On Being Done with Church

By Jim Tune

Research reveals that when it comes to identifying with a particular faith, the “nones”—those who affiliate with no religion—have been increasing for decades. Recently we have heard about the rising number of “dones,” people who were actively involved in a local church who have simply dropped out. A growing number of lifelong churchgoers, many of them leaders and ministers, are saying, “That’s it. I’m done!”

10_Tune_JNIt’s not that they are avowed atheists. They haven’t rejected God. It’s not that they never gave church a try—quite the opposite. The “dones” have ample firsthand experience with it. They’ve been part of organized religion in the past, and the experience left them feeling burned or burned-out. They identify with 1960s-era comedian and satirist Lenny Bruce, who said, “People are leaving the church and finding God.”

I understand the sentiment. I really do. But leaving the church isn’t going to bring them any closer to finding what they’re looking for. As trendy as the idea of writing off the church may be, it’s a mistake. The church was God’s idea. The church is the bride and the body of Christ. I’ve never seen anyone become a more effective disciple by withdrawing from community.

Is the church imperfect? Yes. People sin. Leaders fail. Community gets messy. Burnout happens. And ministry leaders are at risk.

I’ve felt it. When I’ve allowed my identity to be defined by what I do, disappointment is inevitable. When I work in unsustainable ways to achieve self-imposed and unrealistic goals, I risk making ministry an idol and me its servant.

As Tim Keller said so well, “If work (or ministry) is your idol, if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart.” If you work yourself ragged to build an institution or your brand or your local church’s status, don’t be surprised if sooner or later you feel like you’re “done.”

Jesus is our brand. When we keep Jesus central, we will always have something to say to the nones and the dones. John Stott observed, “Indeed there are many people who are critical of the church yet who, at the same time, retain a sneaking admiration for Jesus.” Brian McLaren offers this insight: “Think about the people who . . . even though they’ve given up on ‘organized religion’ . . . still have a high opinion of Jesus. Or maybe ‘opinion’ isn’t the right word: what they have is a certain sense of possibility regarding Jesus, a sense that there might be more going on with him than most people realize, including perhaps many who call themselves Christians.”

When I’m starting to feel done, it usually means I need to refocus on Jesus—his possibilities, not my driven agenda. I need to read anew his words: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).

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8 Comments

  1. John Gore
    October 5, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    The Remnant have left the building and you, Jim Tune, have been left behind. You should repent of being double minded sooner rather than later. You may not get a later.

    Matthew 22:37, 38: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

    The motto of Psychological Warfare is: Steal their hearts and minds and their souls will follow. Or sometimes stated: Capture their minds and their hearts and souls will follow.

    Psy-War goal: Cause Christians to hold two opposing belief systems in their minds at the same time without conflict.

    You can’t keep serving the ONE GOD of corporatacracy while serving the one God. God will only wink at sins of ignorance for a time.

    God’s Word is the Rules of Truth, the firewall for the mind and the Root of David is my System Administrator.

    John Gore
    Ozark, MO

  2. Lloyd Strickland
    October 12, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks Jim — Some good thinking especially for those of us North of the 49th to consider.
    Lloyd Strickland
    Clearwater, BC

  3. David L. Barnes
    October 12, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    How can a person claim to love Jesus Christ and fail to love His body?

  4. Jim
    October 13, 2016 at 9:27 am

    It’s an analysis David. Not an endorsement. For those who want to understand what’s happening in the world around them.

  5. October 14, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    This was a very good word and I believe it is timely. I am a leader in my church and see what I call “churchism” (little “c”), not the called out but the burned out. There is much work placed on few people. I don’t know the answer to the “why” this is happening, I just know the answer to the One who has the “answers.” You are correct, focusing on our Christ relationship is the only way to remain focused in our church relationship. My heart bleeds for the sheep who just feed and never “read the Word of GOD for themselves.” Getting to “know” GOD through his Word is essential to “knowing GOD is HIS WORD!” Thank you for your article!

  6. October 18, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    My friend Jim,
    Many of the “dones” have not left the church. They have just left the institutional church. They still want to gather together with other Christians in a small group or house church. I can understand. Not only are there more and more “dones,” there are also a growing number of “almost dones.” In some respects I’m one of those. I doubt I’ll ever pull the plug but can’t rule that out. The church I’m part of in some important ways seems more like a secular business than the church of Jesus Christ, a part of the family of God.
    We pride ourselves on being New Testament churches, but are we? Theologically I believe we are closer to the New Testament than any other major group. Francis Chan asks, “If someone asked you to describe ‘church’ using only the Bible, What would you say?” His answer looks nothing at all like nearly all churches in the West. The Sunday gathering of most churches in the West look more like an early reformation church or even the Roman Catholic churches they came out of than the New Testament churches.
    I’m becoming more and more convinced our focus on a big Sunday event–sometimes described as a concert followed by a lecture–is a big part of our problem. You can’t “love one another as I have loved you” while looking at the back of someone’s head and listening to a lecture. Besides, education research has found very few people learn from lectures. Someone has said that if you are in school and most of your classes are lectures, you are being defrauded.
    There is hope. I talk about some of what is beginning to happen in “Growing the Kingdom,” an article CHRISTIAN STANDARD plans to publish in December.

  7. October 25, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Here are some very specific reasons people leave certain Fellowships:

    1) Fellowship took on massive debt in violation of Proverbs 22:7

    2) Fellowship strong-armed believers to make pledges to pay debts in violation of Proverbs 22:26

    3) Fellowship did virtually nothing for the Distressed Orphans and Widows in Christ in violation of James 1:27

    4) Fellowship became a country club taking its eye off of Christ in the process.

    5) Fellowship showed favoritism by targeting the Rich and/or Middle Class in Violation of James 2

    6) Leaders of Fellowship have Loved Money rather than Love God.

    When they leave they go on to find Fellowships who follow what the Bible says to do. They are not interested in special clubs to tailor the Bible to our pleasures. Rather they wish to serve Christ and to fellowship with those who also do not deceive themselves. Who listen to the Word and who do what it says. You can recognize them by their fruit.

  8. Sue Reeves
    October 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

    I am one of the “almost dones”. I love my community, participated in activities, and gave my money to the organization faithfully. One day, as I was encouraging someone to join me in church, I was told to research where my tithe money was going, and what I was, by association, supporting. I found the organization was sending money to muslim regimes,to governments known for poor treatment of its citizens, supporting political activities that I did not agree with, and participating in activities that I felt were not what I would want my name associated with. I am disillusioned with the organization that I have been a part of for over 50 years. It’s not God that I’m done with, it’s how I have been working for God and learning of God. I am not done with religion, I am looking for a community that I can be a part of, but I am also kind of “gun-shy”, not wanting to become a part of something worse than before.

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