Let me give a prelude to this post which was first published 12 months ago. This article is about the movement of Christians out of the institutionalised church who are called the ‘Dones’. I wanted to also add that this article is not a slam dunk against all churches. I have many opions about where the church is in history right now and the changes that need to come to the church for various reasons. Some of that has to do with the frustration that I have in general with the institutionalised church bogging down in conservativsm and legalism.
However, non of us start out liberal. Any counsellor, sociologist or anthropologist will tell you that the most creative and disciplined humans who make vast contributions to a society are those who have started out with some boundaries, limits or constraints. In a way we all start out conservative. Our wrestle with boundaries and the law is what puts muscle on us and what helps us function as conscientious contributors to society. Our kicking against the ‘goads’ (Acts 26:14), against the prods and spikes of parenting, discipline and confrontations is what helps to distil in us who we are and what we believe in. Children especially need to start off with strong boundaries and security.
The law is given to bring education, knowledge and transformation. However, it is not able to save us or bring enlightenment, we are called to live by faith and that means taking risks and growing up (Gal 3:11). A quote that I have lived by for a decade now by Joseph Chilton Pearce is this.
To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong.
The church in its current state is in a frenzy of protecting its right to always ‘be right’ and to have all the answers. In some cases it is ‘their way or the highway’. Richard Rohr says this in his amazing book ‘Hope Against Darkness’.
Obedience to norms is not the same as obedience to faith. Loyalty to norms prefers order, faith operates in chaos. We need them both because they need one another to work. But the second is more necessary for any creative or new future (p95).
Is the church valid? Yes of course. The church in all its conservative glory is needed to teach the boundaries and the limits. Children need to hear the stories and the structure of the gospel, although the huge bulk of this is the job of parents. However, we cannot stay in a state of infancy. At some point we have to move along the conservative continuum to a more liberal stance. The structures of our conservative beginnings should become the solid foundations within us that allow us to move out into a more liberal stance. If you don’t, you become the conservative that bunkers down into fox holes on every issues, who cannot manage paradox, who becomes angry and judgemental, “overacting to their loss of control and often fall into group loyalty as a substitute to biblical faith” (Rohr Hope Against Darkness). If the foundations don’t move us outward then it is not solid ground in the first place.
Faith calls us out, Jesus sent us out yet so many church systems are built to keep us in.
I hope that this gives a broader understanding of why so many people are frustrated and disenfranchised. They don’t want the church to stop they just want it to mature and transform.
What or Who are the DONES?
This is a new phenomena, a new label for people who previously were the most committed, the most gifted the most active Christian leaders and volunteers. They still are. They still love and serve God. The difference now is that they are ‘done’ with institutionalised church. They are frustrated with the lack of reality. They chaff at the church’s inability to connect with issues of social justice. They are sick of the way that people are treated, excluded and abused by the Church.
They are told that they are deceived, that they have stepped out of the hand of God. They are told that they are in danger of being swept away by the enemy or walking away from God. They are accused of forsaking the body of Christ, but these are just statements of fear, judgment and control. None of this is true.
They are finding Christ in the community, in the marginalised, in the outcasts of society. They are learning how to ‘BE’ the presence of God in the community in which they live. They are growing up and growing faith muscles. They are living more contemplative and healthy lifestyles. They are living daily, dynamic, Spirit breathed lives. But they are done with the institutionalised church in its current state.
Done with Church, but Not with God
They’re done. Done with the institutional church. They are millions strong. And millions more are about to join them.
The Dones, as I refer to them, include some of the established church’s previously most active members, best givers, and most mature believers. Their exodus presents one of the most perplexing challenges for the church as we know it.
In their new book, sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope compare the Dones to refugees. They write,
“Refugees are people who’ve been forced from their homes–for fear of persecution. That describes the dechurched. If they stayed, they would risk further estrangement from their spiritual selves, from God, and from a religion they still believe in.”
That’s what’s interesting about the Dones. They’re not running away from God. Many of them say they’re now running better toward God. So, why is that? What is driving them away from the institutional church? The sociologists discovered several recurring themes after interviewing the Dones.
The fouling of community
The research reveals that the Dones craved the sense of community that a congregation could provide. But instead of community they found judgment. The authors describe Elizabeth who longed for community. But she said,
“Today things are so divided and judgmental, especially around superficial issues, that I can’t go into a church and pretend anymore to be someone I’m not.”
Packard and Hope said the Dones were looking for the kind of community that demonstrates
“a shared understanding that we’re all broken and in need of forgiveness and grace.”
Instead they found church leaders and members “making lifestyle declarations and judgments without owning up to their own shortcomings.”
It’s not a shirking of conviction. They’re comfortable seeing God as judge. But they resist church people who attempt to act in that capacity.
Some church people have judged the Dones as guilty of “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” as mentioned in Hebrews 10:25. But many Dones say they’re not forsaking assembling. They’re just not assembling in that place with the steeple on top.
They’re getting together organically with others to share their faith journey. One described a weekly mealtime with fellow believers: “A bunch of people coming together around a common meal to talk about life. It’s nothing like church. We all talk, and we all listen.”
I’ve found that Dones often bristle when someone says they left the church.
“We didn’t leave the church. We are the church,” they say.
“The church is not some branded religious bureaucracy in some building. It’s us, all of us. We are the Body of Christ–the church.”
There’s a lot more to learn. The organized church, if it wants to retain some of its prime people, would do well to listen to them.
This community/judgment tension is just one of the factors that the sociologists learned about the Dones. Check out their book, Church Refugees by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope.
To order click on the image which will take you to Amazon.
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