Don’t like the menu? Next church please


United now has just a 3-point margin with the next home game against Chelsea, second on the table with plenty of steam and luck. There are just 3 games left to play. It’s good to be in a dog fight of this nature at this time of the year.

“This time of the year” – it’s May already. A third of the year is gone. LifeGate, the new church, has started to settle into some rhythm. The merger was first broached officially at board level, maybe October/November 2009. In September 2010, members of both ICC and Oakley Cornerstone voted for the merger. We have been working since to work at the joints and put things together, always mindful that we are simply laying the groundwork to be prepared for whatever God wants to use this church for. We know it is to fulfil the Great Commission and to bring glory to His name. But exactly what the strategies and activities are towards that end – we’re still working on those, putting together the numerous pieces.

I’m still on the church Board. It is only a temporary Board. Its tenure is for no longer than 1 year. I hadn’t wanted a role in this capacity. I was going to do my studies quietly and be an ordinary but active church member. It was incumbent on me however, not to make things harder than they already must be for the pastor and his new team. People of similar maturity and seniority were turning down roles or at least indicating their desire to “step down”, such has been the bristling effect of the last days of ICC leadership. I could not say no without feeling I will be but adding to the challenges already facing pastor, perhaps thus aiding the enemy. So I said yes, thinking I can become that ordinary member after the tenure of the current board.

But being in the Board entails hard work and shouldering responsibilities. The work of spending time with people, thinking through and communicating issues, praying and seeking the Lord for direction, reading the Scriptures to be certain the church is not departing from its teachings, identifying concerns and needs of members and doing whatever possible to address them, attending long late meetings – all these are hard work.

The hardest challenge is recognising that no matter how hard one works and no matter how well intentioned the leaders may be, the church cannot meet every single need of every single member. But the comfort is in knowing that the church doesn’t have to. All it has been asked to do is to build each other up and it can do no more than lay the path for members to seek the Lord themselves. Each must discover how he or she is to serve, and all the leaders want is for members to show a commitment towards the church.

In the context of Australia, I am discovering the truth of the consumer approach to church meaning Christians who look to church as outlets peddling services. If a church offers something I can consume then I’d be there. The catchphrase is “for a season” – ie at a particular phase of my life, this church meets my needs, so I attend this church. This church provides goods and services suited to my needs for now, so I am there. I attend its services, contribute my time and least mentioned but often pertinent, my money also goes to this church. It is a consumer approach – as long as the products and services are those which suit me, it has my custom. The phrase “for a season” is often used by Christians who want to adopt the consumer approach and move on – albeit temporarily – to the “next outlet”. I accept some Christians uproot for more fundamental doctrinal or similar reasons but I believe moves for these reasons are far outnumbered by moves motivated by a consumer mentality.

To be fair a consumer approach to church attendance is not entirely wrong. After all, the church is there to meet the needs of its members – to help build each other up. The ugliness lies instead, in the lie which is based on this half application of the truth of building each other up. Building each other up is what the church is there for, but church attendance is not based on just it meeting my needs. It is also based on me building up the church so that it can meet the needs of others. In that sense it is more a co-operative than a consumer model.

I believe commitment is what makes it more a co-operative styled model as opposed to a consumer approach. A consumer approach means I am there to “consume” what the church has to offer. If the menu for the day is not what I am looking for I move on to the next outlet – “for a season” – which offers that which I need or want. This model cannot be an ongoing, sustainable one for church life because the building up entails a mutual edification which must work both ways. A relationship is a two-way traffic. The two-way traffic involves both giving and receiving by every member. Everyone gives. Everyone receives. The timing may vary – ie I may be a contributor today, this week, month or year but I may then be a recipient in the next cycle or at some point in my church life. Or, at any one time, I give more than I receive, or vice versa. It cannot be a case where I am looking only to contribute or receive and if I can’t do either I move to the next church and so on. That is a model which is contrary to the very essence of church.

Hopefully more on this at a later entry. For now, it is time to ruminate United’s chances. For this season – 🙂 – I had sought at the start, only to give my support as a life-long supporter, with no expectation of anything in return. It has already given me much more than I had expected. I didn’t like the team make up – the menu – but I stayed, as I have for so many years, and will continue to even long after Sir Alex decides to call it a day.

Regards,Ian

Sent from my iPhinity (and beyond)

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