Could we take a broad look at something that has happened to the American church today?
I’m concerned about how consumer driven Christianity has become. And I don’t mean all of the “Christian” things that are sold–seriously, if you want a Christian version of anything you can buy it. I mean how we have created a church that is a place where we go to get things.
I’ll start with a confession: there was a time in my faith journey when I bought the consumer message hook, line and sinker. I went to church looking to “get something out of it.” I expected my ministers to “feed me.” I wanted the message to be “relevant” to my life. I rated worship on whether or not I got into it and whether or not I liked it. I went to church expecting something to happen for me once I got there. I went to church expecting God to speak to me through the Scripture and the words of the message and the music. If a church wasn’t giving me what I needed, I could just leave and go to one that would.
But now I understand that it’s not about me at all, and it’s not about what I get out of it.
Church isn’t what we get out of it–it’s what we put into it. We’re not there to be entertained or amused or even “fed.” We’re there to worship and serve and pray and fellowship and be a part of Christ’s ministry.
Somewhere along the way, the church has lost what it means to be the Body of Christ. Being the Body of Christ is less about what do I get and more about what do I give.
In Acts 2, we have an account of what life was like in the early church. Right after Peter preached his Pentecost message, here’s what happened:
42So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
4445Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:41-47
1. The church grew a lot in one day–can you imagine the chaos that must have caused? I think we’d be hard pressed to find any church in America that has spontaneously welcomed 3,000 new members in a single day!
2. They devoted themselves to four things: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. There’s nothing in there about learning cutting edge worship songs, building campaigns or committee meetings. They learned, they spent time together, they ate together and they prayed.
3. They lacked concern for themselves and their things. They were outwardly focused–they sold their own possessions and goods and gave their proceeds to people who were in need.
4. They met with each other as often as they could–daily. I don’t imagine they were participating in a “40 Days of Purpose” program or showing up for revival services. It sounds more to me like what happens when youth group kids gravitate to the church in the middle of the week and end up in the youth room–they just want to be together in a place that is significant. Sometimes they are just together and sometimes something more spiritual happens, but the point is they are there with each other.
5. Again, as it is over and over in Scripture, the table is significant. An entire verse is devoted to telling us that they “broke bread at home” and ate “with glad and generous hearts.” Even though the early Christians were giving away their money and possessions, God provided for their basic needs.
What did all of this mean for the early church? God added to their numbers daily.
It’s not because they had kickin’ music, or because their service was broadcast on TV, or because their minister was teaching an awesome sermon series where each 45 minute message started with the letter “R,” or because St. Arbucks sold coffee in their atrium.
It is because the early Christians knew how to be the body of Christ. They understood and celebrated the simple things–study, community, table and prayer. When you’re committed to the body in these things, you don’t tend to worry about the song styles and the carpet color and technology and alliteration in the sermon series. You aren’t so focused on what the church can give you, but rather, how you can serve the church and where you fit into the Body.
Now, I’m not saying that churches with building campaigns and sermon series and technology are bad–of course that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that we’re created a church society where those things are often used to sell Church to believers and non-believers. I’m also not saying I have this all figured out and I’m definitely not saying that our church is not practicing the things I’m questioning.
I just wonder how we can get back to the good old days of Acts 2?