If George Barna’s predictions are true, many professional ministers may find themselves unemployed within the next ten to fifteen years as their congregations literally disappear into thin air. Research indicates that significant numbers of committed Christians are leaving institutional churches (IC) in favor of a less structured faith journey. Barna calls it a Revolution in his 2005 book by the same title; in fact, he describes it as “the biggest Revolution of our time.”
Obviously, the title of this article is a spoof reflecting on the dire consequences facing professional clergy; however, the current religious industry seems to be completely oblivious, as it churns out newly-minted “masters of divinity” left and right. Many ordained clergy will confess that they have no marketable skills outside their church vocations, having invested four years pursuing an undergraduate degree, three years getting their MDiv, and another two to six years completing either a Doctor of Ministry or a PhD. Others entered their ministerial career later in life, after significant experience in business or industry.
I’m wondering if anyone has really thought about the serious plight of these fellow believers, who simply got caught up in the IC system like so many others with sincere hearts, the purest of motives, and a desire to serve the Lord with their entire being. All my life the message was clear: “full-time ministry” or “full-time missionary service” was the very pinnacle of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and His church.
With the deconstruction or collapse of this gigantic religious industry, how will these families be cared for and ministered to? Will they be honored? Or will they be held in contempt like the Wall Street bankers who lined their pockets and then asked for the government to bail them out?
When my friends and family discover that I have opted out of organized religion—not yet, but in the very near future—they will probably assume that I’m embracing a house church model, a little strange to most of them, but one they might see as an acceptable alternative. However, that’s not where my convictions are leading me. I’m moving completely away from all organized religious systems, including house churches.
I have been significantly involved in the house church model over the years, including the deliberate planting of one rural house church and the transition of one brick-and-mortar congregation to weekly home-based meetings (we disposed of the building completely). There are wonderful examples of house churches around the world that are loving fellowships with open, participatory meetings that encourage every-believer ministry to flow naturally when they gather together. So I’m not going to rail against these dear brothers and sisters who believe they have rediscovered the New Testament model of church life, because many of them have recaptured missing elements of community that have long since been buried under layers of religious ritual. Read more…
Let’s assume for a minute that you no longer attend weekly church services, whether those services take place in a cathedral, a mega-church campus, a rural church building, a rented facility (storefront, school, community center, etc) or even a home-based congregation. But you still believe, as I do, that people need to hear the powerful message of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and embrace Jesus Christ by grace through faith in order to be saved (Ephesians 2: 8-9).
So you’ve been sharing the good news of God’s grace with a co-worker named Maggie over the past year and you begin seeing evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life. Not so much the externals (she often brings her Bible to read during breaks), but things the Bible describes as the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) in a life that was clearly devoid of these things a year ago. She has become a trophy of God’s grace and you’re absolutely thrilled over this wonderful transformation in her life. Read more…
Imagine growing up within an Old Order Amish community in Pennsylvania: a simple lifestyle, a deliberate avoidance of modern technology, a safe network of deep friendships, a strong work ethic, and the solidarity of a strong church community. What would happen if you choose to leave your Amish roots? A recent BBC television documentary, “Trouble in Amish Paradise,” offers an amazing glimpse into the lives of two young men whose journey into the Scriptures led them to question their heritage and the teachings of their church leaders.
One of the men, Ephraim Stoltzfus, is a dairy farmer who admits that “Amish is just following a set of rules.” He broke tradition when he began reading the Bible in the English language, meeting with others for Bible study and prayer, and sharing the good news of Jesus within his cultural context. Through the study of Scripture, he and several other Old Order Amish have became passionate followers of Jesus Christ, which has cause them to question everything they’ve been taught. Read more…
Three or four years ago, I was introduced to a small e-book entitled Custom and Command, written in 1996 by Stan Firth. The subtitle describes the author’s intent more clearly: Encouragement from the Scriptures for an unusual new breed of Christians, with some answers for those who might feel critical of them. He uses the phrase, “unstructured church-lifestyle” to describe those of us who have chosen to walk with Jesus and others outside the boundaries of the institutional church (IC).
One thing you will notice about Stan Firth’s approach is his gentle spirit and humble way of putting forth his Scriptural foundation for an unstructured church-lifestyle. He is quick to make room for everyone and he lovingly attempts to disarm those on both sides who may be quick to criticize one another:
Does this mean that centuries of church-goers have been wrong? Not at all – as I shall hope to demonstrate in the next chapter. Does this mean that I have to brand as “heretics” everyone nowadays who goes faithfully to Sunday worship, or that I have to cut myself off from loving fellowship with them? In no way—as the next stage of my booklet will reveal. But it does mean that my “fellow travellers”, and I, should not be branded as heretics either, since we are not, after all, out of harmony with the Scriptures. Those who are associated with the “unstructured church” must not let their good be evil spoken of. They can hold their heads up high and say: “I am walking with the Lord, in the light of His word—within the bounds of Scripture.”
When I first read the book, it was a simple A4-sized booklet (75 pages) in Portable Document Format (PDF) that you could download from John Langford’s website (a dear brother in the south of England) and print on your own printer. I’m not sure if it had ever been published in book form, but that has changed with the advent of on-demand print services like Lulu.
Custom and Command can now be ordered from Lulu for £2.02 in the UK or $3.48 USD, plus shipping costs (significant savings per copy if you order multiples). Here’s the link to Stan Firth’s store on Lulu. I’m really happy to commend this 88-page paperback to you and your IC friends!
The time is quickly approaching for my departure from professional ministry after devoting thirty-five years of my life inside the institutional church (IC). Several of my friends have tried leaving; in fact, a dear friend of mine broke the news today that he’s accepted a part-time pastoral position at a small Southern Baptist church. Another friend returned from the mission field and couldn’t find meaningful employment to support his family, so a medium-sized church came along looking for a guy with a DMin and years of preaching experience. They offered him a nice salary and benefits package. He accepted the position, but I know it’s not what he really wanted to do. Although I can’t wait to get out, I do feel that some preparation may be necessary. Actually these are things I’m avoiding like the plague.
- I’m not burning any bridges! Not with friends who remain in vocational ministry or those who simply attend an institutional church. If they can passionately pursue their relationship with Jesus and other believers in that context, then who am I to persuade them to leave? Or treat them any differently? Read more…