I appreciated this post from my friend Grace this past week. She writes:
If you are looking for a church to join, then you look for a vision or purpose that matters to you, a leader you respect, and people that you enjoy being around.
If you are looking for a service to attend, the only thing that matters is if the service is of enough value to your spiritual life to continue attending.
Implicit in the first set of values is the expectation that you plan to give something: your time and talent toward a vision; your submission to a leader; your investment in relationships.
In the second, the assumption is that you are there to receive something that you want or need, on your terms.
I have served in enough congregations to know that it is very, very easy to bend who we are and what we do toward that second set of values. A powerful vision, true leadership, and authentic relationships are hard: catchy slogans, up-front showmanship and a weekly party can become easy, and strangely appealing, substitutes for the more difficult work.
I think what struck me the most in Grace’s observation was an idea I encounter often enough in my peers, and that is the notion that our spiritual life is nurtured and sustained by whatever set of spiritual practices or products we choose, based on what we deem “valuable” in a given time or context. In my experience, how this often plays out for people is that very post-modern “bricolage” approach to spirituality. Listen to this preacher online. Read these books. Go to this Christian social scene. Participate in this retreat. Attend worship services at these churches. Do missions work with this organization.
None of those things are bad, and of course parts of people can thrive in this environment for a season. But what is missing is the perseverance, vulnerability, and sacrifice that comes from the messy commitment to being family with imperfect people. What is missing is the primary notion that our salvation comes not as an end, not as something to be managed like an investment portfolio or built like a resume, but rather it comes to direct us away from ourselves and reorient us toward lives in service to others.
How many of us “shop” for a church with that as our primary motive?