I recently read a quote by Mark Dever who is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He stated, “The difference between ‘going to church’ and going to your own church is the difference between a restaurant and a family dinner table.” This quote got me to thinking about what it means to be a part of a church in today’s culture and society. With so many things that compete for our time, and so many forms of entertainment at our disposal what role does the church play in the life of a believer, and what role should it play?
I grew up in a family that valued a sense of loyalty. As a result loyalty has always been a big deal to me. My Father use to say, “blood is thicker than water.” What he meant was that you have to be loyal to your family, and you should never chose friends over family. That sense of loyalty, especially in regards to family, has always been deeply implanted in me as a result of my upbringing. In general, I have such a sense of loyalty that I am the kind of person who will pay a few more dollars to a company simply because of a sense of loyalty that I feel towards them after years of service. I will endure difficulties with people because I feel a desire to be loyal to them even when it is hard. I will root for my sports team even if they go 1-15 (and they have).
Unfortunately this deep sense of loyalty does not appear to be common in our culture today, and as a result I am often left feeling like a dinosaur when it comes to this subject. If I may chase a rabbit for minute, take television providers for example. As a new customer with many companies you are entitled to certain discounts and benefits if you will enter into a contract, yet when you go to renew that contract those discounts and benefits will no longer be available. But, if you cancel and go to another provider you can get the benefits and discounts by entering into a contract with them. If this isn’t crazy enough after that contract is up you can go back to your original provider and get discounts and benefits as a new customer again. How crazy is that! They not only refuse to reward loyalty they encourage a system that helps you benefit by being disloyal.
At this point you may be asking yourself the question, what in the world does any of this have to do with what this blog is about? Well, I have half-jokingly said many times that I always appreciate the church member who says to me I was here before you got here and I will be here after you leave. Now, to be sure, I don’t appreciate what that often infers about me, but what I do appreciate is what that infers about them, namely that they are loyal to their church. Their loyalty to their church is not dictated by whether they like everything or even agree with everything, instead their loyalty is founded in the deep sense of belonging they feel. This sense of belonging is rooted, I believe, in a sense of family. This is the family that God has given them, and you don’t just walk out on family without a good reason, so they won’t even if that means they have to put up with me 😉
You see I can’t help but wonder if this is not one of the things that is missing from today’s church culture. I can’t help but wonder whether we have lost our ability to appreciate that deep sense of family that is found within a local church? And, whether we have lost a desire to even cultivate that deep sense of family within the local church? With all the other things to distract us and pull us away, are we forsaking the good gifts of God that are only experienced in the local church? Over the years as a pastor I have watched the church walk alongside hurting families through difficulties and heartaches. I have watched the church laugh, cry, celebrate and mourn with part of its family. Yet I have also watched as many of those who have experienced that sense of family walk right out the door, never to be seen again.
Now please do not misunderstand, there are times when it is appropriate and God honoring to leave. There are times when you would be dishonoring the family that God has given you by staying, and there are times when God is calling you to something else and as a result you would be dishonoring God to stay. There are many good reasons to leave a church, and these are not the things I am thinking of as I write this.
When thinking about the original quote that started all of this I want to share with you what Justin Childers (pastor of my former church) had to say. He wrote, “One of the aspects of this analogy that should challenge us is this: at a family meal, we have to contribute (cook, clean, host, etc). And we have to put up with that crazy uncle. But at a restaurant someone waits on us and cleans up after us…all we do is consume (and we choose who we sit with). Far too many people just attend church for this reason. They don’t want to contribute and be responsible for the life and health of the church. They just want to keep their distance…just in case there is another restaurant they want to try out.”
I wonder if this is not true of the church today in America. I wonder if what Pastor Justin has said is true of more of us than we would care to admit. Have we lost our sense of loyalty because we treat church more like a restaurant and less like a family meal? Have we as the church done a bad job of teaching people, and raising up a generation of people, to view their role in church as a participant and not simply as a recipient? Have we started making our churches look more like restaurants and less like family gatherings? When I think of these questions I can’t help but to ponder the scriptures in 1 Corinthians and Romans that speak of the church as a body. When we read those descriptions we see a connectedness that is hard to ignore. If what is described in those passages is true then there is a real sense of investment we should feel, as parts of the body, shouldn’t we? As a part of the body there should be a sense of obligation to contribute, as well, right? With that being said I wonder, what would our church look like if we took seriously the gifts God has given us in each other? What would our church look like if we all began to view it more as a family dinner table and less like a restaurant? This analogy is so rich and full of many beautiful take-a-ways.
I don’t write these things to point my finger. Instead, I write these things to invite us to think more deeply about one of the greatest gifts we who are in Christ have been given, the church. If I am honest I have often thought to little of this amazing gift. I am grieved to think of all the ways over my walk with Christ that I have viewed my church wrongly. As a pastor, I am grieved to think of the ways I may have contributed to this in one way or another. This thought leads me to pray, and I hope would lead you to as well. It leads me to pray for myself, and to pray for God’s church. I pray that God would continue to develop in me a deep sense of love and commitment to His church. I pray that I would see more clearly the church that God has placed me in as a beautiful family dinner table and not a franchise restaurant. I pray that I would find joy in the family God has given me (even with her flaws), and I pray you would as well.
Grace and Peace,