In this post I alluded to a growing issue among American churches. We have lost some serious momentum. At some point, we were The Little Engine That Could. We pressed on. We lived contrary to the world. We reached out, dug deep and invited spiritual challenges (or at the very least, didn't shirk them).
Now, (too often) it seems like we're The Little Engine That's Doesn't Give A Crap And Doesn't Want To Be Bothered.
When I go out to a restaurant for lunch, I have expectations. I expect the server (who else slips up and still calls them waiters and waitresses?) to get my order correct, be courteous, and be able to answer my questions about unpronounceable dishes (not that I frequent places with tough names. "number #1" isn't exactly difficult.). I expect the food to be flavorful, served in a timely fashion and worth the price paid. I expect the dining area and bathroom to be pleasant and clean. That's about it.
Now, just replace "restaurant" with "church" and "food" with "sermon". It's pretty much what we're looking for in a church service. We want greeters to be welcoming (but not too welcoming-ever heard of personal space?). I expect a well-ordered service (that doesn't deviate from the bulletin/worship folder thing), and a pastor who can answer my paltry questions and include witty anecdotes* without going past 12:30. I expect the service to be worth my tithe, and the sanctuary (and bathrooms) to be pleasant** and clean.
The main distinction I see is that tipping is optional.
I did a quick Google search for churches in my city. I clicked the links for about 25-30 churches (eat your heart out Barna Group). Several churches had the standard annual outreaches to the poor in the community (blanket or sock drives, soup kitchens, etc.). Around five churches listed absolutely no outreach programs (one of which boasted a coffee shop and a spa***). One church's outreach link sent me to their automatic giving page. Of these 25-30 churches only ONE had an extensive outreach program. With the exception of this one church, the lists of ministries were much longer than the lists of outreach opportunities.
We have become preoccupied with our children, our youth, our college/career, our young families, our singles, our special needs, our retirees, our widows, our landscaping/building...You get the point. In addition, we get our dander all up when one of these programs isn't pulling their weight. Children's ministry took a night off. What in the world am I supposed to do with my kids (I'm guilty as charged on this one)? Perish the thought that they should actually see me worshiping!
"Ministries" has become synonymous with "Outreach". We have one ministry: People. We have one goal within this ministry: The gospel. It doesn't take new carpet, well-choreographed skits, a bigger keyboard or faith-based initiatives to communicate the gospel. It takes people in relationship with people. That's it. If I'm not doing that, I'm contributing bupkis to the Kingdom.
Now, don't get me wrong. I see the point of programs. I'm not a huge fan of a bunch of church programs (more on that later), but I get why churches have them. The problem is that programs have taken center stage, and the ministry of the gospel has been cast aside in favor of shiny new buildings. We've turned inward. We're no longer a mobile church moving onward. I also realize that there are churches ministering beyond themselves. One only has to look to churches such as Brook Hills (pastored by Dr. David Platt) to see that there are churches on the move in a radical, sold-out kinda way.
They are the exception, not the norm.
Regardless of whether your church is the exception or the norm does not excuse you (or me) from action. God isn't going to judge my actions based on my church. He's going to judge my actions based on, well, pretty much my actions. Ideally, churches across America would begin fashioning themselves after the gospel instead of tradition. However, in the meantime I am still called to move onward, not inward.
Blessings on this Labor Day,
*Unacceptable anecdotes include: Cheesy, worn-out-saw-them-in-an-e-mail-in-1997 anecdotes.
**Read, free of distractions. No loose cannons yelling "AMEN!", no coughing (especially if you're sitting directly behind me), no whiny babies and no problems with the sound system.
***Aaaaaand now my husband wants to go there so he can "get a mani/pedi while worshiping Jesus".