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.
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.