by Elias Blum
There’s a lot of worry in institutional church circles these days about the ‘dones’: those who are done with church, and whose previously well-warmed pews are now empty. So much of the hand-wringing writing about ‘dones’ is produced by those who are still in the institutional church, those for whom that model still works.
So I thought it about time that I, as a ‘done’, put my case for why I do not ‘go to church’ anymore, why that model doesn’t seem right to me anymore, and why am unlikely to return to any institutionalised church in the future.
I’m done with institutional church.
I’m done with arguments about curtains and carpets.
I’m done with music committees and choir rotas.
I’m done with fake smiles and being on best behaviour.
I’m done with pecking orders and nasty internal politics.
I’m done with being told we are ‘family’ and ‘community’ when really we have not much in common, and probably don’t want to – because we each have our own callings to work through.
I’m done with Sunday ‘services’ that serve no discernible purpose, that feel like going through the motions, that leave you wondering ‘Why did I bother?’
I’m done with sermons of half-baked opinion, when I can do my own reading and research and don’t need to be told what to think.
I’m done with the constant pleading for money.
I’m done with arguing about secondary issues.
I’m done with unscholarly biblicalism that expects me to take literally things that were never meant to be taken literally.
I’m done with having my faith being continent upon having to ignore evolutionary biology, cosmology, geology, anthropology, history, and other branches of human understanding.
I’m done with sunday mornings (why not meet once a month on a Tuesday evening, which would have the advantage of not eating up half of my precious weekend?).
I’m done with the hierarchies and the power-plays, the one upmanship and the passive aggressive competition.
I’m done with there being no room for liberal/progressive or post-evangelical interpretations of christianity, and having to pretend to believe things I don’t in order to fit in.
I’m done with the hypocrisy or pretending we are not all hypocrites.
I’m done with formulas, programs, activities and gimmicks.
I’m done with words like ‘awesome!’ and ‘exciting!’
I’m done with the idea that we are supposed to pay up and shut up; that one person stands at the front and does all the talking.
I’m done with the notion that in a world of user-generated, freely shared content, we are supposed to be passive partakers rather than active creators.
I’m done with burying Jesus in twenty-first century capitalism, nineteenth century moralism, sixteenth century soteriology and fourth century christology.
And I’m done with the idea that ‘going to church’ is somehow a duty, or that I should feel bad for walking away from all that and letting it be.
I’m done with the whole lot of it.
I’m not done with Jesus, but if Jesus showed up at church they’d nail him up as a heretic.
Then again, the church is all of us who are committed to the way, truth and life. It’s not a place we go to or an institution that we support. It’s all of us. We don’t have to ‘go to church’ to be the church. There are lots of ways to be the church – to support and encourage one another, to think and reason together, to work through ethical issues, to engage in practical action that helps the wider community and addresses issues of peace, justice, freedom, mercy and charity – without having to sit in a big building once a week with a man in front running things and bills to pay.
I’m still thinking through the details of what that alternative model of church might be, but I’m imagining some sort of loose and informal network of small autonomous house groups: no buildings, no clergy, no offices, no staff, no pressure to conform, no programmed services, no choir, no professional musicians, no bright lights, no paid preachers, no prepared sermons, no creedal tests, no tithes, no fuss.
Instead of a formal, institutional church, there would just be little groups, of no more than a dozen members, meeting from time to time in their homes or in a semi-public place such as the upper room of a cafe, to eat, share and walk the way together. There would be very little need for ‘leadership’, and such collective decisions as need to be taken can be settled by equal discussion and free votes.
Each of these little groups would be loosely connected and associated to other little groups, with whom they can share information, requests, questions and ideas. The links could be many or few, shallow or deep. The associations might be formed on geographic lines, bringing together various small groups in a town or city. But they could also be formed, quite organically, on lines of interest: for prison ministry, hospital ministry, hosting a food bank, supporting an adult literacy club, running a homeless centre or refugee welcome centre. These linkages and associations could be overlapping. Each little group, and each individual person, might find themselves in several networks depending on their own needs, preferences, talents, and senses of vocation. The boundary between ‘church’ and ‘community’ would be dissolved in these links, and the salt and light that is supposed to be cleansing and brightening the world would be released from its beeswaxed institutional cage.
That’s all that is needed. That would be a sufficient basis for doing and being all the things that the church collectively is called to do and be. It sounds radical and iconoclastic, and perhaps it is, but then again I think it is probably pretty close to the original pattern of the church.