By John Pierce
In my sermon last Sunday to Macon’s Vineville Baptist Church, titled “This is not Walmart,” we considered the ways engagement in church is (or should be) distinct from all other experiences.
The early church leader Paul’s exasperation with some believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3) reminded us that immaturity and pettiness are ageless obstacles to fulfilling the mission that Jesus revealed.
Over in the so-called “love chapter” (1 Cor. 13) Paul speaks more eloquently about the importance of putting away childish things. And, of course, a major mark of maturity is to stop treating wants as needs and putting personal preferences ahead of the common good.
We expect to hear cries of “Give me, give me, give me” and “mine, mine, mine” from toddlers. But such sounds are rather unbecoming of those who are adults, at least chronologically.
I told the wonderful Vineville family of my plan to asked friends who serve in pastoral ministry to help gauge the kinds of things people say to them during the week. So pastor-friends, here’s my suggestion.
On one side of a ledger record those comments and questions you hear about how someone does or does not like the way the congregation functions (or should function) institutionally. For example:
“I liked the offering better at the end of the service.”
“The youth are making a lot of noise upstairs on Wednesday nights.”
“Our Sunday school room is not being set up right after those tutoring people use it during the week.”
“The sanctuary was too hot today?”
“The sanctuary was too cold today?” (Same service, different person)
On the other side of ledger would be comments related to fulfilling the church’s mission, such as:
“I’ve retired and would like to do something helpful to others a couple of afternoons each week — have any ideas?
“We skipped birthday-present giving in our family this year and set aside $500 to help a family that could really use it — have any ideas?”
“I noticed Mrs. Smith needs a wheelchair ramp. Will you announce that I’ll meet whoever wants to help at her house in the morning?
“My church friends and I play basketball every Saturday afternoon. What if on the first Saturday of every month, instead of a pick-up game, we visited some elderly people who don’t get out much and could use some company. Can you share some names and contact info?
I’d love to hear the results.
Often church leaders spend too much time and other resources addressing the personal preferences of those who mistakenly bring to church the same expectations they take to a restaurant or store: those of a consumer.
Focusing on our wants — and then being hypercritical when everything is not done our way — is neither mature nor constructive. Yet it is always easier to complain than to serve.
Rightly, we choose congregations that fit our understanding of faith and practice. Thereafter, we are to bring our varied gifts and personalities and shared resources for redemptive purposes beyond anyone’s personal preferences.
The higher calling is to ask: “What do I have to offer to this community of faith — at this time and in this place — and then, together, beyond this place to a world in need of love, grace and mercy?”