Church Refugees: Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

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.”

The book concludes with several practical suggestions for how to keep the Dones in church — even to attract them back. We’ve already covered many of them as we worked through the book.

One of particular interest to me is Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). The problem to be solved is the fact that most forms of church aid either create or do nothing to eliminate dependency. If we feed the poor for free — a very good thing — we may encourage the poor to become dependent on our hand outs. Indeed, we may communicate the unintended message that you aren’t able to care for your own family and so you must come to us for help. Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Morality

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.”

The authors found, in their interviews, a decided tension between the desire of church leaders to address questions of personal morality — sexuality and alcohol — with little concern for poverty, oppression, and racism.

To our respondents, preaching a message about the evils of drinking seemed like so much small change compared to big-ticket items such as poverty, racism, and gender inequality.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1681-1682). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Scriptures are, of course, quite clear on sexual morality — and very strict. They simply do not condemn alcohol consumption in moderation and without addiction. And most church goers know this. They may not like it, but they know it. And so when a church pushes an agenda foreign to the scriptures, it loses credibility with Christians who’ve read their Bibles.

On the other hand, the Bible is quite clear that God’s people are to help the poor and to reject racism. People disagree as to the Bible’s teachings on gender equality. Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Conversation, Part 3

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.”

I found this observation about the power of expectation deeply insightful —

The primary force determining the level of participation in any environment is expectation. For example, when we walk into Target, we expect there to be organized shelves of products for sale and people who are working to help us complete our purchases. We aren’t expecting to walk in and make the things we want from scratch. People aren’t sewing clothes at Target. People aren’t making their own lawn furniture. And the people working there would never expect their customers to act that way. Imagine how bizarre it would be if someone walked into a Target and started building his own toaster.

On the other hand, think of our homes. I don’t even want to think about the “conversation” my wife and I would have if I walked in the door of my house and treated it like a Target, expecting everything to be done and made for me, ready to consume. Home isn’t solely a place of consumption; it’s a production site as well. If we want food, we have to make it. If something breaks, we fix it. If we want a room painted, we paint it. Our organizational resources at home are configured much more differently than organizational resources are at Target, and these configurations help to shape our expectations.

Well, what kind of organizational expectations do we have of our churches? Are they set up more like Target or like home? Do our churches produce a product to be consumed, or are they sites where the people who walk in the door are themselves producers and makers?

Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Conversation, Part 2

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.”

I should add that this problem is often not about centralized control by the leadership. Sometimes, it’s the membership that’s intolerant of disagreement more than the leaders. And it may take the leaders many years to get the members to tolerate disagreement about non-essentials.

And this means that it’s important for churches to routinely have a conversation about what is and isn’t an essential. This is difficult in any denomination, but it’s especially hard in Churches of Christ because we have no doctrine that defines what is and isn’t essential. We just kind of make it up as we go along. It’s about tradition and editors and an unspoken, unwritten, very long set of rules that vary from preacher to preacher. Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Conversation, Part 1

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.”

Many of the Dones leaves because of the lack of opportunity for conversation about doctrinal matters. That is,

In the course of the conversations that you value most, does the other person drone on and on about your failings and tell you what to do, or does he or she empathize and ask questions? Do you ever talk in those conversations, or does your friend do all the talking? Do you both debate, defending your unchanging positions? Or do you collaborate and allow the information and opinions of your friend to give new shape, perspective, and life to your old ideas and problems?

I think the answers to these questions are pretty clear, at least for me. While I enjoy a good debate every now and then, the conversations I look forward to most, with old friends and new, are the ones in which we meet on an equal footing, exchange ideas, and help each other see something new about the world.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1286-1292). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Of course, any church has to have doctrinal boundaries. You can’t be a member of a Christian church and deny that Jesus is the Messiah. You can’t advocate rebellion against the known will of God. You can’t deny that God will keep his promises.

But many churches — not just Churches of Christ — won’t even allow questions that threaten the denominational identity of the church or other pet doctrines of the leadership. For example, a Baptist Church well adopt as church doctrine the perseverance of the saints — the belief that saved people will never fall away to lose their salvation — but many would allow the question to be discussed in Bible class. After all, how do you convince someone of your point of view if you don’t allow discussion of that topic?

And in any church, there will be members who struggle with doubts. May they express these doubts in small group or class? Not to destroy the faith of others but to seek answers to legitimate questions?

I was struggling with how to deal with a person in my life who wasn’t being very kind or loving. I could see only two options: I could suffer quietly, tacitly condoning the person’s harmful actions, or I could confront the person, deal with the pain and trauma that would likely ensue, and perhaps lose the relationship in the process.

My friend, who had recently been through a similar experience, helped me brainstorm alternative approaches, some of which were rooted in her experience, but many of which reflected the simple idea of trying to act as Jesus would act.

This is one of the reasons I love my church. These kinds of things happen routinely in my congregation, both with other congregants and with church leaders.

Unfortunately, our respondents reported that this sort of exchange is not what typically occurred at their churches.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1292-1299). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

This is not a complicated concept. Members want a church where they are free to share there doubts, worries, problems, and such without being ruled out of bounds. It’s about authenticity: can I be my real self at church or must I pretend to be someone else?

There are a number of ways people can talk to each other. Jill was expressing a desire for authentic conversation, wherein both parties are open to being influenced by the other.

However, according to our respondents, the traditional mode of religious interaction involves one of two other models: the argumentative style, in which person A states his or her position, then person B shares his or her position, and so on, but neither party has any intention of being influenced by the other. Or the dictatorial style, in which person A speaks with the intention of influencing person B, who takes in the information without responding.

Our respondents not only articulated a strong desire for authentic conversation, but were also summarily turned off by the other two styles.

Jill’s comments summarize what most of us know intuitively. The friends we find hard to keep, the relationships that are most difficult to sustain, are the ones in which an equal exchange of ideas is absent.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1308-1316). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Again, these are not people arguing for a Postmodern philosophy, moral relativism, or secular humanism. They aren’t rebelling against God’s will. They just want to sort through God’s word through a conversation among equals rather than being dictated to. It’s about process.

Our respondents consistently told a story different from much of what other academics have been uncovering. Our respondents didn’t desire a God who serves them or a religious system that allows them more freedom and affirmation. Instead, they were seeking and defending an understanding of God that comes through interactions with others in a sustained and intentional way, and they didn’t object when this understanding constrained and restricted their own behavior or made them uncomfortable.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 1510-1513). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I think there are several ways of looking at this. Most people are better persuaded by dialog and conversation. Therefore, classes and small groups are often better places to handle difficult doctrine than the pulpit.

Just so, people are far more attracted to humility than arrogance. If you can’t imagine being wrong on any biblical topic, only the deeply insecure will find your teaching comforting. And as soon as you demand that people believe it because you said so, you’ve made yourself into an idol. The source of authority is no local God or his Scriptures but the preacher. And puts the preacher in the wrong relationship with his flock.

And it’s just a fact that truth can withstand questioning. The Bible will survive whatever questions come up in Bible class. And if we don’t believe that, then our confidence in the Scriptures is not very strong.

One of the great errors of contemporary Protestantism is the tacit, unstated assumption that the intellect is perfectible and so intellectual error has no need for grace. If we get the age of the earth or the timing of the Exodus wrong, well, there’s no grace for such error and those who are wrong must be rebuked or even excluded from the church. We see the emotions as fallen, and so we tolerate moral sin, but the mind ought to be able get every single doctrinal question exactly right.

We are particularly inclined to be graceless on subjects that establish the boundaries of our denomination. A Church of Christ may well damn someone who worships with an instrument and will routinely refuse to allow a teacher to express doubt on the a cappella question. But the same church may have no problem with disagreements over the nature of the Trinity — even contrary to the Nicene Creed.

So this is going to be a problem in the Churches of Christ until we sort through the difference between what saves and what doesn’t.

 

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How They Make Contemporary Christian Music

(Spotted by Ben Witherington.)

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Church Refugees: Bureaucracy, Part 2

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.”

So, some suggestions (from me, not the authors) —

  1. Decentralize decision making to the extent you can — to the very edge of chaos. The elders and ministers should turn over to committees small groups, adult education, involvement (helping members find a place in church to use their gifts), benevolence, missions, and just about everything that can be competently managed without being a full-time employee of the church.
  2. No one goes on a committee just to fill a spot. The committee members need to be gifted to do the work. If the chair winds up doing all the work, you’ve appointed a bad committee.
  3. Keep committees small — four or fewer for most tasks. There will be exceptions, but you’re better off with lots of small committees handling many tasks rather than a few large committees handling a few tasks — because big committees spend too much time talking and not enough time doing. Committees should be filled with doers, not people who enjoy telling others what to do.
  4. Ministers and elders should be involved in the committee work as equippers and permission givers. They should train the committees, provide them with resources, be available to help when needed, and get out of the way.
  5.  Don’t let the budget process quench the Spirit. Budgets should be easily modified when needed. But no one should be at risk of losing budget money without being first consulted. Therefore, the budget cannot be handled by a 50-person committee. Rather, keep the process simple and involve only the heads of key programs so money can be re-allocated with an email or quick conference call if need be.
  6. COMMUNICATE. Make sure the members know how to get approval, get budget, get their plans announced. They need to know who is in charge of what. Put it on the website: this is how you start a new ministry. This is how you join a ministry. These are the email addresses to contact leaders for more information. This is who you call to make an appointment. Make it easy to volunteer and easy to ask permission for a new ministry.
  7. Don’t let the church get confused between “I want to start a ministry that I’ll help with” versus “You should start a ministry that I’ll watch others do.” Occasionally, someone will see a real need that they cannot help with and will suggest that the church meet this need for very good reason. But most of the time, the requests for new ministries should be for a ministry the requestor will volunteer in. It’s just too easy to tell the elders they should do X because Aunt Sophie’s church in Wyoming is having great results with X. You’ll never lack for ideas. What you need are people passionate, not about someone else’s ministry, but doing ministry.
  8. Kill ministries that no longer serve their purposes. Times change. People change. And beloved ministries often need to die. Kill them — but do take the time to tell the church what you’re doing and why. And be sure to talk to key leaders and volunteers before you make a decision.
  9. There are some ministries that really require full-time oversight — teen ministry being a classic example. In such ministries, the teen minister should see himself as empowering and equipping parents and other adult volunteers. He should be a mentor and coach not just for ministry but for parenting. He should not replace the parents. That mean he has to resist the temptation to plan youth trips that interfere with family vacations. He is not a surrogate parent. He is a parent coach who supports the parents as parents.
  10. Coordinating so many activities so that they aren’t scheduled on top of each other and don’t overwhelm the volunteer pool will require oversight. A ministries team (committee of program heads) or some similar structure has to be set up so the youth minister doesn’t plan a trip out of town in the middle of work day scheduled for members to help with building maintenance. The ministers will be forced to talk with each other and other program heads — and this would be a very good thing.

Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Bureaucracy, Part 1

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.”

Chapter 3 deals with the frustration of mature members with church bureaucracy. Now, in the Churches of Christ, Baptist Churches, and in other autonomously governed congregations, there is no denominational structure that interferes with local work (the Southern Baptist Convention is voluntary and exercises no control over the local church). Nonetheless, many churches so centralize management that members can’t find a way to use their talents for the Kingdom within their local church.

The authors interviewed a departed member they call Daniel — Continue reading

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Patron Saint: “Roll, Jordan, Roll”

The blues meet gospel. Selah.

Full album available at Noisetrade.

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On Break

The recent posts were all written before my vacation — you remember: the one I spent in the hospital at lovely Sacred Heart Hospital Emerald Coast at San Destin, Florida — a very fine hospital, but not anything like a vacation.

So my recovery is going well — just not as fast as I wish. I’m breathing well (always a nice thing), and my stamina is better. But I have a lot of catching up to do.

So I’m taking a break from posting. I’ll probably continue to post in the comments. But it may be a week or two before I can spend much time writing new posts.

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