I remember a study that indicated that 93% of the members of a mainline denomination considered that the purpose of their congregation was to serve their own needs. Before we judge those results too harshly, letís reasonably consider what that means. It means ìI want the church to serve my spiritual needs, to visit and sustain me during times of hardship, to provide for my children, to help me grow in faith, to give me positive experiences of worship and service.î These are not bad things to want, or to expect. However, a collection of folks all wanting their own needs met creates a church that is confused about its mission and disconnected from its community. The purpose of the church is easily distorted when ìWhatís in it for me?î becomes the prime driver.
Itís easy to focus on what we expect from the church rather than what the church expects from us, just as itís easy to expect God to do for us what God created us to do for God
New churches naturally turn outward. They know that their work focuses on those not yet here. They are missional, open, inviting, reaching out because the core people of the new church know itís not about them, but about others, newcomers, strangers yet to be invited and welcomed. But once a church matures, it risks becoming self-satisfied, focused on meeting the needs of the people already there. It turns inward, taking care of one another within the walls of the church. The expectations on pastoral leadership shift, with a growing desire for the pastor to attend to the needs of those already present. For mature churches, itís hard to recapture that missional drive, that Radical Hospitality that characterized the expansive, embracing church of the New Testament.
Someone one wrote, ìmost people, given the choice between having a better world, or having a better place within the world as it is, would choose the latter.î We would replace the word ìchurchî for ìworld,î or for pastors, we might find ourselves challenged by switching the word ìconferenceî for ìchurch.î
Christ pulls us out of ourselves time and time again. We are here in the spirit of Jesus, ìnot to be served, but to serve.î
In corporate terms, anytime an organization loses touch with its environment, it begins to die. How are we doing in our churches? Do our pastoral prayers focus only on those we know and love, or on the needs of those around us in the world? Do we focus only on how our needs are met, or do we open ourselves to the possibility that our needs are best met when we place ourselves in service to others in Christís name?