Churchgoers who embrace this distinction experience growth and blessing in worship services. Those who don’t, don’t.
It’s really as simple as what you probably learned sometime in high school: “You get out of it what you put into it.” If you want college to be something valuable, don’t depend on professors to infuse you with knowledge. Apply yourself. Study. Seek out learning experiences. If you want success in your career, take the initiative. If you want a good relationship with your significant other, put work into it. It’s a pretty universally true paradigm.
Aside from one exception: church.
For some reason, church is a place where we expect amazing things to happen in our lives but we’re not willing to put work into it. I want an hour in a chair to bring me inner peace, to bring resolution to conflicts, to make my kids better behaved. So we go to church. We sit. We hear. We leave. At some point, we reflect on this pattern and recognize that our kids are just as wild as they were, our lives are just as crazy as they were, and peace is still not there. So we deduce that church is broken.
Maybe we feel it’s the pastor’s fault, so we give him the healthy encouragement of, “Hey, Pastor, have you heard of ________? I watch him on YouTube like every day. You really should be more like him.”
Maybe we perceive that it’s a fault in the style of our church. We therefore take every opportunity we can to remind our fellow members how much we don’t enjoy the songs the band plays or the fact that we use an organ too much.
Maybe we feel that the church doesn’t offer enough programs that fit our lifestyle.
But maybe the reason you feel church is broken has nothing to do with church. Maybe the reason you’re not experiencing blessing and growth in your church has to do with you.
If you come to church as a consumer, don’t expect growth.
Is this your attitude: “Pastor, make this hour worth my time”? Or is it: “Pastor, thank you for the opportunity to see Jesus”?
Worship isn’t about you. It’s about God. It’s about listening to him in his Word. It’s about receiving his grace in the Lord’s Supper. It’s about responding to his love in prayer and song. It’s about being one with his body, the church. And if you make it about you, you’re only going to be frustrated by how much it isn’t about you.
If you expect growth to happen passively, it won’t.
This goes back to what we said earlier: you get out of it what you put into it. How much endurance will one meal a week give you? How ripped will you be after working out for one hour a week? How much growth can you honestly expect if you only put in one hour a week?
My guess is that every churchgoer at some time falls into one or both of those traps. We all have a human nature that is inherently me-centered. And to be honest, often the church feeds that self-centric attitude.
We’ve marketed church as an event. We’ve staged it as a production. We’ve appeased members by offering programs and styles to make sure there’s something for everyone. We’ve made worship passive.
Maybe it’s time for churches and pastors to do some evaluation too. Look at your end game. What’s the purpose for the way you craft your worship services? What’s the goal of your programs? If it’s anything but the gospel, there’s a good chance you’re feeding a consumer attitude in your church.
Sometimes it takes a few steps to get to the gospel, and I get that. Sometimes an event is an excuse to get people connected to the culture and community of your church so that you can have the chance to share the gospel later. The end game is still the gospel, even if it takes a bridge to get to it. But, if you can’t articulate the bridge, that program or event, as awesome as it is, may very well be part of the problem.
You, however, don’t have to be.
If you’re a member of a church, take seriously your responsibility to the gospel and know it. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, 26, Paul used a pretty vivid image to describe the intensity that can accompany your spiritual growth: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” Don’t wait for growth to happen, take the initiative!
And if you’re a leader in the church, do the hard work of checking everything you do against the gospel. Use the gifts God’s given you to innovate and do ministry in a way that fits you, remembering why you’re doing it: to share the gospel.
The gospel saves. Nothing else does. Study it, proclaim it, and thrive in your role in the body of Christ. The church will thrive with you.
“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 27).
Zach Gebert serves the multisite ministry of Bethany in Appleton