May I Take Your Order?

It happened again the other day. To be honest, I couldn’t even estimate how many times I’ve had some version of this conversation. I met someone new on my walk with my dog. Like always, we talked about dogs (I mean, what else, right?) And, as usual, I ask what they do for a living. They reciprocate and ask what I do. This is an automatic into the Gospel of the Kingdom and an invitation to our local house church. This time, when I brought up church, I found out that this person was already a Christian – a very frustrated one.

Within seconds, he had already told me about seven different churches they had tried in the past several years. The conversation went something like this: “We’ve been church shopping now for a long time, but we just can’t find anything that works for us. We liked the worship at one church, but the teaching wasn’t deep enough. Then at this other church, we loved the teaching, but the kid’s ministry was lame. We tried one church that we thought might be pretty cool, but no one talked to us the whole time we were there.” He finished with the line that to me is the death blow. It still breaks my heart every time I hear someone say it: “We just can’t find a church that meets our needs.”

Now, before I start sounding like critical, out-of-touch leader guy, let me say that I am thrilled that this person and everyone like him wants to find a great church. But the language in this conversation is troubling. For example, “We’re church shopping.” It sounds like you’re out looking for the perfect item of clothing. And the phrase “I can’t find a church that meets my needs” is one of the most unbiblical statements any Christian could utter. This is the have-it-your-way mindset. We see ourselves as spiritual consumers. The church is the product. We want to find a product that meets our needs. Before long, this polluted mind-set creeps into our theology. Well, since I’m going to church and doing good things, then God should answer my prayers, get me the job I want, help my sports team win the championship, and ensure that my twelve-year-old becomes class secretary. And if any of this doesn’t happen the way I want it to, then God failed me. Because, remember, everything is all about me. Right?

We forget that we are not made to be spiritual consumers. God has called his to be spiritual contributors. And the church does not exist for us. We are the Church, and we exist for the world.

When my mind shifts from being a spiritual consumer – it’s all about me, what I want, what I get, what I prefer – to becoming a spiritual contributor, everything changes. I am here to serve God and to love people. I exist to make a difference. God created me to be a blessing for others. My food is to do His will and to finish the work He sent me to do. When we stop just serving because it is the right thing to do and instead start seeing ourselves as servants, that’s the moment when we die a bit more to ourselves and Christ is free to live through us to bless others. 

Here’s a fun assignment: ask yourself, “Am I more of a consumer or a contributor?” If you are a Christ follower, hopefully you are a valuable part of a life-giving church. When you think about church, how would you rate yourself? Do you drop your kids off at the nursery (without ever serving there), eat a free donut or drink a free cup of coffee, sit in a seat that someone else paid for, enjoy the service, then pick up your kids and go home? If so, you are a consumer.

On the other hand, do you use your gifts to make a difference? Do you invite people to your church? Do you pray faithfully? Do you tithe consistently? And do you serve passionately? Then you’re more of a contributor.

Now think about the other areas of your life. When was the last time you gave a whole day to help someone in need? If you’ve done that several times this year, you’re contributing. You’re using your life to serve others. If you’ve never done that, or if you haven’t given much of yourself in other ways, then you should face up to the truth: you’re more of a consumer.

What about your prayers? Are you faithfully praying for others? Do you ask God to draw those who don’t know Him into a relationship with Him? To heal those who are sick? To help orphans find homes? To bless those who are hassling or hurting you? If you do, then you’re contributing with your faith and prayers. If, on the other hand, most of your prayers are focused on yourself – “Bless me, protect me, help me” – then call that what it is: at least in the area of prayer, you’re a consumer.

I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you. I simply want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. If you are using your life to be a blessing to others today, then later you will relish sharing the stories that God will  allow you to tell. But if you’re more focused on self-service than on serving others, you’re going to end up with many blank pages – lost blessings that you can find only by contributing what God created you to give to the world.