quitting church: reason #5

this little series is a synopsis of julia duin’s engaging book, “quitting church.”  ms. duin’s perspective is especially important to me because she is not “in the ministry.” duin is religion editor for the washington times and her story comes from a deep, personal place.  she tells us why people are leaving the church, and she tells us what we (the church/church leaders) ought to do about it.  a couple of these posts have generated no small amount of controversy and i expect this one to exceed expectations.

reason #5 people are quitting church: A RETRENCHMENT OF THE SUPERNATURAL

As I’ve talked to people about why they have left the church, I’ve found one unspoken undercurrent in several conversations.  It lies somewhere between disappointment and detachment, a remembrance of things past that are no more.  These are the people who say they joined at a time when they would merely walk into a church and their lives would be drastically changed by the Holy Spirit.  The scene is so different now that for some it hurts too much to go back.

in one of the most compelling parts of the book, ms. duin recounts her own experience of coming into the kingdom during the jesus movement, the era that “seemed like Acts 2 come to life, especially in the founding of many charismatic Christian communities where people shared their wealth and possessions, as did the early Christians.”  julia duin cites statistics that demonstrate a marked decrease in the ubiquity and activity of spiritual gifts, and she cites two primary reasons.

first, is the disillusionment brought on by the excesses and abuses of high-profile meetings and leaders.  duin mentions jimmy swaggart, jim bakker, the “toronto blesing,” rodney howard browne, benny hinn, and the brownsville revival as examples of “shallow goofiness” and unfulfilled prophecies (and she briefly mentions the damage done by extravagant lifestyles and refusal to release financial records).

the second reason for the decrease in supernatural activity is a move by leaders away from spiritual gifts in favor of expedience.

(By the late 90’s) the renewal had been tamed considerably.  Many of the charismatic churches had retrenched and done away with freewheeling services that lasted up to three hours.  They cut worship time to less than ninety minutes, to make services more seeker friendly.  Others quietly stopped teaching about spiritual renewal and instead had their people read and study the best-seller “Forty Days of Purpose” by Rick Warren or Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God,” which, despite it’s title, had nothing to do with charismatic gifts.  Still others shelved the idea of praying for spiritual gifts and invested in “spiritual gifts inventories.”

In May 2007 editor Lee Grady wrote a column on Charisma’s website, urging readers not to be ashamed of Pentecostal gifts.  “Some modern charismatics and Pentecostals who prefer seeker-friendly worship and user-friendly sermons have stopped offering prayer for baptism in the Holy Spirit at their altars,” he wrote.  “They don’t want to offend the crowd by encouraging anything too weird or embarrassing.  They prefer church to be neat, orderly, and rational.  They want a faith that can be controlled.

duin quotes canadian evangelist patricia king:

People are not hungry for institutionalized religion, they are hungry for true encounters with God…Supernatural encounters are a normal part of a believer’s life, yet today’s evangelicals avoid them like the plague, saying they do not want to worship experience over God.

Yet, when anyone tries to write the obituaries on charismatics, the body keeps popping out of the grave…at least one-quarter of the world’s two-billion Christians are Pentecostal/charismatic.  (They) outdo all other Christian groups in church attendance, literal views of Scripture, and evangelizing unbelievers…In 2007 Lifeway put out a survey showing that half of the 405 Southern Baptists pastors polled believe the Holy Spirit bestows a “private prayer language”on believers today.

julia duin closes this chapter by quoting pastor/author graham cooke who argues that prophecy is a valid gift that, if pastored rightly, can yield huge benefits.

The more of this kind of prophecy we can have in church, the less we will need intensive, time-consuming pastoral care.  People will actually be touched by God and come into the things of the Spirit themselves.  The problem is nervous controlling leaders who do not let the third person of the Trinity work.  Often the prophetic person will may have done everything right, but the insecurity and inadequacy of the leadership can kill any response to the word.

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2 thoughts on “quitting church: reason #5

  1. Randy: I am not really sure how all charismatic churches work since I can only speak about the one I pastor- a non-charismatic one. I will grant her exception because she obviously comes from a different background than I do and will therefore use her experience as her base of operations. I do agree that many people have lost the sense of the presence of God but I don’t believe it is tied to the “baptism of the HS and speaking in ‘tongues’ .” It has as much to do with our lifestyles and yes, our worship, as anything. Our entertainment and “show” oriented (worship) gatherings often fail to lead us into God’s presence. I am not against music being energized by the HS but I am having a hard time when we take “secular” songs and play them in church (no names mentioned). I also feel we have dumb-downed the message so much that we have lost the awe of listening to God’s Word. I have so much more I want to say but this is already long. I do agree with her on one thing: the lifestyles of the rich-and-famous hucksters have done a lot of damage to the church’s perception in the world.

    • Bill –
      I’m not sure what you mean by, “I also feel we have dumb-downed the message so much that we have lost the awe of listening to God’s Word.” Its my experience there is little agreement as to exactly what that message is or should be. As a result, people shop churches until they find one with which, at least initially, they are comfortable attending based on the marketing of that church.

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