Thursday, February 12, 2015

I have just started reading "A Churchless Faith" by Alan Jamieson, a pastor and sociologist in Great Britain.  Jamieson did his sociology research on people who were leaving what he calls "EPC" churches in Great Britain (Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic). He arrives at some surprising conclusions, the central one being that most of the church leavers, left in order to continue their spiritual growth. The church they were attending had become the major obstacle to further maturity.

Here is a particularly  telling passage and quote from page 103 about what I would call paternalism in church leadership, leading to perpetual child-like dependency in the church members:

from page 103:

Jamieson develops a four part typology of stages of leaving church that also represents stages of personal growth. I will be posting on those in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An elegant argument

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook. It is an actual sign along I-65 in Alabama ...

I personally like it better than ...

"Come to our church--we have Starbucks coffee and donuts" or - "Come to our church, our worship band is the shit" .....


(I'm on a roll now) "Come to our church, our super cool pastor wears jeans and super cool nerdy glasses and will give you 3 keys to a happy and fufilled life" .... yeah ... the devil is kinda growing on me ...

yup, a the devil seems like a more honest motivation to me

Monday, January 26, 2015

Postchurch and the people of God

I’m trying to break the habit of using the word “church.” It just has too many meanings: The Church, The Church Universal, the invisible Church, churches, local church, the city church, mega-church, purpose-driven-church, the missional church, the emerging church, house church, simple church, organic church.

It was not always this way. The people of God have been around for a long time, at least since Abraham or even Noah. The people of God in Abraham’s day were called a family. In his son’s era, they became the tribes of Israel. Another a couple of hundred years later, the people of God were a nation. Then they built a temple (we could argue the point, but I don’t think that God particularly wanted a temple, he seemed quite content in a tabernacle, and a temple could not contain him anyway. Evidence? Every time they tried to rebuild the temple, he allowed it to be destroyed).

During and after the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began to meet for prayer and to study the scriptures in synagogues as long as they could muster a quorum of twelve heads of households. Without access to a temple, they could no longer offer the blood sacrifices and so Judaism set out on its long transformation from a national identity to become a major world religion that has changed the course of world history.

After the three years of the ministry of Jesus, the people of God came to be called “followers of the way” (that phrase always reminds me of the Dao and Chinese Daoism).

In the gentile city of Antioch, they first became known a Christians (little Christs) and somewhere not long after, St. Paul borrowed the secular term “ekklesia” from Koine Greek to describe the new communities of Jews and Gentiles that were coming together to follow Jesus. Ekklesia was a Greek political term for secular city assemblies (it was used twice in Acts 20 to describe the near riot of the silversmiths who were losing their business of making representations of the goddess Diana in Ephesus).

Why didn't Paul just use the word “synagogue” and give it a distinctively Christian meaning? Because he was developing something new, a community of God’s people that was not Jewish. So he selected a new word, ekklesia, with a secular Greek meaning  (Paul Banks, "Paul's Idea of Community).

In the gospel of Matthew, the word “church” only occurs twice. However, it is highly unlikely that Jesus actually used the Greek word “ekklesia” in Matthew 16 when he spoke of building his people on the rock of revelation, or in Matthew 18 where he spoke of taking an unresolved conflict “to the church.” He was speaking in Aramaic (not Greek), and when the gospels were written some thirty years later, Matthew simply inserted the word that had become standard through the work of St. Paul among Greek-speaking believers, to represent what Jesus had meant when he spoke of the congregation of God’s people.

Fast forward to 1610 and the King James translation of the Bible. The most obvious English word to use in translation of ekklesia would have been congregation or perhaps assembly, both of which give a word picture of people gathering, rather than a building. But the problem was that the Church of England, recently separated from Rome, had a lot of cathedrals that required upkeep and maintenance. Using a word like “congregation” might undermine support for the cathedrals, so the translators adopted a word related to the Scottish “Kirk” which had some roots in German. Thus, we ended up with the morass of meanings that currently come under the huge umbrella of “Church.”
I think it is time to stop going to church and to become the people of God.  Wherever two or three are gathered together (in his name) … Jesus promised he would show up.  

What comes after church? We really don’t know yet, so for now I will call it Postchurch. I don't like using another iteration containing the word "church" but it will have to do for now until something better comes along. Perhaps "meetup"?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

5 Reasons Why American Evangelicalism Completely Lost Me

I was reading a blog by Benjamin Corey on Patheos about why he would not consider returning to Evangelicalism and it resonated with some things I am writing in my current book project, “The Four Walls of Evangelical Christianity,” especially his point #4, that Evangelical Christianity is obsessed with taking power over our culture, which goes with my chapter on “The Theology of Dominance.” I am also currently reading John Davison Hunter’s book about the failed Evangelical attempt to change our secular culture through the efforts of the religious right (To Change the World, The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibilityof Christianity in the Late Modern World).

Below are the highlights of Benjamin Corey’s blog post which you can read in its entirety here.

5. Today’s Evangelicalism looks more like a political movement than Jesus.
Just try to have a regular conversation with the average Evangelical– chances are they’ll talk more about the political battles of the day than they’ll speak of Jesus, and that should be a major red flag to anyone who wants to pursue Jesus with reckless abandon. Without their political identity, many Evangelicals would not have a sense of identity at all.

4. Today’s Evangelicalism is obsessed with power.
The invitation of Jesus is to become a “servant of all,” setting aside the need/desire for power so that one can busy themselves taking the lowliest of positions– that of a servant. Since Evangelicalism has become more of a political movement than something that is part of the Jesus movement, its focus has shifted from becoming a servant to gaining and maintaining power.
When you combine the quest for power with political ideologies that are completely foreign to Christianity itself, they find themselves in a big mess– which is the state of American Evangelicalism today.

3. Today’s Evangelicalism seems generally unteachable and unwilling to wrestle with theology.
Too many Evangelicals are willing to learn only if new learning will reenforce what they already believe. There’s little room for growth, reinterpretation, or the constant need for contextualization of the scriptures. For a movement that prides itself on following the scriptures, I’m repeatedly shocked at the unwillingness to see what the scriptures actually say and the willingness to malign those who attempt to point the movement back to the source.

2. Today’s Evangelicalism doesn’t seem to share Jesus’ heart for outsiders.
Jesus was among the excluded, and lived a life where he was constantly inviting the others who were excluded to come in and have a seat at the table. Jesus was passionate about including people one would never think should be included.
Today’s Evangelicalism on the other hand, seems to be in a perpetual cycle of always redefining the lines– not to draw people in, but to keep even more people out. Instead of throwing a banquet and inviting in the outcasts (an image Jesus painted through one of his parables) it seems that Evangelicalism is more concerned with maintaining purity of the label than it is interested in inviting others to see and experience the “Good News” for which Evangelicalism is named after.
We should constantly be looking for ways to build bridges and invite people in–not building walls in order to keep people out.

1. Today’s Evangelicalism punishes people by withholding of relationships.
I’ve experienced what happens to Evangelicals who dare to question, who dare to read their Bibles, and who dare to actually apply some of Jesus’ teachings (such as the command to nonviolently love our enemies): the punishment of having all of my relationships taken away from me.
Whereas a year and a half ago I had a church family and a circle of friends in my local area, today we are completely isolated– all of the friends we had have now packed their bags and left. I may be widely read but in my local area, I have a total of one real-world friend left, and even he has admitted the he gets questioned by others as to why he’s friends with me.
Today’s Evangelicalism does this to folks who think outside Evangelical lines– it strips them of relationships, cuts them off, and severs ties. I can’t count the number of emails I get with folks sharing their stories in this regard– it is sadly all too commonplace.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population

Here is another fascinating blog article about why people are leaving the church, why the trickle is turning into a flood, written by Thom Schultz and posted on

Mr. Schultz mentions the research of sociologists Josh Packard and suggests some good questions that churches should be asking themselves, and asking the people who are leaving their churches. Schultz begs churches to really begin to listen to their congregants and those who are hitting the exit doors. I have found that church leaders are often so invested in their work with the church, that they are simply unable to hear constructive criticism, rather than unwilling.


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.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

For the church, this phenomenon sets up a growing danger. The very people on whom a church relies for lay leadership, service and financial support are going away. And the problem is compounded by the fact that younger people in the next generation, the Millennials, are not lining up to refill the emptying pews.

Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”

The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.

Will the Dones return? Not likely, according to the research. They’re done. Packard says it would be more fruitful if churches would focus on not losing these people in the first place. Preventing an exodus is far easier than attempting to convince refugees to return.

Pastors and other ministry leaders would benefit from asking and listening to these long-time members before they flee. This will require a change of habit. When it comes to listening, church leaders are too often in the habit of fawning over celebrity pastors for answers. It would be far more fruitful to take that time and spend it with real people nearby—existing members. Ask them some good questions, such as:

1. Why are you a part of this church?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Have you ever contemplated stepping away from church? Why or why not?
4. How would you describe your relationship with God right now?
5. How has your relationship with God changed over the past few years?
6. What effect, if any, has our church had on your relationship with God?
7. What would need to change here to help you grow more toward Jesus’ call to love God and love others?

It’s time to listen. Even as I’m writing this today, another high-capacity lay leader emailed me with his decision to leave his church. He’s done. Like many others I know, he’s also a nationally known Christian leader. But he’s done.

Your church, even if it’s one of the rare growing ones, is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The exodus of the Dones, the rise of the Nones and the disappearance of the Millennials do not look good for a church afraid to listen.
It’s not too late to start. 


You can access the entire article here

Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You

I stopped in Macon, Georgia for the night on my way back from Ohio with my son and his fiancee and their baby. We have been having a great ride, with me playing with the little guy while we listen to the audio recording of World War Z (actually, it is very fascinating). Of course, I am harassing people on FB as we travel.

A friend of mine posted a link to this article by John Pavlovitz on the Patheos blog hosting site today. I read it and decided it was worth re-posting here. The key quote that I want to bring out and emphasize from the article is as follows:

"Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) off your campus and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the building."

I have been saying these things for years, at least 10 years, but I think my circle of friendships have tuned me out (the little boy who cried wolf?, or Chicken Little?), so I will post it here in someone else's voice. I left the building a good while ago.

Here is a portion of Mr. Pavlovitz's post ....

Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?
I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.
You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem, Church.
You are the problem.
Let me elaborate in five ways …

1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.

2. You speak in a foreign tongue.

Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago no longer do.

3. Your vision can’t see past your building.

The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high-tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch … and costly. In fact, most of your time, money and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are instead of reaching people where they already are.

4. You choose lousy battles.

We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.
Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial and pacifists in the face of the terrible.

5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
That’s part of the reason people are leaving you, Church.
These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.
We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.
We’re the ones walking away.
We want to matter to you.
We want you to hear us before you debate us.
Show us that your love and your God are real.
Church, give us a reason to stay.
All 5 of these points resonate with me. But it is not just me .... 
To read the whole blog post, go to the Patheos blog

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Churchless faith

Alan Jamieson is a pastor and sociologist who uses the work of James Fowler in modelling spiritual growth as stages of faith in order to analyze those who have left the church. The book challenges the prevailing view about church leavers and has clear messages for both the individual feeling church is no longer for them, and for churches facing the departure of well-known members.

From the perspective of someone rethinking their religious faith, the most helpful aspect of the book was the level-voiced and non-judgmental survey work (drawn from Jamieson's doctoral thesis) showing why people stop attending churches. Jamieson develops a model showing why people leave and the summary, surprising to some, is that it's a matter of growth of faith rather than death of faith that makes the majority of leavers go it alone. The key message to the individual? "You're not the first to face this, and you're not on your own".

Like the related book 'The Post-Evangelical', Jamieson discusses the fact that faith systems today exist in the context of a culture completing the transition to a post-modern outlook. His challenge to church leaders is to see leavers not as the fallen but as pioneers. His research finds in the majority of cases individuals with insight into expressing faith in post-modern terms rather than in the modernist terms of the established churches. The key message to the church? "Culture is changing, and your leavers are your congregations's pioneers".

Overall this is a book that should be on every minister's shelf and which could offer relief to long-term church members and leaders suffering 'burn out'.

Taken from an Amazon review by Simon Phipps on July 4, 2003.