“How many congregations believe they are in the ‘we exist for ourselves’ business rather than the ‘we are in mission to the community, even the world’ business? How many congregations confuse ‘the way we have done things for decades’ with the ‘larger apostolic purposes’? How many congregations mistake the means for the ends?” (Healthy Congregations, 70)
(Note: I might have some of the details in this story wrong, but the general gist is the same) I remember my dad recently telling me this story about a cluster gathering he was at. They were talking about possibilities of reaching out to single mothers in the area. As he was telling me this story, I thought – great! Finally, the churches in our area getting out and doing something! But as he progressed, I became disheartened again. These clergy people were brainstorming some novel ideas: low cost or free day care centers, a support group, and volunteer after-school care, to name a few. He told me that all these ideas sounded great, but that he was the only one who suggested that they go out and actually talk to single mothers to see how the church could serve them. It bothered me that these clergy folk never came up with this simple idea of actually going out into the community to figure out what these people truly wanted, and instead imagined their need, and how the church could fix it.
I know it takes a lot to change this energy in the church. Most congregations have a social club mentality, and that’s not what the gospel is about. The gospel is about transforming lives, communities, nations, and the world. It isn’t about promoting a dogmatic message, or forcing people to come to church, but about service for no other purpose than to show God’s love. It’s about being with the people through their times of suffering. It’s in bringing about God’s kingdom, and that isn’t going to happen if we don’t go out into the world, talk to people, and serve them.In short, I think most churches today, even if they pretend not to, actually exist and serve themselves.