30 April 2006

New term: "dechurched"

In my wanderings today, I found myself at faithcommons, by linking to a comment bill made on another blog. Among his very good and thoughtful posts is this one: Who Will Speak Out For the Dechurched? He writes,
Jesus walked Palestine bringing a message of hope and deliverance to those left out of established religion. He went to them. Yes he called for repentance. But repentance is not defined as prostrating oneself to man-made theology. Repentance means to take a new direction. To turn around. To go a new way. That new way included giving up oneself for a new life transcendent. It requires me to give up my wants and desires for the love of God and others. I can not have my way, in this new life. No, I must conform to God's will. And God wills that all people return to him.

But few will find the way to him while those with the message of hope are fighting over theological turf. Few will see the Christ in the efforts of those who would sacrifice the good name of a brother or sister to protect their fiefdom. And many are those who will abandon the institutional church in disappointment, disillusionment, dismay and disgust. These are the dechurched.


This is the way that Mary Tuomi Hammond defines unchurched. (sic) (I think he means to write dechurched there.)

The word dechurched is hardly adequate in describing the variety of individuals in question. Any term that utilizes "church" as its root can easily be misunderstood due to the myriad of popular conceptions and definitions applied to it. Does the word dechurched include those who simply neglect to make time for public worship or those who drift away from Christianity out of disinterest and distraction? Does the term primarily refer to individuals who have left mainstream denominations due to serious concerns? Can one be considered dechurched by virtue of simply attending a church and leaving it, regardless of whether that person ever made a genuine commitment to a life of Christian discipleship?

With these very valid questions in mind, I wish to clarify my use of the word dechurched for the purposes of this book. I use this term to describe those who have lost a faith that they once valued or have left a body of believers with whom they were once deeply engaged. I limit my exploration further by focusing on those who have felt damaged and alienated amid this process. I cannot judge the authenticity or a person's prior experience with the Christian faith; I can only listen to the pain and disappointment, the questioning and confusion, the anger and even rage that the stories of the dechurched often embody.
With the risk of sounding melodramatic, I must say that the last sentence above affects me deeply; it breaks my heart. And that's why my own anger and even rage sometimes bubble over when I read the attacks of one professing Christian against another. These dechurched are the collateral damage of these battles for power. They, and those attacked, are the ones who suffer when church leaders fight among themselves and when they abuse their positions and pompous titles.

But who will stand and speak out for the unchurched and dechurched? Who will go beyond theological and denominational squabbles and continue the job that Jesus began? Who will lay aside their pride, put their trust in God rather than doctrine and dogma, and humble themselves for the good of others? And who will give up their human notions of worthiness and give up their pride for the unworthy? Who?
Reading his post is comforting even as it's convicting, because now I know I'm not the only one.

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