Church Refugees – Josh Packard and Rob Wilkerson

Josh as a religious sociologist is interested in the Sociology of Religion. The study came about because of the initial work done by one of his Christian students. Josh was brought up as a Lutheran but he didn’t always ‘fit’. Now an active member of a non-denominational church with about 75 members where his wife is an elder. About half are college students (who change every year).

They started with about a dozen interviews – it wasn’t clear where they were going. Their initial hypothesis proved to be wrong and they realised that they were on to something important. Rob picked up on their commitment to data rather than an agenda. It was a small survey mainly middle class / white / well educated / few poor. There will now be a new study nationally.

It’s not really a poor person issue – the need for some luxury to consider these thoughts. How many could do this without institutional support? Those who walk away are the type of people who are able to get things done rather than be right – and don’t need the church to do it? Are these the people who might have walked away in the 50’s to 80’s if there was any community that they could have joined, or any way that they could have been involved with other people’s lives? People who are willing to deal with the messiness – trying to live their religion – and when church stops being helpful for that they want to leave.

The authors decided not to go into the African American scene because the Black Church plays a very different role in the community and needs a separate investigation.

The authors wanted to start a conversation – hence the book rather than an academic publication. Some think it is good that the IC is dying. Maybe the Dones are as important as canaries in coal mines! Some have made a path that others are following. The church is now going to have to respond, but some pastors still wonder why they should care about these people. There is a new role for pastors – it’s a big challenge but some will respond.

The Dones are tired of taking fruit and trying to cram it into a structure instead of following what came out of the book of Acts – guided by the Holy Spirit. Many are exhausted – coming out – de-constructing – asking God what they are meant to be doing – the need to find community! A deep desire to follow Jesus – but what next?

Rob picked up that in chapter 6 the authors were making some of their own suggestions. Josh said that sociology tries to uncover trends and that religion is the canvas on which he paints. An organisation scholar who focuses on the sociology of religion. He suggests that apart from Mega churches the church has been static for a long time – not encouraging talented people in the way that business organisations want to retain their members. The chapter draws on other people’s research (that would be rejected by a scholarly review) – putting puzzle pieces together and trying to build a bridge! Rob suggested that the chapter feels like a lot of band aid on a very wounded and broken institution! Josh suggested that church works for perhaps 80% as some level and does not therefore need to be blown up – a place for revolution within the walls!

Josh has been working with Thom and his organisation – thinking out loud! Rob feels that publishing is geared to selling – that many pastors chase after new ideas such as getting more young people / keeping those who are coming . . . seminars and conferences!

Rob had seen the job of Elders to shepherd and lead – to control limits so that things didn’t get out of hand. The DNA of institution says that someone must be at the top. Rob now wants participation without limits. Josh agrees that too much power is given to people who will inevitably make mistakes, but that this chapter was not written for the Dones and that they are not trying to get the Dones back. Josh doesn’t doubt the integrity of the majority of pastors who are trying to do a good job. But he wants to see changes in the system where people are embedded into a culture and they let the culture guide the flow of the church. He believes in a message of love and equality for all but recognises that they may have got some of it wrong – the need for humility! He sees institutional disengagement as a problem – not a church problem. Across the board there is a greater lack of trust in leaders – and this disengagement is catching up with the church (far more advanced in Europe?) – it’s a whole new world and not a generational issue? The church needs to adapt if it wants to remain a vibrant institution – which Josh thinks it should do. He sees the need for a refugee camp – ‘come and hang out with us’! Could the book become the camp? A temporary space? Holding the hands of Pastors and Dones – coming together respectfully – supportive of each other!

Rob left last October. He had had problems in each church he had pastored – a focus on intense discipleship and felt that the problems were down to him. ‘Let leaders help . . .!’ There are many personality traits – church planting – creation of a culture that can feel abusive – incapable of helping people unpack their baggage or to receive them where they were – trying to make people conform! Rob’s own teens saw the malfunction – people always trying to fix us! Discipleship that doesn’t teach what Jesus told people to do is discipleship ‘re-framed’! (God doesn’t have grandchildren?).
Wayne Jacobsen – “Just let the Holy Spirit lead you to new places”.
Rob – don’t be afraid to ask questions – but there will be consequences – they will cause ripples!

Finding Church – Wayne Jacobsen
Re-imagining Church – Frank Viola


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