“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
Modern Western Christianity has perhaps made its success by catering to congregants preferences as opposed to training them in deference. What I mean by this is that many churches have developed elaborate marketing schemes to attract new followers to their churches in the name of evangelism. They have developed tremendous programs to attract families with young children using brightly painted hallways, puppets, and delicious snacks. Others have developed sophisticated youth programs to attract teenagers with powerful camps, retreats, missions trips, lock-in and decked out youth rooms. Some have developed tremendously produced worship services with excellent musicians, mood lighting, emotionalism and more to attract young adults with a contemporary sound. Please do not hear me saying that any of these are bad. Each one of these things are at best, neutral in their own right.
What I am speaking of is what this kind of programming has developed…extremely discerning consumers.
It is difficult to escape a consumer mentality in America as well as American Christianity. People shop for churches. It is somewhat insane that we have the term “church shopping.” How in the world did we get to a system of church where people pick a church based on what it can do for them? How many times have you heard someone say, “I didn’t get anything out of that” when talking about worship?
INSTEAD, how might we develop a mindset that communicates deference as a virtue as opposed to a sacrifice in our members? In other words, how might we help members understand that they will not always get things their way and that is a good thing? How do we show them that while they might not like that, someone else in their church does? How might we train them in the spiritual discipline of sacrifice for those around them? I have a few quick ideas:
EXPECT MINISTRY: I have a philosophy that once a person becomes a member of a church that they ought to be expected to find their ministry and get involved immediately. It seems that in many churches I have been a part of that ministry is something we offer people to volunteer for rather than expect of them. What if when a person commits to a church (places membership), someone from leadership sits down with them and says, “Okay, what ministry do you want to be a part of or start?” I have found that those seasons that I have been involved in ministry, I am far less consumeristic than the seasons I have not been. Let us find ways of letting out member’s hands get dirty with ministry.
TRAIN DEFERENCE: One of the marks of discipleship is the ability to see the world from other’s point of view. When we are able to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, we are able to more easily understand their differing preferences and have a healthy respect for that difference. When I know “Why?” Sister Smith like to sing a certain hymn, the next time we sing that hymn, it has a deeper meaning for me. We need to take time to train people in seeing the world from differing points of view. This is one of the reasons that Scot McKnight speaks of the benefits of the parish system in some denominations. When you are forced to go to a certain church based on your address, then you are generally put into a more diverse community than the homogenous churches that result from church shopping. Let us diversify our faith communities theologically, politically, ethnically, racially, etc.
INTENTIONAL INTERGENERATIONAL GROUPS: The more we get members together from differing demographics, the less we will be able to stereotype them. It is in stereotyping that we generally dismiss people from that demographic far too easily. The research I have been doing on adolescent perceptions has shown that adults far too easily dismiss adolescents based on perceptions of teens rather than actual relationships with teens. Our church might do better by doing less segmenting based on age groups and developing more opportunities for different people to get together who wouldn’t usually spend time together. Let us get people together who would not normally spend time together.