Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm a Done. And yet I'm not a Done.

I'm a Done.  And yet I'm not a Done.  "Dones" are the name given to a phenomenon occurring in the Christian church in the U.S. whereby mass numbers of mature congregants are saying "I'm done" and leaving their churches.  These are not selfish, disgruntled rebels (as they are sometimes portrayed by those still within the institutional borders) but rather are folks with long track records of ministry and service and leadership. 

The crisis that is currently taking place in Western Evangelical Christianity is that young adults are not entering the front doors of churches (they have come to be labeled as "the Nones"--meaning their religious affiliation is "none") while at the same time older people are leaving out the back door (or are simply aging out and shuffling off to retirement homes and the Great Hereafter).  Thus, the middle is shrinking.  Reasons for the rise of the Nones and the Dones have been well documented: They have found the institutional church to be increasingly irrelevant to their lives; they want to be part of an engaged and interactive community rather than members of a passive audience; they are sick of judgmentalism and exclusion; they question the efficacy of a church spending 85% of its budget on a building and pastoral salaries; they are disinterested in serving a human-made organizational  structure or the vision of an elite elevated (and sometimes narcissistic) few.

Actually, Carla and I became "Dones" about twelve years ago when, at the culmination of a long arc of disillusionment and disgust, we left the Vineyard church we were part of (and where I had become Associate Pastor) to explore the idea of doing a house-church that had no designated pastor, no salaries, no building expenses--and where everyone was encouraged to participate in ministry.  That house-church was a wonderful (and sometimes painful) learning experience.  

It was during those house-church years--as I read everything I could get my hands on in order to try to understand how to be the type of faith community that I had never seen modeled--that I became familiar with the writings of Quakers.  I discovered that their ethos and practice was remarkably similar to what we had been fumbling toward.  When the house-church ran its course, it was a no-brainer to join up with the Quakers.

But like marriage and parenthood, the romance wore off and the reality set in.  I found that Quakers could be maddeningly pedantic, fussy, passive-aggressive, tradition-bound and prone to the same power-plays that seem to plague any congregation of humans.  And yet, I also found the Quakers to be the closest thing I had encountered to the ideal of Christian community, where every voice is valued and ample space is made for God to move and speak.  I've thrown in my lot with the Q's--going so far as to spend the last couple of years studying at a Quaker seminary in order to earn a Master's degree in Theology with an emphasis in Quaker Studies--but I'm no longer under the illusion that they're the bees-knees.  I've watched in recent times as some Quaker organizations (called Yearly Meetings), including that one I belong to, have done utterly unQuakerly things in very unQuakerly ways.

And I'm done with that.  And with serving buildings and organizational structures and traditions and creeds (aka "covenantal documents," aka "Faith & Practice statements").  That stuff is not life-giving and I have no interest in any of it.

But I'm not done with being a Quaker.  I love the gentle, inclusive, caring, socially-engaged and deeply spiritual community that Quakers--when they're at their best--exemplify.  That
gives me something to aspire to.  I love that being part of a Quaker community opens me and humbles me and balances me.  I love that Quakerism gives me a solid theological base to stand upon, yet also fosters exploration and appreciation of other theological ideas.  I love that the Quaker emphasis on hearing the Holy Spirit directly, and faithfully following one's convictions--come what may--leads to a meaningful way of living in which one is impelled into active discipleship.   

I recall a country & western song from the 1970's called "Luckenbach, Texas" in which Waylon Jennings sang of getting "back to the basics of love."  I want to get back to the basics of being a Quaker and--since the original Quakers referred to their movement as "primitive Christianity revived"--back to the basics of being a follower of Jesus.  

But I'm done with all the other crap.


Blogger Unknown said...

Amen! April Vanlonden

5:47 AM  
Blogger Roy L. said...

I believe the "Done" philosophy is from those who are in tune with the Quaker movement but like many of those in our instant gratification, have it your way world, are disappointed, offended and can never commit fully. The grass will always be greener on the other side, somewhere else because of other people, other organizations or even our own opinions.

I don't know that being a quaker means that we always do it right or don't ever fail, not as individuals or as an organized community. I don't ever remember Jesus saying that He was done because he didn't have it His way. He knew we would all fail and continue to fail as people and that we would still be stronger and able to do more, serve more, and love more as a community, the church.

I understand the frustration, the limitations and difficulties that come with community and how it operates as an organization that will never be fully able to please everyone. It's sad to me that those who choose to be "Done" have truly forgotten what it means to serve not only those in the world with all their imperfections and injustice, but to give the same love, respect, mercy, grace and willingness to sacrifice to those in their own communit of faith.

To be "Done" is to be finished, to quit, to surrender.
So you want to continue to believe in the basis of the Quaker faith but want to be done with the "Crap" of putting it into action in community because you do not like the way the organized community of your yearly meeting is going. Alright. You are free to do so.

I am sure your Yearly Meeting, as mine does, has a group of elders and others working through the process of discernment and are being led by the sprint to lead it's community. If you are no longer in tune with the community, the leadership or the organization of that yearly meeting then I would agree with you that you should move on, as I am certain through your quaker foundation and trust in the process of discernment that the community should not transform is existence to please you.

The process of being a follower of Jesus and getting back to the basis of primitive Christianity is the same. Love the a Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. They will know that you are my diciples by the way you love one another. That's what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman said...

Hi RoyL,

May I recommend a book? The title is
Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith by by Josh Packard Ph.D & Ashleigh Hope. Here is the Amazon URL:

It may provide you with a clearer understanding of the phenomena of "the Dones."

9:29 AM  
Blogger Peggy Senger Morrison said...

Thanks for this really well thought out and written post, Danny. I too am Done with institutional bullshit, and I am the pastor emeritus and present church treasurer of Freedom Friends Church.

The yearly meetings will either crank down the BS meter, or they will die.

FFC is a beautiful place with an extremely low level of institution, and a default setting of grace. Its not the bees knees, and some people have walked away disappointed, but more have either found a home, or a model, or have walked away from the guilt that made them feel like they owed church attendance to God. Which they do not.

If it were not for FFC, I would be completely done, and happy to be a god-following non church attender myself.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman said...

I love Freedom Friends Church and have often remarked that the Faith & Practice statement from FFC is the best I've ever encountered. :)

5:03 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

What I think I'm finding -- and think you're talking about -- is letting go of a commitment to a group where I'm neither being served nor being of service, moving myself (for now) to another Meeting where I hope to be of more use. Trying to make the bunch I'd started with into something else -- was probably a good challenge for me and them; but it doesn't feel like anything I'm still called to, at least for now.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow Danny,

You sound just like Friends in my Quaker meeting, Midlothian Friends Meeting, in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. We belong to a liberal Quaker Yearly Meeting - Baltimore Yearly Meeting (don't let the dual association with FUM and FGC fool you) - that is wonderful to its constituent meetings. The yearly meeting encourages local meetings to find their own journey as a spiritual community and to also bring their experiences to the yearly meeting. Granted, we are liberal Quakers. But don't let that scare you! My meeting understands that the underpinning of Quaker faith and practice is Jesus' teachings of love, forgiveness, and compassion and we worship and serve in the spirit of those teachings. Among us we have all kinds interests: Christianity, Buddhism, non-deism, Taoism, Hinduism, and yes - Dones and Nones. Yet, we have a spiritual unity in that "Love that surpasses all understanding". There's not much respect for labels among us because labels keep us from relating to the Spirit within each person.

I think non liberal Yearly Meetings would do well to model themselves after liberal yearly meetings for the ensuing twenty-first century - if they are to survive. These liberal yearly meetings serve their constituent meetings, rather than control, monitor, or manipulate them. And they would never dictate to a local meeting how they should operate. For our meeting, the yearly meeting is a vital link to sharing our Quaker faith with other meetings. Together, we are on the journey (to quote William Penn) "to see what love can do".

11:49 AM  
Blogger Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman said...

Thank you Friend Howard for your thoughtful comment. I agree very much with your thought in the second paragraph that "non liberal Yearly Meetings would do well to model themselves after liberal yearly meetings for the ensuing twenty-first century - if they are to survive." In this post-modern age in which disintermediation is the trend, centralized "top-down" authority structures are increasingly inappropriate and ineffective.

In their bestselling business book The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom describe the difference between a centralized (spider) organization and a decentralized (starfish) movement. They cite historical Quakers as an example of the latter and describe how that "bottom-up" authority structure--where the discerned conviction of the individual and local meeting shaped the larger organizational ethos (not vice-versa) made the Quakers very effective in having a positive impact on popular culture (for example in the abolition of slavery) despite their relatively small numbers.

The top-down "covenantal" approach in Evangelical Yearly Meetings--and the inherent rigidity that it leads to--will, I think, result increasingly in their diminishment, if not outright demise.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I appreciate what you say. I left institutional Quakerism a decade ago, after 4 decades of involvement. I joined an "emerging church" congregation with a lot of good in it, but eventually felt that I could no longer be in a church with the pattern of a paid pastor up front and an audience. Now I attend an ecumenical church wifh a shared leadership model instead of a paid pastor. I am also active in Friends of Jesus Fellowship, which is on the fringes of Quakerism seeking to be open to the Spirit and to draw not just from one tradition; willing to be free from institutional constraints to explore creative ways of spreading the Gospel. So I am in some ways a Done and some ways not.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Bill Rushby said...

Thanks for exploring a very interesting subject! The books, *Church Refugees* and *The Starfish and the Spider*, highlight issues Friends need to think about and confront in an honest way.

I am less enamored of the diagnoses and remedial strategies you, Howard and Peggy have proposed. I doubt very seriously that liberal yearly meetings excel in decentralization; the larger yms such as Philadelphia and New York seem to be burdened by crippling bureaucracies, and their long-term viability looks much more problermatic than Howard imagines. The liberal Friends seem to be losing focus spiritually, and their connection with the Quaker heritage seems increasingly tenuous.

As I observe the more evangelical yearly meetings, I see more flexibility and much more mission-focused organizational structures than you suggest in your essay. Whether these yearly meetings will thrive is an open question but, if they shrivel and die, it won't be because they are stagnant!

The third group of yearly meetings, the Conservatives, have a unique set of problems. I think they excel in shooting themselves, and each other, in the foot! I have examined their situation in my recent QRT essay on the subject.

In any case, you have succeeded in adding two more books to my list of "must-reads"!!! My final word of wisdom; digest Roy L.'s comments and keep on truckin!!

9:09 AM  
Blogger Daniel P. (Danny) Coleman said...

Thanks for contributing this perspective Bill!

10:24 AM  
Blogger Micah Bales said...

Thanks for this, Danny. Sounds about right to me!

6:43 AM  

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