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A Churchless Faith – Alan Jamieson

February 19, 2016

ACFThe title was drawn from Bonhoeffer’s earlier notion of ‘Religionless Christianity’ and the book studies those who have left the church.

Ninety four percent had held leadership positions in the churches that they left, so it is not surprising that only one percent have lost their faith. They wanted to move on in their faith journey and they felt unable to do this in the EPC churches, because of church structures, problems with leadership style, rigidity of doctrine, inability to question beliefs and many other factors.

Jamieson divides the leavers into four groups according to what he calls the leavers’ ‘trajectory’: disillusioned followers, reflective exiles, transitional explorers and integrated wayfarers. All have a slightly different reason for leaving and are going forward in slightly different ways. Many have joined house groups and some have started attending other, different churches. Other than the constraints already mentioned, there is a common thread in the balance between conversion and spiritual development. Within certain parts of the evangelical movement, the emphasis on conversion has led to a reduced understanding of and focus on faith development. This lack of emphasis and opportunity is one of the reasons why committed Christians left their churches.

The second part of the book focuses on James Fowler’s five stages of faith development. There’s also a look at Job’s faith development and I didn’t know before that he left his wealth to his daughters despite Numbers 27 seemingly forbidding this.)

ACF 2Quotations:

The evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic stream of the Christian church, simplified here to the initials EPC, is growing phenomenally across the world. As Wagner has rightly stated, ‘In all human history, no other non-political, non-militaristic, voluntary human movement has grown as rapidly as the Pentecostal/charismatic movement in the last 25 years’ (in Synan, 1992, p. ii). Yet while EPC churches are growing rapidly it appears, at least in the West, that these same churches also have a wide-open back door through which the disgruntled, disillusioned and disaffi­liated leave.

The interviewees were not leaving ‘mainline’ or ‘traditional’ churches but were leaving EPC churches. These churches are among the growing streams of the Christian church worldwide.

The interviewees were not leaving in the process of entering adulthood or even early adulthood but were predominantly leaving between 30 and 45 years of age.

The interviewees were not on the fringe of the church, but formed its very core. The vast majority held key leadership positions (94 per cent), and a large percentage (40 per cent) were involved in either full-time Christian study or work — many were involved in both.

The interviewees were not involved in the church for short periods of time. In fact the sample of interviewees involved in this research had been adult participants in EPC churches for an average of 15.8 years.

Many are people of deep Christian faith who are longing to continue and develop in their faith. … they have moved outside the church but … claim to have continued in their Christian faith. …

Very few church leaders talked of incidents where they had sat down with leavers … to hear people’s reasons and learn from them.

One of the most disturbing results of the research is that the majority of those leading and pastoring in the EPC churches are ignorant of the crucial reasons why people leave the church. …

What the leaver needs now is time, space, resources, understanding, validation and support for their own inner journey.

If you can’t leave the ship, get some distance between yourself and those aspects of ship life that cause you the most distress.

… they would ask that the person use the time they would have spent involved in church in other ways that nurtured their faith.

Another important gift someone can give the struggler is to connect them with an experienced and empathetic companion.

… church leaders need to understand the leaving process and be able to pick the early and relatively obvious clues that people are going through a faith struggle.

Many Christians, calling themselves evangelicals, hold theological positions identical to fundamentalism’s, but would shudder at the thought of being tarred with the fundamentalist brush. Their problem may be with the atti­tude adopted by fundamentalists of strict separatism from all potentially tainting influences. Or it may have to do with difficulty in assenting to strict biblical inerrancy, although the Bible is still held in high regard as pos­sessing ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. The line between fundamentalism and such ‘conservative evangelicalism’ is a fine one.

Pam I think one of the things that disturbed me greatly was when we got back from Amsterdam. As I remember it we walked into the middle of the debate about the legality of homosexual relationships. I was deeply disturbed by what I felt was incredible bigotry and prejudice that was coming out of the church at that stage. I suppose having lived in Amsterdam where there is a strong homosexual population and an awareness of those issues, and also friends and just my own personal understanding, I just felt sickened, yeah, really sickened by the kind of rhetoric, anti-homosexual rhetoric, that was being bandied around at that point. That for me was a major factor of my disillusionment with the Pentecostal church. There was this claptrap about you love the sinner but don’t love the sin. I just felt that was incredibly false and insincere. And just the energy that there seemed to be in fighting homosexuality that came from the church. It was such a major priority for so many people. I felt that if people feel that is so important, and other issues that Christians should be addressing aren’t, then I guess I felt very alie­nated. I don’t belong in this group. I don’t share those same kind of priorities. I felt very out of touch with it.

Emily I found out a little bit about the Palestinian history, and realized that the politicians that are in the Israeli parliament today, those very same people were terrorists, because they were bullying and killing people and shooting people in the name of God to get their land back. And people from my home church just kind of think the Jewish church got back their land. But in order to get back the land, they shot people and they killed them, bombed them and took the land back. The Israeli Government is still to this day occupying Arab land. And this is all in the name of God. I thought, ‘How can I support this? This isn’t love. How can I support this?’ I began to get cross with people who supported it. So I went up there [Pales­tine] and made contacts and it just didn’t add up to me at all. And this is blind support. I mean, my sister’s one of them in particular. I mean, hey, `What the Israelis do is fine.’

Steve I think the fellowship aspect with other Christians is very important. That phrase that the Bible uses about iron sharpening iron; we hone each other for refining, and we can encourage each other in the faith. That would be a key thing for people who leave the church system, to maintain some sort of fellowship network. Whether that be formal, or informal is up to the people, I guess.

The ancient crook carried by bishops as a reminder to themselves and the church of their calling is now more often replaced with the techniques of a 1980s chief executive officer (CEO) complete with growth-focused management and marketing tools.

People see in the church just more of what they see and reject in the outside world: hierarchies, bureaucracies, and power struggles. And as Drane says, ‘They know that this is not what will bring them personal spiritual fulfillment.’ This is not a time for churches to be working towards `bigger’, ‘better’ and ‘more powerful’; it is a time for the church to follow the example of its Lord and divest itself of its power, with all the personality jostling, political manoeuvres and empire-building that goes with it — the postmodern world is not impressed!

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