Is that even the right question to ask? I don’t know. So I ask it.
In my most recent episodes where I interviewed my good friend Rob Wilkerson on what it means to be “done with church but not with Jesus”, I have seen nothing short of a firestorm. Which to me indicates we’ve hit a nerve. Rob’s story is certainly unique, complicated, filled with abundant experiences of joy and pain alike. And Rob is obviously very passionate about his story sharing the details of it and the interpretations of it with excitement and strong opinions. Who of us wouldn’t do the same?
If you listen to Part 1 and Part 2, you’ll hear his heart and heat come through. People have latched on to one of two things: 1. Rob’s story or 2. Rob’s words. So far, I’ve noticed those who resonate with his story are agreeing and empathetic, even relieved to hear a brother who has shared similar experiences. Those who have latched on to Rob’s words are disagreeing and critical, questioning Rob’s interpretations, observations and thus the conclusions he has made therefore about the church, the mission and what it means to live out the kingdom of God.
I’m okay with that. That’s why I started this conversation. You have to understand too that this is nothing new. Rob and I have dialogued about these things for nearly a year now. But what seems to add more of an interesting wrapping paper to all of this is the use of terms. At least that’s what I see going on.
You see, I have good and dear friends I love and trust on both sides of the fence. Some are done with the “church” as we know it, but not with Jesus. Others are not done and find themselves deeply in love with the church. The dones appear to be on the offense and the stays are going on the defense, to use a sports analogy, especially since we are at the cusp of Spring Baseball season. It seems easier to go on the offense, except when the offense is in the minority like the dones are.
So here I am standing in the gap between the two: the “church” and the “dones”. Not that I am the voice or uniquely positioned or gifted to be in that gap. There are others like me out there who have friends on both sides. There are others like me who love the church and don’t want to leave yet empathize with the dones and don’t want them to leave either. I consider this a blessing and a curse, to be honest. A blessing because I get to hear their stories but a curse because I often feel torn or stuck between two worlds.
So, back to the question at hand and the title of this post.
I think it comes down to words and definitions. Doesn’t it? As Ravi Zacharias stated in one of his brilliant talks, “it all depends on what you mean by…”. He was quoting a philosopher who said every time he was asked a question he prefaced his answers with that phrase, “it all depends on what you mean by…”.
So, for the purpose of this post, it all depends on what you mean by “church”.
it all depends on what you mean by “church”
It all depends on what you mean by “done”. Those are two fully loaded words in this debate and for the purpose of this blog and my recent podcast series. How you or I define the church and what it means to be done will determine our views and perspective on both realities. And those views will determine how we think and talk about it which then will determine how we live in light of what we think. Thoughts leading to words leading to actions. All shaped and informed by our already preconceived beliefs, experiences and preexisting definitions and perspectives prior to hearing those of others.
Listen I hate to get all grammatical or philosophical on you on the first day of March, but this is a big deal. It may be semantics, but the semantics are worth it. We have to get “the church” right in our minds and hearts before we’ll ever be able to properly talk about her much less live out what we believe. Words and their definitions are massive, especially in this debate.
It may be semantics, but the semantics are worth it.
So, when a done says “I’m done with church”, what do they really mean? Yes it will depend on each person’s definition and story. But by and large in my experience of reading, hearing, listening and asking them what they mean, it is this: the institutional church.
The church as a massive, organized, formal, branded, budgeted, managed, tax exempt, 401-C3 corp., government recognized entity that functions very similar to a business or non-profit today. That is the institutional church.
So if you realized that’s what the dones are referring to when they say “church”, you can move forward with a more accurate understanding of where they are coming from and thus where they are going. This is key in understanding not only the dones but anyone we want to get to know. Anyone we want to learn from and hear the story of. First you listen to their story, their heart, their words, their joy and pain to hear who they are and what their perspectives are (their meaning and definitions). Second you ask questions to learn more, probe, clarify or show genuine interest and curiosity in. Third you respond with an informed reply. This is simply the art of loving human conversation.
I honestly believe most of the dones are brothers and sisters in Christ. Of course I can’t know that for sure. But the stories I hear they desperately love Jesus still and desire to continue being the church, His bride. But they can’t stomach the way the church functions at large today in the huge, bureaucratic institutional way it does.
So…what is the conclusion? Dones come to the conclusion of leaving. Others are more “done but stuck” (more on that later) in their leadership positions or paid ministry jobs. And still others are bought into this structured system of doing and being the church today blind to her faults, weaknesses and areas in need of repentance or revival.
So, for me, I love the church; the bride of Christ. But I often dislike who she is and who she seems to be becoming at times. Not always. Not in every context. Not in every way. Never always. After all she is holy, spotless, blameless, washed by the water and the word. Accepted, loved, saved, sanctified and justified by her bridegroom King Jesus! But He is still washing her, sanctifying her, setting her apart for His glory and the mission He has called her too.
Can you love the church and dislike her? Yes I think you can. No you can never fully leave “the church”, the bride of Christ. But you can exit the institution in search of a greater expression of her. Maybe unlike what you may expect or even want.
Here is a question for my dear brothers struggling with how to view and handle and love the dones: can you love the dones and disagree with them? Yes you can. Just don’t label them. Don’t judge them. Don’t ignore them. Don’t criticize them. Listen. Learn. Hear their story. Love them. And if you’re in the middle like me, learn to seek peace and reconciliation between the two. You can’t do that if you don’t listen.
And so this is where I leave it today.
What are your thoughts?