Thursday, November 4, 2010


A thought about customers vs. missionaries. This is obvious after some thought, but in the daily grind of church staffing and leadership, we often miss the obvious.

Church programs create customers.

Think about it. If I'm a pastor (that's the rumor, anyway) and I decide to lead a Bible study, or a parenting class, or any of a dozen other kinds of programmatic opportunities, I have created an opportunity for people to come consume the product I'm offering. I have knowledge and they come to receive. I have expertise and they come for education. It's only slightly different if I facilitate a course taught on video. At that point, Dave Ramsey or Rick Warren or some other phenomenal teacher has expertise. By offering this kind of program at my church, I encourage people to be customers. This breeds passivity and dependence.

The ultimate example of this kind of dependence that I've ever seen -- I accepted a call to a church once and during my first month there, discovered that a couple gifted leaders were offering the Crossways Bible Study. I was hugely excited because I know this to be excellent material that helps people develop sound biblical knowledge. I was a little taken aback when i discovered that they had taught the class six times, and the same ten people had taken the class each time. When I said, "Wow! You guys must know this material by now -- we could have ten different classes with each of you leading one!" They looked horrified and said quickly, "Oh, no -- we don't know the material nearly well enough for that! We need to learn more." They were passive customers.

Occasionally we need to offer programs to give people basic training or information. Once in a while this is appropriate. But fact is, all the programming in the world won't help people love God more or serve their neighbor better. To grow into this stuff -- to grow into what Jesus said was the most important -- we need to start doing it, preferably doing it with others who are at varying places in following Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said (and I think he hit this one out of the park) that obedience does not come from knowledge, it comes from readiness for responsibility.

So maybe the reason we've got so many customers in our churches is that

1. Our pastors have mistaken programming for leadership and attendance for obedience;
2. Church-goers, generally speaking, are not ready for responsibility in their faith;
3. We hide our fear behind the excuse of "needing to know more" before we act.

Jesus didn't act in any of these three ways. He said to the incompetent fishermen, the despised tax collector, and many others, "Come, follow me." Then he started walking. We only know the stories of the ones who left their baggage and followed.

1 comment:

  1. You said it before, that a lot of current christianity acts as an "innoculation" of sorts, vaccinating us against becoming true followers of Jesus. Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship" is one of my all-time favs.