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.”
Reversing the Judgmentalism Assumption
Churches need to understand that they don’t start from neutral in this respect. Right now, people assume their intrinsic worth and character will be judged, harshly and negatively, by religious people and organizations.
In order to reverse this perspective, corrective action must be taken. This doesn’t mean affirming terrible behavior or advocating that people abandon morality. Rather, congregations and church leaders would do well to listen first, affirm second, and then listen some more.
Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 836-839). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
So many churches in so many denominations for so many years have used guilt and judgment to motivate their members that merely being a church is enough to have new members assume that you are judgmental. That’s the prevailing church ethos, and the only escape is to directly contradict it.
That means that the church must teach grace — not just once. After all, any healthy church will always have new members — from births, from conversions, and from transfers. These new members will not listen to 10-year old sermons to determine your views on judgment and grace. You have to plainly teach these things over and over.
The trick, of course, is to teach grace without being heard as teaching license. Some will accuse you of teaching that sin is no big deal and God doesn’t care how you live your lives. Paul himself faced the same problem.
(Rom. 3:8 ESV) 8 And why not do evil that good may come?– as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
Those who take scriptural grace and slander it as license (permission to intentionally sin against God’s known laws) stand condemned before God — because they deny and so don’t trust God’s promises.
But there are, of course, limits and boundaries. These are not based on how certain you are of your position or how “clear” the arguments seem to you. Everyone who is convinced of anything finds the arguments “clear” even when they are dead wrong. So does the person who disagrees with you!
Rather (and this is not in the book; you get this for no extra charge), you leave grace by the same path by which you entered grace. To be saved — and to enter grace — you must have faith in Jesus. “Faith” in the scriptures is made up of three elements, all three of which are found in the Greek word pistis. (I don’t address baptism because there’s no obvious way to be unbaptized and so surrender one’s faith by surrendering his baptism — nor do the scriptures address such a possibility.)
First, as we find in the Great Confession, you must believe that Jesus is the Messiah (or the Christ). In Rom 10:9, written primarily to Gentiles, Paul phrases the Christian confession of faith as “Jesus is Lord.”
Second, “faith” includes trust. When Abraham was declared righteous by God because of his faith, it was because Abraham trusted God to keep his promises.
Third, “faith” includes the sense of faithfulness. In fact, pistis is translated “faithfulness” several times in the scriptures. Faithfulness does not mean “meeting a high standard of obedience” or “adhering strictly to those doctrines that distinguish your denomination from others.” Rather, faithfulness is a state of the heart — a heart that so loves God and Jesus that it wants to obey. It’s not so much about whether you understand the rules correctly as whether you seek to honor, from the heart, the rules as you understand them. This is why in Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 – 10 Paul can declare both those strong and weak in the faith to be saved — even though they disagree over eating meat sacrificed to idols or honoring holy days — doctrinal issues that were argued by both sides from scripture.
Now, if faith in three aspects is an essential step toward salvation, what would lead to falling away?
First, an absence of belief in Jesus as Messiah (1 John 4:2-3).
Second, a failure to trust God to keep his promises (Gal 5:7; Heb 6:6-10; Heb 11).
Third, rebellion against God’s known will (Heb 10:26 ff).
So when we see a brother struggling in his faith — in any of these three aspects — we should lovingly, gently, humbly approach him and try to help him avoid falling away.
(2 Tim. 2:24-26 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(Tit. 3:1-2 ESV) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(Eph. 4:31-5:1 ESV) 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Col. 3:8 ESV) 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Read some of our Church of Christ publications and church bulletins and ask how well we measure up to this standard. We are far too ready to speak evil, to quarrel, to announce a decision before the other person has been heard. We don’t listen.
(Jas. 1:19-20 ESV) 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
How many of the Dones would characterize the church as “quick to hear, slow to speak”? Sometimes we do not even attempt to measure up to our own standards, assuming that the winner is whoever out-shouts the other guy. That is not the calling we have received.
In fact, while Jesus did at times speak very harshly of his opponents, he knew their hearts perfectly. God gets to do that. We are not God. We don’t know people’s hearts — and when we claim to, we are lying to ourselves.
In short, the cure for judgmentalism is (a) the ongoing teaching of grace and (b) being quick to hear, slow to speak. A little humility in our dealings with others would go a long way toward helping us retain our more mature members. After all, many of them actually took those lessons on judgment and controlling the tongue seriously.