Richard Lacey, lead pastor of Woodgreen Evangelical Church, Worcester, asks the question
I was recently given a sabbatical by my church.
During this time my family and I visited ten different churches. It was eye-opening to experience churches as a ‘punter’ rather than a pastor and to realise afresh how daunting it can be to attend a new church – even as a Christian.
However, the most significant thing I noticed during this time was how easy it is to slip into approaching church as a consumer.
As I reflected on this, I became more and more convinced of how destructive and damaging this is, not only to the church community itself, but also to the cause of Christ. What has concerned me even more is that I’ve also become convinced that this is the dominant way most Christians – of all ages – approach church today.
Sinful church attendance
Which is a problem, because a consumer approach to church is sinful. Yes, I did just use the S-word. A consumer approach to church is sinful because it couldn’t be further away from the Bible’s understanding of what it means to be part of a community of God’s people. Being a consumer is inherently self-seeking and therefore at odds with Jesus’s example of self-giving. As a consumer, I go to church for what that church offers me, but the Apostle Paul said true worship involves offering ourselves to God: ‘Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12.1-2).
Contrasts to think about
As I’ve examined my own heart, I’ve found it helpful to contrast a consumer approach to church with a Christlike approach to church.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be satisfied. I am at the centre of the ‘experience’. My needs, expectations, preferences, tastes, hobby-horses and opinions become priorities and so I am vocal about them. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to bless, encourage and spur others on. My priority is what Jesus desires and so his command to love others therefore trumps my own desires and needs and I am vocal in expressing gratitude.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come as a critic, assessing and judging the quality of the welcome, music, sermon, coffee and _______ (fill in as appropriate) according to my preferences. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to edify others. I look for the good in everything and everyone. I overlook imperfections, spur on those who are growing in their gifts and treat issues of preference or disagreement with grace.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be served. I expect others to meet my needs. I expect the service or activities or pastor to tick all my boxes. If not, I may decide to complain to the management or to fellow consumers. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to serve. I realise God has given me gifts to build others up and I consider it a privilege to use them. My focus is on blessing others by fulfilling the role he has given me within the body of Christ.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be entertained. I do not want to be challenged or – God forbid – rebuked. I expect to be uplifted, stirred, moved and affirmed. To be bored is a cardinal sin, to be offended even worse. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to grow. I expect to be challenged by the ministry because I know I am a self-deceiving sinner and my greatest need is to be sanctified and made more like Jesus. I humbly accept the diet God chooses to give me from his Word through those who minister to me.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come as an individual. Interacting with others is an inconvenient necessity. I therefore don’t hang around long after meetings, or if I do, I only speak with a small circle of friends. I am uncomfortable with small groups because they involve participation, scrutiny and close personal contact. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to be part of a community. While at times I find it challenging, I count it a privilege to be part of a fellowship of diverse people with whom I can share my life. I welcome the accountability and scrutiny that comes from close contact with members of a small group and I seek to be an active participant in one, praying for and pastoring others.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I attend, but I don’t commit. I prefer the fringe to the core. I prefer to spectate rather than participate. I pick and choose the meetings I attend. I cannot be relied upon to turn up. I do not willingly volunteer, take on responsibility or contribute to church life. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I commit myself to my brothers and sisters and show this by my attendance and attitude to service. I embrace my calling to be a partner and co-worker with them for the gospel and I do whatever I can to support church initiatives. I therefore give sacrificially of my time, energy and money.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be ministered to. I expect the church leaders to service me. I expect them to visit me, know all about me, have time for me whenever I require them, and be skilled in offering spiritual tlc. If they don’t fulfil this, then I feel my rights have been infringed. in a Whereas, when I approach church Christlike way... I come to minister to others. I recognise that there will be many unseen pastoral demands on church leaders that are greater than my own. I recognise that I have a responsibility to care for my brothers and sisters and so am proactive in watching for opportunities to minister to others.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I resist change because it involves personal discomfort. Church exists to meet my needs and so I oppose changes that inconvenience me or require me to flex or adapt. The status quo is good because it’s why I was attracted to that church in the first place. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I support change when it benefits others or has a gospel motivation. I gladly accept personal inconvenience if it means others will be blessed. I embrace changes that mean church is able to communicate the gospel and make disciples more effectively. I trust those who make change decisions even when I cannot see the need.
• When I approach church as a consumer… I will eventually end up leaving the church, either in body or in spirit. The younger I am, the more likely I am to leave physically and go to another church. The older I am, the more likely I am to leave in spirit and become detached and disillusioned, critical and cynical. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I will end well, leaving a legacy for younger generations who will thank God for my example. I will have been a unifying influence, rather than a divisive one. I will have been a kingdom-builder rather than an empire-builder. I will have been a contributor rather than a consumer.
The big question
Which best describes your approach to church? That’s the question. Like me, do you need to repent of being a church consumer and resolve to be a more committed, selfless, Christlike contributor?
This article was originally posted on Richard Lacey’s blog: woodgreenpastor.blogspot.co.uk