“to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:12 (NIV)~
“For three decades, maybe more, churches have been stripping themselves of compassion, community and commitment in favour of butts in the seats, bucks in the bank and broadening their sphere of influence. Once you feel like a number on an attendance sheet, a source of revenue or just one of many in a target group you are forced to ask yourself, why attend?” J. David Peever
The Western Church faces many challenges today not the least of which is a reduced number of “butts in the seats.”
Peever provides a harsh answer–but one we’d be wise to heed.
“At some point people just get bored. The entertainment loses its luster and the desire to leave the comfortable surroundings of the house disappears. For some this marks the end of regular attendance, while others continue to show up out of some sense of duty or tradition. Entertainment can inspire us, influence us, make us laugh or make us cry, make us feel good or make us feel guilty but the one thing it cannot do is make a permanent change in who we are.”
Church leadership, Peever asserts, sees the service “as a way to connect with people and with God but . . . [don’t] value people or God.”
It’s a simple diagnosis: The Church has been trying to connect without realizing that connecting occurs in truly valuing others. We don’t value others by entertaining them. We value them by serving them and calling them to service.
An example I read long ago: When you move into a new place, don’t offer to do a favor for your new neighbors. Ask them for a favor–even if it’s just the proverbial borrowing a cup of sugar.
When you do something for people, they feel beholden to you. That makes them feel uncomfortable. When they do something for you, they feel good about themselves.
That’s not to say we don’t fill needs as we see them. But part of filling someone’s need is helping him to see his own possibility and purpose.
The “butts in the seats”–all of us–need purpose in our faith. We need to feel useful, not just encouraged that God loves us. That’s important, but it’s far from all there is to living the Christian life.
The all-wise God knew that His love for us would require great sacrifice on His part.
He invites us, not to comfort and entertainment, but to sacrifice. To service.
If we issue that same invitation to fill the seats, we do better than inviting people into a fabulous showtime that lacks true connection, meaning, or purpose.
Our invitation is for others to live beyond themselves. We take our eyes off the comforts of this world, look to eternity, and invite others to do the same.
That’s how we value them. That’s how we value God.
Sarah Orne Jewett tells a story in which a community of women serve an outsider and learn this lesson:
“You know plain enough there’s somethin’ beyond this world; the doors stand wide open. There’s somethin’ of us that must still live on; we’ve got to join both worlds together an’ live in one but for the other.”
Living in this world for our own sake is comfortable. Living for the other world isn’t always comfortable.
But it’s the richest life possible.