Loving Consumers of Religious Goods and Services

“By this they will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” -Jesus, John 13:35

A few days ago at the gym, my friend “Joe” introduced me to “Tom” (not their real names).  Tom and Joe both attend a large church nearby.  Later, I bumped into Tom again and struck up a conversation. (I’m at the gym, in part, to do contact work after all). It went something like this:

  • Me: Tom, isn’t it?  I’m Jesse.
  • Tom:  Do you go to church with Joe, too?
  • Me: No, I’m planting a church, but I appreciate the ministry of your church.
  • Tom: Well, I don’t think I’ll be there much longer, because now they’re playing that loud music.
  • Me:  Wow, really, you really thinking of leaving the church over music?
  • Tom: That’s right. Because we older members don’t like it.  And we’re the ones who give the money.
  • Me: Look, I’m a pastor, and I don’t go to your church at all, but can I offer some feedback on that?
  • Tom [suddenly striking a more defensive pose] :  Sure. Go ahead.
  • Me: That seems like a pretty flippant reason to leave your church.  I don’t think Jesus brought you into the church so you would leave over the music.
  • Tom: Well, the older people give the money.  Young people don’t give anything to the church – well, at least they don’t give much.  And we don’t like the music, and we’re the ones who pay for the church.  It’s our money.
  • Me [realizing I’m about to make Tom really angry]:  Tom, don’t you know that your money really belongs to Jesus?  And I don’t think Jesus would really agree with your reason to leave.
  • Tom: Well… I wouldn’t mind telling Jesus.  He doesn’t care where I go to church as long as I go to church.  And I want to go to church that plays music I like and I’ll take my money with me.
  • Me: Look, I don’t have any vested interest in your church.  And really, I appreciate all sorts of music styles.  But I know and respect your pastor and appreciate the ministries there.  And you know it’s not really your money, right?  And it seems like a silly reason to end your fellowship with a church.
  • Tom: Yeah, well, I don’t have to pay for that loud music…
  • Me:  <sigh> [thinking, I feel sorry for your pastor.] Well, you may want to rethink that.But on the other hand, all that church growth stuff was wrapped in prayer, genuine love for the church and community, and good intentions.  And goodness knows, many churches woke up to the changes in our world as a result.  And God used it, because God works through our flawed attempts to serve faithfully.  Our churches did connect with people who may never have showed up otherwise.  But unfortunately, it also inadvertently endorsed moving and shopping for churches in order to have your own needs met. But unfortunately, though, thinking this way tempts me toward spiritual pride and judging others. And that does not please the Lord.“But Lord…”“Yes, Lord.”So I dropped onto on knee and began to pray. As I did, the Spirit of God suddenly helped me love Tom. “God, Tom is feeling left out and disregarded in his church because of the music. Lord, comfort him and others who are feeling the same way and help them find joy in worship. And God, give him wisdom with this precious thing called fellowship. And help us both to follow you more faithfully. For the sake of your name, Jesus, I pray, Amen.”###
  • For reflection: What tempts you to spiritual pride and judgment? What keeps it in check? Are you ever tempted to preach when you pray for others?   And what are some practices that help you love others?
  • It was an imperfect prayer. Looking at it now, I see there’s a little preachiness in it. But when I prayed, my attitude toward Tom got a lot better. So how can we find a way to love the consumers of religious goods and services? By putting ourselves with them in the presence of the one who loves us in spite of our mixed and imperfect motives for following Him. Something about being in the presence of the one who is Love changes everything.
  • So I walked over to Tom who was resting between sets. I said, “Tom, would you mind if I prayed with you?” Tom said, “That’d be okay.”
  • “Pray with Tom. Don’t preach anymore.”
  • After our conversation, I walked over to the water fountain and prayed, “Lord, I am so glad I’m not Tom’s pastor.” You’ve got to be careful about bringing the Lord into these things. I felt the Lord push back and sensed him saying, “Pray with Tom.”
  • Conversations with guys like Tom remind me how wonderful it is to be in a missional setting.  The nature of our church challenges people who make select their fellowship based on musical style.  That’s because we emphasize that following Jesus means learning to imitate Him. And if you want to know how to select the church that is right for you, choose the one that best challenges you to imitate Christ, up-in-and-out.
  • There are a lot of Toms in churches.   Many people have learned to be consumers of religious goods and services.   Tom probably learned it from the church.  The church growth movement, which has been such a cultural influence, was all about attracting people to your church.  I went to seminars that taught us church leaders to think like marketers.  “Do your demographic research.  Select your target market.  Determine the felt needs in that market.  Shape ministries to address those needs.  Target your advertising to people with those needs.  Create a fun, safe, welcoming environment. That way, people will come to your church.”  And to a degree it worked.  We were even told what brand of coffee and donuts to serve so people would know we valued excellence.   Actual studies were conducted that showed (and I’m not making this up) that if we advertised that we were serving certain brands of coffee and donuts, people would be more likely to come to our church.  Pity the juice and cookies crowd.

About Pastor Jesse

I am someone loved by Jesus - a disciple, husband, father, pastor, and engineer. God has a mission and invites us into it. I want to do my part to encourage and equip people for life on that mission!
This entry was posted in Contact Work, Discipleship, Prayer, worship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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