The Jaded Driven Church: Re-Introducing People to God & His Church

Some churches are seeker-driven. A growing number are purpose-driven. But one church in Denver, Colorado has positioned itself as jaded-driven. Dave Terpstra, teaching pastor of The Next Level Church, shares how his own disillusionment with ministry made him question the wisdom of targeting the unchurched rather than pursuing the increasing number of church dropouts, like himself, filling our culture.

C.S. Lewis once said, "One courts a virgin differently than a divorc?," (or something along these lines; I've had trouble tracking the exact quote). Even back in the mid 20th century, Lewis recognized that reaching people with a jaded perspective of the church (divorc?s) would require a different strategy than reaching those without any church experience to begin with (virgins).

Certainly there are still some in our culture who are "church virgins," but it seems increasingly more common to find people who have had some church experience or interaction with the Christian sub-culture that has left them jaded. The dominance of Christian media, marketing, and political influence in recent years has only increased this likelihood.

By now we're all familiar with Willow Creek's mission statement: "to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." Clearly, they are trying to reach the irreligious church virgins. The question is, how long before there is no one left who is "irreligious" or "unchurched"? I'm not suggesting that every American is actually religious and churched. Instead, I'm suggesting that whether they have attended a church or not, most Americans have formed an opinion about Christianity, and are far more jaded toward the church than we might want to admit.

So, is it wise to continue wandering the countryside in search of the increasingly rare church virgin, or should we be finding strategies to reach the herds of church divorc?s roaming our culture? At The Next Level Church we have chosen to go after those who are jaded, not only because of their number, but because most of us in leadership were in that place not too long ago.

During my first year at seminary, I successfully blew up two youth groups. I couldn't get along with the pastors of the churches I was serving, and it was messy. I can't in a few words describe my pain and shame about those failures. Despite bearing some of the responsibility myself, the experience left me with a jaded perspective of the church and its leaders. Deciding to leave the church altogether, a mentor and friend recommended that I attend a church instead of work at one. He connected me with TNL (The Next Level Church).

December 05, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments

David Marshall

December 28, 2005  1:20pm

I would think that those of us in the Church are probably some of the most wounded and disillusioned of our culture. That's why we're there, to seek healing, restoration, and hope. We realize our own broken-ness. The world tells us we're "disfunctional" but God says "I made you, and I have a plan for you - I don't make no junk.". Thankfully, it is Christ himself (not my fallible, hypocritical, self-seeking pastor) who is the author and finisher of my faith. I remember one of the first warnings I received years ago as an young Christian, "don't put your faith in man, the pastor, or the guy up front speaking - he'll only let you down. Put your faith in Christ." The evangelical church has put a lot of emphasis on the "salvation experience". It's almost as if, once I've got my ticket into heaven, that's it... we're done! Go forth and be a good person. Go forth, and ya know, read your bible or something." I wonder if some of the disillusion we are seeing is a symptom of this over-emphasis. ("All they care about is getting more people in the door and bringing in enough cash to support the ministry of bringing more people in the door.") I'm not at all suggesting that we not be evangelical. However, the purpose of the church is not to "make converts". The purpose of the church is to "make disciples". This implies a much longer (life-long) process of growth, maturity, and transformation toward understanding the perfect will of God for our lives. And we really do need each other in this process. We need Christian community. There's a reason it's called the Family of God. I really appreciate the concept brought forth in this discussion about being "leaver-sensitive" as well as "seeker-sensitive". If only 1% of my flock wanders off, how much energy do I spend going after them to find them? WWJD? Do I create an environment where it is okay to tell me how you really feel? Will I accept you even if you are really ticked at me right now? Do you trust me? Do I really have a 1 Corinthians 12 mindset about you? Or are you just another one of the trouble-makers who we can afford to lose? Father, may we be one, as you are One. May you work a miracle of unity into our fractured church families and may the evidence of that Work draw all men unto Yourself.

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Paul Cleveland

December 21, 2005  11:02pm

Thank you for posting these thoughts about church divorcés. When I was a full time pastor, I became very aware of the number of people who had a poor opinion of churches. Here in the Southeast, almost everyone I encountered had some sort of church experience. Very few were church virgins. Some expressed personal faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, but many did not. I tried hard to minister sensitively to these church divorcés. However, most never became active in church, or, if they did, soon went somewhere else. Efforts to enlist church leaders to improve programs, to develop new leaders, and to reach out to these divorcés usually proved fruitless. I often felt that other church leaders saw no problem with the way things were and were quite satisfied with who we had. I think the church divorcés sensed that attitude, too. My family and I are now church divorcés. After ten years in vocational ministry, eight and half in full time pastorates, we are now without a church family. We have tried hard for the past year and a half to find a church in our community where our family can worship and serve the Lord. We joined a church because it was the only place where our teenagers felt accepted, but our family doesn't really fit in. Seeing the church from the outside is a different perspective. Have churches in America lost their focus on the kingdom of God? With so much spiritual hunger in our nation, where can people go to receive the Bread of Life? Is there such a thing as a healthy, kingdom focused church?

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Dave Terpstra

December 10, 2005  10:18pm

Chuck: What an amazing thought: Jews and Gentiles! I'm definitely going to use that sometime.

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December 08, 2005  4:22am

By default, our church's unstated purpose since it started 10 years ago has been "to help heal the prodigal's." Often, we have dreamed, and prayed for that influx of new, healthy babies, and God just keeps on sending us bitter, hurt and wounded half-formed children. It's been bitter-sweet, seeing these people heal and return to the minitries or churchs that God has called them to in the first place.

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December 08, 2005  12:11am

Good post, Dave. We've seen this in our church as well. My friend is particularly adept at coming alongside and ministering to those who have been deeply hurt by abuses in the church, while I tend to work with folks who are brand-new believers and have had little to no experience with biblical Christianity. We sometimes joke that his ministry is to "the Jews" (the "churched") while mine is to "the Gentiles" (the "unchurched"). I think that recognizing that the church has an obligation to both groups will help us from becoming unbalanced in our ministries.

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December 07, 2005  10:03am

Very interesting. Maybe we can stop feeling guilty when some of our growth isn't the purely "unchurched" but restoration of the wounded and disillusioned. I wonder if most of what we call seekers are actually divorcés who are cautiously trying to get back into the pool, one toe at a time.

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December 05, 2005  12:03pm

I forget who said it to me, but they called this the leaver sensitive church. The point was that there are more people who have left the church for various reasons than those who are new to it and seeking it. I think it's good for us to remember this.

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December 05, 2005  11:42am

As I share bthe Gospel with people, I have found there are two main reasons why people become jaded toward the church. 1-They are uncomfortable with what God's Word says about themselves. Admitting that one is a sinner is a very difficult thing for most people. In order to accept the the gift of salvation, one must realize the need for salvation. 2-They have heard but not experienced negative things about the Church and simply believe what they have heard. Mostly broad negative, baseless, characterizations about the Church and Christians, like the ones often expressed in this forum.

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Larry Baden

December 05, 2005  10:53am

Interesting approach. I am familiar with TNL, as I used to teach as a university from which they drew many young people. However, I wonder about the assumption that "irreligious people" are all "virgins." I am certain that there are a great many people in the churches who are far from being fully committed followers of Christ. It was true of my students, and it is true of every church. If we make too much of this virgin/divorce distinction, we miss those who are right under our noses. It really is true, but often overlooked, that going to church – even regularly – does not mean we have a real relationship with our God.

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tim dunbar

December 05, 2005  9:06am

Great points, Dave. I too believe that most people in our culture have already formed a view of Christianity, accurate or not. Sadly, the answer to the survey question of "What do you think of evangelical Christians?" often brings this answer: "Oh, those are the people who are against abortion and homosexuality." It is our job as a church to show them the fullness of the reality of God's Kingdom. As far as being jaded, I think the trick is to not let our own experiences drive us to do the same to others. I know of some who were burned by the church and have vowed never again to let the specifics of what happened to them happen to someone else. Unfortunately, it is not just the specifics of what happened but also the spirit behind it that left a bad taste in their mouth. That leaves us with some tough choices. For example, at my church, many have a distaste for the way other churches have handled the topic of money. Becaue of this, we go out of our way to not pass the plate but rather give an open invitation to continue worshipping by placing an offering at selected stations around the church. Still, that outward change would be meaningless if our inward attitude was one of greed. This is just an example of the fine line that we walk - exhorting the congregation to give as an act of worship without placing undue pressure on them to empty their pockets. Hope this contributes to the discussion.

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