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. 

Consumer Mentality

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.”

For Pastors

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? 

Written by:
David Crocker

David Crocker is the Founder of Operation Inasmuch. He was a pastor for 38 years prior to launching the Inasmuch ministry which has equipped more than 2,100 churches in 25 states and several other countries to mobilize their members in mercy ministry. David’s passion is seeing believers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as a lifestyle.

3 responses to “It’s Not About Us”

  1. Jackie McClung says:

    At one place where we worked we had free access to children’s shoes. We went to principals at two nearby schools and said, Give us a list of sizes you need, bring the child to us, or refer the parent to us.” One said thanks but we heard nothing further from him. The other came with a list of sizes and a story about each child – condition of their shoes, grades, home status, etc. Later he saw me cleaning snow off our walk and came with his shovel to help me.
    At our last church we led the church to adopt the elementary school near them. They provide clothing for children, prayer walk before school begins and collect supplies including facial tissue for each classroom.

  2. Nathan Whisnant says:

    Great article! The stories really bring to light the truth of the focus that churches need to think more about them than about us.

  3. Leonard Markham says:

    Another story! 15. Vision
    Our last Sunday at Bluegrass was Father’s Day, 2006; ironic, right? We moved to Fairfield Glade on June 30. I preached my first sermon as pastor at FBC on July 2, and my last sermon was July 30, 2017. We took possession of our rental house that afternoon because I began practice with Coach Osborne and the FHS XC team the following morning. In a flash without fanfair thus ended a career or forty-nine years of pastoral ministry.
    I have shared the human perspective as to why we went to Fairfield Glade (Crossville). When I was interviewed for the job, a member of the church asked me a very important question, “What is your vision for the church?” I really had not given much thought to the church or community. I had not seen any demographis studies of the community and for me I was coming to the church so I could assist my parents. But the question got me thinking. The church was mainly made up of retired people living in a retirement community. The population in the Glade was around 6,000; the population of Cumberland County was 36,000. There were very few young families, children or youth in the church. So I said, “If you walk out of the church and stand on Peavine Road (the main road into the Glade) and look in one direction (toward the Glade) you will have one vision for the church. But if you look in the other direction (toward Crossville) you will have another vision for the church.” That was about the extent of my thinking when I came to the church. I knew I was coming to a church with wonderful people, most of whom were retired and were still very active in the church and community.
    There were two things that happened that changed all that for me. One was that after we moved to Crossville Debra was employed as the art teacher at Crab Orchard and Pine View Elementary Schools. They were the two smallest elementary schools in the county . Debra taught all grades at both schools – a total of 600 students K through 8th grade. One day she came home with some exciting news. She had inquired in a couple of classes, “How many of you live in the Glade?” To our amazement half the students raised their hands. Now we knew that children lived within a five mile radius of the church. Then we found out that three Cumberland County school buses came each morning and evening transporting students to school and home in Fairfield Glade. So we started thinking about a vision that was more encompassing than the senior adult population.
    By 2007 Debra had gotten to know the administration, staff and teachers at COES. We had discovered there were many in the church who had a desire and “will to work” as in the Book of Nehemiah. The people at First Baptist, Fairfield Glade had a burden. . .Charles Wentworth and Bill Weston, among others, wanted to “do something” to help the school. From that time forward the church adopted Crab Orchard School, our community school, to partner with them to address their school’s most pressing needs. During that summer over sixty people from the church and a few teachers painted every hallway in the school, two coats of paint and three colors. The maintenance crew stripped the floors and waxed them. When the kids returned for school in August they thought they were coming to a new school, sparkling new! Charles and Bill renovated the locker room, bathroom and the storage areas for equipment for PE classes in the gym. They also designed and built storage cabinets in the art room. They completely remodeled and furnished a room used for storage to make a place for teachers to be able to eat lunch or take a break during the school day.
    COES had never hosted a home football game because they did not have goal posts. The county provided the goal posts and men from the church painted them orange and blue making it possible for the school to have home games. Another project included spreading wood chip mulch underneath the playground equipment to provide safety for the children as they played. The church started inviting sports teams to the services for special recognition until eventually they were providing the fellowship hall for the sports banquet in May of each year. School personnel were honored each year at our Educator Appreciation Day and specifically recognized Crab Orchard Elementary School. None of this would have been possible without the vision and love of the members of FBC for the children and youth of COES and Cumberland County.
    When I spoke with the Search Committee about FBC, they mentioned two things that would need to be done immediately. One was to initiate another worship service. On Easter Sunday, 2007, we started an early service in addition to our regular worship. The church had grown rapidly and the parking lot was completely filled with cars and people were parking along Lakeview Drive beside the church. To this day the church continues to offer two worship experiences, with Bible study classes during each service simultaneously.
    The other thing the Search Committee said needed to happen would be to build a new worship center. Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) planned to expand Peavine Road to four lanes and would eventually take our sanctuary to accommodate the expansion. Originally we thought the church could build on the four acres adjacent to the education building. But with the growth of the church we realized that new property would need to be purchased to build a new church complex. After a prayerful search, FBC secured 10.2 acres across Peavine and behind the newly built Food City. We paid cash for it! Then plans were made to build the new church building on the property. TDOT was more than willing to give us time to relocate the entire church. They gave us a very generous settlement for the worship center. By 2012 the new facilities were constructed and FBC had moved across the street upon the hill God had chosen as the site for the church building. The very first Sunday in the building I baptized twelve people who had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In God’s time and in His way, with God’s provision, the buildings were built!
    In 2011 my father passed away. In 2013 my mother passed away. Years before I was sitting with a church member in ICU; she asked me, “If your parents had not lived in Crossville, would you have come to First Baptist Church?” I looked at her and said, “No, and that would have been a mistake.” What I came to understand looking in the rearview mirror was that God had a job for us to do in Crossville but He knew we were locked in to Hendersonville. God knew that my parents and their well being was dear to my heart. I came to Crossville to take care of my parents. God had other plans for bringing us to FBC, Fairfield Glade.
    There have probably been few churches which gave as wholeheartedly and sacrificially to a public school as FBC, Fairfield Glade gave to Crab Orchard Elementary School. During my life in athletics and as a pastor and denominational leader I have received many honors/trophies and recognition. But the most important thing I ever participated in was at COES. Each year at eighth grade graduation the school will honor a teacher, a former student, or a leader in the community by inducting them into the COES Hall of Fame. Representing FBC a few years ago, Bill Weston and Charles Wentworth, who had done so much for the school, received this honor on behalf of the church which was inducted into the COES Hall of Fame.
    When Debra and I drove away from FBC on July 30, 2017, we left with no regrets, no reservations and no doubt that God’s vision for us coming to Fairfield Glade had been accomplished.

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