January 15, 2021

Not Done

A few years ago, I read a very depressing book.  It was titled Church Refugees (by Josh Packard Ph.D. and Ashleigh Hope).  The book introduced a new and sad movement within the American church.  

Church Refugees describes a group of people the authors called the “dones.”  They are done with church.  They’re not atheists, agnostics, or turning to other religions.  The dones are those who were once very involved in church but dropped out.  They’re done with it.  They’re “de-churched.”  

According to the authors, “They’re done with church. They’re tired and fed up with church. They’re dissatisfied … and they’ve decided they and their spiritual lives are better lived outside of organized religion.”

The book calls them religious refugees and defines refugees as those who have been forced from their homes.  I think calling them religious refugees is an unfortunate and inappropriate choice of words, when there are such heartbreaking examples of real refugees in the world.

The book also says that many of the dones had been hurt, disappointed, frustrated, tired, or just didn’t get what they wanted.  The authors’ research said the average was more than four negative experiences before leaving.  So, their guideline was “four plus” disappointments then leave.

I get it.  I’ve been let down, too.  Every pastor has been let down.  But if every pastor left whenever he felt hurt, disappointed, frustrated, tired, or didn’t get their way – four or more times – no pastor would last six months.

And if that was the guideline for other areas of life – you can be done with it after four disappointments – would anybody remain married?  Would any child still have parents?  Would anybody have a job for more than a few months?

I’m sad for the dones, but I don’t excuse them.  They’re wrong.  Improve the church?  Yes!  Be done with it?  No!

The church needs correcting, re-directing, and renewal.  It needs change.  But the church is described as the bride of Christ, and you just don’t abandon the bride.  But that’s what the dones have done.

I’m glad I’m not one of the dones.  I am one of the “Not Dones.”  And I encourage pastors everywhere to be numbered among the “Not Dones.”  Most pastors have been hurt in one way or another four or more times.  No doubt many are ready to be done.  

This last year has made matters worse.  We’re 10 months into the pandemic.  Ministry has changed.  It’s hard.  At times it feels like it’s futile.  There’s a biblical word we need to embrace.  That word is “perseverance.”  It means “not done.”

Hebrews 10 is a call to persevere, marching orders for the not dones.  I want to quickly share with you four challenges for those who are not done.  This is what people who are not done – do.

The “Not Dones” Draw Near to God

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” Hebrews 10:22 (NIV)

This is a time for pastors and church leaders to draw near to God.  While that’s always true, it’s especially true now.  This is a challenging and chaotic time.  We’ve never been here before.  Multiple factors contribute to this unprecedented situation: the COVID pandemic, shutdown of much of the nation, stay at home orders, civil rights abuses, protests, riots, and a nation deeply divided politically.  

2020 was a hard year and pastors were in the midst of it.  Most pastors have had to deal with very loud and competing voices, many from within their own congregations.  It was a very draining year, a year that empties the soul.

Every pastor, every church leader, every Christian leader needs to take steps to fill his or her soul.  Take time for prayer, Scripture, journaling, personal retreats, and whatever else it takes to fill the soul.  

It’s too easy for pastors to feed the souls of those they serve and ignore the feeding of their own souls.  But when the soul gets empty, the leader gets ready to be done.

The not dones don’t let that happen.  The not dones draw near to God.

The “Not Dones” Hold onto Hope

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23 (NIV)

Hope is a powerful thing.  It keeps you hanging on when you feel like letting go.

People think of hope as a last-ditch effort; one final chance; more of a “maybe” than a “certainty,” like a “Hail Mary” pass at the very end of a football game.  But biblical hope is more than that.  It’s the “expectation” that things will work out.  

And these verses tell us to not only hold onto hope, but to do so “unswervingly.”  The word literally means, “that which does not bend.”  Don’t let your hope bend.

“Unswervingly” is not a word I use often.  In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever used it is when reading Hebrews 10.  It’s an interesting word.  It describes a lot in life.  

It describes the way you should want to drive.  If you drive swervingly, something bad is going to happen.  You might hit another car or maybe the law will pull you over.  They might make you walk the line, suspecting there’s an illegal reason for you driving so swervingly.  When you drive, you want to drive unswervingly.  And the same is true of hope.

Pastors need to hold onto hope.  Congregations will take their cues from their leaders.  Hope is contagious.  But so is despair.  

The not dones hold onto hope unswervingly.

The “Not Dones” Do Good Deeds

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

It says to “spur one another.”  The word means to “provoke.”  It’s the kind of word you might use when you want to pick a fight with someone.  And a spur is something you use to poke a horse to get it going.  

Days of quarantine take their toll on energy and motivation.  It’s easy to become a couch potato and a refrigerator raider.  Some people need a little spurring toward love and good deeds to get them off the couch and into a hurting world.

That’s true of pastors, too.  The pandemic and stay-at-home orders have made a lot of people feel isolated and numb.  Pastors need to spur themselves, spur their colleagues, and spur their congregations to love and good deeds, even during the pandemic.  And if you are considering becoming one of the dones, consider this a spurring.

There’s one more thing that those who are not done – do.

The “Not Dones” Meet Together

“Let us not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

Scripture tells us to not give up meeting together.  The word has the idea of abandoning or forsaking one another; strong language.  God wants us to meet together.  When Hebrews was written some in the church were in the habit of NOT meeting together; just like today.

Pastors are well aware that parishioners have differing involvement in church.  I’ve heard some different terms used to describe people’s church participation … or lack of church participation.

Some people are CEO Christians; “Christmas and Easter Only.”

Some people are SMO Christians; “Sunday Morning Only.”   

Some people are what I’ve termed ISYWISY Christians: I-S-Y-W-I-S-Y; “I’LL See You When I See You.”  That might be next month or next year.  They haven’t given up on church, but they use any excuse to stay away.

Today many, many people are the CQ Christians, short for “Covid Quarantine.”  Wearing pajamas and sitting on the couch they might tune into a worship service.  They might not.  Pastors are left guessing.

And some people have joined The Dones.  They’re done with church.  They’ve had enough.  They’ve dropped out.  And sadly, they will miss out. 

Somehow, some way, the not dones need to meet together.  Whether it’s by zoom, by phone, by text, by email, or by social distance gathering in-person, the not dones meet together.  

I feel bad for the dones.  They’re missing out.  I wonder how many of the dones really draw near to God … hold unswervingly onto hope… grow as disciples… reach others for Christ… and are training their children to be followers of Jesus.  

And I wonder if someday the dones will stand before the Lord and hear, “Why did you leave my family?  Why did you abandon my bride?  Why did you drop out?”  We can’t let the dones be done.

If you’re a pastor, I know that even under the best of times ministry is hard.  And these are not the best of times.  And I know that some of you who serve are just about done.  

But please don’t quit.  Whatever it takes be one of the not dones.  Draw near to God.  Hold onto hope, unswervingly.  Spur others to love and good deeds.  Spur yourself, too.  And meet together with those who can feed your soul.  And whatever it takes, don’t be done.  

Thanks for all you do to serve the Lord and his Church.  God bless you.