I wrote an article last week about the reasons why we gather as a community (and also about some of things Sundays are not intended to be). Today, as a follow-up, I want to go a little further down that path.
I grew up in a moderately traditional Southern Baptist church in Alabama. There were some incredibly devoted people there. Some of them who today have become extremely valuable influences for me. But there were some who seemed to only come on Sundays out of respect for a ritual. At the time I pegged this a condition of the teaching of the church that didn’t challenge its people toward a life of devotion to Christ and His Church. I am confessing to you today that my indictment was off.
I’ve seen this epidemic in every single church I’ve served over the last decade. I’m wondering now if this is a condition of the individual rather than a flaw in denominational doctrines or practices. Even in the Deep South Bible Belt where religion and religious activity are marks of honor and duty, there’s a subterraneous belief that the church is nothing more than a civic club. Unfortunately we, as followers of Christ and overseers of His Church, have done little in the last few years to help accurately portray what Christ desires of the Church in these days.
The American Church especially is suffering from an identity crisis.
We’ve tried so hard to be appealing to the masses that I fear we’re becoming background noise in a post-Christian culture. Where I live in Western North Carolina there are just over 415,000 people. Of those, more than 190,000 people do not associate with any religious organization. Forty-six percent (46%) of our friends and neighbors (almost 1 in 2) don’t affiliate with our church or any other church in the area. In a lot of ways, I fear it may be that we don’t know who we are. To rediscover this, sometimes it is helpful to know what we are not. These may sound like some really bad marketing strategies for a church, but hear me out.
A few things the Church is NOT…
- The Church is not a community service organization.
- She is not a charity.
- The Church does not exist to serve your needs.
Community Service Organization
While the local churches do well when we get involved in community service to help make our towns and neighborhoods better places to live, this is not the thrust of the Church. We must always give preference to retelling the Gospel in every way imaginable. We believe that God has called us to live in, to be an active contributor to, and to serve our communities in a variety of ways. But if we neglect to tell the story of Redemption within the context of our good deeds we are merely good people doing something nice for someone.
Not A Charity
Certainly with regard to taxes, your donations to a local church are classified as ‘charitable giving’ but that’s about as far as it goes. If one day our government decided to stop giving you credit for your donations, the Church would still continue to be the Church. Jesus taught us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The IRS doesn’t owe Christians a tax-break just because we’re Christians. Caesar still gets his part independent of what we give to God. So, yes… give to the church. Give lots. Give lavishly. But stop hoping that Caesar will take care of you and trust the LORD. Proverbs 19 tells us that he who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD and He will repay you.
Services Sector Corporation
A lot of our gatherings are full of the best-of-the-best when it comes to public speakers, musicians, creative artists, and even culinary treats. And week after week, all around the country people arrive at state-of-the-art facilities with well planned parking to take in an experience unlike anything else. All for free. It’s easy to see why sometimes the Church has gotten mis-identified as a kind of Services Sector Corporation. Multi-million dollar annual operating budgets are required to continually pull this kind of thing off. But what if we’ve gotten so good at putting on “the show,” so masterful at “customer service” that we’ve set the expectation for those attending that this is what should be demanded by a distinguished religious consumer? When worship becomes a matter of musical preference or when the dress code of the pastor becomes the distinctive for missional alignment, I fear we’ve started to believe the Church should to be run by a different maxim than what Christ would desire.
Now, I’m all for using the resources God has given you and for making sure people who attend as guests find their experience a pleasant one. That’s simple stewardship and hospitality. What I hate is when people begin feeling entitled to stuff. “Their” seat. Preferred parking. Or that the pastor speaks to them within 60 seconds of them entering the building.
Regardless of how it plays out, it’s entitlement. And entitlement is a cancer.
We are a grateful people (or at least we’re supposed to be). We enter His courts with thanksgiving, right? But it’s hard to be grateful when you feel entitled. And if entitlement is allowed to reign, the cancer spreads. Thoughts like, “I’m just not getting fed,” or, “The band didn’t play my song,” are evidence that you’ve got a Me-Monster inside that wants more, more, more. And it simply cannot be satisfied.
Let’s think about this. You (we) are the Church. So by saying that you want the Church to meet your needs, you’d actually have to say that you want to serve yourself. Right? This is narcissism. You’re frustrated because the Church isn’t meeting your needs. But that’s simply not a realistic expectation. Instead, why don’t you go find inventive ways to serve someone else’s needs and see if God doesn’t take care of you. On Sundays, connect with a guest who’s looking for a reason to stick around. Find a ministry to jump into and serve with your whole heart. Run out with an umbrella to help mom’s get their kids inside from the rain. Mentor a child or a student. Do something to serve the needs around you.
Otherwise, just go play golf on Sundays.