Why are some of the organized church’s most dedicated and active members choosing to leave?
Sociologist Josh Packard, author of Church Refugees, sometimes refers to these people as the church’s A students. They’re most likely to contribute, work hard, and lead others. But, increasingly, they’re done. Done with the institutional church altogether.
But why? Why have they joined the Dones? Packard’s research uncovered several prominent reasons. One of these reasons ties directly to the Dones’ ambitious nature. They want to make a difference, but feel encumbered–by the church’s structures and leaders. Packard interviewed Ethan, a 47-year-old Done. “I’m done with the top-down, institutional church,” Ethan said. “I thought I could fix it from within, but we got beat up pretty bad.”
Packard writes: “They wanted to affect the life of their congregations, but encountered only bureaucracy.”
He describes Cora, a 66-year-old formerly active church member. Her list of volunteer positions in her church filled an entire page. But now she’s a Done. She became continually frustrated with her church’s resistance and sluggishness to support or permit her ministry passions. She reached her limit after she approached her church’s leadership with the simple idea of starting a lawn-mowing ministry for the congregation’s elderly. The leadership crushed her enthusiasm with a list of bureaucratic requirements to meet before she could even bring her idea before the church board. “It was all about control,” Cora said. So, she left the church–and started her mowing ministry on her own.
Many Dones report that churches are happy and eager to accept their volunteer service–if it fits the confines of the leaders’ need for filling limited, pre-conceived slots. Packard writes that many high-capacity Dones feel like they were treated as entry-level employees for a large organization.
Behind the bureaucracy
So, why would churches erect roadblocks in front some of their most capable, energetic, and innovative people?
As Cora concluded, for some it’s all about control. In fact, some church leaders believe it’s their job to closely control everything that happens in the congregation. Some pursue this misguided behavior out of a sense of quality assurance. (“If it’s not done according to my standards of excellence, it reflects poorly on me and our entire ministry.”) Others fear the potential of failure. (“What if it doesn’t work? We can’t afford to lose one more member, or one more dollar.”) And some are just control freaks. They cannot let go and let others fly.
A “chief of staff” at a large church told me his church formally put a stop to any members who wished to start new ministry efforts outside the already established and tightly controlled ministry apparatus. “Those spin-offs don’t help our church’s brand,” he said. “If we don’t control it and put our church’s name on it, we don’t want our people involved.”
The result? Some of the church’s best and brightest are pursuing their ministry passions outside the organized church. And they say they’re finding greater fulfillment, and living out their faith more fully–as Dones.
There are some useful leadership lessons to be learned here:
- Great leaders do not seek to accumulate control. They seek to distribute it and empower others to accomplish great things. Examine Jesus’ approach. He empowered and encouraged his followers to go out and do big things.
- Remember the mission of the church. It’s about building loving relationships–with God, and with others. It’s not about building a hierarchical machine.
- Involving and engaging the congregation in significant ministry is more important than a flawless professional ministry show.
- Embrace failure as a useful tutor in the process of innovation and progress. We usually learn more from our failures than our successes.
- When it comes to building a church, forget about building a brand. Build a community. Allow the Body of Christ to function like a body, with each part doing its part. Allow people to use their God-given gifts.
When it comes to real ministry, we’re all in this together.
I just had this happen to me. As the founder/leader of a ministry that had been successful for 4 years, we were “invited to find a new church home” because we no longer fit the church’s core ministry plans (read: we’re affiliated with a national organization, not homegrown/church branded). The official reason we were given is that as the church grows (nearing 2000/weekend), too many ministries dilutes the communication plans and people can’t tell what is actually important. The church is closing nearly all ministries except 2-3 “core efforts”.
And yeah, it’s left my family wondering why we’ve bothered pouring our lives into this church for the last 11 years. I’ve gone from serving 30-40 hours/week leading a ministry to 30 minutes/week doing secretarial work.
We’ve rehomed the ministry – it remains to be seen how successfully – but it’s left me wondering if it’s even worth bothering trying to find a new church home for my family.
Hang in there. Don’t let yourself be defeated by the failures of others to recognize what you’re doing. God sees you and your ministry.
I remember a parent (of another child), on hearing his child’s objections to a certain type of food, say: “You just don’t know what’s good.”
So it is with the people who rejected you and your ministry.
As one who served as an elder, I can tell you this not uncommon. People have no idea the bureaucracy that goes on behind closed doors and the price some leaders pay to have certain ministries or activities because of the fights they wage behind closed doors to allow these things. Meanwhile, everything looks nice and pretty and joyful on Sunday morning. But, oh, what hell was spent trying to get some of these things. All because those who hold the reins of power are too stubborn to consider thinking outside of the box or taking a risk. Obviously, you have to weigh all the pros and cons of new initiatives. But at some point, it moves beyond that and the real, underlying reasons are revealed and they aren’t always noble. Sometimes it’s just pure selfishness or jealousy as a new start-up ministry has been started organically and well-received, but because it didn’t go through the hoops of bureaucracy, it’s rejected. Sometimes you find out where leaders’ spirituality lies. I remember a fellow elder stating that, “God didn’t call us to save the world” as his reason for not wanting to support a ministry for the needy that had already been successfully operating for a couple of years. Or in another instance, two elders didn’t want to approve a youth trip to Haiti led by the church’s longtime youth pastor simply because not every kid would be able to go. The thing of it was, alternative activities were going to be available for those who could not or would not go. But again, this was different than how things were done in the past and it was not long after a crisis in Haiti, which was well past but work was still needed and the trip was deemed safe by the denomination.
As an article I read yesterday stated, some churches operate under the culture of No, which can be very off-putting (http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6039/when-churches-say-no). You don’t have to say yes to everything, but at least you don’t have to be known for being opposed to everything. No wonder some churches have a hard time getting volunteers or keeping members.
I fully agree with the perspective put forth by Josh Packard! I have fought the control wars, dealing with “Control Freaks” in previous parishes. But, another aspect, which it appears that Packard omitted, is the ever growing litigious reality that worshiping communities endure. This very often lead councils to quash ministry efforts, (like the lawn mowing ministry mentioned as an example) for liability reasons.
This take an even greater importance in prison ministry. Inside, simply passing congratulations and blessings on one’s baptism from another inmate participant is a violation of policy, and can even be a felony!
When there are legitimate reasons like that, Rob, leaders need to make that known to their congregants so as not to give the appearance of just saying no for no good reason. The more the congregation knows, maybe they can be a part of helping to find creative solutions to ministry problems.
That’s what I was trying to say in my much lengthier comment 🙂
Pat, Amen! Transparency makes things so much simpler!
I’m contemplating how this reality you’ve written about balances with the need to keep church simple and uncluttered, to know your local church’s mission and vision and stay true to it, and to reach the demographic in your community that God has called you to reach. How do you allow and encourage each person to engage in ministry that they are passionate about without spreading thin the entire congregation’s human and financial resources? How do you ensure that all ministries of the church are actually advancing the mission and vision of the local congregation and not just existing for the benefit of a few insiders? There has to be some kind of approval system in place. Perhaps the answer is in the leadership being honest about why some ministries are given approval and some are not. Would “dones” stay if they were given a transparent answer as to why their new idea is being vetoed? If leadership showed humility, graciousness, and gratitude while still explaining valid reasons for saying no, would the “dones” be alright?
K.C., while I can appreciate your pain and frustration at what’s happened to you and the ministry you’ve been involved with, I also see the leadership’s side. We have many people in our congregation who are involved in various para-church organizations and ministries. They all want to present their ministries in the church, invite people to fundraisers, and ask our leadership to sponsor their ministry through church funds. If leadership said yes to every request, our congregation would be overwhelmed. Finances would be redirected in dozens of different directions. Our congregation would lose their perspective as to what the unique mission and vision of is of our local church. We need to keep it simple and stay focused, and that means we can’t support every ministry that asks for our time, money and promotion. I know that’s painful, but it is reality for every church. Maybe it’s not so much what was done to you, but how it was done and the attitude behind it. I pray that you can flourish in a new place.
Evaluation of a ministry for approval is needed but More important is God’s approval instead of man. Too often leaders does not know what God’s will are. Their minds are set according to their or the pastor’s mindset, desires and vision. Others may have hidden agenda. If God could intervene, matters will be resolved. Did God intervene into the many scandals reported in mega churches? NO. If HE did, tons of money will not be swindled. HE seldom intervenes. Likewise, HE will also leave things to us to decide without intervening. So it is up to the leaders to choose. To submit to God’s teachings or take control under their own hands. God will judge all of us according to our deeds. We need to understand His Word in order to make decisions that is in line with God’s Word. Many have not submitted or are blinded and their salvation is at stake. Those false leaders are doomed. Those innocents ones must repent. Even some Pharisees knows when to repent. The core problem is wrong teachings or false doctrines.
A Word just pop up.
– Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
If there are disagreement, better to go our own ways. Questions : Who is going in God’s way and who’s not. One will live and one will die in sin. The natural man see those who are successful to be God’s way and cannot see the spiritual. They think that the mega churches teachings must be correct because of the huge crowd.
Oh, I can see the leadership’s side, too, Maureen. I can even admit that my ministry may not have been well-aligned with the church’s goals — after many, MANY conversations, it is clear that the pastoral staff just doesn’t *get* the value in what we do. Shake the dust off and all that.
My point, however, is that this is why my family is on the edges of Done status — we’re fighting with everything we have to find a way to stay involved in a local church, and not being successful. We’re a statistic now.
I’m thinking that perhaps you might be called to something positive, something that frees you to do the things that fit YOU. I read the Gospels now nearly every day, and I am finding that Jesus faced many of these same things, with a giant dose of religious legalism and hypocrisy added in. I can imagine that He faced all the issues we do, probably multiplied a dozen times over, since His culture demanded attendance at synagogue, unless you were “trash,” like the publicans and sinners. He dealt with the rejection all of you’ve described, all of the “attitudes” from family and friends, yet He managed to stay sane, and I believe it was because of two things:
1. He was positive about His own course of action.
2. He told Himself the truth about the negatives in His culture, but He believed that God’s grace could make it better for the people who were around Him.
I know that we consider Jesus in a “special class of human,” unique, and so on, but for just a moment consider Him as a Man, and let His actions and reactions into your own thinking. I am in fact one of the “dones” myself, but what I see in Jesus is Him reaching for the positive and leaving the negative, so that instead of being angry at the efforts of His synagogue at Nazareth to kill Him (literally), He just leaves, and then goes off and does what God has called Him to do.
I’m hoping I can do that as well.
And I believe I can. Not as well as Jesus did, certainly, but better than I have.
Thom, you write excellent articles–highlighting some of the inner workings of the church that definitely need to be discussed! Much of the problems discussed in this article stem from two things–1. the church operating like the world (i.e. branding, selfish ambition/power) and 2. moving away from biblical truth.
I understand the need for order and structure, but whatever happened to Jesus being the head of the church and leaders praying, fasting, and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit as to how they move forward? We are so desperate to compete for attention, accolades, money, and power we have become ineffective and corrupt! Maybe if believers could trust and see for themselves via the leading of the Holy Spirit that our churches were being led with Jesus as the head and not a business plan or corporate maneuver, there wouldn’t be so many Dones! Experiencing God by Blackaby does an excellent job laying out how a church led by the Holy Spirit should operate.
Agreed. But this rarely happens. Those sitting on Moses seat or their own thrones are unmovable.
It wasn’t a mowing ministry to the communities widows and elderly that got me – it was the orphans. In the early 90’s following the democratic overthrow of communism in Romania, state-run orphanages were in the news showing the most horrific of conditions. Through some extraordinary circumstances I found myself in Romania shortly thereafter and in the middle of the first and only independent Christian orphanage in the country. This orphanage had the ability to change the child-care paradigm for an entire nation. I helped create a children’s choir out of that orphanage and began preparation for a US Tour as a much-needed fundraiser. My own church refused to allow the choir to participate in any way (even without compensation) as I was told by the executive pastor “that orphan gimmick has a tendency to draw attention away from our weekly offering needs.” I recited James 1:28 and resigned my teaching position. I left this most Southern of Southern Baptist Churches to attend a Mainline Progressive Church which at least had the Great Commandment as a global concept. Sadly, that was only a concept and after 8 more years of teaching, and trying to encourage that church to become more than a country club that donates to good causes, I was done. I’m not done with Christ, I’m not done with widows, orphans, the sick, the needy or the imprisoned, which leaves me very little time for the brand-building, modern church. Thanks Tom for the continued encouragement.
My church just voted last night to get rid of the suggestion box for a praise only/blessings box.
Cathy Benson firstname.lastname@example.org
Actually, this is more EGO than it is desire for control. The idea that all of God’s work must be done in my way, through my church, is pervasive. On the other hand, complete open-handedness is impossible, since there are people who wish to use the church’s name and prestige to further their own ends, and not the Lord’s.
What you’re describing, Thom, is exactly what happened during the great parachurch revival of the 1960’s and 70’s–people left and created their own ministries. it also describes the “Jesus movement,” which spawned the Calvary Chapels, which themselves became restrictive in due time. Seems like ego is a universal disease…
Another excerpt showing how those in a branch of the military recognized the need to get away from exclusively top-down decision making. What might the Church learn from this?
“In the Special Operations community, those closest to the problem (in our case, the operators in direct contact with Al Qaeda) were expected to form relationships (both internal and external to our organization) with individuals, units, or organizations that would be effective partners in defeating the threat. These networks were not beholden to org-charts, and were empowered by senior leadership to constantly adapt and move with great autonomy. Empowering these networks allowed us to outmaneuver the terrorist networks we were facing.
In the Special Operations community, there were three critical steps in accomplishing this:
1. Understand your problem. We spent many months trying to convince ourselves that Al Qaeda had some type of traditional top-down structure. This was false, and our subsequent strategies were bound to fail. In seeing the threat as a series of interconnected networks, the way we led and communicated shifted accordingly.
2. Build the networks. Once you see the interconnectedness of your new environment, you can begin to identify the internal and external networks that are needed to overlay the problem – some will be internal to your organization, and some will be with external partners. In the Special Operations community, we didn’t approach this as a standard “org-redesign” (which are usually just band-aids), but left the org-charts alone and built networks of relationships. Because these ties generally can’t be found on any org-chart, they are delicate and require deliberate nurturing. And most critically, they must consistently articulate the common purpose of the network, reminding all members why they’ve chosen to be a part of the effort.
3. Lead from the middle. Finally, break the top-down tradition by pulling yourself, as a leader, into the middle of the network. Rather than being the collector of all information and the choke point for all guidance, today’s leaders need to see themselves as conduits of information who act as the central hub. It’s not your job to control everything; instead, create an environment where cross-boundary relationships can grow and those closest to the problem are empowered to move with speed and precision.
Leaders in all environments must remember that people choose to join networks, and can just as easily choose to withdraw. To influence such a network, and to empower it to operate with speed and accuracy, leaders must create and nurture relationships that span across the vertical divisions on the org-chart – breaking the silos that constrain thinking in so many bureaucracies. As the network grows, leaders must articulate and over-communicate the network’s common purpose.
To sign on and stay in, network members must be persuaded — constantly — that participation in the network contributes to a common purpose that they believe in and advances their personal or organizational interests. Leaders in networks must constantly work to create win-win scenarios for the members, some of whom will likely have competing interests at various times. This requires leaders to truly understand the varied interests (personal and organizational) of the network’s members. In a diverse network (often the most effective), this will be a disparate set of interests – and leaders in networks must protect these equities without bias toward any one group.
Leaders that can persuade others to join their network by articulating a common purpose and rallying others around it will quickly outmaneuver those that rely on traditional top-down methodology. Today’s best leaders are already adapting to this new reality – not checking their stopwatches.” –from the Harvard Business Review, “Why Special Ops Stopped Relying So Much on Top-Down Leadership” by Chris Fussell
I know how “dones” feel after spending years and years of ministry in service to a church. I know what it is like to be on a church council that deliberates on ministry ideas that invested church members want to engage the church in. I also know what is it like to have a council reject your ministry goal and not give support for your idea.
There is a thin line here that needs to be understood. This issue is complex. Christians of experience will always come up with more and more ideas about what needs to be done and why we need to be the ones doing it. The fine line is this. Whose resources is going to be used to move my idea? If the church doesn’t want to invest in my idea, is that, then, a rejection of me? I’m afraid many “dones” have taken it to mean just that.
Money, space, and human resources are limited. If the church has to allocate any of those resources to my idea, then they do have a say in what that looks like or whether they want to be a part of it at all.
But if my ministry goal is not taking people away from other church duties or stretching them in a different direction, it isn’t going to cost any money from my sponsoring church, and I can access whatever tools and resources I need from the outside AND it isn’t something that will embarrass my church, such as false teaching or some such thing, then why wouldn’t they go along with that?
You see, that is the line. If God put me in it, then God gives me the ability to do it. If my ministry goal requires diverting any resource from my parent church, then I must evaluate how much God is in it verses how much of that desire came from me!
When I presented my church of 30 plus years with an idea that did not match the goal of the church, we looked at how could we fulfill God’s call without affecting the existing ministries. Once I made sure that they understood that I would not recruit any workers or members from the existing pool of church members, they were OK with that. Once I made sure that they understood that I would not need to spend any of their money or use up any of their space, then they were OK with that. As long as people who come and visit the church are not lured away by this important ministry a small group of us wanted to do, they were OK with that.
Though they did not understand my goals or why I needed to pursue the type of ministry God was leading me to do, they did not reject me or the idea out of hand. They did reject supporting this goal as a mission of their church. They didn’t want it to be attached to their church as it didn’t fit the direction they needed to go.
It’s important to understand how to move forward and the understanding needs to go both ways. This does not excuse “control” and “power” churches. And it does not excuse “dones” who confuse a rejection of allocating resources to their idea as a rejection of them or their idea either. If the Holy Spirit is in it, we quickly understand and see clearly who the butt-heads are in the “what about this idea” exchange.
As always, good word, Thom. In her book, the Fall of the Evangelical Nation, the author deals with this very issue of church and control. According to her, many churches are run like cults where psychological techniques are used to control and prevent people from leaving the group. Though it might never be openly taught, many churches give you the feeling that if you leave them, you’re out of God’s will, your spiritual covering is taken away, or God will not bless you, which amounts to nothing but CONTROL. I’m DONE not because as, Pastor Bill says, the church didn’t support MY ministry (By the way, I agree with his point as a pastor.). I’m DONE because I got tired of the control. I got tired of the anointed ones (the leadership) constantly telling the non-anointed ones (us) how to dance to their beat.
Reblogged this on High Voltage Disciples: A Journeyman's Journal.
Even in the smallest of churches when growing up I recall these political power and control struggles happening. It’s not just in churches but work also. This must just be the nature of us human beings. Doesn’t seminary have classes to teach upcoming pastors how to spot, avoid and handle this sort of thing, whether it be in themselves or others?
Control freaks are predictable and unavoidable. It’s even worse when they’re micro managers. And oh, yea. I’m working for one of those right now. It’s frustrating.
Control freaks are not qualified to be leaders in any Church and should be removed immediately. The qualities of a leader are clearly spelled out in scripture.
Unfortunately, people like this rise to the top, just like dross rises to the top in refining metals. It’s weird, but I’ve seen it time after time. People obey them. Look at the cults, at the problems we now have in many branches of govt, etc. It seems to be a human trait to look for these types and follow them.
Ruthless, power-hungry, and self-interested. That, sadly, is also the description of the “leadership” in Jesus’ day–with the addition of massive corruption.
I agree with what you say. Hence you are getting the “dones” which I think is a good thing. I think what we all can do is encourage friends and family to become “dones” if they have doubts about their Church. Saying you should stay and seek change is the way of a fool. I think many comments have proven that over the last several months here. The end of the present Church system will be a good thing. Hopefully what rises to take its place will be better.
I don’t think the church, as such, will end. I do believe, as you say, that something different will rise in its place. However, we’ve seen all this many, many times throughout church history, and the “replacements” then take their place with the same sorts of leaders. Mark 10:41-45 speaks powerfully to this mindset. The problem is that the leaders themselves must embrace these ideals, because people are always willing to follow a strong leader, be they right or wrong, good or evil.
The late Jay Ferris would say: For 1700 years, the church has been more a display case for the male ego, than it has been the revelation of the life of God’s Son.
I’ve just returned from my first mentoring session with a lovely young Christian man, who is the victim of micro-management in his local congregation, and is on the verge of burn-out. He is relinquishing his ‘church contract’ to inter-act with young people at school level, where God is using him mightily. Enough said.
[…] 2. The culture. This may be dangerous, but I’d give it a try. We’d have a culture that could be characterized by the phrase “yes, and.” So many churches today are so organizationally focused that bringing any change to the church is sometimes harder than changing a government program. That should not be the case. Thom Schultz wrote a great article on this just this week. […]
Stevencbradley “The problem is that the leaders themselves must embrace these ideals, because people are always willing to follow a strong leader, be they right or wrong, good or evil.” Yes I agree. However, hopefully we can move away from leaders and leadership positions and all that type of language and titles in Church, to what Jesus says, which is servants and servant hood. He demonstrated that by foot washing. The point Jesus was getting at by foot washing, was the level of humbleness needed to be a servant in a community, worthy of being recognized as something that represents the Kingdom of God. This message was directed at “leaders.” It takes a lot of Spiritual maturity for a group to follow that path however.
You are Right, I fully agree with you. I am striving to enter into the narrow gate of God’s kingdom. No one strolling can enter in. We must sacrifice our all to follow Jesus. This is not an option. We must check our works. Our works must be proven to be counted worthy of Him. I am done with the corrupt church organization system which is from the world where the Rich controls the church. If you are in one of such church, RUN OUT for there will be much manipulations and heresies there. I have found Many wrong principles and doctrines in these churches. There are so much we can share and many people have shared here on this topic. To those who share the same view : In reality, We (the dones) ARE the true church because we love the Truth and cannot bear the unrighteousness of corrupt leaders in control of God’s church in which we are powerless to remove them out from their thrones. Comfort one another, Bro’ and Sisters in Christ. Be encourage and have courage for HE will not forsake HIS Own.
Yes, control freaks, power trippers, and ego driven leadership is blasphemous to God, sinning against the Holy Spirit, and will not be part of the Kingdom of God.
AMEN AND AMEN! My husband and I could not agree with you any more! We found ourselves in this situation and we are “DONE”. We do follow the example of Jesus. He was humble,meek and did not seek his own glory. Now if and when we encounter people of this nature…WE RUN!
Lots of great comments and food for thought.In my opinion,some of you are truly doing remarkable things,and just want to encourage you to keep on keeping on,and follow the Spirits leading.Unlike many,I have been done with going to church,not because ministries I care about were shot down or I was not allowed to do something. I’m done because of the constant being made to feel that I should be doing something, being “involved”,at and for the church.I believe there is a lot of false obligations and duties heaped on people and ministers distort the scriptures to try and get the involvement they desire,which causes me to lose respect.Genuine equipping cares very little about anything in return.It simply desires God’s best for others. Also, the equipping for “works of service”,or the “work of the ministry”,does not mean at all “doing things at and for a local church”…where the Pastor or Pastors(who have ministry as a job)are just to equip(teach and preach),and all the others do the work(without pay),and the work is all at or for that church. The entire context of Eph.4 is the One Body,not a local church,and the common teaching from the chapter is usually wrong.IN the very early days of the Church,the apostles,prophets,pastors,teachers role was far more necessary, as Scripture was still in progress.Now we have the completed word,are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and have no need of any man to teach us.I try to be a good husband,worker,and father.As an ambassador for Christ,wherever i am, i try to live a life worthy of my calling.I do not care to have a part time job at a church,and feel sorry for those do…not the ones who love what they are doing,but those who are doing it out of coercion and manipulation.Whether in or out of a church,our ministry/serving/giving should be voluntary and free,led of the Spirit.