I Am Done with Church
Every year over 1 million believers in the United States decide they are done with church, according to the Gallup organization. As of November 2016, I am one of them! They call us “the dones”. We left the institutional church and are looking instead for the reality of the functioning Body of Christ.
You need to understand that for the previous 2 years when I first heard of the “dones”, I prayed fervently for them. I somehow thought that if the ones in our region came to where I was involved they would see our system was better and want to stay. Well, Jesus showed me a system is a system. My system was no better. They wouldn’t want it either. I was the one that needed to change. It was time for me to get out!
Leaving was a big change for me. I was part of the institutional church most of my life. I even worked for it most years, starting in 1976, serving as a pastor, assistant pastor, worship leader, teacher, youth worker, and business administrator in several locations depending on the need.
Many of the years I served were really good. I learned a lot and developed friendships with some great people. Unfortunately, the church experience often left me feeling empty and frustrated inside. I knew the church was not functioning the way Jesus and the apostles taught in the New Testament and that caused it to fall short in many ways. The church did not function as the Body of Christ. It was mostly a building full of spectators under the leadership of one person who controlled everything. People did not reach their full potential. They didn’t grow very much spiritually. The Body was not being built up to the level Jesus was calling it to because the Holy Spirit was limited to the gifts of mostly one person.
The truth is, no one person can adequately express the fullness of Jesus Christ. That’s why we need the gifts that are available to all the members of His Body. Having one person be gifted to speak as God’s voice to His people is an Old Testament practice. In the New Testament era, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers. Jesus is revealed in many ways as the gifted believers share with one another. The spontaneity and liberty can produce awesome results, too. It’s so much better than a canned program.
Professional Clergy is Not Biblical
Did you know that having a professional minister (clergy) who controls the church and does all the ministry is a concept that comes from the third century? It is nowhere in the New Testament. As the Catholic church began to organize they created two classes of people: the clergy (which literally means, chosen ones) and the laity (which literally means, the masses). This practice has trickled down to contaminate almost every church in the world. Since the Holy Spirit has been made available to all believers there is no need to have officials who rule over the people.
Jesus addressed rulership issues with the disciples. In Mark 10:35-45 James and John were lobbying for special positions in the Kingdom of God. The other disciples were jealous of that conversation. Jesus told them that Gentiles exercise their authority over the people but “not so with you!” He said if someone wants to be great they must be the servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Gifted leaders are to function as servants and slaves with the people, not over them.
Leadership: Not Like This!
As I served with other leaders, what really amazed me was their inability to see the simple biblical truth of the New Testament Church. They easily accepted the traditions passed on to them from their teachers, but ignored, or explained away, the clear truths presented in the Word. That’s not always intentional. Some leaders can’t see through the fog of doctrines, invented by men, that were taught as spiritual truth for centuries. The fog is all they know. Unfortunately, they aren’t bold or radical enough to question it and seek the truth. They love their system.
Other leaders love to be in charge. It feeds their egos and some have a very hungry one. They like power, recognition, and titles. What did Jesus say about that? Speaking to the people and the disciples He criticized the religious leaders.
Matthew 23:5-11 (NLT) “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant.
Jesus goes after the leaders of the Jews in this text. He chides them for (1) the way they do things for show; (2) their robes and religious symbols; (3) their love for prime seating at banquets and synagogues; (4) desiring respectful greetings in the marketplaces and (5) being called “Rabbi” (which means master). All of this stuff is derived from the Old Testament rituals. For us who live in the New Testament era, it is useless and inappropriate.
Jesus completely rejects the use of titles! Master, father, and teacher should only be used when speaking of God the Father and His Son Jesus. He’s pointing out these things because they put the focus of the people on men instead of God. Shouldn’t we do the same? Instead, our leaders want you to call them pastor, bishop, team leader, prophet, apostle, etc. I am amazed at the long list of titles even leaders in the non-denominational churches have developed. When you read the whole chapter you can see Jesus was pretty tough on the religious leaders. We should not imitate their attitudes or practices.
Serving in Humility
Have you ever seen leaders exhibit the type of behavior Jesus criticized in Matthew 23 (above)? I sure have. Of course, not all of them do, but there are far too many. Power and recognition can really corrupt a leader’s opinion of himself.
Once again Jesus emphasized, “The greatest among you shall be a servant.” As we all know, servants receive no recognition, fancy religious garb, titles, or even wages. They serve in humility.
Those that don’t walk in humility can cause many problems. In addition to the symptoms we have seen above, there are often issues of manipulation, spiritual and mental abuse, exploiting the people, excessive expectations of the people, mismanaging the money, and exaggerated perceptions of their authority and power. Remember what Jesus said! “Not so with you!” When some of the people reach a point where they can’t tolerate these behaviors anymore they leave. They are done! Oh, I know how they feel!
The Book that Opened My Eyes
I started to question the operation of the modern church even back in Bible School. I read an insightful book, sometime around 1975, by Robert C. Girard, titled, Brethren Hang Loose – Or What’s Happening to my Church? It caused me to see the New Testament church in a totally new way. He clearly set forth the biblical truths of the church being a body where every part does its work or ministry. That messed me up for tolerating church as usual and I have been promoting the Jesus-built church ever since. The problem is that most leaders I know show no interest. Men (and women) leaders like authority. It’s easier to have the final say on things than humble yourself and seek God with the others for guidance or provision.
Equip the People to Do the Work
What I have observed over the years is that the biggest weakness of the institutional church is its failure to understand and implement Ephesians 4: 11-16. This is by far the clearest, most obvious job description for all Church leaders. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to equip the people to do the work of ministry. Leaders are not to do all the ministry and have rows full of spectators.
When the leaders do their real job, members of the Body of Christ will learn how to use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. They will be active and experience spiritual growth. The greatest result will be a much fuller revelation of Jesus as He works through many, not just one. As we all function together, using our gifts, the Body builds itself up in love.
Churches that don’t equip the people for works of ministry (service) may eventually bleed some “dones”. They will get tired of watching the weekly show and unable to use their gifts. They will move on, like I did, believing that God will open up a real Christian community for them to connect with.
Whenever I found myself in a church built on the senior pastor: his calling, his ministry, his preaching, his control, etc., his goals were very clear. Get the people to come to watch him serve and motivate them to donate money to help pay for it all. With no real outlet for my spiritual gifts, the boredom and frustration increased significantly. I saw there was no real vision to establish a true New Testament assembly of believers, but only to promote him and the religious organization. By then I knew it was time to move on and try to find something else that was closer to what Jesus wants to build, but those places are rare indeed.
You Can’t Change the System
In those churches where tradition ruled I tried to encourage the believers to understand and embrace the truth of the New Testament Church. But I found that traditions run deep, even in the hearts of people who think they don’t have any traditions.
For some leaders, egos run deep, too. I worked with one pastor about 10 years ago who boldly told me one day, “Those people are here because of me!” Shortly after that, I left. I wanted to be in a church where the people were there because of Jesus!
I eventually learned that you can’t change the system from within. Therefore, I decided to join the exodus of believers out of the institutional church. It’s obvious to me, after decades of working in it, that the most effective way to fully embrace what Jesus wants to do is to come out, to be done. The freedom resulting from that choice has produced joy and peace that is precious indeed. My relationship with the Lord has really increased, too. I have learned so much that I wish I would have discovered decades ago.
Real Church is NOT what You Think
As previously noted, I and millions of other Christians, made the same decision to come out! We want Jesus! What we don’t want is to be part of a man-made, man-run institution anymore. So it’s a new movement (as some would call it) of believers. It is the unchurching of multitudes of Christ-followers who want to be led by Jesus.
Those done with church who meet spontaneously under the leadership of the Holy Spirit use various terms to describe their gathering. My favorite is ekklesia (or ecclesia). This is the original Greek word in the New Testament incorrectly translated into English as church. It literally means, called out ones and refers to an assembly of people. The Bible describes the ekklesia as people coming out of the world and coming together in a way that allows everyone to be able to participate as the Spirit leads. Other labels used include micro church, simple church, home church, and organic church. The label is not the important thing. Gathering the way Jesus wants is the key.
In ekklesia, there is usually no formal corporation, no tax-exempt status, no salaries, and no buildings to support. Money is used for outreach (to those who don’t know Jesus) and helping people (the poor, the sick, widows, orphans, etc.). The purpose of getting together is to encourage one another, learn the Word of God together, worship Him, and grow as a family of believers. The focus is on Jesus, the Son of God. The goal is to follow His leadership and accomplish His will in our lives, our communities, and beyond.
What “Dones” Don’t Want
Here’s a shortlist that reveals why there are “dones”.
- They do not want to be part of a religious business or corporation. As people who love Jesus, they want Him to build the believers together as the Body of Christ.
- There is no desire for entertainment and religious programming. “Dones” are looking for the spontaneous flow of the Holy Spirit when they gather.
- Don’t expect them to be spectators who file in and out of a man-made service. They want to use their spiritual gifts and participate as the Holy Spirit leads the assembly.
- Shallow greetings and empty smiles do not a good gathering make. The “dones” want solid Christian relationships where love is the foundation of everything they do.
It’s ok to be done with church! It’s happening a lot now. Jesus is doing something new. He is building His ekklesia, His assembly, His way! Don’t let religious obligations keep you bound to the system. If you want more of Him, run to Him. Get your focus on Him and off the institution. He wants a relationship with you. Done can make you one with the only ONE.
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Do You Live in the Mitchell, SD Area?
Does any of this stir your heart? Are you hungry for more of Him and want less of the religious system? Are you done with church, too? Here is an invitation for you! If you live in the Mitchell, SD area and want to see Jesus build people together the biblical way, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can arrange a time to meet up and see if Jesus is connecting us.
If you don’t live in the Mitchell area but want an internet connection with someone on the same journey you are, you can contact me, too. We can encourage each other and share resources together.
Be sure to check out the relevant links for more insight.