of those cusp moment! May God once more rend the Veil!
To be continued…
1 Revelation 1:5b