May 6, 2008 by

A Pragmatic Approach to Disenfranchisement (Whatever That Means)


Categories: changing mindsets, church

So in the past few months, as I’ve processed my own thoughts on this journey outside of the parameters of organized church–and as I’ve read what others are going through–I see that this has become a journey shared by a lot of people who have come to this place for a variety of reasons. I tend to call this group of people the “disenfranchised”–those who no longer feel they can connect with current church systems. Some of these have left institutional Christianity (IC)completely; others still attend IC, but they are unsettled, and at best hold a loose connection to it.

Without over-generalizing (because I know it’s more complex than this)–I can basically see three approaches that disenfranchised people sort of fall into:

  1. There are the ones who have left because they were wounded or abused, and are currently opposed to IC because they view the system as corrupt.
  2. There are those who have left because they simply became disillusioned, bored, or felt out of place within the system. These tend to view IC as irrelevant and have left to find something else to fill their hunger.
  3. There are those who have left because they have theological issues with IC in general, viewing it as a departure from original, New Testament Christianity. They deem the current systems as un-Biblical, and are looking for something they believe is more authentic to the Scriptures.

For me–not to sound too diplomatic–I resonate with all three in some way. I have been wounded (but didn’t really leave because of those wounds); I have been increasingly out-of-place in institutional systems; and I hunger for something more authentic. But of the three, I think I lean the least to number 3, and the most toward number 2.

In my studies, writings, and ramblings, I’ve come to realize that I am a pragmatist about these things. I easily recognize how much of what we call “church” has no foundation in Scripture, but I do not oppose the institution on those grounds. There are some foundational principles in Scripture about the nature of the church, but there’s actually very little that is commanded us about what methods to use. To me, that means God has given us a lot of latitude as to what “church” can look like. So I don’t buy into forsaking institutional Christianity just because it’s “un-Biblical”. This isn’t about returning to first-century Christianity, because we’re in the twenty-first century.

No….I am basically through with IC because I don’t think it works. And I think it is an increasingly non-workable system in our changing culture.

I think the brokenness of the system has contibuted tons to the wounding of believers. I think it places undue pressure on the leadership until they almost can’t help but hurt others. But more than that–our post-modern culture places less and less value on the authority of the institutional church in general. And as a sub-culture, IC has grown more and more out of touch with the world around it, which means as a whole we are reaching fewer people.

I know there are still institutional churches that thrive and are growing, including a number of mega-churches; but I’m looking ahead 50 years or so, and I think if we don’t make some major shifts in our thinking, we’re going to find ourselves in a world of hurt. I think it’s very telling that as a general rule, the under-35 crowd is growing increasingly absent, even in the mega-churches.

If something is mandated in Scripture, it is a principle that shouldn’t be strayed from. The fact is, most of of the IC structure is based on methods, many of which seek to fulfill Biblical principles. But they are only methods. The principles don’t change; the methods can, and should change. When we exalt methods to the point that they are more like principles…that spells religion. If a something isn’t working, you don’t hold onto it just because it’s convenient or comfortable. You change it for something that works better.

In my view, IC as a method isn’t working, and beyond any hurt I’ve sustained, that’s the main reason I am no longer interested in it.

So…of the three approaches I mentioned above…where do you lean?

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

6 Responses to A Pragmatic Approach to Disenfranchisement (Whatever That Means)

  1. co_heir

    I think I’m mostly #2 with a bit of #3 thrown in. Like you, I’ve been wounded by some in the IC. Fortunately, nothing deep or long lasting.

    I look at the church I currently attend and see so much that just doesn’t work for me ( or some others, as shown by a steady decline in numbers). I realize that numbers are not the most important thing, and that we shouldn’t “chase” people. I also see a corresponding lack of spiritual growth.

    “Ministry” is mainly done for those inside the church, and “making disciples” is still getting people to come to church.

    I don’t see any of this changing in the future, so I know I’ll be leaving. The only question is when. I need relationship, so I’m looking for a group of like-minded folks to begin something with, without all the trappings that go along with “church”.

  2. samwrites2

    I guess I’m in a weird place because I gather with other Christians in a library while Coolio looks down on us all.
    The format would be what you call IC except with more discussion among those gathered during prayer request time and after someone gives a lesson from God’s word.
    I’m sticking with the small group to try and change it from the inside. Your blog and others like it help give me ideas as I seek what God would have me do and what contributions/ideas I could pass on to the group of 30-40 people.
    What’s encouraging is much group interaction occurs in each others homes and the local coffee shop.
    The ministry we sponsor is a car-care ministry helping the poor (this is how I starting meeting with these folks – they bought me a car!) repair their cars and sometimes even getting them a used one. In addition, we support missionaries doing stuff like building water purification systems and stoves in Guatemala and caring for orphans in Romania.
    You subversive you. Thanks for your ideas and inspiration.

  3. Sarah

    Great post! I’m a number 2. (Uh, I don’t know if I like how that sounds!) lol.

    “When we exalt methods to the point that they are more like principles…that spells religion.”

    You nailed it. I agree that there’s lots of leeway in scripture regarding methods. I think it’s true that the IC seeks to fulfill biblical principles through their methods, but in many cases, I think the opposite ends up happening. The methods end up making it quite difficult to fulfill biblical principles, rather than facilitating them.

    For instance, the whole pastoral ladder climb from children’s church to youth pastor to “real” pastor. That’s backwards according to kingdom values. (The last shall be first, the least of these – I think children would qualify). And that’s just one example. I could think of like 20! Here’s another: platform ministry makes it difficult to fulfill the principle of every member of the body contributing their part, their gift (somewhere in 2 Cor, right?). Anyway, I think the intentions *are* to fulfill biblical principles, but instead, certain methods often create an obstruction to the fulfillment of many biblical principles.

    Sorry, I’m getting long-winded here. But I wanted to share one more thing. I am only ‘disenfranchised’ within the context of the IC (which I’m not interested in participation there anyway, unless God directs me that way, in which case, He’d have to open the doors).

    Actually, I feel much more empowered, having taken personal responsibility for my faith, and to be obedient to the commands of Jesus. My life has become more spiritually fruitful and reproductive as a result! I’ve grown so much more and even much faster since making that switch. Kind of like when you’re a young adult who leaves your parents house – all of the sudden, you’re forced to grow up because there isn’t someone else doing it all for you anymore.

  4. deconstructedchristian

    Jeff, I very much agree with you. Institutional church doesn’t work. It often hurts a lot more than it helps, and although it’s filled with well-meaning people the major leadership structures are generally either wilfuly corrupt or heading toward a “vision” that has no basis in scripture.

    I mostly feel sad – for the way I treated others while following the ‘church structure’, for those who are inside and can’t see past the four walls, for those who really want to do differently but have no idea where to start…. just sad in general.

    The argument ‘But there is a place for institutional church’ is sounding less and less truthful to me. There is a place for God and for love. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, but the lack of it from any institution or group professing Jesus makes that institution or group irrelevant, and even harmful.

    Jeff, you continue to have my greatest respect for being able to move from being a pastor of an institutional church to allowing yourself to re-think it all. I know it’s incredibly difficult.

  5. Jeff McQ

    Thanks, all, for your comments so far. Here’s to the Number 2’s! (Umm…taking a cue from Sarah…in retrospect, maybe I should have listed this option first instead of second.) LOL

    Co-heir, the point about lack of spiritual growth is a good observation. I’ve noticed the same thing, though I’ve not really verbalized it that way.

    Sam, what you’re partaking of there sounds pretty good. It may be IC from outer appearances, but it sounds like a good heart. Again, the point is what works, and if it’s working the way they are doing it…well and good.

    Sarah, good point also about the various ways well-intended IC methods actually sort of get in their own way.

    Heather, thanks for the encouragement. God has actually helped us in the re-thinking process by sort of allowing us to “fail”. The IC format we started with wasn’t producing the results we wanted, and that has prodded us along–literally a journey of learning by experience. I think had God allowed our plans to succeed, we honestly might have had a more difficult time making the transition. Never thought I’d be thankful for failure. 🙂 But I know how much we’ve wanted the freshness and reality of God, and I think we’d have come to a very empty place had things gone the way we initially wanted them to. Just rambling now…

  6. Sarah

    Isn’t that the truth! Trial and error, and then more trial and error. I think this is where authentic learning happens for all of us! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.