Saturday, November 04, 2006

Two Restaurants

Imagine that you are a patron of a restaurant where you get poor service and inferior food. Frequently, the waitress ignores you and procrastinates in taking your order. She is rarely friendly. And you often get food that you didn’t order.

While the food is always edible, it often looks as if it’s just been thrown on the plate. The chef has a tendency to overcook everything. He couldn’t prepare al dente pasta to save his life.

And the prices are higher than anywhere else in town.

How long do you think you would continue to eat at this restaurant?

Before long you’d start asking your friends where they eat. You’d ask them how the food is there. You’d enquire about the quality of the service. You’d compare prices with “your” restaurant.

You might even shop around and try different places. But you would be foolish to stay at a restaurant that wasn’t satisfying when there were several good alternatives.

Imagine a different scenario.

You’ve been eating at a particular establishment for several years. This place doesn’t even have a menu. You rarely get any input into what is served. What’s more, you are expected to eat whatever is served, whether you like it or not.

And the service is poor. When you need something that doesn’t happen to be on the table, you have to go into the kitchen and get it yourself. You are required to bus your own table.

So one day you tell the waitress, “It’s nothing personal, but I’m looking for a different place to eat. I know you’ve tried your best. But, Mom, I just don’t feel that I’m getting the nourishment that I need. Tommy says that his mother makes an outstanding meatloaf. I owe it to myself to try it out.”

So why don’t we shop around for different families? Because a family is more than a dispenser of domestic goods and services. We belong to families. We don’t enter into service contracts with our parents.

Of course in extreme cases, some do have to leave their families. When there is neglect or abuse, this becomes necessary. But this is the exception.

Churches are more like families than they are like restaurants.

Imagine having this conversation with your father:

“Dad, I know you are a good parent. But I’ve found a better deal down at the Johnson family. They don’t require any chores. And their curfew is not until 1:00 a.m. I really appreciate all the things you’ve done for me, especially the time you stayed in the hospital with me when I had that terrible fever. But it’s time for me to move on. I have to think about what’s best for me. I hope that I’ll be able to stop in from time to time. I really wish the best for you and Mom. I’ll be back later to pick up my stuff.”
Yet parishioners have this conversation with their pastors all the time.

We’ve turned the church into a dispenser of religious goods and services. We evaluate churches by what they can do for us and for our families. We look at the programs and services they offer, and we weigh that against what they require of us. Then we enter a loose contract with the winner, binding only until we find a better deal.

We think that the purpose of a church “worship service” is to meet the private, individual spiritual needs of the members of the “club.” We pay performers to entertain us and make us feel better. We hire a leader to listen to God for us and to tell us what God’s wonderful plan is for our “club.” We make our own special rules for membership so that our “club” can maintain its “distinctives.”

If the church is going to be the church, then the leaders and the “members” need to stop thinking about it as a dispenser of religious goods and services. We need to start thinking of it as the Body of Christ, the family of God, the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

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