I hope you are sitting down. This might sting a little bit. Church is not about you. It’s about Jesus—“…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
Whether we want to admit it or not, the American Dream has made it’s way into western churches. The American Dream has been defined as, “the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” As far as politics go, this is reasonable—and even preferable. However, near 250 years of such freedom and opportunity has brought similar ideas into churches and into the pews. Today, church has become a whole lot more about “What’s in it for me?” and a whole lot less about “How can I serve?”
It’s difficult to have many conversations today that don’t turn into complaints about someone or something. Whether it’s the high-paid boss or the minimum wage drive-thru employee, somebody is constantly doing me wrong. When there are family squabbles, it’s them—because it certainly is not me. When my kid is sitting on the bench in little league, he should be playing pitcher. When he strikes out, it’s the umpire. When my kid didn’t make marching band, the band instructor just doesn’t know talent. When my kid gets a D on his report card, the teacher doesn’t know what she’s doing. On and on and on and on—this is the society we live in.
All of this makes it difficult to grasp the Scriptural view of what it means to be a church member. I’ve entertained a number of questions over the years relative to what our church has to offer. The same set of questions normally rises to the top—all of which sounds like the search for a doctor or a manicurist or a clothing store. The number one question by a long shot is, “What do you have for my children?” Now, my response is generally that our church has a solid Sunday School setup for youth. In the youngest class, they are taught the basics of the Bible. When they graduate from that class, they move up to another class that teaches them the Bible with a little more meat on the bones. Oddly enough, that is not an adequate answer most of the time. With a puzzled look, the question that normally follows that answer is, “Well…that’s OK I guess…but what else do you have?” It’s at this point that I know things aren’t going to end well.
It isn’t always about children though; adults suffer with this as well. Churches are always trying to satisfy various cliques through separate services that are modeled the way the individual wants it. Some want suits and dresses…some want khakis and capris…some want 150 year old hymns (you know, the old ones)…some want contemporary hymns…some want the preacher in a coat and tie…some what the preacher in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. It’s constant. Everybody is trying to reach some niche. We’ll do it one way at 8:30 and another way at 10:00. And all the while, such methods are trying to reach who don’t want to provide anything. Is it any wonder that we are just a society of Christian consumers?
“What’s in it for me?” has made it into the minds of western believers. We want the equivalent of a drive-thru Christianity. We want to cruise in at 11:01, sit down during the first song, hear a motivational sermon that doesn’t really challenge us and certainly doesn’t unfold a Biblical text, sneak out before noon and make the restaurant before the lines get too long. That’s what Christianity looks like in America. It’s just an event—it’s what we do on Sunday. It’s like going to the grocery store—except we are more interested in our grocery list than we are our Bible. We are merely a society of Christian consumers.
Let me be clear, this consumerist approach to church is not the New Testament pattern of Christianity. As I said, church is not about you, it’s about the Lord. And, if God has graciously saved your soul, He didn’t do so in order that you are served in church. He placed you in a church in order for you to serve Him—and so that you can serve your fellow church members.
Paul told the church at Ephesus that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). God didn’t put church leadership in place to do the work of ministry for you—no, God put them in place so that you could learn how to do ministry yourself—every day and everywhere. According to this passage, the goals of such a church ministry are unity, knowledge, maturity, consistency, truthful, loving, equipped, working and growth. Such ideals are simply foreign to the common approach to church in America in 2018.
And look, you are not merely part of your church on Sunday. You are still very much a part on Tuesday or Thursday or Saturday. You are to be working at all times—for the glory of God, for the benefit of the church and for the benefit of those around you. You were not saved to be a Christian consumer—no…a thousand times no. You were graciously saved by God to provide a service—to Him and to those around you. Now, when you are gathered with the assembly, you are to serve in the church. You were gifted specifically for your place (1 Corinthians 12). When you aren’t present, your gift is lacking. And when you approach church with little more than a consumerist attitude (i.e. “What’s in it for me?”), you are failing at God’s calling in your life. You are missing out on being a good church member.
Take a good look at your approach to your church. Are you constantly complaining about things not done your way? Are you constantly gossiping about how things could be done better? Are you consistently dissatisfied with the leadership and their goals for the church? If this sounds like you, you are probably approaching church as little more than a consumer. It’s unlikely you are approaching each service in prayer that you will be able to be a blessing to those around you. It’s quite improbable that you are looking for opportunities to serve and it’s more likely that you want to be served. If this is you, rest assured your attitude is common in our society. However, it is in conflict with the consistent, clear message of the Bible.
Now, I am not speaking about opposing unbiblical things—that is another discussion for another time. Don’t let such a thought enter your mind. We must stand for truth and there comes a time that we must part ways over truth. But that is not the subject of this article.
Take a moment—and be honest with yourself. Do you approach church as a servant of God and your fellow man—specifically, your fellow church members? With great clarity, Paul told the church at Philippi, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Is this you? Are you more concerned about how you can help others or about what others can do for you? If you are like many today, you may be little more than a consumer in the church and a whole lot less of a provider. Take this moment to pray for God’s help to overcome this sinful attitude and seek zealously an opportunity to serve. It is the purpose for which you were saved.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net