By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion....
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
(Psalm 137: 1, 4. 21st Century King James Version,,, or was it Boney M?)

Psalm 137 a picture of utter disorientation. Worship in the temple is a thing of the past.

How could these Exiles be the people of God away from the temple, away from the rituals, away from the songs of worship, away from the place where the presence of God was promised to dwell? Should they forget the LORD and simply dissolve into the world of the Babylonians? Was it all too hard? How could they be the people of God in a strange place?

Of course, something profound happened among God’s people in the exile to Babylon. Over time they discovered a new way to be the people of God away from Jerusalem, away from the ruined temple, and outside of the sacrificial system of temple worship. The formation of the synagogue system, that have in one form or another has kept Judaism alive for millennia, occurred in the bitter crucible of the Exile experience.

There is an exile phenomenon in our midst today. Institutional churches in Australia of various stripes have a huge “back door”... the statistics tell a story of a massive drift from churches to... who knows where?

Anecdotally, this drift is for a whole host of reasons. Some people leave for very positive reasons... a sense of call to operate in organic missional forms of Christian gatherings... informal groups that fly under the statistical radar.

Some drift from church because of relocation for work or study reasons. Some drift slowly away as priorities shift, or as unresolved doubts fester, or because of a vague but growing sense of unease about their church.

Some leave churches for far darker and traumatic reasons. “Church discipline” and excommunication, unresolved conflict, burnout, getting “frozen out”, profound disappointment, spiritual abuse, and social ostracisation for a host of reasons (too loud, too quiet, too non conformist, too single in a “family” church, too young in an old church, too old in a young church, too female in a patriarchal church, wrong sexual orientation, wrong dress sense, wrong job status... whatever).

Whatever the reason for church exile, many people leave the institutional church... but not the faith. Something of Jesus remains “under their skin”. Regardless of doubts and disappointments, they still believe following the teaching of Jesus still makes the world a better place. Regardless of a crisis of confidence in an institution, the Spirit of God continues to whisper into their hearts and minds and consciences. Despite everything, the spiritual side of their lives continues to matter. But how can they be the people of God away from the temple?

What do you think is the reason for the “Exile” phenomenon.... and what is God up to here?


Yay Janet! This is great stuff. It is so refreshing to hear someone who is not afraid to ask the hard questions and talk about uncomfortable truths.

I have been wondering the same thing - ie why so many leave the church, but not the faith. At least it illustrates the powerful force God is in people's lives. They know God is the real deal, even if they are not so sure about the church.

One thing I have observed is that many church cultures today seem to expect eveyone to conform to a certain personality type. If God had intended us all to be the same, we would all be like clones! Yet, if a person does not have the 'right personality' they are assumed to be an unbeliever. God calls us to be ourselves, but the church wants us to fit a certain profile. It's a soul-rending tug-of-war.

How does the church end up with this kind of culture? In a nutshell, I think it has to do with primary focus. If leadership is focussed on the grand vision for the church, people get abused. If the focus is on the people, the church functions as it should. I am over-simplifying a little, but to explain this fully would be another blog.
Janet Woodlock said…
Well Amanda, it sounds like a worthy topic for another blog thread!

I've been mulling over the issue of leadership and power lately... Jesus models an empowering style of leadership that gives authority away. Think Luke 9 where he gave the 12 authority, then Luke 10 where he gave the 72 authority, then Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18 where he gave his authority to all believers.

So healthy leadership to me is empowering... equipping others to be all God is calling them to be.

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that "CEO-style church" is simply not the Jesus way at all. For the sake of church unity, I don't wish to carry on about this or be legalistic... but it would take some persuading to convince me that the one grand leader with the vision from God is the way Jesus intended His church to be. In fact, quite the opposite... I think the church should be far more organic and diverse than that!

I think we kind of know this in our bones somewhere... which is why mega churches with CEO-style pastors have a huge back door. Sigh... maybe I'll write some more about this soon...
espanola said…
Hey Janet.

This is well expressed, and still a crucial issue for churches and Christ-followers. I say 'still' because though the issue of the big back door has been around for a while, there haven't been enough genuine responses to it by churches with the resources to do something.

Alan Jamieson, a kiwi sociologist, did a PhD on this in 2000 and published it as a book called 'A Churchless Faith: Faith journeys beyond evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches'. He is pastor of Wellington Central Baptist I think, and that church was assisting those who leave churches. Dunno how it's going there now, but the book is a careful academic study of those who 'leave'. He talks about 'leaver-sensitive churches'!

Jamieson uses Fowler's six stages of faith and Charles McCollough's "Heads of Heaven; Feet of Clay", and looks at what happens to people at each stage. He finds four responses: disillusioned followers, reflective exiles, transitional explorers and integrated wayfinders.

Have a read, see what you think...

con mucha amor
Janet Woodlock said…
Wow Espanola, thanks for your thoughtful response. I'd love to read that... actually my boss (team leader!) gave me an extract of that very book yesterday. I haven't read it yet... I have to devote myself to Greek exercises for a couple of days (some people have all the fun!)

I'm familiar with Fowler's book... haven't heard of Charles McCulloch's book, but I like the title already! Thanks!
Crazy Seraph said…
"leaver-sensitive churches" - I like that! In fact, if the good Dr Jamieson doesn't mind, I would love to use it! It could really catch on! :-D
espanola said…
What happens to those who leave churches? Well, sometimes there is a situation of spiritual abuse, where the person leaves with a sense of guilt and shame. What is spiritual abuse? I found this on the Peacemakers Today website:

"The term Spiritual Abuse as used in this website is referring to the manipulation and exploitation of others by the misuse of spiritual privilege and power. In a more expanded form, it is one person or group of people, getting another or others to do something against their will, using their love and devotion to God and Jesus in some manipulative kind of way. Invariably there is involved a ripping away from an individual/s something incredibly precious in their walk with Jesus, leaving them hurt and wounded."

On the same site, a self confessed perpetrator of spiritual abuse explains:

'Through the situation I started to admit to myself that I had been, as a lay leader in the leadership's "inner circle", part of an abusive system which supported the leadership whatever they did, and which regarded any differing view from the board of management as rebellion against God and his Spirit. This meant that many, many people over years have been leaving - seen as having tried to "lay a hand on the Lord's anointed" (ie the leaders). In every case, we the leadership group would close ranks and in the name of Jesus, would not divulge to anyone the differing views of policies or theology or whatever. As has happened in other abuse cases, the victims walked away "protected", but "with their wounds unattended, little or no love shown, and with shame heaped on them like a mountain." I soon saw what it was like to go from being a friend in the inner circle to being disposed of because I too was now seen as the enemy's instrument.

Those of us in the past who thought they were "protecting" the leader from criticism and the enemy's lies were actually accessories to abuse. Like a fearful wife who shuts her eyes to the physical abuse suffered by her children. But we were self righteous in our silence and in our keeping others out of fellowship. For this I have sought the Lord's forgiveness and know his peace.'

Maybe some of your readers, Janet, know what this is about...
Janet Woodlock said…
Wow Espanola... that's very powerful.

"regarded any differing view from the board of management as rebellion against God and his Spirit"... It seems to me that church practices on one level drill down to theology... our "real" theology, as opposed to the stuff we might say...

For we might say that Jesus is Lord, and that the Spirit brings liberty, and that God gives the Spirit freely to all believers, and that all are called to grow up into maturity in Christ. But the church with this kind of "theology of leadership" contradicts those messages on so many levels.

It's awful stuff.... very sobering.

Thanks for sharing these insights.

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