There is a lot of disillusionment in the church. I find this to be true in my own church, as well as from other Christians. I blame the gym.
At the gym, you pay a membership fee, or you can sometimes attend free for a time.
You now have access to one on one trainers, who are concerned and committed to your physical needs. They will ask you what you eat, how much, what time. They will scrutinize every inch of your body. They will point out the area in the back of your thighs that you cannot see. Luckily they did or you would not have noticed it, and you would not have been able to fix it. They do all this with a professional, caring detachment. They are not your friends, but they care deeply about your body. They show you the exercises, tailored exclusively for you, that will benefit you most. You will meet the trainer, maybe the manager, but never the owner, if there is only one. Usually they are a franchise, a group of shareholders, but in the end, faceless.
There is a day care for your children. They will provide your progeny with healthy snacks to nourish their bodies. They will have activities for your children to prevent the mere hint of boredom, which would cause them to wail and ultimately make their job harder. These people are trained in the education of little ones, have safety in mind and certificates to back it up. They may or may not have hostage negotiation training. This is a safe place for your children, so that you can have the time be yourself that you deserve.
There is a cafe or restaurant. This food can be guaranteed to be nourishing for you, filled with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. You will not know that some of these items are even food, or whether they are fruits, vegetables, or an underwater plant life. Good thing that they are there to educate you, because you could not do this yourself.
There is a front desk, equipped with a very good-looking secretary to tell you where you need to be, and to answer all your questions. Her sweet voice will answer the phone to schedule your sessions. Her body will tell you what you can one day attain. Her computer will continue to inconspicuously withdraw your membership payment, well after your interest has waned.
The entire facility is filled with smiling people. The building is clean, open, filled with music to inspire you, invigorate you, pump you UP. This is a good place. Do you have problems? Power through them: kick higher, punch harder, run faster, dance longer. You are in control.
Well, that’s not church.
Churches do not require membership fees. You may use their programs, their facilities, their furniture, their kitchen. If you tithe honestly and regularly, it pays for these things as well as the overhead, the mortgage, the utility bill. If you do not tithe, the likelihood of someone asking you or reminding you is nil. The preacher may preach one Sunday a year, and that is too much for some people. Money is ours, you have no right to it. Ask at any church and you will find a budget strained, full pockets in the congregation, and empty tummies in the street.
We have a One on one trainer. He comes in the form of a manual, that must be read. He talks to you through His Holy Spirit. We often reject it, because we don’t like what it says. We don’t want to know of areas that need working on. We want REAL LIFE. We want someone to encourage us, someone to reach out to us, someone to be our friend, someone to get angry with when we don’t like the Truth. We want someone to be in a relationship with us, of them caring for us, serving us, in the areas that are neglected. In the midst of these legitimate areas of need, we neglect the One who gave us the needs in the first place. Our church has leadership, namely elders and deacons, a pastor and his wife. They make decisions regarding the church, they hear the gripes, they decide who can be helped. They prayerfully consider spreading what the church has among missionaries, budgets, salaries, bills, widows, the starving. They have big hopes, and big dreams. This is a dedication of service to the Lord, and often He is the only One who sees the nitty gritty of the tasks. Most of these people are not paid for this work, although the pastor is. His or hers is a job that is in constant balance, because it is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their families, or the crying parishioner? The parent-teacher interview, or the fighting congregants? The date night with the wife, or the one at the hospital, breathing their last? The family dinner, or the phone call?
Then there are children’s and youth ministries. They are filled with people who love Jesus, love children, and try to serve Him through them. They do not get paid for this. They must deal with discipline, neglect, budgets, parents, small spaces, comparisons to “other churches,” schedules, curriculums and glitter. They must have proof that they have not committed any crimes against children, or even been suspected of it. After all, it happened in that other church and really, what “normal” person wants to do this job? We must check them out and get references. And this is on top of their regular jobs and families.
And there are the front line workers. These are the ones who serve the ministries, answer the phones, help where they can, do what they are able. A very noble calling. They also do not get paid. They are not perfect on the outside; mercy, they aren’t perfect on the inside. But they are serving the Lord. Some are dedicated, some are not. Some pray constantly for the good of the church, the ministries, the people in the street. Some care only what they can get out of it, and that their needs are met.
The facility itself can be in any condition. After a function where people are served, loved, fed or ministered to, the place can look like an insurance claim in waiting. When volunteers are the ones doing all the work, what, really, can you demand of them? Apparently lots. Complaints are often heard by all when it is not in perfect ship-shape order. The building must be manicured, lawns mowed, kitchen sparkling, classrooms inviting and perfect. And one better not be able to detect what actually goes on in the restrooms. Comment card, anyone?
All of these people make up a whole. They all have exactly one thing in common: sinners, redeemed in Christ. Not one is closer to Jesus, not one is smarter than the other. They will all vary in forms of commitment to their Savior. Some may read their bibles daily, and be one with Jesus all day long. Some may pray as often as they feel they can, and join studies where someone will read to them so they can officially cross it off their spiritual “to do” list. Some will perform lip service on Sunday, and hit the bar Monday. Some will hold it in their hearts, but not know where to go from there. Some may preach it to everyone who will listen. Some may be Jesus to their neighbors. These people are as unique as can be, yet the world sees them as one whole. When the world hears “Christian,” we are all painted with the same brush, covered with the same label.
What does the world see that we don’t see?
When I go to the gym, I expect the secretary to answer the phone, the trainer to train, the manager to manage. I would never expect the group of shareholders to evaluate my hips. All the employees have clear roles, completely laid out, complete with training, school requirements and time off.
What of the church? Is the pastor responsible for our needs? Or are we all called to the same work? Are we all called to serve each other? Are we all called to take our hurts to Jesus first, and in a dispute, follow the steps laid out for us in our 32 different bibles and translations? Or do we go to the “board,” the elders, the deacons, the pastor, our neighbors, our unsaved friends? After all, the board needs to take care of us. They know what’s best. They know the One who answers when we knock.
What of our needs? Should there not be a ministry to support them, fulfill them, serve them? What of people hurting? Should the board not DO SOMETHING about them? Should we not bring it to their attention, for this is their responsibility?
Should the hierarchy we have put in place be responsible for the roles that we have created for them?
Are we all called to the same job as the pastor himself, but, thank you Lord, with less accountability? Am I not a missionary, a “pastor”, in the sense that I must take care of those I know who are hurting? When the world labels me a Bible-thumping, old-school, conservative mama, and puts me in the same place as a board member, a pastor’s wife, a missionary, a martyr, I’m beginning to the think the world may be right.
I think that’s what does the Bible says.
I don’t think we truly want to know.
But I am going to find out.
I will tell you this: the church is not the gym. It was never meant to be. It was meant to be the church. What does that mean? What does the Bible say? I value your feedback. I would be very upset if I went to the library, expecting to buy lawn furniture. Is that what Christians are doing when attending church or ministries?
Tell me what you think, and tell me what you are praying for.