I’ve spent my whole life in church. I think my parents took me from the hospital nursery straight to the church nursery. I grew up going to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I have pins that I received for going years without missing a Sunday to prove it. I’m not kidding. I grew up and married a minister and have spent the last twenty-four years in full time ministry with him.
You really get to see church from the inside out that way, let me tell you. Some of it is beautiful, and some of it is… less than beautiful. The reason is that about 2000 years ago, Jesus built his church on Peter and then left it to him and the rest of us imperfect people to continue the work. We’ve had some good times, and some not so good. Think Crusades, for example.
I get frustrated when Christians complain about their church. Christians spend a lot of time complaining about church. We really need to stop that. After all, why would unbelievers want to be a part of something we’re always complaining about? Most of the time, when Christians complain about their church, they are referring to their local institution. The place they drive to every Sunday. But those on the outside have a hard time differentiating between the local church and the church that is the body of believers for all time.
If we are honest, most of the time when we believers speak ill of church it has to do with what it is or is not doing for us. That’s funny, really. I challenge anyone to find anywhere in the scriptures where a list of things the church should do for its members is mentioned. Here’s a truth for you, the Bible never talks about church membership at all. The disciples were never referred to as “charter members”, and they are the only ones who really could lay claim to that title.
What the Bible does say about the early Christ-followers is this…
“They gave all they had.”
It’s in the second chapter of Acts. Pentecost had just happened. The Holy Spirit had come upon them, and they were totally excited. The church was started. They met together, and they shared everything. Early Christians were more concerned that others had what they needed than that they had what they needed. When that happens, guess what? Everyone gets all their needs met.
How quickly we claim territory in our churches. Give someone an opportunity to serve and the chances are that they will mark their territory in blood if need be. I remember my husband once made the decision to phase out the traditional choir and instead use a worship band to lead worship on Sundays. You would have thought the choir had been stripped of their place in heaven for all the ruckus they kicked up. One man in particular became very aggressive with my husband. Nice.
I have seen followers of Christ behave like enemies of the faith over the silliest of things; things that have nothing to do with expanding the Kingdom or things that matter for eternity. The world has the philosophy of, “I’m going to get mine.” So often, this philosophy sneaks its way into the church.
Most of the time we choose churches by what they have to offer us. Are they close by where we live? Do they offer a stellar children’s ministry? Do they offer Mother’s Day Out? How’s their youth program? Do they have a single’s ministry?
A marriage ministry?
A senior’s ministry?
Can this church meet all of my needs? How’s the preaching? Is it deep enough, relevant enough, and it is entertaining enough to keep my attention? Will the pastor visit me if I am sick? Will he be at my beck and call and serve my family well?
We almost didn’t stay at the church where we now serve. We visited for several weeks and found it compelling, but looking around, it seemed to have it all together. My husband’s gifting is in the area of church production, and from what we could see, this church did not need us. We visited many churches, and many of them did need us, but we kept coming back to one church.
We had never seen a church that modeled what a New Testament church was supposed to look like better than that one. The overarching theme of the church had nothing to do with it’s members serving themselves. It was about others, and what the people of that church could do for other people. No one worried about whether or not their needs were being met. Instead, they made sure that everyone else’s needs were being met. And the same thing happened there that happened at Pentecost. When you look outside of yourself and meet a need someone else has, you see your needs shrinking. Or you forget about them altogether.
It becomes less and less about what I am getting, and more and more about what can I give, do, be, or help with. Where can I make a difference? Is there a need? Let me fill it. Is something not being done well? Let me help make it better. What can I do to help this thing keep moving forward? Because what we are doing together to further the Kingdom is more important than my need. And what was my need?
Oh, I forgot.
The local church is the hope of the world. It is not our personal need meeter. God wants to use the church to reach his lost children. He loves us and all, but the lost ones matter most to him. Don’t let that hurt your feelings. Remember the parable of the lost sheep? He leaves the ninety-nine to go rescue the one. What if the ninety-nine have a need that is not met while he’s searching for the lost one? Should he not search then? Of course he should, and he will gently remind us, that it’s not about us.
It’s about them. Church, it’s about them.