In One Hundred Words or Less: A post-institutional Christians describes the shape of his spiritual life, the phenomenon of the “Dones”, his critiques of the current institutional forms of Christianity, and gives advice to those who are staying and those who are leaving.

  Who Should Read It: Christians Who Have Left, Are Leaving, or Are Staying in their Institutions

  How Long?: A very quick 160 pages.

Wayne Jacobsen lays out his thesis in the beginning of the very first chapter.

One of the best-kept secrets of the faith is that you don’t have to be committed to a local congregation to live out a transforming relationship with Jesus, to experience the wonder of Christian community, or to find meaningful ways to extend his kingdom in the world. But, of course, our religious institutions have a vested interest in keeping this secret.

What follows is an easily digestible 101 guide to post-institutional Christian spirituality from someone who has followed Jesus both inside and outside of institutional contexts.

Wayne runs succinctly through the most common post-institutional critiques of institutional Christianity, writing in particular about how dominant Christian structures harm the spirits of those who participate in them. He especialy points out the spiritual shortcomings of the Sunday Morning Worship/Professional Clergy model that is prevalent in most American churches.

In his chapter, “Have We Overplayed the Sermon Card”, he writes

Looking back over the Gospels, I’m amazed at how few sermons he [Jesus] actually gave, and even when he did, how little impact it had on those who listened…He simply talked to whomever he was with…He talked about his Father’s kingdom and how they could embrace. He wasn’t teaching doctrine, ethics, or rituals, but helping people discover how to live with God inside the reality of their own challenges. It was no wonder the most transformative moments came in personal conversations and why our preoccupation with sermons, seminars, and classes produces a Christianity that some complain is a mile wide but only an inch deep.

He’s also clear that these shortcomings don’t give the people who leave an excuse to be jerks. Wayne spends much of the book advising people on how to leave their current churches graciously and “avoid drawing the hard line.” He writes,

If people ask where you’ve been, instead of telling them you’ve left the Institutional Church never to return again, think again. That may be how you feel today, but grace is best tasted with daily bites. You may feel the need to leave now, but you don’t know where this journey will take you or how God might lead you down the road.

All of this concrete, straightforward advice is tempered by a gentle generosity. Wayne tempers his pointed critiques by acknowledging that people can still follow Jesus within traditional religious institutions and by constantly expressing compassion for those who can get stuck within them.

This gentleness makes it easier to engage with the often disturbing challenge that the book presents to readers who are very invested in their institutional religious contexts. Because this book is not meant to be a systemic critique of institutional Christianity or a systemic defense of post-institutional Christianity, it means that some of his most provocative chapters last just three or four pages, which may leave you feeling that the conversation is incomplete. (Knowing Wayne, he’d probably be happy to pick it up with you personally.)

So, if you are one of those institutional folks who is feeling a little defensive after just reading this review, a couple suggestions for reading his book. Rather than reading this book with the intent of being convinced (or arguing with him), read it with a spirit of curiosity, assume that Wayne’s faith has integrity, and listen for how the Spirit might be calling you to be more faithful, no matter what context you find yourself in.

In the end, this is what it’s all about anyway. Wayne calls us, regardless of our context, to better inhabit whatever tradition we are a part of, to gain enough critical distance to understood the dark side of our religious traditions, and therefore to be more faithful, no matter whether our journey takes us regularly through the doors of a church building to worship on Sunday morning or not.

For more about Wayne’s journey, his experience of being a post-institutional Christian, and his critiques and invitations for Christians of all types, check out my interview with Wayne by clicking here or by subscribing to “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” wherever you get your podcasts.

Three reasons why you should listen to my conversation with Rachel Barenblat (who, by the way, is one of my absolute favorite people.)

1) She’s a calm, deeply grounded presence. If you’re panicked about all the change going on in our country right now, she’ll help you take a deep breath.

2) If you’re particularly anxious about Christian institutional decline, she speaks specifically to our concerns about: worship attendance, money, and graying congregations.

3) If you want a look at how a non-Christian tradition is teaching its young people to “shape the tradition with their own hands.”

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My conversation with Beth Ann Estock is now live as we begin Season Three of Reports from the Spiritual Frontier! A few particular reasons you might want to listen to this episode:

1) If you want a really honest look at what my 2017 was like, especially talking about my illness and decision to turn in my local pastor’s license.

2) Beth and I spend a lot of time talking about the unique dynamics and spiritual pressures of supervising a religious entrepreneur. If you’re a judicatory official (e.g. district superintendent, congregational developer, etc.), you’ll find it a very helpful listen. (And, if you’re a planter, you might find it helpful to send along to the person supervising you!)

3) If you like Larry DugginsElaine Heath, the Missional Wisdom FoundationRevSean SteeleSt. Isidore Episcopal, or Path 1 New Church Starts at Discipleship Ministries, who all get references *a lot* in the first twenty minutes of the episode.

And, of course, if you like what you hear, you’ll make this podcaster *very* happy if you can share this episode with your friends!


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Twice a year, I try to check in with you all about how my podcast, “Reports from the Spiritual Frontier” is going.  (My last update is here.)  A lot has changed in my life since I last wrote to you all in June. I left two jobs due to my illness, my health finally turned a corner in November, I turned in my local pastor’s license in December, and I find myself in the exciting and painful process of re-evaluating my vocational future.

As I look back at the start of this podcast in 2016, I realize that this podcast began because my career-obsessed, “Must Make a Difference!” self was desperately reaching for something to anchor its ego to. That doesn’t mean that the podcast hasn’t born fruit, hasn’t brought me joy, and can’t be joyful and life-giving for me in the future, but it does mean that I have to discern carefully about whether this is something that I need to embrace or set down as I head into the next phase of my life.

In short, season three is make or break for this little podcasting project. I’ll be working harder than I ever have to make this podcast truly spectacular and get the word out. I’ll also be listening carefully for the voice of God – both in my own personal experience of producing and promoting this podcast, and in the response of my audience to see if my efforts are bearing fruit or not.

With all that in mind, here’s my response to those questions I began this project with.

1) Am I having fun?

The interview process – yes. My conversations with these practitioners and saints-in-the-making are  the most holy moments of my week. I feel that we are beginning to map the spiritual topography of the church that is yet-to-come and that is a beautiful privilege.

The promotion – nope, not at all. (Other than my truly excellent partnership with Path1 (who has re-upped for another year!).) My ego is far too attached to the numbers (more on those in a minute), to the guests, and to my attempts at forming community and partnerships.

I also had half a dozen guests say “Yes” to coming on the show, and then not show up, often at the last minute, which blew my posting schedule to hell three times this last year. I didn’t have that problem in season one, so this was a particularly unpleasant surprise.

2) Is it sustainable?

This is the key question. This is becoming more of a tight fit financially for me, especially as I left two jobs this last year due to my health. As I mentionedbefore, I love the conversations, but have had a really difficult time with promotion, which often feels like I’m just shouting cheerfully into a void.

3) Is it making a difference?

About those stats: after huge growth in the summer, my numbers dropped precipitously in the fall, down to about what they were at the beginning of the year. I don’t know why. It might be how my health impacted my posting schedule. It might be switching days. It might have been one partner no longer running me in their newsletter. It could be something else entirely-  my current podcast stats package is intentionally obtuse in , so I’m switching to a different host, so I can hopefully pinpoint better what’s working and what’s not. (Still, I had did have 2000 listens my first year, and 13000 my second, so I’m probably more worried about this than I should be. At worst, my audience tripled this year, so that’s not bad.)

I’ve had a difficult time engaging my audience, with a few notable exceptions. My requests for conversations, suggestions, and feedback have all gone entirely unheeded, (I even offered to send anyone who sent me a note a dozen home-baked cookies, to absolutely no avail.)

I’ll be watching this A LOT this next year – I don’t need this project to fuel my own ego anymore, I need to see that it’s making a tangible difference in the lives of my listeners.

4) Am I learning?

My proficiency conducting interviews and editing episodes is at an all-time high – I can now conduct a good interview in an hour and then edit/post/promote in two, while feeling good about what I’m doing. It took me FIFTEEN hours to post an interview at the beginning of season one, and eight hours to post a new interview at the beginning of season two, so this is meaningful progress.


A church is a disciplined community following Jesus together.

How do you know whether you’re doing this or just playing a religious game?

By the measurable, tangible fruits of your community. (Fruit is *not* growing worship attendance or bigger budgets, btw, it’s this, and this, et al.)

And now, for a supremely important corollary:

If you read this statement, and you’re part of a poor, marginalized community, please start with the assumption that you’re already doing this.

If you read this statement, and you’re part of a powerful, privileged community (yes, all ye white middle class people, I’m looking at you), please start with the assumption that you’re already *not* doing this.

“Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”

I’m currently reading “A Testament of Devotion” by Quaker writer Thomas Kelly and I’m struck by how the farther you progress in the spiritual life, the less mystical it becomes. The idea of God speaking to us only seems miraculous when you’re starting your spiritual journey, because as you deepen your spiritual life, the active experience of the indwelling as God becomes as prosaically concrete as any other daily activity. Hearing God’s voice becomes no more miraculous than making your grocery list.

The only reason why we think of hearing God’s voice as some sort of blazing, neon-sign-in-the-night miracle is because we have learned to live dis-integrated lives, secular and sacred, times of prayer and times of work, spiritual disciplines versus physical disciplines versus disciplines of self-care, and so on. As we grow, we learn that *all* of it is part of one glorious whole; all subsumed within the love of God.

(And like all worthwhile projects, re-integrating our lives takes lots of hard, disciplined work over decades before we start to see our interior lives begin to reorder.)

I turned in my local pastor license this week. For those of you who don’t know, this license was what allowed me to work as a pastor a United Methodist Church, perform the Sacraments, and otherwise keep the possibility of returning to the professional clergy open for the future. (I started pursuing this process when I was sixteen, so closing the door on this held pretty weighty symbolic significance.)

For those of you who are interested, here’s what I wrote my supervising committee when I turned in my license.

Dear Members of the Tri-State DCOM,

I’m writing to inform you that I will be turning in my local pastor’s license. While I have grown much from sixteen-plus years actively engaged in this process, it has become clear, after much prayer and discernment, that pastoral ministry no longer fits the shape of my spirit.

Part of this is due to my deep concerns about the way that we structure our lives together as United Methodists. I hold largely unresolvable concerns about the way we select denominational leaders and discern about our shared life together, the spiritually imperialistic ways we have taught our churches to focus primarily on institutional survival, and the way that our systems often make the people who are part of them far less kind, joyful, and generous than they might be otherwise. More personally, I also no longer believe in the authority of our denomination to ordain nor that professional pastoral ministry is a faithful way for most American churches to organize their lives together.

However, more importantly than this is the journey that God has taken me on since our church plant closed in Haverhill in 2014. I’ve come to realize that I am frequently the worst version of myself when I’m functioning in a pastoral role, that my personal over-identification with professional ministry has led to some of my worst decisions and deepest hard-heartedness, and that my ministry has often not born the fruits of the spirit within me that I would identify with true vocation.  In short, for me, stepping into my calling to follow Jesus also means stepping out of a calling to be a religious professional.

I write this letter in deep gratitude to all of you. I have been blessed with many mentors, faithful district superintendents, and compassionate DCOM’s throughout my journey. You all have given me the freedom to be able to work out God’s call in my life with greater joy and passion than I would have been able to otherwise. For me, that indeed has been a great gift.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. May God bless each of you in the season that is to come.

In Christ,

Ben Yosua-Davis

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #15.

“It was more than a simple sum of the games.  Sunday afternoon was my truest Sabbath time. In the midst of a stressful, overloaded college experience, I got to come home, go to worship, and then laze on the couch for the rest of the day, eating ice cream (my family’s drug of choice), spending time with my family (and my future wife), while alternately napping and watching football until I went to bed.

While working in an inner-city neighborhood out of grad school, soul-to-soul with heartbreak every week, it was the one time during the week, I could sit, yell, cathart like hell, and simply be.  Football was my Sabbath in the truest sense…”

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #13.

If we have any sort of accepted societal doctrine, it’s contained in those pithy little affirmations: “Make something of yourself.” or “Make a difference in the world”, always combined with an awfully poisonous statement ,”You can do anything you try.” And so, bound by unlimited expectations and supposed unlimited possibilities, we are trapped in a place where the goal posts will forever be moved just out of reach,no matter how hard we try.

If we ever got to the place where all our efforts would be enough,where the ruthlessly optimistic gods of our culture would finally be satisfied with the sacrifice that we lay upon their altar, then we are also reminded that ,for most of us,our good intentions will be swallowed up in the greater systems of suffering and injustice, or in the senseless suffering of people whose lives we could never hope to change, or simply swallowed up in the eventual heat death of the universe.

In the end, none of it will ever really matter.  All the wisdom,life hacks, strategic planning,bold dreams,worthy aspirations, and daring disruptions,will prove no more enduring than a breath of fog on a fall morning. Or, as an ancient writer once put it, “Vanity of vanity! All is vanity!”

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