I’m amazed at how deep my own consumerism runs. This is most clearly visible to me at how righteously offended I feel when someone or something doesn’t measure up to my expectations. So when, for example, the internet in my home is running slowly, I immediately look for the person who I have determined is the right recipient of my indignation.
That’s right – I look for someone to be mat at… when the wireless signal in my upper middle class home isn’t fast enough for me to sit and watch the exact tv show I want to watch on this magic box called a computer which, incidentally, also has no wires.
It gets really disturbing, though, when that consumerism infiltrates our attitude toward our local churches. And it surely does. At some point, most any of us who grew up in a Christianized culture are going to look around at our church, the one we have supposedly given our lives to through membership, and see that some other church in town has better music. Or a trendier vibe. Or better coffee. Or a more polished preacher. Or whatever. Our church has suddenly become not cool enough, and that same righteous indignation boils up inside of us because we believe we deserve something more… we deserve the best!
So we leave.
Now let’s be clear – I’m not talking about legitimate reasons to leave a church. Those are real. There are doctrinal issues that are worthy of dividing fellowship over. I’m not talking an issue of the integrity of the gospel; I’m talking about the nonsensical issues of preference that make us church shop whenever we feel a little restless. In this post, I’d like to argue for three reasons to do the very counter-cultural thing of actually staying in the church that’s simply not cool enough:
1. It will teach you the nature of the church.
The church is not a place; it’s not an institution; it’s not a building. The church is the people of God, united despite their differences in race, creed, economics, or education under the common banner of grace and faith in Jesus Christ. We become consumers when we see church as an institution placed in the world to meet our needs instead of the called out people of God meant to represent His kingdom as an embassy in a foreign land.
When we choose to stay, we are recognizing that we actually are here for the church, not necessarily the other way around, and that we are giving of ourselves to this people rather than only taking from it.
2. It will teach you the nature of humility.
What does it mean to be humble? It means that we truly look to the interests of others ahead of our own. When we leave a church because it’s not cool enough, we are acting directly oppositely of this. We are acting in our own best interests, never mind the people who are still there. What’s more, we are failing to recognize that we have a unique set of gifts that God has given to that particular church in order that she may function in a healthy way. We have to be willing to forgo our own preferences for the sake of something bigger than ourselves. We learn to do this by the simple act of staying.
3. It will teach you the nature of unity.
Unity is not uniformity. Far from it. In fact, if we fast forward to the end of time, we will find that the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the universe involve a host of different people speaking different languages with different skin colors, all gathered around the throne of the lamb. Church is NOT where we all look the same, not in heaven and therefore not on earth.
True unity, then, does not come with something as easy as total agreement. It only comes through death. It comes when one or more of us choose to die to our own preferences for the sake of the overall unity in the body of Christ.
Before you make that visit, before you give up and cash it in, think about it. Think about staying. Think about it for the sake of your own soul – that you might grow in Christ through the simple act of standing firm right where you are – even if it means it’s not as cool.
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This is an excellent article. Michael, I think your introduction really goes to the heart of the issue. Our expectations. I find myself being unrealistic in this also. We live in an “on demand” culture as never before! Paul Borden lists this consumerism as a primary reason our churches are failing in their mission. If our churches are alive with the gospel and Spirit and making disciples, it will mean we have to be committed to the Body of Christ in deep, humble ways. It calls to mind Paul’s challenge in Philippians 2:4, looking out for others people’s interests as well as our own. In our times, this may be one of the most challenging admonitions in all of Scripture.
Thanks for reading, Gary, and for the comments. Your point about consumerism is a good one.