It’s Not About Us
A pastor was meeting with a group of new members of his church. It was a class designed to help them assimilate into the congregation. So, he told them about various opportunities to learn and grow as followers of Jesus through a variety of classes the church offered. He told them about the church’s financial system and what the church’s spending priorities were and how their contributions would be spent.
Finally, he told them the main goal of the church is to equip and motivate them and help them go back out into the community to serve. The group was seated in a circle with their chairs facing inward so everyone could see everyone else. The pastor asked the participants what they saw, and they answered they could see each other in the group. The pastor told them to get up, turn their chairs around and sit back down. Then the pastor asked the group again what they saw. They answered “The walls of the room or pictures hanging on the walls, etc.” The pastor said, “As long as we are facing our circle inward, all we see is each other. But when we face our chairs outward, look how much bigger the world is and how many more people there are in that world. In this church we sit with our chairs facing outward.”
THAT is a pastor who understands that church is not primarily about those on the “inside” but about those on the “outside.” Would that more pastors believed that. Would that more churches understood that.
How is it churches became so inwardly focused? Where along the way did churches become preoccupied with their own needs? It would take several blogs to answer these questions thoroughly, but one thing I know for certain: Many churches are dominated by a consumer mentality.
I offer these observations as evidence:
Neil Cole observes in Organic Church, “We try to woo people to come and keep coming. What we end up with is an audience of consumers shopping for the best ‘services.’ We cater to this sort of thinking by trying to compete with other churches with a better show” (p 69).
Milfred Minatrea describes the consumer mentality of many Christians: “Just as they count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their churches to provide religious goods and services.” (Shaped By God’s Heart, p. 7)
John MacArthur adds this insight, “It is easy for Christians to get to the point where they expect things to be done for them. They show up for church only if they think they will get something out of it.” (The Master’s Plan for the Church, p. 23)
It’s Not About Us
Any believer worth his/her salt recognizes the consumer mentality does not square with the purpose and mission of the church. Pastors and church leaders decry this problem but find it challenging to make much headway against it. With church members living under the influence of this way of thinking 6 days of the week and asked to think and behave differently just 1 day out of 7, it’s easy to see how this is so.
Let me offer a strategy for change from a consumer mentality to a compassion mentality. I can put it in 1 word—ACTION. To the extent that a congregation gets outside the walls of the church building and sees for themselves the needs of the community, to that same extent they will change from being religious consumers to people of compassion.
Consistently, over the years we hear people who participate in an Inasmuch Day in which they go into parts of their community they have never seen and encounter people who lack basic needs such as running water, adequate food, safe housing, what they see gets their attention. This can be the first step in changing their thinking about church from “It’s about us” to “It’s about them.” Providing opportunities for our people to see human needs and do something to alleviate those needs at least temporarily is an effective strategy for breaking down the consumer mentality that hamstrings the church’s ministry.
It’s About Them
There is nothing so convincing as a story to drive home a point. So, here’s one. New Heights Church in Vancouver, Washington wanted to support their local schools and came up with a creative way to do that. In Pastor Matt Hannan’s own words, here is what they did:
We made an appointment with one of the school principals. After introducing ourselves we said, “We are here on behalf of . . . New Heights Church. Our folks value what you are doing in educating young people. Frankly we are here to ask you to do [us] a favor. This is a checkbook, and you will notice that the account is in your name. We have placed $1,000 in the account. We believe you care for kids, and we care for kids. We want to unite on our common ground.
We want you to use [these funds] as needed. We are not asking you to account to us. You are a man of integrity. You will figure out some system to use in caring for the account. If you want to share that with us, that’s great, but it is not required. When the amount in the checkbook is getting low, let us know and we will fill it up again. We just want to make it a little easier for you to do what you normally do (Matt Hannan, quoted by Milfred Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart, pp. 95-96).
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”James 2:15-17 NIV
“When we finished talking,” Hannan concluded, “there sat this big old principal, just crying like a baby.” Hannan shared one more result from their strategy: “We now have 18 members of his staff attending New Heights, and initially most of them were not Christians.”
Is there a consumer mentality in your church? What are you doing to provide opportunities for your people to see the needs of your community? What is your church doing to meet those needs?