It's been ten years since I left the pastorate. People ask me if I miss it and I generally answer that there are certain aspects of being a pastor that I miss. Preaching, teaching, organizing and inspiring people to use their gifts for the Kingdom. I do not particularly miss committee meetings, or 'business meetings', or some aspects of dealing with financial aspects of church work. I can do it and as a pastor I think I got pretty good at it, but it was not my favorite part of pastoral work. As much of a drain as it may have been emotionally, I enjoyed comforting members during times of illness and grief. I absolutely loved interaction with our children and our seniors!
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But let no one fool you, pastoring a church is hard work! And its gotten harder in the past ten years. What pastors must deal with in terms of culture is incredibly difficult. Barna and Pew researchers have come up with categories of those who represent, frankly, new challenges to pastors and churches in general. For instance there are the 'Nones' people who describe themselves as 'spiritual but not religions' Not a part of any particular church or denomination. They have rejected the 'schisms' or divisions into which the church has fallen and the competitive nature of churches, or the 'branding' of church. I get some of that. I say that with the clear caveat that I am 'old school' enough to understand historical rational for the divisions, but also rejecting the idea of what I see as 'generic' forms of worship that deny the influence of culture, ethnicity, mixed with the challenges of recognition of diversity. To me, churches that fit in this category are like unlabled cans - you don't know what you're getting until you open them up. It can be great, but it can also be disappointing.
Now we hear about a new category, 'The Dones' as in those who are 'done' with church! They are Christians who have apparently been active, indeed they tend to me some of the most active members of the church, who have come to the conclusion that they are 'done' with formal religion. The amazing thing about these Christians is that they do not leave to look for other churches. They leave never to come back!
You can read more about the Dones, here and here.
At first blush that is remarkable on so many levels. I find it interesting as a former pastor. My relationships to other church members has taken on a different caste. I feel as if I am able to 'hear' the hurts of many church members (and former church members) in a different way. To be sure some people are really over dramatizing their issues. Some people are selfish. But there are people that have been honestly, sincerely hurt, if not injured, by their church experience. There are people, long standing servants, whose questions about God border on the unanswerable (and are honestly unanswerable), and they are experiencing profound disappointment. And there are those who have mistakenly found in a preacher/pastor 'the voice of God' and when that preacher/pastor fails, it is for them as if God has failed. Still others are simply overworked and overwhelmed, they work for God more than they pray to Him and there comes a time when they can't take it anymore. They would never tell you that, but that is there problem.
Still 'the dones' seem to be a little different. Perhaps they are turned off by the perceived (or actual) hypocrisy they find in the church. Perhaps they crave an opportunity for service that they feel doesn't fit their 'gift', or maybe they are looking for a genuine fellowship. Or any number of life crisis that produce life searches of a critical nature. And, we must admit, most reasons may be profoundly more superficial than any I have outlined.
Here's what I would suggest to any church dealing with 'the dones'...
- Remember that the natural response to Christianity and it's claims is loss...if you are authentic, you will most likely be unpopular. Remember Jesus' greatest loss of followers happened after a miracle, the feeding of the 5000 (John 6) The next morning there were a great number of them who followed Him by boat across the lake and Jesus began laying down hard doctrine about eating his flesh and drinking his blood - total identification with Him - and most of His disciples left Him at that time. Jesus' remarkable response to His original 12 was, 'Do you want to go to?' Popularity is not the Divinely promised state of the Christian faith, it is rejection.
- Many people have their own issues for leaving a church, or the Church. In as much as you can identify the reasons. Show that you care. Do all that you can to show them that doubts about faith, or the desire to do more for ones faith are both natural, counsel them how to deal with both. I had a member who started preaching, who was filled with enthusiasm but didn't have much talent for preaching. Even though I gave him opportunities he wanted more. I tried to counsel him against making a bad move and, 'getting ahead of God', but he wouldn't listen. Eventually he left to join a church where he could fulfill his ambitions. It didn't work out and eventually he left church altogether. I would reach out to him when I saw him, but he never returned.
- Finally remember that those who say that they're done with church forever don't know how long 'forever' is. We all need community, with all of they're flaws we need other Christians (Hebrews 10:25) and they need us! 'Dones', I'm willing to bet, will eventually return, Maybe not to your church, maybe not to any traditional church, but the nature of the Kingdom and the world will drive them back to the safety and forgiveness of the church, no matter what you might have done to them or for them.
I don't think anyone's 'done' yet!