The “have it your way” church

We do it without even realizing it.

We walk through our day, in virtually every way, as consumers. After all, that is what we are taught to do. Our culture filled us so full of a consumerist worldview that we internalized this approach to life. It is interred in our bones.

Ever since you were little, the television said you could “have it your way”, to “just do it”, and that it is “because you’re worth it.” The list of advertising slogans and kitschy mottoes is unending. And behind every one, the subtle idea that our wishes and desires should be the motivating factor for our actions. Truly, our society is built on the premise that we have the freedom to make choices, and that we make these choices to better ourselves.

When we shop, we buy what we want. When we go to a restaurant, we choose what satisfies our cravings. When we join a gym or choose a bank or pick a cellphone company, we do all of these things based on which one will serve us best. This process is so ingrained into our subconscious that we will analyze a product or service for its perceived benefit to us without even noticing that it is how we make decisions.

In fact, it appears to be how we make all decisions.

A few days ago, I tweeted a link to an article by Thom Rainer called “The Main Reason People Leave a Church.” I would strongly recommend you read that article, as it pinpoints the real troubling issue behind so many of our problems in local churches today, and in the process indicts the very heart of our members.

The article, which is written with a loving and pastoral tone, points to the rampant issue of entitlement that rests fat and happy in most of our hearts.

Rainer, who is the president of Lifeway, does extensive research on various church matters, and in this article, he is addressing the issue of people leaving churches. Much ink has been spilled on this topic, as churches attempt to find out why people leave, but Rainer’s analysis rings simple and true.

He claims the following:

All the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.

Did you see that?

Did you notice the issue at the heart of people leaving a church? Simply put, it is because they are not satisfied. At some point, they deemed that their church was not meeting an expectation.

Now, I understand that this does not seem like rocket science. Honestly, it is so simple that it almost seems like an unhelpful truism. Of course a dissatisfied person will leave a church. However, Rainer goes on to show us why this is significant with his next words.

He continues:

Many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves a local body because he or she has a sense of entitlement. I would therefore suggest that the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality (emphasis his).

Now we get to the real heart of the matter.

The reason people leave church is because they feel entitled to something they are not getting. It is because they no longer deem that service a benefit to them. In essence, we approach church just like we do everything else in our lives, as a consumer.

Is it not true, though?

We shop for churches. Think about the last time you looked for a church home. We peruse websites, and we visit around. We see what kinds of programs they offer and listen to a sermon or two to see if we like it. Then there is the worship music. Certainly, we will want it to be to our liking.

And if we shop for churches based on what they give us, then it makes complete sense that we will leave a church when we feel it is not longer to our liking.

This unfortunate truth reveals a deep-seated issue in the heart of man. We are, in fact, selfish people. We think first of ourselves, and only then do we consider others. This truth may be common to man, but in a consumerist culture such as ours, it is ramped to a new level.

Indeed, this issue is so pervasive that I fear many will not even see the problem. Buried deep in our thinking is the notion that it is okay, and even proper, to judge our church based on some set of perceived expectations and, armed with this reasoning, to simply leave when we see one we like better. Thus, we treat this gospel-birthed community like nothing more than a cellphone carrier or auto mechanic. It becomes one of many places that render a service.

This paradigm is terribly dangerous, both for the church and its members. First, the church stops being a community and becomes a service provider. No longer is the church the family of God, but instead it becomes the Burger King of religious services, vending spiritual satisfaction to individuals. Last time I checked, I could not simply leave my family for another one I liked better.

Furthermore, this perverted view destroys the every-member ministry essential to the mission of the church. Laced throughout the New Testament are the “one another” commands of scripture. We are called to love one another, and bear one another’s burdens. We are to disciple one another, and correct one another. But, that will never occur if everyone there is concerned with receiving service instead of providing service.

No, consumerism has no place in the church.

Instead of asking whether our church meets our needs, we must look past our own selfish desire to be served, and see the crystal clear command in scripture to give our lives in sacrifice to others. When this occurs, our very reason for attending church changes. No longer do we go so we can receive something. Instead, we go so that we can give something. No longer do we look at the problems in our local church and see a reason to leave. Instead, we look at those problems and see a reason to work hard and fight for that church. We give instead of take.

When this is the aim, ironically enough, all will find their needs met by this great community. After all, we have a pretty good example to follow. The only one who could legitimately claim entitlement, the owner and creator of all, did not consider his position a thing to be grasped. No, he poured himself out for the church.

And so should we.

 

 

Keelan

Keelan Cook (@keelancook) is working on a PhD in Biblical Studies at Southeastern and works in the Center for Great Commission Studies. He spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB. Keelan is currently one of the pastors at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC.

 

One thought on “The “have it your way” church

  1. This strikes a cord right now. Having just moved, and in the position of “church shopping,” there is such a fine line between finding a place that lines up with important values, and finding a place that caters to preferences.

    Great word, especially for our generation where worship is molded to personal taste — from instruments to tempo to volume.

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