Friday, August 2, 2013

The Dechurched, The Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God

The Movement Out of Institutional Churches

The ranks of the dechurched are growing every day. More and more people are questioning the influence and effectiveness of institutional churches in general. There is a growing movement that is creating a huge contingent of people who no longer attend regular services for whatever reason, many of whom are simply staying home. There are also many who are moving into Christian groups outside mainstream denominations and established churches, groups that often meet in homes. These dechurched people are frustrated with the status quo and at the same time have a fervent desire to have a much clearer focus on what the Church is supposed to be.

Many of these people are just simply tired of the ineffectiveness and lack of real ministry in these established churches, but a disturbingly large number of people are leaving because they've been hurt in churches with controlling leadership. Abusive churches are a major problem, churches that are run with very heavy-handed leadership leaving members used and abused. Once these people get free from the controlling environment, they are very likely to pull out of church altogether at least for awhile to heal and rediscover their relationship with God. Whatever the reason, the ranks of the dechurched are growing every day, people that have one thing in common- a deep desire to find Jesus and the real Church.

Exit sign is free clip art from freestockphotos.biz.


The Current State of Things
The Old Wineskin

The modern, traditional, institutional church as it is established now is one that breeds laziness, passivity and an atmosphere that encourages religion. Tradition dictates that one man or woman (or couple) is in charge, carrying the load of all things spiritual along with their staff and a handful of others, while the members for the most part remain passive and uninvolved. There is an assumption that the clergy has the education, the "spirituality" and the calling, and thus should carry the lion's share of the responsibility. There has been a clear division for centuries between the clergy and the laity, a division that promotes the sense that members aren't qualified to minister.

The entire set-up of a typical church regardless of its denominational affiliation (or lack thereof) lends itself very readily to the audience/performance type of arrangement with the majority of the members doing little more than just sitting and listening to whatever is doled out from the platform. There is little if any encouragement for members to function in their gifts, little encouragement for actual spiritual growth, little opportunity for one-on-one ministry. Typically, people file in, find a seat, chit-chat a bit, listen, then head for the car. And we feel like we've done our spiritual duty for the week with this arrangement.

Institutional church is rife with the traditions of men and thus religion- programmed institutions that are run with man's programs, man's plans, man's works. As spiritual as we think we have been, "church" is nothing like what it should be, and most people know it. What we call church is far removed from the ideal, on-fire Church of the New Testament. We've become lukewarm, complacent and bewitched by the religion that permeates our services.

 by Jon Zens
"Only by turning a blind eye to the New Testament can we end up with a deeply entrenched system that flagrantly denies Paul’s crystal-clear remark — 'the body is not one part, but many.' The way most churches are run gives the distinct impression that everything depends on one part — 'the pastor' — not many. . . There is already Someone to lead congregations, and His name is Jesus Christ. But the system’s focus on a human leader functionally negates the leadership of Christ. Do we care that Jesus clearly said, 'don’t be called "leaders" because you have one Leader, Me.'"
Church is free clip art from wpclipart.com.


Church Buildings- Money Pits?

These churches have buildings that require a great deal of money to build and maintain, thus a constant need for funds. This sets the stage for the generally accepted doctrine that says that the tithe must be paid, specifically to the local church, or the curse is just around the corner. They also promote the notion that the blessing comes as a result of giving. Many churches find themselves under pressure to produce finances for building programs and resort to arm-twisting to extract at least the tithe from as many as will conform to that particular tradition. And the pressure is greater every year with those churches that are actually growing and need bigger buildings and more paid staff. Paid staff- now there's another tradition that probably isn't anything like what the New Testament Church was.

Consider the thousands taken in every Sunday morning in traditional churches across this country. What percentage of this ultimately goes to feed the hungry, support missionaries or accomplish other actual ministry? Consider the budget for just the building (maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc.), and how many hungry children could be fed with what comes in? Bigger is not necessarily better, in my book.

The abuse of the prosperity message has corrupted many a ministry over the years. When this kind of doctrine is promoted and the money starts rolling in, the temptation to covetousness is huge, and just doing a little research on big-name television mega-ministries will prove that the draw into love of money is often too much to resist. With the prosperity message being emphasized in many of these churches, the members are left believing that their giving into these ministries is their ticket to the blessing of God. Think about it- this leaves grace completely out of the picture and introduces religion; giving becomes works that earn your blessing. And of course the church itself will prosper nicely with this arrangement, but do you? How many of us have been completely brainwashed into this kind of thinking? We give because we are blessed, we don't get blessed because we give. That's works and more religion. I have included a link below to Kenneth E. Hagin's book The Midas Touch, written to confront the abuses of the prosperity message.

Understand that I tend to be rather biased in this regard. I spent 12 years in an abusive, charismatic "word of faith" church that distorted the Word to pad its own pockets. But since coming out, I am discovering how duped many of us have been for decades, believing these doctrines that are part and parcel in most churches anywhere you go.

Money is free image from Wikimedia Commons.


The Dechurched Because of Spiritually Abusive Churches

Spiritually abusive churches, or what I call Red Flag Churches, aren't readily obvious. Generally they exist in the charismatic branch of Christianity, flourishing among those congregations that have no denominational oversight. They seem to have all their ducks in a row, with what seems to be preaching according to the Word of God, great worship services and the gifts of the Spirit in evidence. But they emphasize extreme submission to authority and exert an inordinate amount of control over their congregations with absolutely no accountability. It took me 12 years to finally come to the conclusion that the church I was in was anything but healthy, so I know first hand how difficult it is to recognize an abusive church. Leaving is difficult for many reasons, and the emotions experienced are very intense. Some liken it to spiritual rape. For me the feelings of betrayal were the most intense. I have had to deal with coming to the realization that most of the teachings I had received for three decades had been doctrines formed by scripture twisting and proof-texting.

Churches like this are everywhere, and the number of people suffering from spiritual abuse seems to be growing every day. These people require special ministry and more than likely much more time to recover, making their wilderness experience a longer and harder season. Many of these may never return to institutional church, with small groups the only option left. Many may completely leave anything that even vaguely resembles church, and some may abandon their faith altogether.

Those that are leaving these kinds of churches are a significant part of the dechurched. Their experiences are unique and those that manage to overcome the fallout from the abuse will come out on the other side with a much deeper commitment to God and to a ministry centered on grace and the Truth.

Red flag is free clip art from freepdsfile.com.



The Wilderness Experience

As people leave their churches, the next step seems to be a wilderness experience, a time when a relationship with God is strengthened and God deals with issues that need to be taken care of. It's a time of preparation much like Moses, David, Paul and many others in the Bible went through before their time of ministry. Many who have left their churches felt like they had been called out by God, even though the people they left behind have accused them of being rebellious and unsubmitted.

When believers make the decision to leave what they've known for years, a season of prayer and seeking the face of God is necessary to determine what to do next. The wilderness experience also works to purge out old faulty doctrines, wrong attitudes and other issues that would hinder ministry. The process of leaving is hard at best, particularly if those left behind aren't very sympathetic. Coming to terms with the reality of the situation can be very difficult and can take quite a bit of time to reconcile and is particularly hard for the dechurched that have left abusive churches. This presents a whole different set of problems that are dealt with in my post Red Flag Churches (link below).

Time in a regular, institutional church can also create a laziness in believers, a tendency to expect the leaders to carry the load of all things spiritual. God will work to remove those crutches in order to pull you into a relationship with and dependence on Him. Many of us have relied on others for much of our spiritual responsibilities, and in the wilderness all that must change.

The process is certainly no fun, but necessary to bring us into a place of true, unhindered ministry, a stronger relationship with God and clear direction. It is not an easy time by any means, leaving the familiar, losing all our former crutches and having to face our wrong attitudes and beliefs, but as we come to a place of complete surrender to God, learning to be led by His Spirit, that is when we can truly be used by God to bring real change to those around us.

Desert is free clip art from artvex.com.


The Next Move of God
The New Wineskin

Many believe that the next move of God will be in using small groups of dechurched Christians to bring real Christianity, real love and real ministry to the lost and to those in pain. Institutional churches generally are doing all they know to do and there are some good programs out there, but the potential for real impact is much greater in the small group format that is not encumbered by the trappings of the institutional church system. Because there is no huge budget needed to maintain a building and paid staff, funds are freed up to directly reach those who are in need of help. Decisions come by prayer and being led by the Spirit, not by committee.

Since writing this post, I have come to believe that the small/house/organic church format still isn't what's best, even though it is much more biblically based than what we know now. The problem is that it's still a "format", a system devised by man. And as such, being left in the control of man's hands, it will eventually become a system that will tend to leave God out. The true Church is merely His people living their lives led by His Spirit, demonstrating the love of God to those He brings across their paths. No system of planned meetings can accommodate what God intends with His Church. For more on this, see Will the Real Church Please Stand Up? 

People who have gone through the upset and the wilderness experience that comes with leaving what was their church for years will come out with a relationship with God that many others will never know. And isn't that the point? In an institutional church setting, it is far too easy to get lazy and expect the so-called leadership to do all the heavy lifting. We are all to hear from God, be led by His Spirit, and have that relationship with Him that He intends. I believe the next move of God is merely His people learning to walk with Him every day, demonstrating His love to a broken world, a "liquid" church that moves when He moves, goes where He tells them to, and truly abides in Him.

Many people are leaving churches out of frustration, feeling like they no longer fit in. These people are tired of the sameness of the services and the lack of real ministry. Some say they are leaving because of a prompting from the Holy Spirit. To these people, "church" brings up images of a system that is more of a drain than anything else- a drain on their time, money and talents. But not all who feel this way have left their churches; some will stay because God has not called them out. There are bound to be good local churches out there that are doing and will do effective ministry to their communities, so this is not a blanket indictment of local church in general, merely a general statement on how most churches tend to be. Working with local churches would be the ideal situation, bringing unity into the community and a real expression of love to those in need.

God is doing away with the old wineskin and replacing it with a new one that will not break when the new wine is poured in. In existing churches? Perhaps. That depends on how they react to this new move of God and if they choose to change with Him, and that is where people must learn to be led by the Spirit. Rule of thumb- follow peace. If peace dictates that you stay in your church, then that is what you must do. But if church is leaving you frustrated and discouraged, then peace may dictate that you leave and seek His face for a season to determine what you must do next. Pulling out takes courage, but many have done it and support is out there.

Sunrise is free image from Wikimedia Commons.


Support for the Dechurched

Out of Church Christians by Andrew Strom
This is a free book written by a man who had printed an article on the movement of Christians out of traditional churches and was flooded with emails from people all over the world who told their stories.


Done With Religion by Jim Gordon- Living with God outside the walls of religion. Great blog.

Dechurched, a Christian Trend- a new site still under construction. Looks like it will examine the statistics, have personal stories, and other links.



Recommended Reading

Finding Church: What if There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen
For 2000 years men have attempted to confine the Kingdom of God in a man-made institution. The Kingdom of God is within you!!








Revolution by George Barna








The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White- White examines the exodus from traditional churches, how the rest of the population perceives the church, and suggestions for change.







Red Flag Churches: Distinguishing Protection from Control- This book recounts my experiences in an abusive church, and what I have learned since leaving. Free download.











Blog Posts

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Righteous Judgment
Where's the Love?
Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?
Church- Consider Your Ways
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?


Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Church- Consider Your Ways

Programs vs Relationships

Since finding out about the small church movement, I have begun to look at scriptures from a different perspective.  I have begun to see how the old wineskin of traditional church simply hasn’t done the job, and I see how the structure of the small, organic church is both scriptural and effective.

Take a look at the passage in Haggai about how we all are more concerned with our own houses rather than the house of God:
Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? 5 Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. 6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. 7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord. 9 Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. 10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. 11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands. Haggai 1:3-11 KJV
For years, I have looked at this passage and have seen it as a mandate to support the local church with your resources of time, talents and money.  But now I’m seeing this completely differently.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the reference to the house of God.  If you consider the New Testament verses that explain what the temple of God actually is, you can look at this passage and see how we’ve put all our resources into the “ceiled houses” of traditional church and have neglected actually building the Church by obeying the command to make disciples.
We also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 KJV (See also 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; Heb 3:6)
When Jesus came, the temple and its system was abolished. Jesus is now the temple, His body is the true House of God, and to think that there is something spiritual about the building is unbiblical.


Money Pit?

The house of God does not consist of the thousands of buildings across the land, it is the people of God. Consider our traditional ways- we have sown much into these buildings and programs yet have reaped little:
. . . institutional churches in the United States alone own over $230 billion worth of real estate.  And much of that money is borrowed (debt).  Christians give between $9 and $11 billion a year on church buildings. [1]
We have invested billions in local churches yet the return on investment is poor at best.  According to George Barna, the church is not doing her job:
The local church is one mechanism that can be instrumental in bringing us closer to Him, and helping us to be more like Him.  But, as the research data clearly shows, churches are not doing the job.  If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope. [2]
We go to church and listen to the music and the sermon, yet all too often we walk away unchanged. We eat, and are still hungry, we drink and are still thirsty. What is wrong?

To my way of thinking, much of this goes back to the fact that the church has been institutionalized, turning it into a programmed religious tradition with little or no life. The way the church has evolved over centuries has taken her further and further away from the way the Church operated in the New Testament.

One of the main departures from the biblical mandate is the traditional emphasis on evangelism as opposed to doing what Jesus commanded which is to make disciples.  We have sown much into evangelistic meetings and evangelistic programs, trying to bring people into buildings for planned events, but results have been dismal:
Statistically, 1 in 100 of the people who "make a decision for Christ" in evangelistic meetings . . . will actually start attending a church . . . This is not only costly in terms of money and people, but also speaks of a very low quality level of the conversions produced through such activities. [3]
If we would follow the command in scripture, we would be the ones going, going into all the world to make disciples.  And making disciples involves developing relationships with people who are out there in the world, the ones that are hurting and need God, but people who are very unlikely to show up at a church. That’s where the good soil is, out there in the world.  Instead of trying to convince the world to come to church, we need to change our tactics, and start going ourselves.

In the house church environment, relationships are developed and disciples are made through the time spent with each other. Churches grow as relationships grow, and so-called “organic church” lives by the life of Jesus that multiplies through those relationships.  The biblical way works much better than the way we’ve tried to do it:
Instead of making individual spiritual seekers parrot prayers- "Repeat after me to invite Jesus into your heart"- house churches would allow much more "relational conversions", often of whole families and households, who would help each other to "stay converted" afterwards. [4]
Traditional churches are far too often bags with holes, throwing money at real estate, buildings, paid staff and unending programs designed to try to bring people into the building to participate in man-made programs, and clearly, this has produced little fruit.

Jesus told us to do otherwise- to go.  Go into all the world and make disciples.  This is the model that we are to follow and that model will produce fruit. The old wineskin of institutional church will inevitably give way to the new wineskin.  Many see this as a revolution, some referring to it as the Third Reformation. Change is coming; traditional church will eventually either change or disappear as the next move of God begins to take over our thinking and our way of doing things, a reformation that allows Jesus to be the Head of His Church, not man. It will be the Body of Christ that lives and moves by His Spirit, abiding in Him and demonstrating His love to the world, unencumbered by the systems and plans of man.

We will no longer be throwing money at the institutional system that is ineffective at best; that money will be freed up to be used to affect the lives of those out there in the world, those who need to hear the Good News, those who are good soil that will produce fruit.  The Church needs to consider her ways.

Not long ago, my phone rang.  It was my husband asking if we might have an extra coat about his size or a little larger and a good hat.  He said there was a guy walking down the road using a garbage bag as a coat, and he was in tears when he told me about it.  That was one of those mornings that dipped below freezing.  I found a good, warm coat, a hat and a pair of gloves and took off.  He got the things to him, and came back, still in tears.  Later in the day, I found out that my son had given him a ride on down the road and gave him the two cans of soda he had; later yet, my husband told me he'd put a five dollar bill in one of the coat pockets. I think it's time to consider our ways and look around.

Now when I see big church buildings, I can't help but wonder how many hungry people that money could have fed. The harvest is ripe, and we sit in our "ceiled houses" once or twice a week while the world waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
We spend so much time building nice barns with padded pews, air-conditioned halls, and state-of-the-art sound systems, yet we have neglected the fields.  We are as foolish as the farmer who builds a barn and then stands in the doorway calling all the crops to come in and make themselves at home.  It is time for the Church to get her hands dirty in the soil of lost people's lives. [5]
Footnotes:
[1] Viola, Frank.  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity.  Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook, 2008, p. 89.
[2] Barna, George.  Revolution.  Barna Books, an imprint of Tyndale House, 2005. p. 36
[3] Simson, Wolfgang.  Houses That Change the World:  The Return of the House Churches.  Emmelsbull, Germany, C&P Publishing, 1999,  p. 199.
[4] Simson, Wolfgang.  Houses That Change the World:  The Return of the House Churches.  Emmelsbull, Germany, C&P Publishing, 1999,  p. 199.
[5] Cole, Neil.  Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2005, p. 35.

Money Pit is free clip art from wpclipart.


Recommended Reading

When I first wrote most of these blog posts, I had been reading quite a few books on the house church movement. At the time, this seemed like the perfect answer to all the drawbacks in the institutional church system. I am sure there are house churches that work, but now I'm seeing this as just another attempt to force the Kingdom of God into a man-made form. It was Wayne Jacobsen that opened my eyes to the reality of Church as just simply living your life as the Holy Spirit leads, minus all the trappings of traditional "church".  His book, Finding Church is at the top of my must-read list.

Finding Church: What if There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen



Reimagining Church by Frank Viola










Revolution by George Barna











Blog Posts

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

The Dechurched, The Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God
Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Where's the Love?
Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?
Righteous Judgment
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?


Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
Hold Fast to the Head
To Tithe or Not to Tithe