Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reason Number Fourteen

Today I offer reason number fourteen of fifteen about why people choose not to attend a place of worship.  I define a place of worship this way: a gathering of unrelated people where, for at least a couple of hours a week, they intentionally attend to the transformational development of their spiritual life.

Excuse Number Fourteen:  "The church didn't help when I needed it." 

I receive somewhere between three to six calls a week from people I do not know who (choose one): want the church to pay their utility bills; pay for a hotel room; pay for car repairs; and/or want me personally to listen at length to their life story and then give them some money.  If I'm not here when a call comes in, I'll often hear a message, "Call me back IMMEDIATELY."  If I can't give what they need, the caller often hangs up on me. 

One women, phoning the parsonage very late one night, wanted me to go to Western Union and wire her some money, right then.  Recently, I was in a complicated meeting when some stranger walked into the church building, told me he was a United Methodist Pastor from a southern area of the state, and needed help immediately.  I told him I would fill up his car with gas, left the meeting, followed him to the filling station, and inserted my debit card at the pump. I then watched as he pumped a whole 1.8 gallons of gas into his tank before it clicked off.  

Many of these seeking help seem to be reading from a standardized script, for I've heard the same story from multiple people.  "I was just driving through and the (some necessary part) fell out of my car and I have to get to (some distant city) today because I have a job opportunity there."  Or, "I have a very sick child and I'm going to get kicked out of my hotel tonight if you don't come over here right now and give me some money." 

There are others who have tenuous ties to the local church community who expect the church to read their minds, figure out that they need something, and make sure that they get it, and are really upset when it does happen, so decide not to attend any more.

I know that people hit hard times, and others just need a comforting ear.  I help when I can--its part of my responsibility to help our neighbors.  However, I do get frustrated with those who think the purpose of the church is to make their lives easier, to fill their empty pocketbooks while they have no reciprocal obligation to the holy community.  It has long been my experience, both in my own life and in the observance of others, that those who are most generous with time, service and money demand the least. The opposite is very much true:  those who give the least have an uncanny ability to suck others dry.

Let me be clear:  the purpose of the church is NOT to make lives easier or make people rich, no matter what the health, wealth and prosperity preachers say.  The church is called together to become the living embodiment of Christ.  We are to teach, baptize, make disciples, rear our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and practice holy living with one another so we may be equipped to serve the world, move more deeply into our salvation experience, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked and go to the cross of forgiveness and reconciliation for others.

The church is not here to meet your needs.  That idea comes from a consumerist society, and puts all focus on self, not on a Holy God whose presence calls us to transformational living.  The church is here to remind each of us that we have the Image of God stamped upon our souls, and that we have been given the gift and responsibility to cooperate with God in the healing of the world.  It's a call to sacrifice, not selfishness.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in church, and my parents always served the youth and in the lay leadership.When you serve with all your heart and energy, there is no time for making demands and expecting certain kinds of gratification. What's more, there is no need to, for somehow along the way, needs you never even voice are met by that very church you serve. God chooses you, then you choose the "we" of the church and its people.

Society doesn't willingly cater to "moochers." Neither should the church. It's not a responsible thing to help people wallow in their own folly and weakness. Compassion is reaching out and helping people walk through the doors of the church knowing that they have a place to be loved and an opportunity to discover that their needs will change to the kind that can be met simply by giving of themselves.

Kay Anderson said...

Loved this one, Christy! Truer words were never spoken.