It sounds off somehow, doesn’t it? Here’s the picture.
Lots of church plants, as well as older churches trying to grow and establish themselves in the community, will do lots of things to get their name out there. Everything from billboards to sponsoring events in town to handing out water bottles at races and rallies. (I can’t think of the word rally without thinking of the mice from American Tail – we must have a wawy!) Around halloween, we have trunk or treats in our parking lots. We have Christmas pageants and Easter pageants. We sponsor a parade float and depict scenes from the Bible, of course. We gather school supplies and backpacks for the neighborhood kids. And we want you to come to our church. We want to seem so great and relevant that you feel compelled to come check us out.
Don’t get me wrong. We do. I do. But it’s not because our VBS is kickin or that we have lots of programs for everyone in every stage of life. It’s because I believe you will find life and community in the context of a good, healthy church, but I also know it may not be mine. And that’s ok. (Although I do know you will get excellent preaching, even if I am a bit biased.)
Here are some reasons why.
- My church is not in competition with other churches in town.
To the outsider looking in, it feels that way. Why are there so many churches in town? Why can’t they all just get together?
I’m always amused by the VBS signs all over this time of year. I feel like the local newspaper should have an article with each church’s dates, themes, meal/snack options, etc., so we can compare and contrast for optimal child care… haha. kidding. But it does feel like it’s a bit excessive and to anyone who has either had no history with church or too much history, it’s maddening.
My church is small. We don’t have programs. We don’t have a ton of people. No staff, except the pastor and the pianist on Sundays. When we got here, we weren’t interested in trying to get people to leave their churches for ours. We aren’t about getting bigger numbers and a larger budget. That’s good, because it doesn’t seem likely. What we are about is the gospel. The truth of the good news of Jesus and how it directly impacts your life. Your daily, hourly life. Every person in the pews on Sunday and the people the pastor meets weekly get to hear how the gospel makes a difference.
We are not competing against other churches who are, hopefully, after the very same thing. And we’re not looking to tear down any churches we don’t think are doing what they should. Who has time for that? If we are faithful to the tasks at hand, the opportunities God lays out for us, we are too busy speaking into and encouraging each other – and maybe for the good of the kingdom, we can all work together like one body, unified by Jesus and set to work.
- My church is not a fast food restaurant.
Sometimes we go to Burger King. Other times we do Cook Out. We try not to go to Chick-fil-a because our daughter is allergic to peanuts and can’t have their chicken. (And I suspect the play area is coated with peanut oil.) Point is that no fast food chain would in their right mind ever really expect their customers to only go to their place and sign some agreement that they won’t go any where else. And if they do, they’ll get a stern look and head shaking when they come back in. It’s silly.
But as a church we also value commitment and loyalty. Not as customers who consume our goods, but more along the lines of employees who know the business and have the same goals and values and are actively developing and growing into better “employees” and leaders.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but when I think about it, I realize that more and more of the American church is suffering from a fast food mentality. We are consumers. We hop around depending on our whims. We demand services and when we don’t get them, and we feel like our needs aren’t being met, we go somewhere else. There is no long haul commitment and no one really expects there to be.
And on the fast food analogy, we may not serve burgers and fries, literally and figuratively. We may have them for starters, for kids. We’ll give you what you need and some of what you want. Instead, we’ll have slow food – the kind that takes years, decades, to do its work. Long haul commitment goes both ways. My church will be committed to your growth, not overnight, quick fixes. My God will redeem your life in fast, tangible ways, but He also will lovingly, carefully, painstakingly restore you to your original beauty. And that takes time.
- My church will love you and seek ways to let you know and feel that, regardless of whether or not you ever step foot in our building.
If you live in our community and neighborhoods, we will endeavor to know you. We’ll be looking for ways to get involved for the good of our town and its people. We’ll be the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing life and truth, and more than likely a loaf of bread and fishes. If you like fishes. We’ll be out there. You’ll see us. You may hide and that’s ok too. We’ll be here if you ever need us. You’ll know where we are. You’ll pass by us and, Lord help us, you will have a good feeling about us wherever you see our name. You’ll know we’re doing good. You won’t know us for doing harm. You will know we love well and we seek to bring Shalom, peace, deep abiding communal peace, for all. You’ll know us by our love, even if you don’t ever come to our church.
- Because my church really is the people.
You may have heard the old kids poem. “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” It’s a cute rhyme and the hand motions that go with it are fun for kids. But the truth is, and you know this if you’ve been a believer for any length of time, the church is the people inside. The Church is the Bride of Jesus himself, clothed in spotless white robes, radiantly, radically redeemed and made new and beautiful.
Problem is that we people kinda sorta suck sometimes. We get in the way of ourselves. We mess up stuff. We stop seeing ourselves – and more to the point we stop seeing others – as radiant and redeemed. If you’ve been in a church for really any length of time, you’ve probably already had conflict. You’ve been insulted or ignored. You’ve been mistreated or disregarded. Maybe you’ve been abused spiritually by leaders who should absolutely know better. Or you’ve been abused physically/sexually by people who were supposed to be helping you, not harming you. God have mercy. I am so very sorry. This is not the Church acting like the Church. Please understand that. Please understand that any one person in the Church is not The Church Triumphant alone. Some may think and see themselves that way. They could not be more wrong.
The Church is indeed flawed and errant. For now. We know we are sinful and arrogant. The real church knows just how very awful we can be. And we know just how very much we need Jesus, desperately, thoroughly, deeply need His Grace. And we so very much want to be a part of receiving and sharing this matchless, precious, amazing grace. We know we need it, not more and not less, than any other person, regardless of church affiliation, denomination, creed, race, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, and gender. We know we know we know that only by His grace will we prevail to that final day of judgment and be held accountable for all we have learned, believed, done, and not done.
The Church, the real church, is worldwide. It crosses borders and cultures. It sings in hundreds of thousands of languages. It reads the word of God in hundreds of thousands of languages. The Church has billions of faces and characteristics and ethnicities and experiences and histories. The church is not just the one down your block. It’s like having a local embassy. We represent something so much more. And our hearts, by the grace of God, are in a constant state of expanding and developing, growing into the very heart of God Himself, becoming more and more like Jesus in thought and deed.
One final thought about church. There are many people who say they don’t need a church at all. Or they just go a couple times a year and it’s great. We know that some personalities simply don’t need to belong or have a community and so church isn’t a priority. But if you are a believer, and you are growing and maturing in the knowledge of Jesus, then you eventually come across the blueprints for the Church. Eventually, you begin to understand that the Church isn’t the local congregation that is designed to meet your needs. The Church isn’t just an organization like a Ruritan Club or a heritage society. You are part of the Church already, and as such, there is a place for you. You may not need us, but we need you. Truth is you will come to realize you do need us because God designed all of us to be in community. But maybe it will take you awhile to feel that way, even if you know it in your head. When you find a healthy, grace-filled church, you will know that you need it. You will know that they need you – your experiences, your ideas, your hurts and pains, your uniqueness. And we will all grow together until the day our faith shall be sight. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! But help us abide…
And in case you’ve never seen An American Tail…