Sunday, July 13, 2008

Breach of contract???

I recently read an article titled "How Responding to People's Needs Hurts the Church" by Elizabeth I. Steele. The article talks about how in a consumer culture, talking about a church's ministry in terms of responding to people's needs, "puts the church in the position of being defined not by its faith or history but by people's wants." People come to church because the church feels a perceived need that is not fulfilled elsewhere. Some of the needs/wants that people expect to be fulfilled by a church are things such as unity, non-judgmental acceptance, fellowship, Biblical principles, and accountability with other Christians to strengthen each other to live holy lives. Some look for specific programs to meet the needs of their family, such as youth or children's groups, social outlets, or ways to use their gifts to serve the community.

But what happens when the church fails to meet these needs? Often, a person may see this lack of fulfillment as a "breach of contract" on the part of the church. After all, they see the church as a place that fills the needs of people. In response to this "breach," they may leave, or they may challenge what is (or is not) happening and who is in charge until the "promised" care-taking and attention are provided.

Wait ... I didn't realize that a church had a "contract" with its members to provide for such things. So I asked a few people on a Christian chat service for their input.

Most of the "wants and needs" the chatters mentioned are stated in the opening paragraph. One of the people that I talked with said that she and her family recently moved to their area and were presently attending a mega-church. She commented that in a church that size it was difficult to connect with other members who are like her. She also admitted that there are many opportunities to connect, and it was up to her to put forth the effort to start building relationships.

After a brief discussion, the general consensus was that if people want music and aesthetics and a message that gives them a warm-fuzzy feeling, then they're going to church for the wrong things. God's needs should be met first -- the need for us to be in a relationship with Him. Then our own needs will be met by God, starting with our need for reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 20:28, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." He also tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 14:24). If we are followers of Jesus we should not have the mindset of the church exists to fill our needs. As Ms. Steele puts it, "Lost is the idea of people being and becoming the church. Lost is the understanding of the church as a community of faith whose members struggle together to draw closer to God and to express that closeness in how they live and interact with the world."
As disciples of Christ, we should actively participate in partnering with God to use the gifts and resources He has given us to reach out to those who are lost, and point them to a place where they can encounter the saving grace found through Jesus Christ.

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