Church Refugees: Judgmentalism

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”


One of the killers of community is judgmentalism. When people feel looked down on and condemned, they won’t join (or they leave) the community, and so they soon give up their shared beliefs. That is, a spirit of judgmentalism destroys faith.

Many of the Dones mourned their inability to find a community where they could discuss their disagreements or questions without feeling judged. They weren’t looking for agreement so much as a place to be listened to.

I suggest that when people begin thinking they can’t talk to one another, the church has a bigger problem than could ever be solved by orthodoxy. Community without conversation, an equal exchange of ideas, is simply impossible.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 685-687). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Ironically, the path to shared beliefs is not condemnation of dissent and judgment but creating a safe place within which questions may be asked, discussed, and answered.

This theme, of feeling judged for how well they did or didn’t adhere to the beliefs set forth by their church, was a near constant among our respondents [the Dones]. In fact, judgment was so antithetical to the way they talked about community, that one could easily make the case that judgment is the opposite of community.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 696-698). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So if the Bible says to form community, and if judgment destroys community, what would we expect the Bible to say about judgment? Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe …

(Matt. 7:1-5 ESV) “Judge not, that you be not judged.  2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Now, well-studied readers will recall —

(1 Cor. 5:12-13 ESV)  12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

There is a place for Christians to hold one another accountable — but there are sins that justify disfellowshipping someone, that is, breaking community. There are boundaries, but these are at the level of sin that might cost the Christian his soul — not mere disagreement.

What they [the Dones] really wanted was a shared understanding that we’re all broken and in need of forgiveness and grace.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 758-759). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Grace is, of course, the solution. Grace is not license. It doesn’t excuse violating God’s known will. But it does recognize that we are all sinners. It allows us to hold one another to account while granting enough slack to make it possible to live in peace together despite our imperfections and flaws.

In an earthly family, we hold each other accountable — but we don’t disown each other over every mistake — even some big mistakes. We judge the heart.

Parents who jump on every mistake and find nothing to praise find their children messed up — even suicidal. Parents who never hold their children accountable and who never discipline also wind up with neurotic, rebellious children — who feel so unloved that some also commit suicide. But most parents understand that there’s plenty of room in between no boundaries and no room to make mistakes or disagree to allow children to feel loved and accepted within necessary boundaries — all despite the mistakes that children inevitably make.

In short,

These comments suggest that a wholesale rethinking of the way we do church is necessary, rather than a few tweaks around the edges. In all of these comments, we see a desire, simply, for people to be nicer together. It became clear that after leaving churches, people go to great lengths to find community, but the one thing they won’t put up with is the judgment they felt in church.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 827-830). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Reflections on Community and Judgment

I pretty sure most readers don’t need to have an explanation of “judgment.” We’ve all experienced it, even if we were raised in a grace-filled congregation. Some of us were raised in churches filled with judgment — the kind condemned in Matt 7.

Amazing, isn’t it, that Jesus could so very plainly condemn judgment — right there in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount — and  yet many of his followers try to follow Jesus by being judgmental. And the church not only tolerates such behavior, it sometimes celebrates it! After all, judgmentalism coupled with a pulpit and a seven-day schedule is a “revival.” Guilt motivates. Guilt drives change. Guilt keeps butts in the pews and donations in the plate. But only for a while. And only for a some people.

Grace does the same things — and does it far better. And grace doesn’t need a seven-day meeting to change lives — which should be more than enough commendation.

To sum up, the command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous. Jesus does not tell us to cease to be men (by suspending our critical powers which help to distinguish us from animals) but to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God (by setting ourselves up as judges).

John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 177.

Worship and judgmentalism

Ultimately, to borrow from N. T. Wright, we become like the god we worship. If we worship a judgmental, censorious, foot-fault-finding god, we soon become the same way. Churches filled with harsh, cold, judgmental people are churches that worship a harsh, cold, judgmental god. They are idolaters and should be fled — or converted to Christianity.

The God of the NT is also the God of the OT, the God of chesed — the God who loves with such intensity that he keeps his covenant even with those who deny him, who will die on a cross to save people who were once his enemies. And if we’ll worship this, the true God, we’ll become chesed people.

Chesed is a Hebrew word with no exact English (or Greek) translation. In the OT, it describes God’s faithfulness to his covenants, resulting in love and mercy. In the NT, when Paul writes of God’s “righteousness,” I think he has chesed in mind. Sometimes, when he wants to emphasize God’s covenant faithfulness especially, he refers to God’s pistis or faithfulness. And, of course, pistis is the word translated “faith” when Paul is speaking of Christians.

That is, to be saved, we must approach God with faith. Why? Because to have faith is to be like God in his chesed. It’s not merely to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (as very important as that is). It’s also to be faithful to and to trust Jesus — because this is the meaning of pistis and essential to becoming like God in his chesed.

I toss in this bit of very serious theology to make the point that being judgmental — quick to condemn — is the very opposite of being like God and the very opposite of having faith. It’s not the path to heaven. It’s the path to neurosis and misery — both for you and for those around you. It’s not God-like or Christ-like. It is, in fact, Satanic. It’s Satan, not Jesus, whom the Bible refers to as the “accuser.” Why we would prefer to act like Satan rather than God in church is beyond me. And in Matt 7, Jesus threatens the judgmental person with damnation — which should be highly motivating.

In other words, we don’t need to get rid of judgmentalism just to keep our members and be more attractive — although it would help that greatly. We need to get rid of judgmentalism to be saved.

(Matt. 7:2 ESV)  2 “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

You don’t need a D.Min. to figure out that the more merciful you are to others, the more mercy God will grant to you.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to Church Refugees: Judgmentalism

  1. Ed Dodds says:

    So much of American religion (#ecclesiaeconomicks) is about the Sunday morning worship service cathedral and ministerial perks like healthcare insurance and housing allowances that there is no money left to feed the poor. Rather than growing more denominations (20,000 or so last time I saw some stats) we need to be out intentional neighboring and demonstrating the power of the kingdom of Jesus in the midst of a broken world. #PreachingToMyself This used to be called “evangelism” back before we delegated that to one guy on staff. The dechurched are often dealing with eldercare, family members with extreme disabilities, mental health issues, persistent unemployment. I am angered that more congregations don’t use this internet thingie to connect folks (they already do it ad hoc via blogs, facebook groups, email lists, etc.) rather than browbeat re: “attendance” (which is often just a veiled behavior to make certain the minister’s paycheck is being covered from the days before autodraft).

  2. Mark says:

    Also, the powerful in the churches have to allow for real-world issues to be mentioned from the pulpit. For too long, Paul was the basis for all sermons and not his love but his law. In many cofCs that I attended, the gospel was never read, even on Easter. I guess this made it easier to preach a proof-texted sermon since the gospel reading might have contradicted said sermon. I really wished the traditional opening of all cofC sermons, “if you have your Bibles turn to Book chapter:verse where we will begin this morning” would be banned. I guess this is what preachers did when they wrote sermons ahead of time and used them regardless of that week’s world events.

    Jim Martin wrote this on his blog recently.
    It hits home with many people.

  3. I remember Jim Woodroof talking, many years ago, about preaching more about Jesus and less about “doctrine of the church.” I also remember Jerry Jones talking about a professor in his doctoral program at a Baptist school who in private conversation told him that most evangelicals approached reformation with the book of Romans (i.e., with Paul) whereas the church of Christ began reformation with the Book of Acts. Both of these emphasized something that Paul had also said: “I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

  4. Mark says:

    Jerry, I don’t think many listened to Jim Woodroof or if they did, they could not figure out how to preach Jesus and not be like the rest of Christianity who preached on him as well. I was told that the cofC had to find a way to be different and that if the Baptists used the front door of their church house, the cofC would only use the back door. The Catholics hold Mary in high regard and the cofC will not mention Mary, even on Mother’s Day, for that reason.

  5. So sad – but, thankfully, things are improving – but there are still many who do not “get it.” And they seem to be the loudest in pronouncing judgment on all who do not continue in what they call “the old paths” (which date only to the late 19th century.

  6. Dwight says:

    Mark, What churches did you go to and what do you consider “the gospel”? I have grown up in the conservative coC and while admittedly it is Paul heavy, they have also read from the gospels, etc. The beatitudes have always been one of the go-to scriptures, and so is John 1, etc.

  7. Monty says:


    While I certainly understand your sentiment about people’s needs, a congregation paying a preacher or multiple staff members, if larger, isn’t sinful. I know you didn’t use that word but it seems to be implied. There is something special about Christians congregating, worshiping together, eating together, giving towards a cause together. I don’t think you get that from video streaming and social media even though they can be valid tools. Most churches(granted not all) don’t really have money problems as far as if they were to give sacrificially. I live in a small conservative town and I wouldn’t consider any of the congregation’s members to be particularly wealthy or above average in income and yet they seem to be able to drive new or newer vehicles, eat out regularly, vacation often, and go and do just about whatever they please.

    The problem isn’t that a church pays a man 40,50,60 grand a year to preach unless 1. the congregation has split or seen an exodus for whatever reason and now they are strapped by a large mortgage payment or 2. the church is small in number and the majority of the budget does go to paying the preacher and utilities. 3. I did read this past week where an Atlanta pastor makes almost a millions dollars a year(large black church) where his average member’s income is less than 27,000 a year. Something wrong with that picture.

    There does seem to be a shift away from building magnificent structures at least in the CofC but that’s just MHO. As Jay has pointed out several times before, the churches who don’t pay a preacher generally don’t grow.

  8. Ed Dodds says:

    Monty: I appreciate your perspective, I especially liked “There is something special about Christians congregating, worshiping together, eating together, giving towards a cause together.” On “As Jay has pointed out several times before, the churches who don’t pay a preacher generally don’t grow.” my bias is that because we are not in the practice of teaching every disciples to disciples others. I realize God has given folks varying degrees of talent/spiritual gifts re: this kind of “community formation” but I think Jay’s post at is informative in that worship, eating and giving doesn’t require a worship service at a particular building at a particular time (although I did not mean to communicate that this is “sinful” nor having a hired guy; more that it is a matter of emphasis and you get what you sow towards). Jay’s Church Refugees post I think highlights folks needing an “extended family” who will help them through life’s many crises. I recognize that many congregations are searching to find ways to meet the needs of their surrounding communities; the adoption of multi-purpose buildings would be an evidence of this, I assume.

  9. Mark says:

    I went to a little cofC in south Arkansas while growing up, a larger one in north Arkansas on occasion, and two in Searcy, not to mention 4 years of Harding chapel. The gospel is the parables and life of Jesus as written 3 gospels as well as John.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty wrote,

    There does seem to be a shift away from building magnificent structures at least in the CofC but that’s just MHO.

    Actually, this is proved by national church surveys and involves Christian churches in general, not just CoCs. The expense of a building that seats over 1,000 people is pretty high, and yet a huge building gets in the way of community formation and doesn’t work well for smaller services. And so multi-site was invented — with lower per-member costs and a gathering small enough that you can meet people and feel like you belong. It’s about group dynamics as well as cost. It just didn’t work until technology made real-time televising of the preacher to multiple sites in high definition affordable — and people live in a world of Skype and Facetime.

    The less radical solution is multiple services in the same building — which allows you to serve people on non-traditional work schedules and greatly reduces building costs. Once people got used to a single church with multiple services, they more easily accepted multi-site. It was barely imaginable 10 years ago and yet obvious now.

    Some church plants within the CoC are experimenting with house churches, but most struggle to grow. It’s like small groups — it’s hard to have enough leaders to keep scaling up.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Jim wrote a book, now out of print, that had considerable influence. Came out shortly after Rubel Shelly’s I Just Want to Be a Christian and my own The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. It’s available at his website. It’s as minimal a website as I’ve ever seen. I guess you email him and ask for the price.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for the link.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Not really disagreeing but looking for a real-world solution.

    The argument has often been made that the house-church model solves many of these problems by eliminating building costs and allowing for a minimal staff. But most house-church plants have struggled to grow. The problem is that (a) many Americans live in apartments and just don’t have room for many more, (b) suburban homes hold more people but 15 or so is the limit for a comfortable song service or class unless you have wealthy members. A 1,800 s.f. house is just not going to hold 30. Therefore, you have to find a leader for every 15 or so members — which is hard to do.

    It may be that the multi-site model could be applied to house churches. That is, you could have the lesson piped in on the Internet. Most newer TVs can serve as an Internet device or computer monitor. But you still need someone to serve as host and help form the group. You need a shepherd on site at every service — even if it’s an under-shepherd who doesn’t wear the “elder” title. Someone has to pastor the group for it to coalesce into Christian community. There has to be organization and planning.

    In the real world, this role is often taken on by the hostess, who makes sure meetings are planned, common meals come together, people are welcomed, etc. It may be best seen as a couples role rather than individual role — just as we see in small groups everywhere.

    But I’m not sure how we solve the problem of scaling up — which would seem to require groups to divide. People would far rather be crowded and uncomfortable with friends than comfortable with strangers.

    At Saddleback, they create new small groups made up of new members out of the general membership — and don’t require groups to divide if they don’t want to. But in the house-church model, there’s no general assembly. And so these churches tend to struggle to get to four or five houses and then most stop growing.

    I’m not aware of anyone that’s found a solution. A lot of theorizing and posturing but little real success.

    Meanwhile, church plants that have a building (or move to a building as soon as they hit 100 or so members) sometimes take off and have thousands of members. Of course, many die as well. But the experts can have pretty high rate of success outside of the CoC (where they aren’t constrained by a cappella and the denominational reputation for thinking everyone else is going to hell). They often successfully grow, but they have to pay for a building.

    Some try to finesse the problem by locating in rented space — but that creates a whole host of other problems, such as losing the lease and lack of classroom space. For that model to work, you have to give up classes and do your teaching through small groups — which again requires about 1 talented leader per 15 members. But this leader needs to be a capable teacher. And God doesn’t give us capable teachers on a 1 in 15 scale — not most places.

    As a result, the small groups are often badly taught or taught at a shallow level and don’t meet the needs of mature members — leading to the “Dones” problem. I mean, to like the First Century church, well, Paul expected the church in Rome to understand Romans with no commentaries or study Bibles! So the standard of Bible literacy was pretty high. Or else they had really talented teachers — not just guys who can read discussion questions from a hand out prepared by the preacher.

    And on it goes.

    Every culture has its own issues. These aren’t “church” issues so much as “church in America” issues. I’d love to hear that someone has found a better way: a way to build Christian community without a huge, expensive staff and building, but an effective community that can serve real needs.

  14. Larry Cheek says:

    I really don’t know if word press could help with what is happening to your site, but as you click on either the (continue reading) or the (comments) on today’s post all of your formatting is removed and text only goes to full screen, all of the column on the right is gone. This is not so bad on a laptop but a desktop with a 24″ screen will wear your neck mussels out reading a almost 20″ wide block of text. This is the same on multiple computers with different versions of Microsoft windows, and different browsers. This has happened occasionally over the years, but seems to be a common event almost daily now. The most important part of this problem it destroys your formatting of text from commentaries from your own comments. Since it even reacts the same on my android phone with google crome, I really believe it must be a problem with word press.
    Is anyone else having this problem?

  15. Larry Cheek says:

    Well again after posting a comment the complete site formats normally again, and since I went to another computer and checked it also finding it working perfectly, this problem must be with my Google account. I’ll pursue checking with them. Even the phone with Google is performing correctly.

  16. I’ve known Jim for 50 years, and have read many of his books. ‘Between A Rock & A Hard Place’ is available free in e-book format at He still offers that and 3 more as hard copies of you email him.

    Everything I’ve heard from him or read from him has been excellent. If I had to list the preachers I’ve known who have influenced me the most, he’d be in the top five, though I’ve never worked with him directly except in a gospel meeting and a campaign or two when we were both in New Zealand in the 1960’s.

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