Posted: November 26, 2007 in Church, Perspective


Today, I’ve been reflecting some more on the sermon point I made Sunday about people who treat God as a Santa Claus:  You know you treat God as a “Santa” if you only go to him when you need something.  As I’ve been reflecting on this, it has occurred to me that if you treat God like a Santa Claus, then you probably think of his church the same way.  Let me clarify:  If God is Santa Claus, then maybe we see church as that place under the tree where we’ll find His presents neatly wrapped and waiting for our ‘consumption.’ 

If you think about it, churches offer all kinds of programs and “services” which are designed to meet our needs:  Christian schools, Family Life centers, game rooms, camping groups, men’s golf ministries, childcare programs, Mother’s Day Out programs, Vacation Bible School, and on and on…  But here’s the problem:  While these programs/services are not necessarily a bad thing (and can be very good things when used as effective ministry tools), I have to wonder if these things have spoiled us when it comes to our expectations of what a church should be and what our role in church should be. 

More often than not, I have encountered many people who approach church with the attitude of what it does for them, rather than what they can do for the church.  For example, one couple with several children visited our church about a year ago.  They loved the atmosphere, the music, the people, and even our mission to reach the lost.  However, they never returned to our church because they were seeking a church with more programs for their children and their family.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) was a specific example of something they were disappointed we did not offer.  Nevermind that we could find plenty of things for them – and their children – to get involved in with the purpose of reaching the unchurched – maybe even a missional VBS equivalent as an outreach tool…who knows!

Furthermore, I’ve encountered many people who attend church regularly and even comment weekly on how great the music and the message were – but these same people will not take any steps getting involved in serving others.  It’s incredibly paradoxical to me that they like our messages, which are often about serving, but seldom lift a finger to do anything.

Also, when we view church as what it does for us, we become critics.  We critique the music, the messages, the atmosphere, the programs offered, and the services offered.  Sadly, we often perform this evalution not to help the church better connect with people (which is never wrong), but to satiate our own need to have an improved experience.  If we find something unfulfilling, we may voice our displeasure or even move on to another church.  We may even gather in self-righteous, needy huddles and discuss with other ‘critics’ where our churches are not meeting our needs. 

I guess to be fair, I need to say that I understand people wanting good things for their children and their family and even themselves.  Considering issues of theology and “finding the right fit” in belonging to a church, I can completely understand one’s desire of wanting church to be a good experience with good people.  Who wouldn’t!?!  But you cannot overlook an attitude that is perverted into “What can the church do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for the church?”  It’s a very dangerous thing to merge self-interest with an institution that is supposed to be missional in its very nature.

Think I’m overreacting?  Several years ago, I worked on the staff of a church that asked me to kick neighborhood kids out of our new “Family Life Center” because they considered their shiny new building as the privileged environment for them and their kids – who already went to church there.  In their minds, this new building was not built as a tool to connect with the kids who lived in the surrounding neighborhood.  I was simply stunned.  These were not problem kids.  They were not vandals or thieves.  They were merely kids from a great neighborhood looking for a safe, fun place to play basketball after school – WITH our church kids!  What an opportunity!  Unfortunately, these kids wrongly assumed that the church was a place that would welcome them in their new gym.  (Heck, they get fliers from the church in the mail every year for VBS, Christmas programs, etc…so why wouldn’t the same church let them play in the gym that was open and lit up for the ‘church kids’ already?) 

I quit that job almost immediately, because I couldn’t in good conscience kick kids’ out of God’s house.  (Yes, it is God’s house, not ours).  Sadly, others did it for me.  I cannot help but feel that the Christians who asked them to leave forever forged an impression in the minds of these neighborhood kids that churches are only interested in themselves.  In that case, would I be wrong?

If you still think I’m overplaying the topic, consider the fact that a lot of growing churches in the Bible belt grow not because they are reaching the unchurched, but people who are disgruntled or disillusioned with their experiences at another church.  Rather than connecting unbelievers with Christ, these churches merely re-assimilate already-Christians into another community.  Growth is lateral, not vertical.

I simply do not see this sort of behavior when I read about the early church.  The body of Christ you read about in the Bible had a sacrificial mindset.  Heck, even meeting at all was dangerous in a climate where Christians were killed for their beliefs.  The book of Acts tells stories about people who were humble and worked very hard to carry the message of Christ to people.  Indeed, many of them actually did die at the hands of people opposed to the gospel.

I have to think these early church disciples would weep if they could see our spoiled demands for better parking or comfy seats.  They would probably get absolutely pi$$ed at our gripes  – like the ones people have when they arrive at church to find other people sitting in their pew (the one we were predestined to sit in every week!).  They would probably be shocked at how focused the modern church is on satiating Christians’ needs than truly reaching the lost.

All I can say in response to this mindset is this:  God is not Santa Claus.  Likewise, the church is not the space under the Christmas tree where we receive our presents.  God – and the church – does not exist to serve us.  Rather, we exist to serve Him.  We exist to become a part of the body of Christ (the church) and continue Christ’s work in the world, as His hands and feet.  Consider what Peter writes:

“Care for the flock of God [i.e., the church] entrusted to you.  Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what YOU will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.” – 1 Peter 5:2.

It amazes me how much God has done for us:  Sending His son to die in our place upon the cross, giving us His word, His Spirit, and loving us when we’re not worthy of that love.  Yet we will act like spoiled children who still want more.  We hesitate to serve.  We bounce from church to church to get our next worship “fix.”  We drop out when we’re not entertained enough or someone forgot to call us when we were out sick.

Believing that God and the church exist to serve us is utterly backwards.  It is not Christ-like.  He DIED for the church.


In light of all I’ve written here, I must make it known that I have seen many people who “get it.”  I know countless people who pour time and energy into serving every week in their respective churches because they know that God has called them to serve.  Responding to God’s love and grace, they give of themselves 100 times over week in and week out.  They are not in this thing for themselves, but to play a part in the body of Christ to share the love of Christ with those that need it and the truth of the Gospel to those that need to hear it.  This kind of thinking is re-surging in churches all over the place, and people are coming to know Christ because of God’s work in them and through them.

Could you imagine what it would be like if we all served with the same energy and sacrificial mindset?  It would be utterly amazing.

  1. Jason says:

    Well put. I couldn’t fathom the thought of everyone having a servant’s heart. To know that you answered the call of service, from holding the door open and greating someone to delivering the message, we are all apart of something much greater than ourselves.

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