Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Customer or Missionary?

Just read a thought-provoking article that has me asking hard questions.

When you come to church, do you come like a customer or like a missionary?

Customers are looking for a good deal, looking to buy a quality product for not too high an investment. They want to get something that will make their life better. The customer leaves church asking, "What did I get out of that?" Customers go church-shopping and hope to find a church with good programs for their kids, an active youth group, upbeat sermons and dynamic worship. Theology that matches their own so they don't have to be offended very often. A young (but not too young) pastor who won't bore them or challenge them too much in his (possibly her, depending on the customer) sermons, which should be about 1/3 of a 60-minute worship service. Make no mistake, these customers know what they want and they are discerning shoppers.

Missionaries don't go to church this way at all. Missionaries come in out of the storm looking for shelter. They've often been beaten up by the world a bit. They have a critical task to do in the kingdom of God, and worship for them is a respite, a breather, a huddle with others who share the kingdom but have their own tasks. Missionaries are hoping for a word and a meal that will get them the next few steps down the road that Jesus is walking with them. They know who they are and who they belong to, but they live and work and follow Jesus in a world that lies to them, so they need to come together with other believers to hear the truth, to breathe easy for a while, to be refreshed for the next leg of the journey. Missionaries rarely complain about the quality of the coffee or the color of the carpet, because they have seen God doing his best work in some places where there is neither coffee nor carpet. The missionary leaves worship saying, "Oh, thank you, Lord ... now back to work."

What would the church be like if it was a fellowship of missionaries? I think that's exactly, precisely what Jesus intended it to be. This is the church Jesus foresaw when he said, "the gates of hell will not stand against it." This is a church on offense, a church released from worship each week to wreak havoc on Satan's kingdom, a church that pulls dying people out of death and darkness, into the light. This is a church of people who volunteer at food shelves, work in public schools, bring cookies to a new neighbor, stop for the lady with the steaming radiator, help coach the football team, shovel the other guy's car out after the snowstorm, donate money to support other missionaries, sponsor the orphan, sit by the bedside of the sick and dying, have the hard conversation, pray and read the Bible with their children, help the stranger move across town, and so much more. This is a church that doesn't worry about opinion polls or personalities. It's a church that is chronically short on money because it's giving so much away. It's a church that is more effective scattered, and it gathers to enjoy fellowship and worship together.

The church the world loves to criticize, the one that is full of hypocrites, the church that is "a hiding place for weak people," as one perceptive young woman told me, is generally speaking a church full of customers. The missionary church flies under the world's radar. The missionary church is rarely caught up in theological arguments, and then only when something critical to its mission is at stake.

Sad to say, most of the churches I've ever been involved with have been mostly customer churches. But the missionaries are there, maybe ten percent of the population, like yeast in the dough, like salt in the food, just enough to make it worthwhile to stay. They give me hope.