“…..another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.”
“…..those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.”
“…..fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviours.”
“The biblical understanding of a “wonderful life” looks dramatically different than the consumer culture’s definition of a “wonderful life.” If this assumption is never identified, named, and deconstructed, a person may hear “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life” very differently than we intend. This is the problem we must begin to address if we hope to slow the exodus of people from the church. It’s not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my obedience—voila, Moralistic Divination.When this consumer gospel fails to deliver on its assumed promises, as it inevitably does, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment quickly follow. And the pool of the de-churched gains another swimmer. “
“….that has not held to a false gospel of morality, and they haven’t walked away from faith in Christ. These Christians have simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it’s become a drain on time, resources, and energy. It feels like a black hole with a gravitation pull so strong that not even the light of the gospel can escape its organizational appetite.As I’ve travelled and encountered de-churched Christians, including some friends, I’ve found they tend to fall into three categories. (These are generalizations, as all categories are, but they may prove helpful.)1. The Relationally De-ChurchedThese Christians have come to recognize that human beings are the vessels of God’s Spirit and not organizations. They may have first engaged the institutional church because they longed for meaningful relationships with other followers of Christ. They may have joined a small group or found a tight network of friends through whom they lived out the “one another” commands in Scripture.But over time it dawned on them—This small group is really my church. These are the people I am living out the gospel with. Why do we need the big institution?….Ultimately the relationally de-churched leave the institution because the programs proved less effective at fostering faith and love than relationships with actual people. And the authenticity they crave and experience in their small group eclipses the relative shallowness of the wider church. Let’s face it—authenticity becomes more difficult the larger a group becomes. But it’s worth noting that these folks haven’t abandoned the church theologically, they’ve just redefined it apart from the 501c3 organization we culturally identity as a “church.”2. The Missionally De-Churched“If the church were doing the work God appointed it to do, there would be no parachurch organizations.” Have you heard that one before? It’s a popular defense I heard many times while serving with a campus ministry in college—and there is some truth to it despite the self-righteous cheekiness.If the relationally de-churched abandon the institutional church because they desire authenticity, the missionally de-churched leave because they are die-hard activists. They are driven to see the world impacted by the gospel whether via evangelism, compassion, justice, or other facet of God’s restorative work. They may become frustrated that the institutional church spends enormous amounts of energy and resources maintaining itself rather than advancing the mission.I’ve had a few friends deeply involved in such parachurch groups confess that “even though we don’t take communion or baptize, in every other regard the ministry functions as my church.”
“When deep life change happen outside the church, it can make you second guess the church’s vital role and….drop out altogether.”
When the church loses sight of this and begins seeing people as a means of bolstering the institution, it breeds cynicism. The faithful begin to feel like cogs in a machine, a means of production, human commodities. They don’t feel valued for who they are, but for what they can do, give, or contribute. And to be fair, this confusion between means and ends can happen in both large and small churches, in a megachurch or a house church.The call then is too investigate anew our ecclesiology—both on the level of theory and practice. What do we really believe about the church? What is the proper role for structures and programs? What do we believe about God’s intention for his people and the role of spiritual leadership? And do our beliefs align with the structures we create and sustain?
….we need to replace old ways of thinking about God’s church with new ones that can release the health, growth and reproduction meant to be characteristic of the church.
“I love the passion. And the prophetic word to institutionalism …. and the vision to make Christ’s love and grace known to the four corners of the planet…..What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?”
“That the organic church movement will crash, I have no doubt. Every renewal movement in church history has either derailed immediately or produced temporary renewal at the expense of long-term unintended consequences. Church historians tells us that in 11th- and 12th-century Europe, churches and chapels sprang up all over the continent, signaling a revival of faith after the centuries formerly called “the dark ages.” It was one of the most viral, church-planting movements in history. Unfortunately, it nurtured a fervency that longed to transform the world for Christ—which soon bore fruit in the Crusades.”
“When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?”
“When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?“
“I believe it would be more accurate to say that there is a phenomenon today where countless Christians are leaving institutional forms of church and exploring non-traditional forms of church in pursuit of authentic, shared-life community. I’ve been gathering in organic expressions of the church…for the last 21 years. And from my observations, many of the people who are leaving the institutional form of church presently are leaving because they are following a spiritual instinct. They are saying and thinking, “There has got to be more to Jesus Christ and his body than this.” Or as Reggie McNeal once put it, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.””
I have been thinking about accountability groups lately, and mainly about how accountability questions in a small group context can be used as the basis for ongoing discipleship, both for not-yet, new or established Christians.
Using accountability groups to support discipleship is certainly not new. John Wesley used a very similar method to great effect in the eighteenth century as a fundamental part of his church planting strategy during the Methodist revival.
Here is a set of questions that have their origin in the spiritual accountability group that Wesley started when he was a student at Oxford, called the Holy Club. The first list appeared about 1729 or 1730 in the preface to Wesley’s second Oxford Diary. Similar questions appeared in his 1733 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week. As late as 1781, Wesley published a list of questions like this in the Arminian Magazine:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I disobey God in anything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me?
I think this list is brilliant – and real food for thought.
Here is another set of questions also developed by Wesley for use in Methodist class meetings and band meetings, which were small groups focused on accountability. Before joining these smaller groups, each member stated their willingness for the following questions to be asked of them at any time. These are hard hitting questions which are designed to be direct and straight to the point – no messing around here!
1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God?
4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
6. Do you desire to be told of your faults?
7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you from time to time whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
10. Do you desire that in doing this we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
11. Is it your desire and design to be on this and all other occasions entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart, without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?
Taken from The Works Of John Wesley, Volume 9 (The Methodist Societies History, Nature, and Design), Edited by Rupert E. Davies, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, pp.77-78.
The following questions were also developed by Wesley, and were asked of every member at every meeting.
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
Taken from John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples, by D. Michael Henderson, Evangel Publishing House, 1997, pp. 118-9.
In a similar vein, the following questions are taken from Salvation Army Orders and Regulations for Soldiers, 1950:
1. Am I habitually guilty of any known sin? Do I practice or allow myself in any thought, word or deed which I know to be wrong?
2. Am I the master of my bodily appetites so as to have no condemnation? Do I allow myself in any indulgence that hurts my holiness, growth, obedience, or usefulness?
3. Are my thoughts and feelings such that I wouldn’t be ashamed to hear them published before God?
4. Does the influence of the world cause me to act, or feel or say things that do not show the love of God?
5. Am I doing all in my power for the salvation of sinners?
6. Am I fulfilling the vows and promises I have made before God in the past?
7. Does what I do as a Christian match what I say about being a Christian?
8. Am I conscious of any pride in my life?
9. Do I conform to the fashions and customs of this world or do I show that I despise them?
10. Am I in danger of being carried away with worldly desires to be rich or admired?
Here is another interesting list from the Men of Integrity website. These are specifically aimed at men, but can very easily be adapted for any accountability group:
1. Have you spent time with God on a regular basis?
2. Have you compromised your integrity in any way?
3. Has your thought life been pure?
4. Have you committed any sexual sin?
5. How much time did you spend in prayer this week?
6. Did you pray for the others in this group?
7. Did you put yourself in an awkward situation with a woman?
8. What one sin plagued your walk with God this week?
9. Did you accomplish your spiritual goals this week?
10. Are you giving to the Lord’s work financially?
11. How have you demonstrated a servant’s heart?
12. Do you treat your peers and coworkers as people loved by God?
13. What significant thing did you do for your wife and/or family?
14. What was your biggest disappointment? How did you decide to handle it?
15. What was your biggest joy? Did you thank God?
16. What do you see as your number one need for next week?
17. Are you satisfied with the time you spent with the Lord this week?
18. Did you take time to show compassion for others in need?
19. Did you control your tongue?
20. What did you do this week to enhance your relationship with your spouse and/or child(ren)?
21. Did you pray and read God’s Word this week? What did you derive from this time?
22. I what ways have you stepped out in faith since we last met?
23. I what ways has God blessed you this week? And what disappointments consumed your thoughts this week?
24. Did you look at a woman in the wrong way?
25. How have you been tempted this week? How did you respond?
26. How has your relationship with Christ been changing?
27. Did you worship in church this week?
28. Have you shared your faith this week? How?
29. What are you wrestling with in your thought life?
30. What have you done for someone else this week?
31. Are the “visible” you and the “real” you consistent?
32. Have you been truthful about everything we have discussed?”
The questions I use are from Church Multiplication Associates, ten questions that are listed on a Life Transformation Group card which I keep my Bible. The questions are as follows:
1. Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
2. Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?
3. Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?
4. Have you been honouring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?
5. Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?
6. Have you given in to an addictive behaviour this week? Explain.
7. Have you continued to remain angry toward another?
8. Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?
9. Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?
10. Have you been completely honest with me?
I use this list for convenience, and also because the same card has Strategic Prayer Focus statements on the reverse of the card, so making it multipurpose. However, I like the Wesley’s Holy Club questions quoted earlier, and feel that they fit with contemporary culture.
Neil Cole also specifically mentions a shorter list of questions that he uses regularly:
1. What is the condition of your soul?
2. What sin do you need to confess?
3. What have you held back from God that you need to surrender?
4. Is there anything that has dampened your zeal for Christ?
5. Who have you talked with about Christ this week?
A good number of the lists given above can be found in Neil Cole’s book Cultivating a Life for God, Church Smart Resources 1999 pp 125-131.
Which ever list you use, and I would recommend that you use one of them even if you are not part of an accountability small group. The lists developed by CMA/ Neil Cole are a good place to start since they are clear and easy to use. Remember, accountability questions are not asked to make you feel guilty or to judge or condemn you. They are asked in order to encourage deliberately discipleship, actively encouraging you to dig deeper into the faith, to hear the Word of God and to act upon it.
Recently I made a decision to back out of all of my commitments outside of family and work. I needed some space to rest, think and recharge my batteries, because I was spiritually and physically tired. My motivation was on a low ebb, which is not like me at all. I am usually Mr Vibrant, full of energy and enthusiasm, wanting to get on with things, not wanting to wait for people to catch up, but pressing on for the goal dragging everyone else with me. I wasn’t depressed or anywhere near a breakdown, I just needed some time out, time to evaluate where I was at, and some space to look to the future.
So I resigned as an Elder at my home church, and slowly but surely reduced my work load to give myself more time and space. Firstly, more time to spend with my family, but also more time to spend with God. It’s amazing how easy we neglect the important things in life when we get busy!
Now I am a lot more refreshed and my batteries are recharged. I am ready to get going again. I am starting to feel inspired again.
This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it’s great because I feel that I have purpose and direction again, new vision and motivation to spur me on to greater things, but my friends and family will have to come to terms with me going on and on about the things that God is putting on my heart. The thing is, I always get excited, and that excitement just has to come out, usually with me bothering people until they’re willing to listen.
So, what am I inspired about? What am I now bothering people about?
Mainly about missional, incarnational church, and about whether the way we do church reduces or removes the impact of the Gospel in our postmodern, post-Christendom world?
I have been reading a lot about church and mission, and there seems to be a common theme throughout, that in order to be truly ‘missional’ the church needs to find the right balance between being ‘attractional’ and being ‘incarnational’. The discussion in the blogosphere seems to be about whether the church should be one or the other, attractional or incarnational, but I can’t help but think that she should be both! Mainly because an incarnational church, where disciples are living, serving and ministering in real life community (or communitas to use Alan Hirsch’s phraseology) will be attractive. People are drawn when hearts are sold out for Jesus, when His disciples kneel with bowl and towel in hand to serve those in need, befriend the outcast and share the lives of the lost and the lonely.
This is powerful and this is attractive because it changes lives for the good, not only those who are being served but also those who are doing the serving. I think this is what Jesus would have called ‘attractional’ church, attractive to others because He is in the middle of it. He never had a problem pulling a crowd. He is attractive. He is the reason that people pay the price of discipleship and become part of His bride, His body, the church.
If the way we do church is stopping us from taking Jesus to those who need Him, then no wonder our churches are not attractive. If we spend so much time focussing on our church programmes that we don’t have time to tend the sick, feed the hungry, release captives and be good news to the poor then we need to change, and change quickly.
Somebody once said to me that the phrase “we have always done it this way” is the final call of a dying church. This is so true. Some parts of church life are timeless and ageless, but some parts need to change to make sure our worship is appropriate and vibrant for every age, culture and tribe. In fact, we can change more than we think since most of what we do seems to be based on tradition anyway. I found Frank Viola and George Barna’s book ‘Pagan Christianity’ a real revelation. The fact that very little of what we do in ‘traditional’ church life is based on the Bible or the practices of the early church is actually quite frightening. However, it does mean that little of what we do is set in stone. Most of it can change.
Within this context, the whole idea of organic church, liquid church, simple church, what ever you want to call it, makes a lot of sense. I love the subtitle of the Neil Cole’s book ‘Organic Church’, which is ‘Growing faith where life happens’. This is what it is all about for me. This one small phrase sums it up perfectly. This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus wants us to do. This is what being church is all about. Being where life happens and growing faith in others. Not just on Sunday mornings, but 24/ 7 and 365 days per year, anywhere and everywhere.
That is the main problem. So few of us in the church are willing to step outside of our own cosseted and comfortable environment. Are we willing to go where ‘real’ life happens?
I am constantly amazed how many Christian people don’t know anyone outside of their church social circle. Their friends are Christians, they only go to church events and meetings, and don’t really associate with their neighbours and work colleagues, never mind about less fortunate people within their wider community. This in of itself is not wrong, it just means that they never come in contact with people who don’t know about Jesus. In the old days, everyone was taught about Jesus, everyone knew about the Cross, but times have changed. Our society doesn’t perceive a need for Jesus and yet is slowly degenerating and falling apart without Him.
What makes it worse is that we spend so much of our time and energy trying to keep our church programmes running that we don’t have any left to go where life is happening. We put all of our effort into putting on a decent show on Sunday morning but then wonder why nobody shows up to see it. We run evangelistic events that make little difference because they don’t scratch where it itches, because they don’t grow faith where life happens. We expect the “unsaved” to come to us so we can tell them about Jesus – but they just don’t want to any more. Its as simple as that. So we wait, absolutely convinced that some will come eventually.
Maybe a few do come, but not enough to stop the rot. Not enough to stop our churches from dying.
The longer we wait, the smaller our churches become as we grow old and die together. Nice, friendly people who have no impact outside of the walls of the church buildings in which we sit in every Sunday! All the while our communities drown, desperate for our help and care. A world that is lost and in pain. A world in need of a Saviour.
We can’t wait for them to come to us any more. We must go to them. How can we stand by and watch the pain and suffering. We, the church, must step out of our comfort zone and start to make a difference, by becoming incarnate, and being attractive by growing faith where life happens. If a more organic approach to being church allows us to be mission focussed, and gets us out of our buildings and into our communities with more time to serve, then what are we waiting for? Lets get on with it!