A common question I ask when I think about doing a task, or joining something is, “what can I get out of this?” Signing up for the gym gets me a healthier lifestyle and gets me on the road to a better physique, while accepting “this” or “that” job gets me more experience and exposure. In moderation, I believe asking that question is wise. However, when it comes to the Church, it becomes an issue. Many of us walk in the front doors and think, “what can I get out of this?” Don’t get me wrong, I think initially asking that may be fine. But if that’s all we consider, then we are in trouble.
I think in asking that question, we are putting ourselves up on a pedestal. We are propping up ourselves, thinking the church should be out to serve me and me alone. Asking “what can the church do for me” removes us from being active participants in the life of the local church, as well as in the hands-on ministry work we all are called to do as a body of believers. It goes even further by removing the title of “disciple” from us, replacing it with “consumer.”
Being a consumer of the gym, or of your work, may not necessarily be a bad thing. However, in the church it is detrimental to our spiritual growth. “How can this place serve me?” “What can I get out of this place?” “What will they do for me?” We are losing our discipleship focus and reorienting ourselves around consumption and self.
If we walk through the front doors of our churches, consume the sermon, consume the Sunday school lesson, consume the midweek class or service, and consume the benefits and aid that the church gives us, but do not do anything else beyond that, can we really say that we are growing in Christ? Sure, we may possess a lot of knowledge about God from all the services we attend, but how are we serving the least of these? How are we practicing true religion (taking care of widows and orphans)? How are we spreading the Gospel? We have a lot of knowledge or faith, but where are our works? Where is our service?
If we are taking but not giving, if we are attending but not serving, my fear is that rather than heartfelt disciples, we are turning into “Christian viruses.”
Now, that may sound harsh, but what does a virus do to a cell? It attaches to a host cell (a church), injects itself into the cell (attends weekly services and events), and feeds off the nutrients of the cell until the cell becomes too weak. In that last stage, that may look like attending all the events a church offers but never offering to serve or volunteer, so the existing volunteer teams get overworked and burned out. Burned out or no volunteers, is harmful to a church and the people. Or maybe it looks like attending service and gaining all types of knowledge of God and the Gospel, but never sharing the faith or discipling someone. How does the church grow if all we do is consume? If we take, but do not give?
I know it may not feel like only consuming is harmful, but it is. And it reveals where our hearts truly are. If we just sit in our seats and leave when the band closes us out at the end of service, we are harming the health of the Church. If we take and take but never give, we are weakening the church (the cell) until there is nothing more to take, and it is dried up.
I desire for us to take and consume the Sunday service, or the Community Group, do not get me wrong. But I also desire that we would allow in turn the Church to consume us. Let the Church use me by me serving in an area of ministry, by using my God given talents, by volunteering to serve people outside the walls of the Church, and/or by sharing the gospel of Jesus with people I meet in my daily travels. That exchange creates a healthy church and a healthy Christian: the Church serving and feeding the members, and the members serving and building up the Church.
It is only when we are helping serve the church at large that we are wearing the mantle of a “disciple.” Jesus called us go and make disciples, not consumers. My great desire for every Christian is to not walk through the church doors and only ask “what can I get out of this church.” Rather, we ask that question, and also ask “and how can I serve this church.” May we not be consumers, but instead be disciples.