Monday, July 17, 2006

Two-Year Service Contract Needed

It is too easy to join most Southern Baptist congregations. As a matter of fact, it is probably harder and requires more commitment to purchase a cell phone than it does to become a member of a local church. The last time I got a new mobile phone I got a great deal. Two phones for forty bucks. The customer service was excellent and the process rather easy. But there was a catch. I had to sign a two-year service agreement. For the next two years I am locked into relationship with Verizon Wireless. I can break the agreement, but not without penalty.

In many cases joining the church is as simple as walking the aisle at the close of the sermon, taking the pastor by the hand, explaining that you have been baptized and would like to become a member of the church. Some pastors will welcome you right there on the spot! No more questions asked. In other churches potential members are required to attend a membership class that speaks to the basics of Christian faith and the direction of the church. However, more often than not, these classes are not very demanding and serve the purpose of vision-casting or a refresher course on Christianity 101. In some cases potential members are required to meet with the pastor or associate pastor. Depending on the approach the pastor takes, potential members are asked to articulate the gospel. If the pastor sees a person struggling to put what faith in Jesus looks like in his/her own words, he may be tempted to "lead the witness" by sharing the right answer and simply asking the potential member if this is what he/she believes. This may make the meeting more comfortable, but it may be spiritually perilous and cripple the pastor's ability to discern whether biblical faith is actually present in the potential member.

I believe that churches should demand and expect more from their membership. The consumer mentality that has made our economy one of the most stable in the world is quickly eroding the integrity of many church rolls. Far too many people are joining churches, only to back out on their commitment shortly after they join. It's like buying a new car. You pick out a car based on all the nice features it offers and whether or not you like what you see while it's parked on the lot. But you won't really know whether you like the car until you drive it for awhile. Then you'll experience firsthand how it handles, whether the ride is smooth, how vividly the paint reveals minor scratches, and if the control knobs are all in convenient locations. And before long you'll see another model that you like better, and perhaps you'll decide to trade the car you loved at a distance in for another model that is more suited to your taste and preferences.

This is precisely how hundreds of thousands of confessing believers are treating the local church in Western culture. Instead of wedding one's self and family to a local body of believers, too many "Christians" are simply dating the church, hoping from place-to-place, upgrading their experience to meet their felt needs and preferences. This should not be.

The church is not about us. It is about Jesus and His Kingdom. It is the body of Christ in the world. The church is called to be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in every local community where it is established. It is a place where believers are called to live lives of holiness and are equipped to maturity. It is a place where confessing believers gather to worship Jesus, encourage one another, and prepare to engage a perishing world.

I'm discovering that the average church-goer in America doesn't want to invest in the Kingdom. They want to be invested in. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, people don't really care about what style of worship takes place at their church. They just want to sing songs about and worship Jesus. Hymns or choruses. It doesn't matter. What matters is the object of the worship, not the beat. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, whether or not there is a big youth program becomes less and less important because people realize there is much for our children to learn from the larger community of believers, which is presicely what Scripture teaches us. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, His disciples come to learn about God's greatness and power, His love for the nations, and their need for Jesus and His cross, rather than coming to hear feel-good stories or God's desire to give them their "best life now", because they realize that their best life won't come until they are in God's presence (Psalm 16:11).

Unfortunately, when people discover what Scripture teaches us about the church, too many are inclined to walk away and look for some other church that best meets their "needs". This is what I mean that people want to be invested in rather than invest themselves personally in the call of the Kingdom. I'm afraid the church has done a poor job of teaching those who name the name of Jesus what their needs really are. The way we've structured the church tells people that they "need":
  • a paid staff person to do ministry in the community for them;
  • lots of people the same age as one another (both children and adults alike) because there is very little to learn from those younger or older than us;
  • to be spoon-fed the Bible because we don't feel people are competent enough to study it for themselves because we've never taught them how;
  • a church that offers a safe environment for kids to play sports because it would corrupt our children to allow them to mingle with kids that don't know Jesus at the local YMCA;

There is so much more that could be said and many more examples to be shared. Sadly, when people don't find what they "need" at their church, they walk away and go somewhere else. Unfortunately we make it easy for them because nothing is really required of people when they join a local congregation. Membership isn't meaningful. In most churches there is no active church discipline. In many communities there is very little dialogue between local congregations and the "competition" between local congregations for members keeps interaction and the sharing of pastoral concerns at a minimum.

Wouldn't it be great if prospective members were required to enter into a 2-year service contract with the congregation they felt led to join? Perhaps this would help facilitate a real investment in the community and Kingdom. Maybe it would provide perspective about the seriousness of uniting oneself with a local body of believers and the role that we are called to serve in the Kingdom. And if we wanted to walk away, we'd walk away knowing that the "penalty" would be that our former pastor would sit down and talk with any prospective pastor whose church we wanted to join about his concerns, impressions and observations about our commitment to the church and our Lord Jesus, and what kind of members our new church should anticipate us being. After all, pastors are responsible for their sheep, and isn't it fair for a pastor to know exactly what kind of sheep has wandered into his field?


At 7:26 PM , Blogger r a i n e r said...

You just got kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention!


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